In the United States, we lionize “freedom”. We make much of how “free” we are, boast of it. Our national narrative is filled with reinforcing stories about liberty and the struggle for freedom.
But what is it?
If freedom means anything, it must be the freedom not just to believe as one wishes, to think as one will, but also to act as one will. To be treated as an equal. And that freedom is in danger in this country at this time.
We are, in reality, one of the most authoritarian states of the developed world. We have a higher rate of incarceration even than China or Saudi Arabia or Russia. Offenses that might warrant a police warning in other nations routinely result in prosecution of Americans; particularly, Americans of color. Police here are militarized. And as we have seen, they get away with murder.
Currently, freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion are all under attack by the right wing in this country. Radical conservatives want us to be a nation where we are “free” only to express what they believe, what they want others to think. The abominable person currently occupying the White House does his best to freeze out legitimate journalism, castigating it as “fake news”. And so-called “Christian” conservatives press calls for “religious freedom” measures to authorize discrimination against religious minorities and LGBTQ people under color of law, and to oppress women through control of their medical choices.
We have a very long way to go before this nation is “the land of the free” by comparison with other developed nations. And we appear to be moving in the opposite direction at the moment.
Let’s not even get started on the checkered history of this country’s support for tyrants elsewhere, nor its military belligerence.
Here, on “Independence Day”, we have a bloody flag to contemplate, and a country becoming more rigorously repressive by the day.
Still, there are bright spots. Throughout the country, for example, decriminalization of marijuana—bans on which have been used particularly to oppress people of color and the poor for nearly a century—is becoming widespread. And the culture is changing such that within a generation, LGBTQ people are going to be widely accepted no matter what the “Christian” right has to say about it.
Finally, our judiciary appears—for the moment—to be defending principles that the neofascists of the American right hope to destroy.
The right would have us believe that “freedom” is a flag-waving, chest-beating boast, and a license to be as cruel and terrible to others as one wishes. The right does not believe in the common good so much as the individual whim.
We, I hope, Atheopagans, are a countervailing voice to those for whom bigotry, oppression and destruction of the common good at the behest of personal greed constitute “freedom”.
Ours is a vision of an expansive world, where difference is celebrated. Where the Great Commons—the Sacred Earth itself—is treasured and stewarded as the birthright, progenitor and carekeeper of our species, now and into the future.
Where “freedom” means the freedom to be individual, to believe and practice as we like without the structures of government telling us otherwise, and a general principle of kindness to one another as we each explore our individual paths.
Freedom is something we hold in our hearts, regardless of what happens out in the world. It colors our behavior, and is a beacon we aspire to in our personal struggles: to be free of the internal oppression of our wounds, as well as to be free of the external constraints of injustice.
We are Atheopagans. We will not be what those who boast and brag about “freedom” while they try to take it away from others want us to be. We believe what we do, we practice as we do. We sing and ritualize and observe our Sabbaths and strike a new path into the future without fear. And we stand for the freedoms of those who are oppressed.
We are free.
Happy Independence Day.