from freedom to chains

from freedom to chains September 19, 2012

from freedom to chains cartoon drawing by nakedpastor david hayward
Purchase the original drawing or a print of this cartoon!

I always heard the freedom in the gospel and it always baffled me when I ended up in a religious culture that manufactured chains.

It’s a cruel trick:

  1. religion offers us freedom
  2. we join to get free
  3. the religion, through rules, regulations and expectations, binds us in chains
  4. start over: the religion offers courses in getting free from bondage

I remember singing beautiful worship songs about “loose these chains” or “set me free”, and the whole while  I was singing it was the religious bondage I wanted freedom from.

Well, I finally did it. All by myself. No help from anyone else but me! I made the step for my own freedom. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m free, free, free at last!

(This cartoon was inspired by some graffiti I saw on a brick wall of a huge monster eating trees and shitting houses and industrial buildings, obviously critiquing our destroying the environment for development. I don’t know who the artist is, but I wanted to give credit.)

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  • Carol

    In a rare interview in 1967 with Thomas McDonnell, [Thomas] Merton pronounced that the great crisis in the church is a crisis of authority precipitated because the church, as institution and organization, has overshadowed the reality of the church as a community of persons united in love and in Christ. He now charged that obedience and conformity with the impersonal corporation-church are a fact in the life of Christians. “The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity.
    ~ George Kilcourse, ACE OF FREEDOMS: Thomas Merton’s Christ, Notre Dame Press, 1993

    “Reforming Church governance is not about shared power but about mutual empowerment in the Holy Spirit.” –Fr. Patrick Collins, from his essay on “Thomas Merton on Ecclesial Reform and Renewal” in Commentary.

    “The appeal of which Jesus Christ in person is the living embodiment, the distinctively Christian reality, must be the criterion everywhere. Christians may never identify themselves totally with any party, institution, or even Church. Only totalitarian systems demand total identification. Christians may never join uncritically in every cry of the age. Only partial identification can be justified: insofar as this party, institution or Church corresponds to the Christian criterion or at least does not clearly contradict it.” Hans Kung, On Being a Christian

    Christians have always tended to transform the Christian Revelation into a Christian religion. Christianity is said to be a religion like any other or, conversely, some Christians try to show that it is a better religion than the others. People attempt to take possession of God. Theology claims to explain everything, including the being of God. People tend to transform Christianity into a religion because the Christian faith obviously places people in an extremely uncomfortable position that of freedom guided only by love and all in the context of God’s radical demand that we be holy. –Jacques Ellul

    “There is no worse present than freedom. To view freedom as a privilege is to surrender to the absurd ideology that man is free by nature, that he is made for freedom, and that only minor obstacles like economic or political constraint prevent him from being fully free. This fails to take into account that whenever man has made a beginning of liberty he has taken fright, retreated, renounced his freedom, and sighed with relief at being able to put his destiny finally in the hands of someone else. Freedom is the most crushing burden that one can lay on man. In his vanity and boasting man pretends that he wants to be free. He also has a visceral fear of confinement, conditioning, and servitude. What he calls his love of freedom, however, is really his rejection of imprisonment. It is a revolt against slavery, which he cannot tolerate. Once a little freedom is offered him, however, he starts back at the sight of the void which he must now fill, the meaning he must now provide, and the responsibility he must now carry. He prefers the happy state of belonging to a group. He wants a mediocre happiness which brings no risks.”
    –Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom

  • David Waters

    You did it all by yourself, so did I. So why does anyone need anyone else to get free?
    It’s been said we don’t lose habits, we replace them with better ones. So religion freed you from worldly vices/chains and laid upon you other ones. And you escaped them too… and the evolutionary process goes on. Keeping that which is good, leaving that which is not useful behind.

  • But we don’t really do it all by ourselves. Often it is others that help us get to that point where we can break free. It’s not often spontaneous in complete isolation. But what does it matter?

    And the cartoon is hilarious.

  • Yep, that was me alright.

    A movement hopper of the highest order.

  • thanks!

  • Wow — that popped up on my phone this morning — glad no one was looking over my shoulder.

    Powerful drawing — real grafitti — living up to your reputation.

    Sort of demonstrating some tantric therapeutic properties too.

  • Oh, when will I be free of my compulsion to make responses?

  • Mad =^..^= (AKA ccws)

    EWWWWWWW…GROSS…I think my eyes are bleeding…what a picture to find in my inbox before I’ve had my coffee…seen, now can’t unsee, etc.…sure sign of a job well done!

    p.s. @Sabio – “tantric therapeutic properties” FTW!

  • @ Cow,
    Ah, sorry. Tantric – in the West — usually is simplified to mean “sex”. But in Buddhism it means using the forbidden to unlock potentials of the mind otherwise hard to work on. These would including using sex, death, feces, pollution and much more. I guess it is a very alien idea for most folks reading here — sorry, but hope that helped. But the word has many meanings — see Wiki.

    Having lived in Asia for over a decade, sometime I forget and mix cultural images.

  • So, here, as in many of David’s drawings, he is not afraid of approaching the tabboo — visually or theologically — in order to grow. That may be considere a noble tantric attitude.

  • David Waters: “You did it all by yourself, so did I. So why does anyone need anyone else to get free?”

    Because sometimes, we can’t raise ourselves out of the water we’re drowning in. Or we can’t see over the walls of the maze we’re stuck in. It’s about perspective. Because sometimes, my capacity to envision freedom has to be piqued by someone outside myself.

  • Mad =^..^= (AKA ccws)

    @Sabio – No, I understand about Tantra – at least I understand that it’s a lot more complex than most people realize. I just got a chuckle out of your bringing it up. ~Mad =^..^=

  • Religion (what ‘we do’) puts us in chains.

    The gospel of Christ Jesus, gives us total freedom, from having ‘to do anything’ to justify ourselves before the Living God.

  • Sabio: FTW = For The Win! (not WTF with a typo). Had to look it up myself not long ago.

  • Steve: Freedom would mean far more than simply not having any obligations to preform, would it not?

  • @ Christine: Ahhhhh, thanks. I thought it was a polite way of saying “WTF”. Laughing.
    On a serious note. If David were Buddhist, I think he’d do very well as a Tantrika. That, is a high compliment. Not many folks do well with Tantrist practices — they have a dangerous edge to them. He may even be a closet tantrika!! 🙂

  • Hey, for a change, can I defend Steve Martin.

    In Tantra and Zen and some other perspectives (depending on the sub-group of course), the person is view complete and whole as they are — without needing forgiveness or change.

    In Steve’s Christianity, the believer is seen as accepted before God without change.

    Both views (using very different methods) aim at similar healthy ways of seeing ourselves. The doubt I have is the other baggage that comes with any view. But the principle of accepting ourselves — no matter what mythological trick we use — may be helpful for people.

    What do you guys think? [I’m not sure Steve would consider this a defense because it is too universal and his method requires parochial beliefs if I understand him correctly.]

  • Carol

    Sabio, the Eastern mind is much better at discerning paradox than the Western mind and holding the two complementary opposites in dynamic tension, a whole truth rather than a half-truth.

    Tantra needs the balance of Wabi Sabi, a spirituality of imperfection, to be truly holistic. As one Zen practitioner put it: “We are perfect; but there is always room for improvement.”

    “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection. Instead, it became “winners take all” and losers lose all. Despite all our universities and churches in Western Christianity, we learned to choose one side over the other and if possible, exclude, punish, or even kill the other side. That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people. Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won. That is ego at work and surely not soul.” ~Richard Rohr

  • @ Carol,
    (1) I agree that holding opposing ideas simultaneously is indeed a strength — depending on the ideas and the purpose of holding opposing views simultaneously. Also, I agree that “improvement” is OK — but the neurotic focus on “self-improvement” and “my way” and “my spirituality” and “my betterment” and all the self-help stuff that goes with it is disturbing. People deceive themselves constantly about how they think they are improving and changing with their new religion, new diet, new practice or whatever. We over-estimate our changes and control. It is that which I am cautious about: basking in our “I am taking steps, you aren’t” while all along, nothing is really happening.

    (2) I would never use the phrase “the Eastern mind”. I never met “an Eastern Mind”. I see no generality I can say between all the different kinds of Chinese, Japanese, Indian people — etc. “The Eastern Mind” is a false romanticized abstraction of some Western writers. (BTW — I lived in Asia for a decade)

    (3) I am not sure you can say “Tantra” needs “wabi-sabi” unless you are referring to some idealized, reified version you have in your own world view. Tantra is a tradition of itself with all sorts of checks and balances — which addresses the issue you wrote about — before you started all the quotes. As for Wabi-sabi, from Japan, it has principles but I don’t see it used as a whole tradition but as one part.

    Hope you don’t mind that I don’t offer a bunch of quotes but just tell you what I am thinking.

  • John

    Reminds of something I wrote recently in conversation with a guy writing a book on apologetics..

    I began to see that my precious collection of religious knowledge had little resemblance to the unspeakable love I experience at the foot of the cross. Instead, I had rebuilt the cross into a box that I filled with finely articulated religious concepts and ideas.