Doublespeak: Freedom is Safety

Fundamentalism has a nasty habit of redefining words. You can tell they’re doing it when the word to be defined is preceded by “true.” True Christians. True fulfillment. True peace. True freedom.

Here’s an example of someone redefining freedom:

Many people live under the false belief that God’s commandments are restrictive and that real freedom comes from doing whatever we want. But this is a lie. Only obedience leads to true freedom.

In other words, “true” freedom is obedience to predetermined rules.

Let’s take a step back. Why is it necessary for the author to use the word “true”? Because he expects resistance. He knows that what he’s saying does not match the meaning most people understand as “freedom.” Most people understand freedom as the right to choose where they go, what they do, whom they talk to, what they eat, what they wear, and so on. Most people understand freedom as self-determinacy. For example, the first definition I got when I googled “freedom” was: the following:

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

“Doing whatever we want” is exactly what freedom means. But this is also the definition the author is trying to subvert. Why? What exactly is so wrong, so scary about “doing whatever we want”?

There’s another assertion here:

Sin is real and it leads to bondage and destruction.

Of course. Sin. Sin is what’s supposed to scare you into obedience. Sin is what you want, and that’s why you aren’t allowed to do whatever you want. It’s the doctrine of innate depravity, which holds that you’re born with all the wrong desires and need a code of behavior to keep from murdering, pillaging and raping everybody around you.

That’s nonsense.

It’s a doctrine of sociopaths. It assumes that none of us have the capacity to place ourselves in other people’s shoes. It assumes that we are all narcissistic, unable or unwilling to take into account the feelings of others. It assumes that we want things that harm ourselves and others, and we must be controlled to prevent wanton destruction and anarchy.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you wanted to kill someone? What about beat them up? What about take everything they have? When was the last time you seriously considered smashing the windows of the nice car on your street and stealing the radio? Why didn’t you? If your answer is, “because it’s wrong,” or if it’s impossible for you to even imagine doing those things, you’re apparently better off than the audience of the “True Freedom” article. Apparently, fear of destruction because of “sin” is the only thing holding them back.

People do commit crimes, sure. But not most people. Certainly not all people. Yet this doctrine teaches all of us to be desperately afraid of our desires. I’d wager that most of us want basic things like a good job, a loving family and a sense of worth. I’d wager that most of us actually don’t want lives filled with violence and abandon. Most of us want to live in harmony with others, to be liked, to be wanted. Innate depravity just does not jive with lived experience.

But let’s look again at how “freedom” is defined here. Freedom is defined as the state of being “free from” the consequences of sin (vaguely identified as “bondage and destruction”). But since when did freedom mean the absence of consequences? Since when does freedom of any kind refer to following predetermined rules to avoid the consequences of bad choices?

This isn’t freedom. It’s safety.

Safety isn’t freedom. When you’re free, you accept that you make choices for yourself and some of them will be bad ones. When you’re free, you anticipate possible outcomes and make choices based on the best of the knowledge that you have.

Safety means controlling possible outcomes to the best of your ability by avoiding risky choices. When you go into a basement during a storm, you give up your freedom of movement for safety from potentially damaging winds. Safety is often bargained for in this manner. The Patriot Act is frequently criticized for undermining Americans’ civil liberties by enabling the government to read their correspondence and listen in on phone conversations in order to provide safety by catching terrorists before they can strike.

The author here is offering a bargain, too. Trade in your freedom for safety. Trade in your right to “do whatever you want” for a set of “Christian” rules and customs that will guarantee safety from destruction (“the wages of sin”: death, spiritual and physical). There’s yet another problem, though.

The rules are made-up. The rules have been made and remade over and over again. Wear this, don’t wear that. Don’t drink that. Don’t eat that; no, wait, you can eat it now. Don’t have sex before marriage – don’t kiss – don’t touch – don’t talk alone – don’t get emotionally connected. Obey, obey, obey.

With so many changing rules, how can any of them guarantee safety?

They can’t. Life is not made up of train tracks with guaranteed destinations. You can’t just hop on a set of rails and be sure you’ll get where you want to go. You have to drive yourself there, and you have to stay alert to do so.

“True freedom” is not obedience. “True freedom” is a mirage. It’s a badge that you can wear when you’ve given up your freedom for safety. It’s there to make you feel like you haven’t lost anything. “True freedom” is an obfuscating lie. It’s doublespeak. The correct word is safety.

As a wise man once said, “Use the right word, not its second cousin.”

  • Vyckie D. Garrison (@NoQuivering)

    Good point, Sierra.

    I remember convincing myself that the Quiverfull life was actually the “easy” route. I “reasoned” that the moms who only had one or two kids, sent them to public school, used TV as a babysitter, etc. were really choosing the difficult path because they would have to eventually reap the consequences of their “laziness.” Those moms would have to deal with teenagers ~ but that would never happen to me. LOL

    So pathetic.

  • Libby Anne

    This is SO TRUE. My parents always talked about “freedom in Christ” and “the freedom to be feminine” or “the freedom to be masculine.” Freedom was following the rules and playing it safe.

    But I have to wonder. For them, because they were choosing it willingly, maybe it DID feel like freedom. To me, and to many of my siblings, it didn’t feel like freedom – it felt like following my parents rules instead of your own heart.

  • Dani

    So then what does freedom in Christ really mean? To you is there freedom in obeying Christ And his commandments and words? I ask because I agree with you in one sense but I struggle with this as well. Can rules and boundaries give you freedom?

    • Sierra

      It strikes me that freedom is supposed to come from believing in Christ and being saved, not from obedience. Isn’t freedom in Christ meant in direct contradiction to the bondage of the Old Testament law (namely, a rulebook)? It’s my understanding that the Old Testament law, with its sacrifices and rules, was a program designed to atone for sin. In the New Testament, Jesus has the power to remit sins himself, and therefore the Old Testament rules are no longer necessary. Hence Matthew 7:12, in which Jesus says the “golden rule” (empathy and kindness) replaces the law and the prophets. So freedom in Christ means exactly the absence of the law.

      I read this passage as Jesus encouraging others to trust their own hearts (treating others the way you’d like to be treated assumes that you know how to care for yourself properly) rather than constantly doubt and fear them. Seeking out external laws to obey is a behavior that, to me, indicates an actual rejection of freedom in Christ and a fear of one’s own heart and mind.

  • Dani

    But…. What about the basic moral values/comandments such as do not murder, do not cheat, be faithful to your spouse, do not lust, do not hate, do not fornicate, stuff like that? Aren’t those rules we should follow. Don’t you agree that we can have freedom an still follow those “rules/comands” god gave us. It’s not like all rules were abolished when Jesus died. Freedom from the law doesn’t mean we don’t have any laws… Right?

    • Sierra

      Don’t you think rules that cover basic moral values are already included within “do unto others as you’d have them do to you”?

      To me, it’s the difference between not doing something because it’s forbidden (“I won’t kill you because God told me not to”) and not doing something because you care about others and don’t want to hurt them (“I won’t kill you because I am invested in your wellbeing as a fellow human being”). I find the latter to be a much more solid moral foundation than a set of dos and don’ts. Where there are rules, there are loopholes, exceptions and people exploiting them (the American legal system is a good example). Where there is compassion, it’s not necessary to tell people not to kill, rape, etc. They won’t want to do it.

      Note that I’m not saying *society* shouldn’t have laws against rape and murder, etc. I’m saying that a person seeking to live a moral life is better off cultivating an attitude of compassion and love than memorizing a list of rules.

  • Retha

    Sierra, could I tell you how I understand it? (This is not to make you believe as I do. Only to explain why I find certain beliefs true, while at first glance they sound a lot like views both of us will agree is false.)

    I think this freedom/choosing right thing is like a train on a track, which is free to choose any track it wants, including to leave the track. But when the track is left, it is very hard to move back on track. The train is not free any more. We are free to choose many things, but it has consequences. In the case of some kinds of wrongdoing, the consequences make it very hard to choose beter in future. (For example, a choice to start smoking is easier than a choice to stop.)

    But to use that analogy honestly, the speaker can’t be from a cult which limits your choices to 2 (their way or the highway), but from a group that stresses free will.

    And you are right: Bondage is the opposite of freedom. When Paul’s letters speak of Christian freedom, it’s like being free from a loan shark who asks 50% interest a year, after you paid him back by borrowing from someone who asks 0,5 % interest. That is freedom from the loan shark, but it is still bondage to the second creditor. But a cult which binds us to human rules and calls them from God is different. Cults tend to ask more “interest” than being a non-member of the cult does.

    At least, that is how I see it.