Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Problem with Freedom

Freedom. What does that word mean to you? Does it mean you can do whatever you want? Does it mean you are free from consequences? Does it mean you can impose your beliefs on others? These are some of the questions that we, as members of a free society, should ask ourselves on a regular basis.

There has been a lot of talk in this country about religious freedom. Many Christian conservatives are in an uproar over prayer in schools, commandments being recited in the courts, not to mention abortion and gay marriage. As each of these issues takes a turn at center stage, I am reminded of a class I took in college. It was called American Heritage. It was your basic civics class but the principles we learned that semester penetrated me to the core.

The founding fathers of the United States called our Constitution the "Grand Experiment". Why? Because every free nation that has ever existed has failed. Would they be able to create a free country that could stand the test of time? The future of the nation was, and is, in the hands of its citizens. We are the ones who will chose the future of our country. How? By our choices. If the people come to care more for their own self-interest instead of doing what is right then our nation will fall. It is not a possibility but a fact.

The problems we are having now are heartbreaking. As a nation, we can not take sides on some of these issues. For example, many would like to see prayer in public schools. I have nothing wrong with praying, in fact I think it is an essential practice to our spiritual development. But I don't want to be forced to pray. I was taught that prayer is personal and that we should not use "rote" prayers.

When I was in elementary school, we did pray as a class before lunch. We said the Lord's Prayer or some other verse, all together, aloud, at the teacher's discretion. Because I was not taught to pray that way I did not know the Lord's Prayer nor did I feel comfortable saying this every day. To me, it was wrong. I wanted to say my own prayer. I also felt different from my classmates who were familiar with this way of praying.

Did I protest? Did I cry "Discrimination!!!"? Did I stop praying? No, no, and no. While my classmates said the prayer that they were comfortable with, I silently said my own, personal prayer in my head. I was not offended by their way of praying, I respected them for doing what they believed was right.

I still feel this way. The Eleventh Article of Faith says " We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." I find that I have more respect for people who have religious beliefs and strive to live according to those beliefs even when they are different from my own.

When I hear someone say that they want to "make" the government apply the teachings of a certain religion, I cringe, even if it is a practice I prayer. The United States was established by people who wanted freedom to practice their religion without government interference. Maybe they were men of a specific religious persuasion. That doesn't mean they intended America to be a Christian nation. I believe that they hoped Christianity would be the primary religion of the nation, along with its foundation beliefs like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I don't believe they intended to exclude people of differing religious beliefs.

Just as a Christian living in a non-Christian country might flee to these shores for refuge, so should a Buddhist or Muslim or Hindi.Sometimes people think freedom of religion means freedom FROM religion. They misunderstand the idea of separation of church and state and assume that this freedom means they shouldn't have to see, hear, or in any way be exposed to the religious beliefs of another person. That is a false assumption.

That kind of thinking leads to societies where religion is regulated by the government or forbidden all together. I believe there are some in America who would be thrilled with this kind of society. It strikes me as the kind of society where people are only free if they agree with the people in charge. I am sad to say that we seem to be heading in this direction.

If you turn on the TV to anything remotely political, you might hear words like "socialism" and even "communism". These used to be scary words. When I was younger, I would have been afraid to even say "communist" and "America" in the same paragraph! Now, it isn't such a big deal. Many are afraid of the possibility that our nation is moving towards this kind of society.

When I was younger, I was confused about why communism or socialism was bad. Moses 7:18 says "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. " Isn't that what we are striving for? A society where we have all things in common? Isn't that the Law of Consecration? What is the difference?

The difference is choice. If we are forced to share, to give to the poor and support others, we will resent it. We will be less eager to work because we are not working for ourselves. We will become lazy and unfulfilled. In contrast, if we are willingly giving what we can to help others, we will feel blessed and happy. We will want to do more because we will have the choice. Under the Law of Consecration, we will be willing to give, not to a person or social class but to the Lord. We would be consecrating everything we have to Him out of love and willing obedience.

Does it matter? YOU BET!! It is in our nature to dig in our heels when we are pushed or forced, even if it is something we want to do. Have you ever watched a child eagerly climb the stair on a slide only to scream and wail when they are pushed down it? They wanted to go down so why the indignation? Because their freedom was removed.

We are human and part of our nature is to love freedom. We fight for it more than anything else. But we must take great care to protect it, not only for ourselves but for others. Just because we think our way of thinking is the best way, doesn't mean we can impose that on others. It is a tough situation. Many people will take advantage of the generosity that comes with freedom. As long as self-centeredness  and self-interest are prevalent, we will not be able to truly live happily in a free society.

For the record, I love this country. I know that it was created by the will and power of God. I feel my heart swell with pride and love when I think of the sacrifices that were made by the early colonists. I have lived in other countries, places I found enchanting and historically fascinating. But they were not home. They did not thrill my spirit the way America does. I am so grateful for a nationn that loves freedom. I hope we will continue to fight to protect this nation and the blessings granted to us.


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