Friday, February 11, 2005

Freedom in Shades of Gray

I feel a strong tug of irony when I hear socially and/or religiously conservative advocates speaking longly and loudly about spreading freedom. Irony in that these folks, whose moral judgements are rendered in absolute terms, propose freedom of a very relative variety.

It was late in my four dozen years that I realized one of the inherent costs of freedom in the society-at-large would be the need for me to suffer silently a great many things I don't like. Of course, this arises as a need only if I intend to walk what I talk when I say freedom.

Multiple facial piercings; more skin covered by tattoos than not; underwear up to here, pants down to there come to mind in terms of personal appearance.

Music with a lot more beat than melody and words more spoken than sung; teenage performers dancing like exotic adult entertainers; movie dialogue with more profanity than intelligent discourse all get under my skin when I try to enjoy today's popular "entertainment".

But you know what? People being free to do any or all of the above has zero impact on my personal freedom. What I don't like is my problem. I should only worry about that which imposes itself forcefully between me and my liberty (substitute beliefs if you like). I remember Thomas Merton saying something similar,though better, a long time ago, and I found it hard to accept. But it was even harder to deny.

Those who aren't willing to be tolerant when faced with social and cultural practices they don't like, seem to be defining freedom within the context of their own judgement. An acquaintance said to me the other day; "Yeah, but, there has to be a line." Yeah, but, we don't get to draw it individually unless we choose to withdraw from the outside world completely. Good luck with that!

I suggest we only draw that line very rarely and very carefully. Most of the time when faced with people, places, and things we don't like, we should acknowledge the liberty of others and just get over it.

I further suggest that those who would deny these types of liberties (and many others) to their fellow American citizens should find a word other than freedom for what they are trying to spread abroad. The freedom they walk is only a distant relative of absolute freedom.

Moral relativism is to be found in some surprising places these days.


At 5:59 AM, Anonymous RedRyder said...

Amen to everything you say here. Americans these days seem to be for "freedom" until it's something that "offends" them. Maybe some day..


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