Right after I posted my interests on the illusion of freedom, I thought I might also share the nature of the ‘freedom from religion’, as a study. Please do note that I do explore this topic not intending to offend anybody in particular, only that I offer perspectives about our concepts.
I was provoked to thought as I recall my friend around 2 years ago, declaring proudly to me: “I’m a freethinker. I’m like a free bird flying in the air; free from the chains of religion.” During then I think I simply thought a while about what he said but I did not respond in any way. I am a Protestant myself, and one of the cool things we believe in is listening to others’ views, not forcing our views upon other people. So I simply sat there digesting my friend’s words (and my meal), choosing to remain silent.
What he said seemed to have gone through a considerable and respectable amount of thought, at least from the point of view of someone outside of religion (freethinkers claim they are free to believe in anything they wish to, but not anything specifically). I actually do understand the various things he could have been referring to. Referring to some of the major world religions, they are some of what I think he called ‘chains’, things that were in his perspective burdensome: for Islam, there is a great commitment of five times of prayer daily, periods of entire-day fasting, amongst other duties, summed up in the five pillars of Islam. For Buddhism, those who wish to achieve nirvana have to commit to virtue, mental development, wisdom, effort and other methods of attaining higher levels until one is finally freed from the cycle of rebirth (reincarnation). Believers in Judaism must follow all the laws as set out in the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy), amongst other important rituals and events (e.g. circumcision, Bah Mitzvah). Of course I might be incorrect especially for the various branches or versions of each faith that hold differing views on the importance of certain practices over others.
In common amongst these world religions, and Christianity, is, or seems to be, the commitment to the various institutions and bodies of faith: the mosque, the temple, the synagogue, the church. I can understand why my friend would see routine visits to these places as part of the ‘chain’ he talked of. More than that, in common between the religions is what seems to be the moral code to live by, and that command or strong need to follow all set down in books by these religions. The Qu’ran, Torah, and the Holy Bible (for the three Abrahamic religions) are the main sources of the different moral codes for these beliefs. My friend seemed to see the imposed morality as a major weight. Followed by the other rituals, practices, and routines.
But can we apply the freedom-control inseparability here? Why not? In this case, my friend seemed to be free from religion and its ‘burden’; but where would that leave him? Free from any obligations to morality or spirituality? Sure, for on the surface the freethinker is free to think and act however he sees fit. But applying the not-freedom-then-control idea, if he does not obey any of those major set of ‘rules’, it is necessary he interacts with the world using another set of ‘rules’, regardless their origin. One cannot be devoid of perspective, for that is what I see as a basis for humanity that sets us apart from creatures of the field. So, if, let’s say, my friend does not think doing good deeds is necessary, as many religions beseech, then he needs not heed the call to donate money to charity; to save a drowning person he does not know; in fact, taking things extremely, he can say he has no need to exhibit filial piety, or seflessness, or compassion, as some religions do command. Furthermore, if morality is what he wants to be free from, more than not doing good, he allows himself to do bad. In a world void of law enforcement he would murder, steal, rape, all without remorse or regret. So it seems that a life without compliance to a moral code seems to be a freedom from morality.
But then, he is controlled by a lack of a moral code. His code could tell him to care only for his needs and wants; to forget the needs of others; to think and act only to fulfill his desires. He sets his new goal in life around which everything revolves. As extreme as it sounds, thinking about moral codes for a while can make it seem more believable. If I took away your belief – whether in a Final Judgement, an all-seeing God, or a future based on good work, or in anything – I don’t leave you with no belief but the belief that the ultimate good is yourself. You can’t not care for anything; you start caring for yourself. It quickly avalanches into a full-blown direction for your life to seek out the greatest good you can think of: yourself. He is under the control of this code, whether against his free will or not. Turning back means exploring the possibility that religions could have it right at some point, then perhaps all of it could be right.
Perhaps my arguments seem overly fuzzy, but it’s because I’m not presenting the argument for religion with regard to any specific religion; I hope it has covered the diversity of faiths constituting religions. Still my bottom line is clear enough. Getting away from all pre-existing and widespread beliefs entails developing and embracing your own set of beliefs. Whether or not where these beliefs lead you where you imagined and hoped to be is another matter that differs on what that new set of beliefs is.
If you examine my example about selfishness carefully, you will see that I treated the new set of beliefs as free! Free like a bird as my friend put it; no weight, so long as he is relishing in the lifestyle created by the new set of beliefs. For example, you could very well enjoy a life of pursuing money and luxuries just to pamper yourself: cars, condos and cash, whatever you could ever want right where you want it. In the process let’s say you neglected your parents, family, finding instead upper-class friends to party with. After all filial piety means spending money, time and effort, not all of which you might be willing to part with. They are your money, your time and your effort anyway. You never donate, let alone do charity work. Unless that’s going to give you a good public image (depends on your job). You’re so going to love this life, if you also love lying on your deathbed in the way that you will. Selfishness breeds a flock of friends quite of your type, and even a family similar to you: but selfishness never gets one beyond the superficial fascia of interactions with people. You end up with flaky relationships that exist only because of personal gain – intimacy, physical pleasure, popularity etc. You end up with a brutal fight for your assets between your children, even your multiple wives/mistresses (where applicable). Much like the dramas I watch (dramas aren’t useless. They teach me more than I imagined). The deathbed would be cold. Cold like your heart, in fact. As cold as your outlook towards the needy and what they really need. Death will not necessarily be agonizing, but the moments before that death comes, you will recollect your life, perhaps not an imperceptible flashback but a painful turn of the pages of the photobook as you ask yourself what you have accomplished.
I’ve written so much in the hope that you come to see my implied point. What I believe is that there are ways to find chains outside of and without religion in ways you never expected, just as you can find chains within religion. Even if you are not convinced about the pains that can be inflicted outside of religion, I hope you are not doubtful of the control you will be under. The control that I believe comes with a great cost.
To end off this long post, and perhaps aptly preparing myself for my next random post on control, I hope this verse from the Holy Bible can enlighten you on one example of freedom and control:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Only remembered this very impactful verse after I wrote about the selfishness example. Coincidence? Maybe. Either way I think it does sum up what I tried to say. (I believe even for non-Christians, the Bible is a great source of inspiration and wisdom for those who discover it for themselves.) Don’t want to have anything to do with God as a master of your life? Then you serve something else. As I interpret it, serving money is more than selfishness and greed: it is also worrying about financial needs, independent of the help which those who ‘serve God’ claim to receive. Independent of God, you are a slave to money and its imperatives. Free from the control money bring, you can serve God.
I hope you understand where I come from with this introduction of a Bible verse. The way I see it, I am at a basic level sharing a great perspective on religion, from religion; whether you agree or not is your call. Hope you enjoyed reading my perspective on freedom and control with respect to religion, as much as I do enjoy writing about it.