Freedom is a God-given legacy
In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach to Muslim world.
Politico's Ben Smith wrote this week that the Obama administration "clearly sees an opportunity," signaling "that they're hoping the changes in Tunisia and Egypt spread, and that they're going to align themselves far more clearly with the young, relatively secular masses" in countries like Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.
Is this a new moment for American relations with Muslim countries? Is freedom a religious or secular idea?
Freedom is rooted in the dignity of the human being. It is not the possession of any culture or religious tradition. But some traditions have been more encouraging of freedom than others. Although slavery was permitted (albeit discouraged) in the Bible, and the civil war was fought with religious Christians and Jews on both sides, it remains the case that the Christianized West abolished this practice that was taken for granted by everyone - Greek, Muslim, Christian, Jew - in the ancient and medieval worlds.
Freedom is not an end in itself. I am not free to play the piano if I have no competence. I am not free to swim if by entering the pool I will drown. Freedom must be accompanied by civil structures: schools, an army subordinate to political authorities, equality of women and men, all the appurtenances of a modern society. That these have not thus far existed in much of the Muslim world is a case for lament. That they cannot exist is at worst a calumny and at best unproven.
The human spirit does yearn to be free. The human spirit also seeks, from time to time, to put shackles on itself because of fear of the unknown. Freedom is powerful and dangerous. Every dictator in history has counted on the fear of freedom. The classics of totalitarian literature, from "Brave New World" to "1984" to "Darkness at Noon" probe this strange contradiction in the human soul.
One who believes that human beings are in the image of God knows that each is entitled to create a unique pattern for his or her own life. The savage stamp of totalitarianism is at odds with this spirit. The Exodus is a universal symbol because it represents the yearning to flee from the jackboot of the tyrant. Now, for the first time in history, it is possible that the symbol of freedom in Egypt will no longer be running away from it. All people of goodwill, and surely all people of faith, wait with measured hope. Perhaps this uprising will indeed turn out to be a revolution.
Posted by: jamesls | February 16, 2011 12:57 PM
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