Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Freedom (2014)

I know I've written about this before (and before), but I woke up to more than a few quotes about "freedom" in my Facebook newsfeed - and I have nothing else pressing on my mind (for the first time in months), so here it goes:

Freedom is the right to do what you want.

I have a history degree. There's a lot of civics involved in my education and I know the proper American definition of freedom is the right to do what I want without repercussions. It's the problem we get into as a society, when we make it easy to exercise freedoms that are generally unhelpful or downright bad. I believe there's a not-so-fine line between providing the freedom to act and making it easy. We don't have to defend freedoms that way. But, as I said, I've written about that before.

I've also written that religious freedom is something to be exercised for conscience alone - damn the consequences. If you believe something strongly enough, do it - and don't whine if you're hurt by your choice.

I'm just not sure when shunning or shaming regained traction in our culture. I know they're big other places and I've been to enough 17th century re-enactments on elementary school field trips (remember when elementary school kids got to go on field trips?) to know at some point, people in the US apparently were put into the stocks and had rotten tomatoes thrown at them (on second thought, maybe the educational value of those field trips left something to be desired). I thought, though, that we'd largely banished our shaming to the realm of privacy in this day and age.

It seems as though we're now using religious language to defend a return to public shaming? I suppose it's funny enough when it's a youtube video of some naughty child holding a sandwich board of their sins on the side of a busy intersection, but it's not so funny when you have to defend your moral choices to get a non-fat soy mocha.

The last time I checked, singling one group of people out for special treatment (of the negative variety) is called discrimination. Which is almost the opposite of freedom.

This sort of thing works out really well while it's your own moral position that's being codified. It works out decidedly worse when you become the object of such decisions. I'm not sure every person who celebrates the "right" of an employer to decide which kinds of birth control are covered for their employees would also celebrate an employers right to refuse all coverage except for spiritual healers or ban psychological coverage or refuse to pay for employees to see doctors of the opposite sex - all real and sincere religious beliefs held by employers in the good old, US of A.

The result of these targeted bills is insidious and vile. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm talking about the attempts at legal discrimination by businesses against homosexuals en masse. If you're going to allow religious objections to trump discrimination laws, please, let it be religious objections in general and not very specific ones. That would ,at least, give some semblance of creedence to the idea this is about religion.

Ultimately, I'm not entirely opposed to a more general moral allowance on business policy (obviously not one singling out a particular group). However, I think the idea of real freedom should apply. Any policy of any business should be posted in big letters on the front door - "we won't serve ________ here," so people can make up their own minds about what kinds of establishments to frequent. At least allow customers the same kind of freedom the business owners want.

In the end, though, I think most of us recognize the ignorance and overreach this kind of thing turns out to be. It might be more blatant in this current incarnation than it has been in others. I don't even know many evangelical Christians who ultimately think this is the right thing to do.

I wish more of them would say so.

We need to get out from under the idea that you'll betray your beliefs about who people should have sex with if you advocate for allowing those same people to buy flowers or get a hamburger. Shaming doesn't work. It never has. It dehumanizes people and it defines them by their actions rather than by their inherent worth as human beings. Yeah, I'd love every person's actions to fall completely in line with my understanding of proper ethics. I'd love it. And if somebody is making a rude, obnoxious, or callous display in your place of business, by all means kick them out.

But you don't get conformity by enforcing it. Shaming is the worst kind of peer pressure. We're better than that.

Freedom - real freedom - means showing as much grace as possible in all situations, and being satisfied with none in return.

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