"Want Freedom Fries With That?"
By: Lori Heine
"I am the Decider" (King George the Last)
"To be, or not to be? That is the question." (Prince Hamlet)
"You will know the truth. And the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)
"I AM WHO I AM" "Let my people go, so that they may worship me." (Exodus 3:14 & 9:1)
So very, very many voices there are out there for us to listen to voices competing with each other, pulling us in a thousand different directions until we just shut down into numbness. The zombiefication of America seems to be well underway. And the organized, corporate Church seems determined to take the lead. The media propaganda machine is its mouthpiece. At the dawn of the Twenty-first Century, this is the apex to which our freedoms have evolved. We are gathered before that big speaker, like the dog in those antique RCA Victor ads, slavishly listening for the Voice of God.
Recently, I watched the PBS series, Carrier. It was hard to tell if it was parody, ironic expose, empathetic portrayal or more of the same patriotic pseudo-piety we get just about everywhere else. In one episode, to mind-numbing, American Idol-style background music, we are treated to a succession of young servicepeople, stationed aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, telling us that "God" wants them to be there, that their leaders wouldn't have sent them there if "God" didn't, and that they don't dare think too hard about what they're doing. Said, of course, as if this were a GOOD thing. God, God and more God. God wants us to drop bombs, and God doesn't want us to think about it.
It has actually come to this. They have been told that if they are annihilated in bloody combat, it is because the very God Who made them somehow wills it. And if they annihilate the others whom God has made well then, God must will that, too.
Obviously, these fervent young believers think that God has freed them from having to think about how they live this aspect of their lives. (To be fair, one does assert that indeed, they had BETTER think about what they are doing out there every day, but he seems the exception to the rule.) The implication from most of them, of course, is that knowing what God wants of us is freeing. And with at least that much, I certainly cannot quarrel.
But are they being told what God really wants of them, or only what their lords and masters in the military-industrial complex want of them? Is it all simply subjective one of those matters, in our pluralistic society, on which we must agree to disagree? Or is it, in fact, too important to be left to that?
Doing what God wants us to do does not require compartmentalizing our thinking into separate, tidy, airtight little boxes: one, for example, for singing God's praises in church and the other for bombing the living crap out of innocent people.
Human beings don't need to compartmentalize like that unless they are in denial and denial of the truth is what enslaves. Not only do those in the military try to keep GLBT people out of their hermetically-sealed little world of dogmatic certainty, but they keep us enslaved, pretty much everywhere in the world, precisely by forcing us to hermetically seal a vital part of ourselves away from the rest of who we are. We must see ourselves as so sinful and dirty and potentially disruptive that we must lie about who we are. We must hate whoever our lords and masters tell us to hate, and we dare not love who they tell us we cannot love.
But true freedom means not having to compartmentalize. It means knowing that you're living right with God in every area of our lives. Which of course, among other things, requires knowing what really is a sin and what isn't.
The things that displease those who would enslave us are not necessarily sins. In fact, the odds are pretty good that they're not. Our self-appointed arbiters of morality are not God. A sin is what displeases "Him," and they are frequently too deep in their own delusions to be in touch with what that may or may not please "Him."
"Oh, tut-tut-tut," the moralists chide those of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. "You're defining deviancy down!" And on they go, like Linus' teacher, Miss Othmar, in the Peanuts Gang cartoons, preaching to us in their trombone voices: "Wah-waaah wah-wah-waaaah..." Don't you know, they have it all figured out for us.
So murdering innocent people a good many of them children and then dismissing it all as "collateral damage" done in the name of a "war on terror" that has, arguably, produced nothing but even more terror is not, in their little world, defining deviancy down. Thanks so much to those sterling hetero souls right as they're sure they are with God and country for clearing that up for us.
"I'd rather be working at McDonald's," one young sailor grumbles to his buddy in a scene from the series after his girlfriend has dumped him. Indeed, this is freedom these days: slinging burgers and fries, instead of living out the drudgery of military life in wartime and trying to negotiate the tricky twists and turns of heterosexual romance. Aboard the ship, as various members of the crew are asked what they miss most about home, at least one mentions McDonald's as the thing that sums it all up best.
That's it. They're all working and fighting "for freedom." Of course they are. Freedom means McDonald's. God bless McAmerica. Do you want freedom fries with that?
There is indeed a real connection between confidence and freedom. Those young servicepeople are on to something. But freedom is a positive, not a negative. It is not simply being able to do something without being burdened by the guilt or fear that it might be wrong. There is no real freedom in making the world a worse place to live in, but not worrying about it because you've slapped a smiley-face sticker on it and told yourself that you are actually doing right.
I do not believe that the Bible condemns us for loving in the truest and deepest way we can, or that it condemns the relationships we form in our lives while loving in this way. Covering our ears and telling people to shut up about morality is not the answer. There is a real danger that they may stop talking about morality. Or, far worse, that they will begin to see morality as such a relative matter that good becomes evil and evil becomes good.
The military punishes gay and lesbian service people who tell the truth about who they are. It's fine with their being there as long as they lie about it. And it's content to claim that it abides by this policy in the name of morality and order. But fear of the truth never leads either to morality or to genuine order. Those whose "unit cohesiveness" is supposedly being served by all the official lying about the presence of gays in the military are being sorely failed, because the same government content to lie to them about that never stops lying to them or to the rest of the country and the world about everything else.
We are a country built upon the importance the absolute sacredness of the individual human being. It is a basic, existential fact about our human-ness that, no matter what group or groups we belong to, each of us is also an individual. Anyone who would take that understanding away from us, or even diminish it, is an enemy to freedom.
People of faith believe that each of us is a unique, special, loving creation of God. There never was anybody quite like you or I before we got here, and after we've departed this world, it will never see our like again. The secular Left does not understand that. Nor does the Religious Right. It is up to progressive people of faith to bring this to the fore.
The mind-numbed zombification of America cannot continue, or we will lose this country and everything it has ever meant. If freedom means anything at all, it means that we are as that old kids' show used to say "free to be you and me."
Too many churches market to people, instead of ministering to them. They take a McDonald's, assembly-line, pre-warmed and re-heated approach to being church. They don't see us as individuals, each created unique by God, but as customers. Want fries with your theology? One of the darkest, sickest comedies in the history of the faith is that so many who claim to believe in "special creationism" and "intelligent design" are content with this very factory-made, mega-church, mass-consumer understanding of themselves and of what it means to be a Christian.
Even many GLBT-welcoming churches fall prey to this way of thinking. They proclaim that they are "welcoming" (according to the particular jargonese of their denomination). It may be the Whopper instead of Whataburger or the Big Mac, but it is marketing just the same. We become not the infinitely precious children of God for whom Christ gave His life, but merely mind-numbed consumers to the church "brand" we have chosen and loyal subjects to the rulers those churches endorse.
I've come to realize, knowing my transgender friends, that far from the horrible violation of nature the McMedia preachers say they are transgender people may indeed be the most irrefutable evidence that human beings are created by God. They know themselves from earliest childhood, just as gay, lesbian and bisexual people do. And they know these selves in their very bones in the marrow of their souls. God places deep within the core of each of us this understanding of our truest selves, and no mass-manipulated majority of external voices can drown that understanding out.
There is a still, small voice in you that is, authentically and eternally, you. That voice knows real right from wrong, knows when you're being true to who you are and when you aren't. It was breathed into you by God on the day that you were made, and it can never die. It flickers in our eyes, peering out at the world from some timeless place the world can't touch. It is in the eyes of every detainee at Guantanamo Bay, every refugee in Darfur, every homeless woman on a Los Angeles street and every playboy prince in Saudi Arabia.
Why do so many deny its existence? They can't deny it in themselves; to do that would be to deny themselves. And yet they deny it in others. They would snuff out that flicker in the eyes of others many of whom they have never seen with the squeeze of a trigger, the punch of a ballot or the swipe of a credit card. All for the sake of a freedom they've been duped to believe they must destroy for others in order to enjoy for themselves.
Tyrants of any stripe would deny God the real One and install themselves in God's place. They think that human beings (themselves, of course) ought to decide who gets freedom, what sort of freedom they may be allowed, and where the boundaries on that freedom must be set. The fact that God created us with individual free will something the very Bible so many tyrants brandish makes very clear is an inconvenience to them. They want freedom for themselves, of course, but the only sort of freedom given us by God, who is "no respecter of persons" (by which the Bible means "He" does not play favorites), is that which is the same for everybody. Trying to hoard more freedom for oneself, while restricting that of others, is like trying to hoard the water in a swimming pool away from others in that pool, or the air we breathe from the others who would breathe it.
We are, at this very moment, trying to draw our own, convenient boundaries around the rights and freedoms of those in countries whose commodities we covet. And the same thunderers from the pulpit who would restrict the freedoms of gays, only to pig out on unlimited freedoms themselves and dole them out to their favored subjects the way old-time Southern politicians doled out chickens, hams and government jobs, claim that America has the moral authority to do this. But until it returns to a genuine Gospel understanding of freedom, America has no moral authority at all. Nations like France without whose assistance, America would never have become a free country in the first place are derided for criticizing our arrogance. We call them "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and change the names of French Fries with childish absurdity to "freedom fries."
As a matter of fact, the Bible gives us a bold illustration of what those in positions of worldly power do, even though they may claim to represent God, when they worship that power more than God. Christ told them they could not serve two masters, because they'd come to love the one and hate the other. They thanked Him for that advice by crucifying Him.
Jesus made it clear that no impediment need stand between each and every one of us and God. No law, no gun, no bomb, no government and no Bible-brandishing preacher. He rolled them all away when He rolled away that stone from the door of the tomb. No human being, however powerful, can keep us from knowing and loving God, or from knowing and loving each other in the way God made us so we might best experience God. Our love is a threat to them precisely because it is an exercise of the freedom God has given us a freedom too deep in our nature for mere man to take away.
We exist. That is all the justification we need for our existence. Nobody else but God could have made us. "It is good," God proclaimed of creation. God does not make anything that God does not love.
Love will triumph. Freedom will triumph. Christ will triumph, and so will we. No one can place a price on what God has freely given. All we need to do to claim that freedom is to obey the primary order ever given us by the God Who Is and that is, quite simply, to be.
God created us with a single word from "His" mouth and with that word, God gave us the freedom to be who "He" made us to be. Let no word or deed ever take that freedom away.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911.
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