Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Fallacy of Freedom?

As I have been reading Exclusion and Embrace by Miraslav Volf, I was struck by an idea this morning. As frequently happens, my mind heads off on a tangent while my eyes continue down the page, and I find that the last several paragraphs have not registered because my thoughts were elsewhere. So as I set down the book, yet unclear where Volf is going with the idea, I need to write down my own thoughts before I can move on. Freedom, and it’s brothers, independence and autonomy, are dominant concepts, especially in the United States, where they are held as core values endowed by our Creator. Conservative Christians certainly preach these values and rely on them as a motivator to promote their political affiliation with the Right. But what really does this “freedom” produce? I am surrounded by “free, independent and autonomous” people who are unhappy, and live a life of bondage to unfulfilled desires and fears. They are free to choose from a multitude of variations of things and actions, all guaranteed and encouraged by our government and society of materialism and consumerism, the envy of the world. Yet so many of us find ourselves frustrated by the little obstacles that get in our way, the little inconveniences that require us to alter our plans. We find ourselves, in actuality, captive to our desires, declaring war on those who we perceive as obstacles to our selfishness. Our life of “freedom” is in actuality an ongoing war against that and those which hinder the exercise of our will. In the “land of the free” we affectionately embrace this war as “competition” and encourage, promote and even worship it! Those who overcome the odds and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, (usually at the expense of someone else who is less fortunate) are our heroes! We envy and deify the rich and powerful, who have mastered the art of understanding market forces, achieved the limelight, or even win elections by “a landslide” (which I pondered in the last election: is 55% a “landslide” when it means that 45% were against you?). Why, if we are so “free” are so many of us so unhappy? Didn’t Jesus say “the truth will set you free”? How free are we really? Or is it as Brian McLaren points out in Everything Must Change, that we are so afraid of losing what we confuse as freedom; our affluence and material wealth, that we are in a constant war against whatever we perceive is a threat to our “freedom”, requiring a vast expenditure of time and resources to maintain our security at personal, political and international levels? Is there a different kind of “freedom”, and a different “truth” that we need to seek? Is Jesus really promoting our Western lifestyle, or is he suggesting something different? Or maybe, is Jesus teaching us that we can find “freedom” within if we will follow his message, one that promotes subservience to others, sacrifice, forgiveness of our enemies, looking out more for the needs and concerns of others (around the world) than ourselves, “love” (as defined in 1 Corinthians 13, not by the contemporary media) toward those who oppose us? How boring! How un-American! But how fulfilling? What if we had no fear of losing anything of real value? What if we had peace with everyone around us? What if we had everything we really needed? What if there was no one we saw as a competitor? What if we had a community of people who encouraged us, who respected us for our uniqueness, and embraced us as we are? What if our community supplied whatever real need we lacked? I am not talking about communism or socialism, but about The Kingdom of Jesus! Can we work toward this here and now? Can we form little enclaves of people who practice the teachings of Jesus (and maybe call them the Church?) that invite people who suffer oppression, both outwardly and inwardly, to experience something different, something contrary to the present system of “freedom”? What better tool of recruitment for Jesus’ Kingdom could we have than to reveal a bit of the future Kingdom (heaven on earth?) to people who have failed to find inner freedom and peace? What is true “freedom”? Pondering in Athens, Dave Drozek