John Bennison Words and Ways | 2015 | June


Declaration graphicA Commentary for the Observance of Independence Day, 2015

A pdf version to print and read is HERE.




Liberty and Freedom: People – especially politicians, it seems – frequently use the two terms interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. But while civil liberties can be legislated and personal freedoms can be infringed upon, there is something autonomous about personal choices and actions that can never ultimately be denied or encumbered. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given,” the late author and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, once said. “Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”

Two stark and recent examples of this distinction of unbridled freedom would be the lone gunman who shot and killed nine people in a Charleston bible study group, and the reflexive response of the victims’ families from that faith community to even mouth the graceful words of forgiveness. Individuals can entangle themselves and others in the worst sorts of ways; while others find the capacity to become unbound from that which can kill body and spirit.

An earlier commentary considered the two ideas of conscience and consciousness as a spiritual component and practice of human experience. These comments are written as we approach our nation’s annual observance of the Independence Day holiday; exploring what might constitute a progressive Christian perspective of a kind of liberating “freedom” that is comprised of loosing the bonds of all the little deaths we die, and binding oneself to that which can irrepressibly spring once more to life.


On Liberty


“Without Thomas Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence, there would have been no American revolution that announced universal principles of liberty. … Without Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, there would have been no Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and no basis for the most precious clause of our most prized element of our imperishable Bill of Rights – the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

― Christopher Hitchens, author, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything


The Supreme Court hands down its majority opinion on same-sex unions, making it the law of the land. It expands the definition of marriage to include all adults in loving, committed relationships, with the freedom to legally marry whomever they wish.

Some opponents, of course, are quick to see it as an attack on religious freedom; claiming it not only despoils the so-called traditional definition of marriage, but further compels conservative evangelicals and other similar types to accept values they hold to be contrary to their own convictions and conscience.

In actuality, legalizing same-sex unions nationwide is not about who is free to bind themselves to another person; but rather about a civil liberty that has been established (or imposed) to protect some of our fellow citizens against anti-discriminatory practices.

This is just one example from a single week of headlines. On another front, Obamacare moved one step closer to being a fait-de-complet; taking away the freedom of individual states to deny federal subsidies if they had previously refused to set-up exchanges for the uninsured.

On another front, the legislative branch moved closer to freeing up the Administration’s hand with regard to future fast-track international trade deals.

Meanwhile, the temporary freedom for two escaped cons in upstate New York came to end; along with some alleged accomplices that have found themselves thrown in the clink.

And in California where I reside, the governor signed legislation requiring mandatory vaccination for school children, taking away the parents freedom to decide for themselves.

In the maelstrom of daily life our worlds seem to be defined to one degree or another as being more, or less, free; based on the choices made by ourselves, and others. It seems to be a process of entangling and untangling, when given the opportunity to do both. There is our personal, individual freedom of choice that can never be denied or usurped; while there are also certain inalienable rights our system of government declares to protect and defend.

This is the distinction and relationship between our liberties that are constituted and legislated, and our inherent freedom (some would say “endowed by our Creator”) that can never be denied, but only suppressed; all while recognizing those outward expressions of that inherent freedom can be dubbed anything from civil disobedience to unfettered anarchy.

In other words, we are always free to choose that to which we would bind ourselves; regardless of the possible consequences of such a choice. The real question underlying this undeniable principle is who, or what, will be the basis for expressing such a personal freedom.

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