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.”

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