The concepts of America and Freedom are deeply entwined. We were founded on the ideal of freedom. Most of the early settlers came to this land for freedom. America proudly calls itself the “land of the free!”
And interestingly enough, one of the things most battled about in our political spectrum of today revolves around exactly what that means.
I remember growing up in the church and being told about how America was founded on the principal of religious freedom.
We would look back to folks like the Pilgrims, who sought freedom from a religious dictatorship. They chose the harsh landscape of America over their comfortable civilized lives because they just couldn’t handle living under the Church of England any longer.
This says a lot for what it means to wish for freedom. These folks moved away from everything they ever knew or loved, with the highest probability of never seeing them again, simply because they did not feel like they were being allowed to be true to themselves.
Unfortunately, if you pay attention to what they did once they arrived on the shores of the New World, it’s pretty easy to see how they weren’t really as interested in freedom as they might have proclaimed. Many of the Northeast settlements became incredibly exclusionary religious territories almost immediately.
A fantastic example of this is the tale of the development of the state of Rhode Island. I won’t take too much time by delving into specifics, but Roger Williams was kicked out of Massachusetts because of his religious views. He, then, founded Providence as a space of religious freedom.
Of course, that freedom wasn’t as simple as saying “All are welcome”, as was evident when a battle ensued between the colonists of Rhode Island and Anne Hutchinson and her followers, causing a further division in Rhode Island which brought about a new settlement calling itself Newport.
These are drastic oversimplifications of the events which unfurled in the early history of Rhode Island, but the simple point to be made here is that although the Puritans came around looking to be free from the CoE, they didn’t really think that the folks they lived with should believe anything different than themselves.
And more often than not, they would kick the heretics out of the colony.
This concept of a required agreement of faith is something which, unfortunately, lives on in America today…
“Freedom for me doesn’t necessarily mean freedom for you” is probably something which defines America more than anything else. America, the land of the free, might actually require an addendum of “as long as we agree”.
Which is where the concept of equality comes in. Interestingly enough, the statement of “all men are created equal” appears quite early on in our declaration of independence, the statement we sent to the King of England to show how we were separating and how we were different.
But the reality of equality wouldn’t come until much later.
We called ourselves the land of the free while we owned people. We literally owned people. They were our possessions. The bill of rights which were for all people, didn’t apply to these folks because they were material goods.
The absolute opposite of free. And definitely not a description of equality.
Looking at our interactions with the folks who were already living here, the Native Americans, you’ll see freedom was definitely far from our minds for ALL people. You know, what with the whole treating them as wild animals who were invading our territory, when we were burning down their homes and moving them from the land we wished to have.
Now, today, we look at those things, and most of us will admit they were mighty terrible things to do (at least most of us). We try not to own people anymore, although sex trafficking is quite overwhelmingly in place today. We generally recognize that taking someone’s property by force, no matter their heritage, is a big no no…you know, unless you ignore things like how America got recent states like Hawaii…
Actually, come to think of it, even recent history shows that we, as a nation, are fairly terrible at recognizing the equality of man.
It’s been less than a lifetime ago since black and white men were allowed to go to the same school.
I don’t think I should even need to go any farther than that to show how America just hasn’t quite figured out this freedom thing. It’s only been 63 years since segregation was outlawed. That’s hardly enough time to state that we’ve washed our hands of the whole being unfair to our equal brothers and sisters. That’s, of course, completely ignoring everything else we’ve gotten up to since then.
Until we’re all free, we’re not truly the land of the free. We’re the land of the oppressors. We’re no better than the folks we were running from. It’s just that this time, we’re on the top, right? We’re the ones who own the land and the women and the money.
I’ve struggled for quite some time with the concept of American freedom. That’s saying quite a lot for me, a 30 something white male in the Midwest. I am one of the free.
I remember first learning about the McCarthy period of American politics. Where people were sent to jail simply because we were pretty sure they were Communists, or at least Communist sympathizers.
What the hell, America?
In my head, even at a young age, I remember trying to piece together the concepts of McCarthyism and American Freedom, and thinking, how?
How is that free?
How is that any different than the Church of England telling you what you had to believe? I mean, I suppose we’re not told precisely what we must believe. We’re given a list to choose from.
We speak of religious freedom, but that appears, on the whole, to be talking about something different than I believe was the original intention. Today it means that you have every right to be Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, or heck, we’ll even let you be a Jehovah’s Witness…but Muslim, Marxist, atheist?…
Our country was founded, in a large part, by people who wanted to be free to believe what they believed. By people who didn’t want their government to tell them what to believe, but wanted to be allowed to follow their heart and mind and soul.
Today people are being kicked out of this country because they believe differently than those in power. (Okay, maybe they aren’t being kicked out as much as they are being shoved away at the door…)
How is that American Freedom?
Now, I get it…well, to some extent anyways. When you’re talking about Communists in the 50s or Muslims in the 10s, you’re talking about people who prescribe to a system of thought held by those we perceive to be the enemy. Stalin was a Communist. Osama was a Muslim. But does that make all Communists or Muslims bad?
Hitler was a Lutheran. Mussolini was a Catholic.
Oh, and believe me, I know how the next response goes. Hitler wasn’t a real Christian, he just used it to–
No. Just no. That’s the exact same thing your Muslim brothers and sisters are saying about those who are attacking our country.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the only group you’d be able to find completely blameless on this entire planet would be something like the Mormons. As long as you’re willing to ignore the subset of Mormons who have slave wives under the age of consent…
Now, I’ll admit. Freedom does have to have its limitations. That’s why our country has laws. The basic premise, “Do no harm.”
If what you believe causes you to do things which will hurt or otherwise lessen the experience of life of your fellow man, then it’s not allowed. It’s no good. Don’t do it.
And in those cases, you know, where your faith causes you to bomb buildings, or shoot up churches, or oppress other people, well, yeah, it shouldn’t be allowed.
But if your faith, if your understanding of how this world works, merely causes you face a certain direction when you pray, or allows you to be in love with a person of the same gender, or, heck, causes you to feel as those your genitals don’t match what’s in your heart…how? How can we call ourselves free if people aren’t allow to be who they believe themselves to be?
But that’s the real problem with American Freedom. It’s that Americans use politics as a form of evangelism. When the discussions were in place regarding whether it should still be illegal for people to get divorced, or to have sex outside of marriage, or for black people and white people to drink from the same water fountains, time and again, the Bible was used as a discussion topic to sway the vote.
We put burning crosses on the lawns of black people, folks. It wasn’t a lower case t. Not an upper case one either. Crosses. Multiple. Multiple multiples.
So, here’s my point for today…the moral of this post I’ve been long debating putting on here.
We need to stop being so damned selfish with our politics. And no, I’m not talking about how you need to become a socialist who believes in sharing everything, no matter the amount of effort put in. That’s not the point here.
This is about the separation of church and state.
Growing up in the church, I heard that statement a lot. I understood it to be a message of how the state needs to stop telling the church what to do. And I firmly believe that’s how a great deal of Americans perceive that message to read.
But it needs to go both ways. The church needs to get itself out of the state as well.
For America to be free, all Americans must be equal. All religions must be equal. Everyone must be allowed to hold in their heart of hearts what they know to be true, no matter how true you may perceive it to be.
But this requires a great deal of selflessness on those who are currently free. When women were finally allowed the right to vote, the power of each man’s vote was instantly cut in half (well, now accounting for how the vote didn’t exactly come about for all women at the same time). When black and white kids were allowed to go to the same schools, that meant the money which was being allocated unequally between white and black schools, suddenly had to apply to both races, meaning the white kids were getting, effectively, a lessor education.
That’s the real fear here, isn’t it?
I mean, outside of the fear that we apparently have that our local Muslims who are setting up their pizza party are actually plotting a method in which to destroy our local schools. The real fear is that by giving freedom to others, we are somehow losing our own freedoms.
That’s why we fought so hard to keep gay marriage from happening, right? Because then…actually…no, I don’t have a good one for this one outside of just straight up religious bullying. I mean, I guess it’s because we were afraid God would destroy us like he did Sodom and Gomorrah…but…I mean, considering how rape-y that whole thing was, don’t you think we should be a bit more concerned about rapists than we are?
Besides, God allowed Lot and his family to live because they followed Him. Surely you would believe God would do the same for you, wouldn’t you?
The point is, we need to stop being so worried about allowing other people to have the same rights as us. We need to stop being so concerned that every single other person on this planet means to do us harm.
The reality of it is: oppressing others is what causes them to mean us harm.
That’s what causes things like the French Revolution, where all of us jerks who kept back the cake got our heads chopped off.
America is built on freedom. And freedom, by its very definition, requires that we’re all free. Otherwise we’re as free as all the people of feudal England…in that, the monarchy was free to do as they wished, as well as the nobility, although not quite as much…and then the rest of the country had to follow the whims of those in power.
That’s right, America. You’re no better than limey old England (of the 1700’s).