Really, it is a puzzle, without an answer at the back of the book. Why is it that people – men, women, you and I – proclaim a love for freedom, and yet retreat so quickly to rules and regulations, the “oughts and shoulds” of religious thinking? This applies to much more than religion as it is popularly defined; it also operates in other areas of community. Even Calvin and Hobbes in their tree house have a club with officers, titles, rules – and the exclusion of slimy girls!
The Bible does not say that it was for religion that Christ set us free. It is for freedom!
To answer my own question, there are several factors I can see operating in people. One is man-pleasing with its Janus face of the fear of man. To defy the norm is risky business, often leading to ostracism and rejection. To be cut off from friendship or even the lesser position of acceptance by the community is too great a price for many to pay. We all want the cozy feeling of being included and if that requires doing or being like everyone else, so be it. You measure up to my standards, we’re buds. The moment you genuflect when I don’t, or hold a differing opinion about celebrating Christmas, we’re done. How you regard our relationship then drives your behavior, even if it removes some freedom to be who you are.
Is there anyone who can truthfully say he has never accommodated (read: altered) his natural instincts or actions in order to remain on good terms with people in his sphere of influence? Polite society does require a certain level of accommodation to those around us, of course. We all learn there are certain no-go areas with friends or co-workers, subjecting and controlling our own selves or opinions in order to maintain relationship. Yet continually submerging who we are makes us become a man-pleaser with no identity of our own. Ultimately, we are what we think. If what we think is kept suppressed while reflecting only that which we think will please others, we become a mirror to them, and invisible to the world.
Sad, isn’t it, when following the rules, the “oughts” of society in order to be accepted, we lose the very thing we are seeking: acceptance for our person-hood. Desiring to be known and liked, we hide so that no one truly knows who we are.
Another reason people flee from freedom to rules and regulations is that it is easier to learn and follow the rules than it is to work out the challenges of life and relationships that freedom carries. Just tell me what to do and we are good. That way I don’t have to think. I don’t have to make tough decisions. I’ll just follow the group and I will be “in.” Someone else can take the blame for a bad decision. Those who stick their necks out get hurt. Not me. I don’t want to get shot at.
The desire for safety drives the engine right into obscurity and mediocrity. Control. Loss of freedom to be as we have been created to be. Herein lies tension: The freedom to be me, as in “Watch out, world, here I come!” or “The world is a scary, rejecting place so I will stuff myself, hiding behind my well-crafted facade.” Therefore, I am not true to myself. Shakespeare said it well, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, that thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Freedom is work. It is not license which leads to anarchy, but is truly earned by maturing in responsibility to self, family and community. Freedom willingly subjects itself to rules of order and process – “No Parking,” “The line forms here,” “Turn off all phones during the performance.” Yet Freedom does not get pushed into non-being because of fear. It is truly revealed by the man or woman who understands his or her true identity and is good with that.
Indeed, watch out, world, if people begin to get free. The spirit of control, the spirit of religion keep people in bondage through fear. Fear of being cast into outer darkness, ostracized by the community. Fear of condemnation. Isolation. When confronted with Freedom, those spirits react strongly, “Crucify Him!” “Off with their heads!” As every politician’s first job is to get re-elected, so the controlling powers’ main job is keep in control. The rise of Freedom in a person is thus highly threatening to them. They will exert every effort to squash that outburst of freedom that springs up. But Freedom, by its very nature, cannot be subservient to powers of control, and must therefore resist to the uttermost.
Human beings have been granted free will. You can choose to become who you truly are, resisting control of ungodly constraints, or you can choose to go along with the masses, in lock step with those around you, losing your identity and your freedom.
It’s your choice. Choose wrongly, and it may be the last free thing you do.