Monday, June 17, 2013

Faith and Freedom

Funny thing, freedom.

I've been reflecting on liberty a whole bunch this last week, as my book has extended a tender first sprout into the world.   Playing faith off against Many Worlds cosmology has left me with what amounts to a radical theology of freedom.  Given that "Liberation Theology" is already taken, I'm not quite sure how to describe it.  But it's pretty cool, in a creative, boundless way.

Whichever way, the assumption that we are created as absolutely free beings is a vital part of a faith that can engage with the wild, open creation in which we find ourselves.

Faith that redefines liberty to mean something quite different, that...well...that's rather less creative.  Rather less hopeful.  Just a tich.

Having listened to some of the speeches and followed the conversations at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's recent gathering, I do find myself wondering:  Why is there so much difference between how I understand liberty and how it's defined by this "teavangelical" movement?

I mean, shoot, as the World's Most Bourgeois Anarchist (tm), the words liberty and freedom are some of my favorites.  I think we're created free, each given both the gift and the immense responsibility of telling our own story.

But when I use the words "freedom" and "liberty," there are some assumptions that I make.

The first assumption is that freedom, by necessity, means we can screw up.  We aren't just free to live that best, most joyous, most gracious and noble life.  We can make the wrong decisions.  We can do real damage to ourselves and those around us.  We can take a bite of that fruit, and be cast from the garden.  If those things are not true, then we are not free.

When one says things like "Freedom means striving to be your very best," as was said at the conference, that's all well and good.  But it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of freedom.  Freedom is a peskily neutral thing.  Yes, it's a heck of a lot better than oppression.  It is not actively negative, abusive, or monstrous.  It is simply the absence of constraint.

Another assumption that I make is that my liberty cannot define yours.  I understand the good in a particular way.  I see value in duty, and responsibility, and commitment.  I do so because both reason and faith dictate it.  But if you see differently, and you approach existence differently, then my commitment to liberty dictates long as you're not impinging on me...I let you go at it.  I might disagree.  I might tell you so, or offer up a differing opinion.  But if you want to screw up, I cannot stop you.  I will not use the law to coerce you.  I will not bully or oppress you with my own personal power.

I also understand that just because you aren't me, that doesn't by necessity mean you're wrong. You are free to not be me.  You are free not to think as I do, and sometimes that's not you being wrong.  It's just you being different.  When we define liberty as just one thing, or just one set of values, then we just don't get it.  If we think freedom means "You are free to obey my rules," then somewhere, we've missed the point...not just of our Constitution, but of the way we were created.

A final assumption, related and absolutely essential:  to value freedom, you have to value the freedom of others.  So much talk of "liberty" is focused on "my liberty."  I want to defend "my freedom."  I want to be free to do what I want.  And of course, we do.  But if your primary concern is for your own right to do/believe/act however you please, then you don't really have freedom as a primary value.  You have your own power as your primary value.

To care about freedom, you need to defend the liberty of others.  Here, political movements don't do so well.  In defense of the "us," umbrage and outrage are turned outward at the oppressive other.  The ethics of victimization and manufactured oppression become a way to justify oneself.

If you're going to be faithful about freedom, and really attend to the Law of Liberty, then you do kinda need to steer away from that.