At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

The Internet, Human Creativity, and Freedom

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The executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, recently visited North Korea with the former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, to promote a free and open internet.

In a country of 24 million people, only a handful of elites in North Korea have the kind of access to the internet that we have in Western countries. In order for anyone else to be granted uncensored internet access, an application must be submitted. All the content on the censored North Korean network is government approved and monitored. In a country closed to the rest of the world and relying heavily on the use of propaganda, the content is completely one-sided. Access to globally-sourced, outside information is cut off.

The value of a free and open internet is rarely disputed in Western countries, because its benefits are so apparent. The internet has lowered or eliminated barriers restricting access to knowledge, business, education, and many other aspects of society.

Consider the internet’s advantages that people living in free countries experience on a regular basis:

  • More products are made more easily available to people living in rural or hard-to-reach areas.
  • Loved ones can communicate with others who live far away.
  • University-level education materials are available at little to no cost.
  • Various forms of entertainment are accessible on-demand.

The list goes on. It’s interesting to note that none of this is coordinated by a central authority or council. Human beings, using their God-given creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, create these benefits. The internet is a free and open network of interconnected human beings, and this freedom is inherent to its success.

History also shows that freedom is important not just to the internet, but for human flourishing as well. The internet is just one useful example of the benefits of freedom.

Freedom allows us to live out our callings as Christians. We are better able to carry out our secondary callings – the calls to family, community, church, and service to God in one’s work – if we are free.

Hugh Whelchel, in his book How Then Should We Work?, mentions the Cultural Mandate given by God in Genesis 1:28, and the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. He writes,

Theologians debate how the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission fit together, but it is clear that both call for a renewal of culture. These two great mandates should both hold sway over the Christian’s life.

Freedom makes it easier to obey and fulfill these mandates that “hold sway” over our lives.

Freedom carries with it many benefits, but in this fallen world it can be a double-edged sword. And that will be the case as long as we are on this earth. Some might choose to exercise their freedom to act in immoral ways, or to limit the freedom of others. But, with the right moral structure, the benefits of freedom outweigh the costs when human beings can exercise their God-given gifts without hindrance.

Returning to the example of North Korea, that country’s problems are not just due to a censored internet. Those problems originated with a worldview that said that the Communist State is best able to facilitate human flourishing. While events of the 20th century have proven this wrong, as Jay Richards pointed out in a recent post, the North Korean government continues to hold power, aided by its restriction of information.

The Founders of the United States recognized that controlling information is a key tool of tyrannical governments. That’s why they guaranteed freedom of speech and the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution. These freedoms, and the many others we enjoy in the West possess, are a blessing to us as we seek to live and work in response to the callings God places upon our lives. They contribute to our flourishing, and aid us as we seek peace and prosperity for our culture.

While the injustice and wickedness of the North Korean government provides an example of life when freedom is restricted, the freedom and openness the internet provides is an example of the opposite. In freedom, the characteristics God granted to humankind are not hindered, but allowed to flourish.

 What do you think? Can you see how freedom helps you live out your vocation? Leave your comments here

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