“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." — Goethe
When the shooting in San Bernardino occurred last week (December 2015), and then a later learned the shooters were “Islamic terrorists,” I felt a new surge of disbelief: fourteen years after 9/11, we’re still buying the same old line? We need to learn to see through the charade to the game behind.
Part of my upbringing in Texas was a subtle but ever-present glorification of violence. In the land of the free, I was told, violence has always been necessary to preserve rights won from those who hate us. FREEDOM ISN’T FREE was tattooed, bumper stickered, and t-shirted ad infinitum throughout the American South. After a while, I started to notice that it went hand-in-hand with brittleness of mind and heart. And over the years, I’ve come to love a more radical truth.
Real freedom cannot be purchased, especially with blood. Freedom isn’t “granted” by governments that don’t oppress their people; that is merely the absence of oppression — which is right and good. But that doesn’t mean we are free. Freedom as I mean it is something else. It is freedom from both outer and inner compulsion.
After the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama said, “Freedom is more powerful than fear.” That is a blatant distortion of a much older truth: “Perfect love casts out fear.” I heard his message as: We are prepared to overpower (kill) those whom we fear. In other words, only because we Americans believe in violence as the antidote to fear can any president — one after another since World War 2, with only one exception, support war as an economic, political, and cultural necessity.
What is this belief in violence other than an inner compulsion based on fear? Is America really the land of the free — or the land of fearful — the land of the mentally and spiritually unfree?
While we watch this circular logic play out with increasing volume — violence in response to violence, which brings more violence, which brings more violence in response — freedom from compulsion is crucial to understand. Orwell’s police state brandished the slogan: War is Peace. In the book, as in the news, this logic preys on people’s fear.
We hesitated to include such a heavy topic in this week’s post — but at the same time, we want to encourage the revolutionary acts of peace that begin with inhibiting the circular logic at its roots in ourselves and in our culture, all the way down to our individual minds and hearts.
Freedom from inner violence is first an individual and personal step. It doesn’t have to be absolute to be a worthy start. One can take steps. We can learn to see that the most insidious compulsions come from within, and branch out to justify the horrors we inflict on others. Such personal steps may feel small, but in reality are world-changing. When they’re real, they impact everything and everyone you touch.