Friday, April 30, 2010

A Broader Sense of Freedom

I recently re-read a book I was first introduced to my senior year of high school in College Level English. I've read it three times already and probably will read it again. The book? The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Caveat: I'm not certain I like this book. It portrays the nation that once was America after a hostile takeover by a frighteningly conservative (but not religious) government. The birth rate has dropped so dramatically due to chemicals and stuff that now, intercourse is highly regulated by the government in the hopes of producing more children. This is definately not a book for young eyes, but I read it as a senior with guidance. I continue to read it not because I necessarily enjoy the plot. I read it because it makes me think.

[Caveat #2: The book has nothing to do with the movie that came out in '90. Don't watch it. It's horrid]

One of the primary themes in the book is the idea of freedom. Atwood crafts a world where freedom is celebrated -- but it isn't the freedom we're used to. In this new nation (called Gilead), citizens are gaurenteed the freedom FROM. (In contrast, Americans desire freedom TO) These two concepts exist on a metaphorical seesaw: If I want a freedom FROM, I have to give up a freedom TO. One of the examples in the book has to do with clothing choice. The women of Gilead are granted the freedom FROM ogling, sexual looks by giving up the freedom TO dress how they want. All the women wear blouses and long skirts. The Handmaids (one social class in the novel) even wear those big white nuns wimples from ages ago that have the wings on them so they have the freedom FROM awkward social interactions. They have the freedom FROM advertising and filth frequently in magazines... but they've given up their freedom TO read.

What an interesting concept. It really does make me look at this nation that we live in today. We focus on our freedoms TO do certain things: dress as we want, act as we want, worship as we want, live how we want. To keep everything in balance, we've given up one important thing: Our freedom FROM instructing others how to live their lives.

I may step on some toes here, and if I do, I apologize in advance. I've put a lot of thought into this over the past several years. I'd love to hear your thoughts, but please truly think them out and comment respectfully (not that I'd ever have to remind you lovely ladies of that!).

Here I go: If we want to maintain our freedoms to live, worship, and educate the way that we desire, we have to defend other's rights to do so as well, up to the point that it crosses Biblical lines. Take gun control. I may not like guns, and I may not want one in my own home, but I'm not going to tell you that you can't. There was an issue on my college campus attempting to get a particular club that supported a subculture kicked off campus. I stood up with the members of my religious organization to protect that club's right to be there even though I disagree with their message. We can't reach out to people we've chased away, and, on a deeper note... our group could have been the next to go. After all, a lot of time authentic Christianity spreads a message that is at least as controversial.

We don't have the right to litigate lifestyle. The government has their hands in so many social aspects far beyond the original "We the people" : to form a union of states, establish justice, ensure domestic safety, provide for the common defense, support general welfare (I believe the Founders meant this in a MUCH more compact manner than currently applies), and ensure the blessings of LIBERTY for following generations. I have no right to tell anyone that they must go to church, and they have no right to tell me I can't. I can't stop anyone from marching with PETA anymore than they can stop marchers with Right to Life. That's what liberty means.

In a world that treasures freedoms TO, groups promoting freedom FROM are going to have a struggle. Up to this point in my life and the entire foreseeable future, I have avoided this type of group. It isn't effective. I would much rather meet with someone of a different philosophy than my own and truly listen to what they have to say... then earn the right to peacefully and politely share my own thoughts. A back-and-forth, give-and-take, respect-based conversation rather than an argument of catchphrases thrown back and forth. It's a skill I have yet to perfect, but by the grace of God, in time, it's a skill I hope to grown in further.

I have so many other thoughts about this, but they're a horrid jumble right now. Perhaps some day... but in the mean time I leave you with one tidbit of food for thought:

"In the days of evil and anarchy you had freedom to, now you are granted freedom from. Don't underrate it." (Aunt Lydia, in the Handmaid's Retraining Center)


Amy said...

Wow, Jenny - what an excellent, thought-provoking post.

My husband and I talk about freedom very often (and it should be talked about often in these perilous times) because it's so important to how society lives now and how we will be living in the future. We must be willing to protect all kinds and levels of freedoms if we want to retain our own.

There will always be those who don't live as I do, but I cannot expect the law to curtail their rights while protecting mine. I can choose not to associate with those I feel are inappropriate for me or my family, but I cannot demand that they live their lives differently for my sake.

Unfortunately, many Christians are experiencing this exact thing from the opposite side -- we're slowly being compelled by law (or social order) to accept things that are outright sinful (homosexuals, for instance) to the point that even telling someone that the Bible says it's a sin can put you in jail for hate speech, harassment, or disorderly conduct.

It's a scary world. But you're spot-on. We The People should definitely think hard about the rights we are quick to curtail for others lest we risk losing our own rights in the process.


Gillian said...

Really good post, Jenny. I'm going to have to read "The Handmaid's Tale" at some point - after final exams, I suspect. You've really given me food for thought - thanks!

Sarah Jane said...

Ditto with the above posts - what a huge concept to think about.

I remember being so extremely upset and angry a few years ago when the Mormon community in Texas had their children removed from the families there. I do not agree with everything the Mormon church teaches and I do not necessarily support the lifestyle those people had but for goodness sake, they have the right to live how they want to despite people thinking them odd and they have a right to have their children with them, no matter how many children that may be!

I do agree with what Amy mentioned. People have become so rights oriented that it pushes us people with Biblical morals and lifestyles to the back. We are forced to accept homosexuality, abortion, blatantly evil religions/faiths, the loss of rights given to us in the Consitution and even our own Constitution is being rewritten and reinterpreted by people I did not vote for and do not support. I feel that as Christians we are the most persecuted group out there, simply because tolerance is often extended to what I would consider sinful groups and activities and denied to Christians. I do think this is a spiritual issue "we wager not against flesh and blood".

Jenny P. said...

Dear ladies, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad you got something out of this... I wish my writing better expressed what I believe on this topic. This won't be the last thoughts, I'm certain.

Amy, you got straight to the heart of what I meant when you said, "There will always be those who don't live as I do, but I cannot expect the law to curtail their rights while protecting mine." I'm glad you and your hubby talk about freedom. We do to, and it's always an engaging conversation.

Gillian, I hope you do read it. Best yet, read it with someone so you can discuss it. There's so much beyond the basic plot. I'd love to chat with you if you get around to it! (PS: Good luck on finals. This is my first term after graduation, and gosh does it feel nice!)

Sarah Jane, I, too, followed the whole Mormon travesty with great attention. What a mess all around. Those poor mothers... As for the rest of your comment, I have some thinking to do about it. It IS a huge concept! I don't think I'll ever finish thinking about it.