Freedom: A Fair Exchange for Security?
Regenia Gagnier’s lecture “A Literary Anthropology of Freedom and Choice: The Novel as Philosophical Anthropology” resonated with me for several reasons. Often, during the lecture, just one sentence lead me to leap from connection to connection.
When Gagnier summarized the view (whose view, I wish I could remember) that humans “need to abandon this notion of being ‘special,’” one of my favorite quotes, by Gloria Anzaldúa, came to mind:
I’m a citizen of the universe. I think it’s good to claim your ethnic identity and your racial identity. But it’s also the source of all the wars and all the violence, and all these borders and walls people erect. I’m tired of borders and I’m tired of walls. I don’t believe in nationalism. I don’t believe that we’re better than people in India or that we’re different from people in Ethiopia… [People] talk about being proud to be an American, Mexican, or Indian. We have grown beyond that. We are specks from this cosmic ocean, the soul, or whatever. We’re not better than people from Africa or people from Russia. If something happens to the people in India or Africa – and they’re starving to death and dying – then that’s happening to us, too. (Gloria Anzaldúa)
While Gagnier introduced this idea in a larger context (that, among species we are not as special as we think, and the “dance of agency” is a lifelong activity in which all things participate) and Anzaldúa, I think, meant it in terms of intraspecies relationships, I was taken by how both express similar concepts that revolve around this Kybalion-esque idea of the “all.”
I was again reminded of Anzaldúa’s quote when Gagnier mentioned Dostoevsky’s belief that every human bears responsibility for the crimes of every other human. While Anzaldúa’s view is the product of years of spirituality, meditation, even the use of psychedelics, Dostoevsky’s view is probably at least in part a conformity to Christianity (the concept of “original sin” – we are forever responsible for the crimes of Adam and Eve). This is similar to Anzaldúa’s belief that “if something happens to the people in India or Africa… then that’s happening to us, too.” If one person is starving, we are all starving, says Anzaldúa. If one person commits a crime, we all bear responsibility, Dostoevsky believes. Once again, I find it interesting how such wildly different figures often come to similar conclusions. I think it’s comforting to know that we’re all coming to at least some of the same conclusions, even if in small, nuanced ways. This is biased, of course, by one of my views on religion: that all the arrows of so many different religions are pointing in the same direction.
During the lecture, Gagnier stated, “Christianity creates Jesus to mediate between God and people,” and went on to explicate the difference between God and the people as the chasm between the universal and the individual, the perfect versus the imperfect, the sinless versus the sinful. Gagnier’s use of the verb “create” stood out to me. The verb bears the implication that Christianity invented Jesus because it somehow made sense to do so. This reminded me of Robert Wright’s recent article in The Atlantic, “One World Under God.” In the article, Wright, an agnostic, convincingly articulates the level of pragmatism present in the foundations of Abrahamic religions, and uses history to suggest that globalization is, in fact, God’s will. While Wright walks a delicate line in the article, as is necessary when writing about matters of religion (and which I’m sure I’m not about to do), it seems like he might agree with the suggestion that Jesus, then, was perhaps a convenient – and pragmatic – intermediary. In the article, Wright represents important religious figures such as the Apostle Paul as the CEO of Christianity, and points out that Christianity probably has goals similar to many businesses: more clients.
Speaking of businesses, I have always thought of contemporary religion as sort of akin to MacDonalds. Perhaps it began with real hamburger meat – maybe even the best, juiciest, Grade A beef (divine inspiration) – but in an effort to disseminate this hamburger to the masses, the meat itself has undergone pasteurization along the way that has altered the original beef. That Grade A hamburger meat has become something that barely resembles its nascent state: McDonalds. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what that nascent state was. Is a McDonalds patty made with any real hamburger meat? I think it is – I hope it is – but I’m not eating McDonalds for the time being.
While I realize this post is becoming a bit tangential now, I do think this is relevant considering that Gagnier did briefly discuss (I believe during the question and answer period) how a Western obsession with freedom is partially responsible for religious conflict. I hope I interpreted that correctly? I believe she mentioned this in the context of Dostoevsky’s belief that people don’t need freedom; rather, they crave and need security.
What wasn’t fully acknowledged is that religion perfectly fulfills this need for security over freedom. Did Dostoevsky, as a Christian, understand just how pragmatic his religious views were in fulfilling his human needs? In security-over-freedom fashion, Dostoevsky’s belief perfectly explains why religion persists after so many years. Isn’t that what religion is, after all: a set of rules that followers must abide by (thereby removing their freedom if they are to exist within that set of rules) in return for security – and not just any security, but everlasting security in the presence of the greatest security guard humans can possibly fathom: an omnipotent God.
Since I’m not sure how to end, and could riff on these topics forever, I’ll conclude with a question: Is there any religion that doesn’t remove freedom in exchange for some sort of security?