What is freedom?

This morning I was reading some Open Doors updates about Libya focussing on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I could have been reading about any of the similar countries in North, East and West Africa, in China, India, Middle East… Please allow me to ramble through some thoughts about freedom and control.

The violence and persecution, removing the freedom of others, towards this group or that, because of how they look, or what they believe, or how they speak, is to me very scary. But I felt compelled to look at it. I always do. I wonder what I would do if I was part of a persecuted minority and if I would stand strong, or hide? And now there is a subtler threat with technology enabling also such close surveillance of people… where can they hide?

One reads about a similar level of control in much dystopian literature as well, and this is a safer place to consider the consequences and possible outcomes to such levels of intolerance and control. I seem to be drawn to these too. I always ask myself how I would respond – in either camp? Of course 1984 springs to mind, so much so that I have recently read it again, due to what I consider to be a level of control here in the UK and all over the Western World, that shadows the horrors I see in China and amongst persecuted minorities all over the world. The Elabi Chronicles, more recently written by Maressa Mortimer, also echoes these themes in a superbly crafted way.

Silhouette, Close up Hand holding Freedom text with blurred sea sunset. sunlight effect.

Maybe it is because my father was so strict and controlling as I grew up, but to the adult me, freedom of expression has always been crucial to fullness of life. I do not want you to tell me how to dress, how to think, what to say or what to believe! Nor do I want you tell me what I can no longer say, read, or believe. I noticed a change first in the 90s, when I went to work in a particular London Borough and was told I should not speak of ‘black’ or ‘white’ coffee, and that the ‘black-board’ now had to be a ‘chalk-board’! Being ‘politically correct’ took on some amusing contortions, turning a serious situation into a rule-book lacking all common-sense. This has ‘progressed’ among various themes and issues, and now we speak of ‘cancel culture’ as well.

Please don’t think I am condoning ‘hate-speech’ or belittling the cruel words and discriminatory practices, through ways of thinking that incorporate so many ‘isms. There is never a place for bullying, discrimination, intimidation or cruelty of any kind. Never. But I defend your right to speak.

But back to the more violent persecutions in other lands, many of the perpetrators of this appear to be ‘extremist’ groups with religious, or political ideologies. And I think the same is true here and everywhere, at all levels. We all have our ideologies and we think we are extremely right.

At one level I understand the expectation: You come to my country so you abide by my laws, you learn my language and you behave and dress in a way I can accept. You conform. You are polite. If you don’t want to, you can go elsewhere or stay in your own country. You come to my house, you behave appropriately, you show respect and you abide by my rules too. You may not smoke in my bedroom. But although I may expect you to behave with respect, I do not expect you to agree with me on every matter I speak of, or even to agree with my rules and conduct. I do not expect you to behave like this in your own space and I certainly do not expect you to believe what I do, or love what I do, or want what I want. Why should I? I guess that is my question. You may face the consequences for breaking my laws of behaviour, but why would I want you to think like I do?

I am the product of one particular environment, era, country, set of experiences, personality and education, as each of us are. I do struggle with authority. I accept the need for it and God is my ultimate authority, but I do struggle to accept many of the rules…

I realise today that I have already written at least one post on this subject, and no doubt it won’t be the last, as it is a huge, complex, muddy minefield and something I grapple with frequently. As I say, I struggle with it emotionally and intellectually as well as spiritually. With freedom comes responsibility and choice. If I’m employed to do a certain job, I do not have freedom to do something completely different. Freedom should not mean anarchy or rebellion under normal circumstances… but what does that mean? How much control should people tolerate from leaders and ‘authorities’, whether they be in church, government, society or family? Rules in society have consequences. This happens in our ‘socialisation’ from birth, through school and in our societies – if we conform, we are rewarded and praised, and if we choose to not conform, we are punished. If our child obeys and seems to be trusted to do as they are told and make good choices, then we reward them with greater freedom and increased responsibility. If she does not obey, we withhold our smiles, rewards and pleasure, we chastise and seek to ‘re-educate’ the child and we may exclude them from something, take away their freedom, until they learn to conform. This is the way it is. In the areas where we do have some freedom to choose, as I say, there is responsibility and the possibility of making ‘wrong’, or unconventional choices. I struggle with choices and decisions and so I welcome advice, guidance, encouragement and direction… usually. I am also contrary and stubborn, some might say rebellious, because if I strongly disagree, I refuse to conform. Rules change though. What was right yesterday is sometimes wrong tomorrow, and vise-versa… so the question is, Who is the authority? Says whom? And if you say Peter has the authority and I say it’s Jane, and they both have opposing laws, whom do I follow? I do understand Pontius Pilate who, when questioning Jesus, disdainfully asked, “What is truth?” It is complex. What is freedom? What is free-will? What is liberty? These are not black and white concepts and require complex discussion. In my simple view, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I believe it with all my heart and in my life it proves itself to be true. But I cannot prove it to you. You have to to taste and see; you have to make up your own mind. I defend your right to disagree with me and to tell me what you believe and to uphold completely different views and opinions; you have the freedom to choose… I also believe that if you seek the truth with your whole heart, you will find it, and if you follow that truth, you will know freedom. You may disagree.

I had to look closely at myself… Like all of us, I want to be right, do right and not to do ‘wrong’. What is independence and what is community and family loyalty? I have some guidelines in me as to what is right and wrong and I have often failed, even within the confines of my own rules and laws. I often do not do what I believe I ought to do.

But what of others, whom I know only by their behaviour and not by their intention? Do I expect them to speak and behave like me? Do I want my friends to think like me? Will I associate with you if your political views oppose mine? What about your cultural, economic or social views? What about your religious views? Do I feel comfortable around all types of people? Would I invite anybody at all into my home? Will I break the law of my own land? What if the law of the land contravenes God’s law? What if the law says I cannot read my Bible, or tells me to kill a person… Would I? What if the law tells you that you can no longer do what you believe to be right? Would you? Would I prefer you to share my faith and passions for things I think are important? Would I welcome you, love you, pray for you and with you, whoever you are?

I answered many of these questions, some rather uncomfortably. I want to be honest with myself.

I pray for greater love and increased tolerance in my heart towards everything that I do not understand and even more so for that which I understand only too well.

6 thoughts on “What is freedom?

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