As one political cycle has just gone and the primaries for the next are now being held, my mind, lately, has been focused on freedom - what it is, and what it isn't - and why the founders of my country worked so hard to ensure that the role of our government was largely limited to guarantying the freedom of its citizens.
It is human nature to seek to deny others their own freedom. One need not look too hard to see the examples of this. The obvious examples of slavery, the sex-trade, and ruthless dictators come quickly to mind. But lest we point our condemnatory finger of blame at others while washing our own hands in innocence, let's consider some other ways that we deny freedom in socially acceptable ways.
I've spoken many times about my own experiences with religion. I was raised in a church-going family and have been active in my faith from the time I was four years old. I attended a Christian elementary school, a Christian college, and a Christian seminary. During that time there was never a shortage of well meaning people who were quick to point out when my actions were offending God. They presumed to know what was gonna piss God off and what was gonna be pleasing to him and they were sure going to get me straightened out lest I take the wrong path and spend my eternity in hell. Some would even quote bible verses to make sure I knew that their words were actually emanating from God's lips himself. They would tell me what to eat and drink, what to wear, what to listen to, how to keep my hair, how to worship, what emotions I could feel, who I should tell my "sins" to, what words were acceptable and which were not, what to think, what not to study, who to talk to and who to avoid. They even told me how to think politically and which way that I should cast my vote. Frankly, there isn't an area of my life that they did not try and control. It did not make me a loving follower of a kind God, it made me into a judgemental, arrogant, condescending, blind and soulless follower of a rigid rulebook that could not be challenged. This being all I knew about God, I was controlled and made a slave to my "good" religious mentors in the hope of escaping a damnable life in hell. Worse than that, I was told that I needed to "convert" my friends and neighbors to believe the same way so that their souls could be spared.
It was not until I started speaking (actually listening) at length to people of other religions that my eyes were opened to a central truth that seems to escape most. God is. Yeah, I suppose I should have already known that, since he called himself "I AM". But God is. He's there in the midst of the Muslim who seeks his face and there in the midst of the Buddhist who may have never heard of Jesus, yet still seeks to know and merge with "the source" of all that is good and right and full of life. His character can be identified in Hindu mythology, seen clearly in their scriptures, and witnessed in practice through the great servant leadership of Gandhi. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. Yet despite being found in all religions, like the modern Christian church, each of these other religions contain vast leadership structures that widely twist Him and make discipleship more about following a rigid set of rituals than about seeking the spirit of the God who is behind those rituals. Truly, as Jesus said, wide is the path that leads to destruction but narrow is the path that leads to life and few shall find it. People the world over are more interested in controlling others according to their own perceptions, desires, convictions, and beliefs than they are in encouraging freedom and teaching people to seek after the spirit of God for their own life. In the end, what suffers is the relationship with God. It becomes tainted by rigidity and people end up rejecting Him - when they should instead be rejecting the religious systems. We can control a person's behaviour through threats and force, but only through voluntary submission does a person's heart change.
Yeah, let's bring this on home. I've talked to a lot of people over the years about relationships. If there's one thing that I see that negatively affects a relationship more than anything else, it's one partner desiring to control the other. Manipulation schemes can be overt or covert, direct or passive-aggressive, but the end result is that one person usually wants to force the other person to be or feel differently than they currently are and is willing to go to extreme measures to make sure that it happens.
"Love me, damnit! Or I'll make your life miserable!"
Sounds kinda silly, but how true is it?? A woman is caught flirting so the husband responds by scrutinizing her phone records then sequesters her from other men so she'll be true to her husband and her heart will be his only. Really?? A man has wandering eyes so the spouse quickly cancels their internet service so he won't be "tempted" to look at porn. This way his heart will be true to his wife. Really?? A significant other decides to have lunch with a friend of the opposite sex and is subsequently put on a short leash so that they can be closely monitored.
If the end result is to have a person that we love, love us back, none of these things work. There is not a person in the world that becomes trustworthy by not being trusted. There is not a person in the world that falls more deeply in love with another because they are told they must. Just like with religion: We can control a person through threats and force, but only through freedom - voluntary submission - does one obtain another's heart. Anything else is just fake and pretentious. Is that what we desire? The human soul not only desires freedom, it will have it. The question is only when and how will it be obtained?
Freedom is so misunderstood. People think that if you give someone else freedom, they will run amok and abuse it. While that might indeed be true with some people, I would much rather be in the company of a person who tells me to my face that they hate me than to be in the company of those who stroke my ego while wielding a knife behind their back. There's an old saying that if you love something you should set it free. If it doesn't come back it was never yours to begin with. While that may be cliched, there is nothing more true. Putting it into action simply requires a huge amount of faith in something higher than us to begin with. Something that has a plan for us and will not abandon us regardless what circumstances life deals us. Faith that we actually possess value in and of ourselves. Faith that we will not be abandoned or forsaken or without purpose. It is likely that lack of faith that causes us to take things into our own hands and try to control our circumstances and the people around us to begin with. True change may be affected from without, but it only happens from within.