Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Freedom of thought

“American values”—sounds like one of the oxymorons I wrote about last week. And, as an American, I sometimes blush at how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. But there is one piece of being an American I would never let go, and that’s freedom of thought.

Certainly free thought is not exclusive to America. It is characteristic, though, of a society where the rule of law is (mostly) based on personal freedom unless you’re hurting someone else and of freedom of the press to report whatever they deem will sell papers. I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek I guess, yet I think this adds up to something spiritually significant.

My dad said this once many years ago during the Cold War. “They can take your property,” he said, “they can lock you up, they can torture you. But they can’t change what you think.”

I’ve really cherished that bit of wisdom over the years. No one can make me think anything I don’t want to think. My consciousness is my own domain, and I rule there.

This gives me the authority to question, in my own mind, anything that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t have to believe anything on someone else’s word unless I choose to. I’m not one of a brigade of Red soldiers, or jihadis, or militant abortion activists—and truth be told, those angry or frightened mobs as well are made up of individuals who have free thought. They have the capacity to think as individuals, to make a difference right where they are.

Time for a Star Trek reference. You’ve heard, perhaps, of the Borg, the icy robotic uber-enemy with no mercy whose only goal was to assimilate other races? The Borg collective thought and acted as one, with no individuality at all. Well, the Star Trek crew managed to separate one from the “hive.” And lo and behold the creature quickly began to demonstrate individuality. Watching the moment when Captain Picard (who has abundant reasons to distrust the Borg) realizes that he’s dealing with an individual rather than the collective still sends chills down my back (we had the DVD at home recently).

It’s a powerful moment, when we realize that the crowd we feared is really made up of individuals with the capacity for free thought. On that level, we can look in their eyes, respect each individual life, and promote understanding among peoples.

So today, on American Independence Day, I’m throwing my arms around the concept that since everyone on earth is blessed with freedom of thought, America need have no enemies. I’m just embracing the truth that each other country and each person in those countries is as valuable and free as anyone I know here is. We can meet together as friends, with understanding and patience, with respect and brotherly kindness leading the way.

It’s an ideal, I know. But it starts with my own thought.

Some great ideas about free thought from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health:

Spiritual rationality and free thought accompany approaching Science, and cannot be put down. They will emancipate humanity, and supplant unscientific means and so-called laws.

You may know when first Truth leads by the fewness and faithfulness of its followers. Thus it is that the march of time bears onward freedom's banner. The powers of this world will fight, and will command their sentinels not to let truth pass the guard until it subscribes to their systems; but Science, heeding not the pointed bayonet, marches on. There is always some tumult, but there is a rallying to truth's standard.

The history of our country, like all history, illustrates the might of Mind, and shows human power to be proportionate to its embodiment of right thinking.

--p. 225

Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression. Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free. Paul said, "I was free born." All men should be free. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Love and Truth make free, but evil and error lead into captivity.

Christian Science raises the standard of liberty and cries: "Follow me! Escape from the bondage of sickness, sin, and death!" Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the "glorious liberty of the children of God," and be free! This is your divine right. The illusion of material sense, not divine law, has bound you, entangled your free limbs, crippled your capacities, enfeebled your body, and defaced the tablet of your being.

--p. 227

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