The Consciousness of Freedom: Have We Lost It?

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The freedom
which we have cherished since the 18th century in this
nation has been supplanted in one of the most ingenious ways imaginable,
namely it has been replaced by an entity claiming the same name
when in reality it is something insidiously different. You might
ask how such a farce has been perpetrated upon the American public.
The answer is that they have done it by erasing our consciousness
of freedom. I’ve been contemplating the parallels of late between
the construct known as The
Matrix
and that known as democracy. The primary parallel
being that in the movie the most successful forms of the matrix
were those that included the greatest illusory versions of freedom
to the point where pain and suffering were the outcome of such freedom.
Nevertheless, within this mirage of freedom was the truth that the
machines actually controlled the minds of mankind. I am afraid that
the illusion of democracy is a far more effective tyrant that a
self-proclaimed tyrant could ever be. Why? Because most people think
that what I just said is the realm of “conspiracy theory” and that
such a perpetration of our freedom could never take place. Well,
if this is the case, J. Gresham Machen was a conspiracy theorist.
Way back in 1929 he was bemoaning the erosion of our freedom via
such entities as federal banks and the department of education.
Unfortunately, the people did not listen to this prophet in the
early part of the century, but have we learned anything since? Are
we still living under the illusion that the democratic process freely
allows us to direct the future of this nation? Do we really think
that there is a fundamental difference between R. Giuliani and H.
Clinton, Kerry and Bush, Obama and Romney? It is the illusion of
choice that allows the “powers that be” to continue to dupe us into
allowing them to determine our wars, our policy, our budgets, our
choice of words, our bearing of arms, our education of our children,
etc. What did Machen have to say? Here are some excerpts of an address
given right down the road from my home at Hampden-Sydney College
in 1929.

"The
real indictment against the modern world is that by the modern
world human liberty is being destroyed. At that point I know many
modern men could only with difficulty repress a smile. The word
liberty has today a very archaic sound; it suggests G.A. Henty,
flag waving, the boys of ’76, and the like. Twentieth-century
intellectuals, it is thought, have long ago outgrown all such
childishness as that. So the modern historians are spelling “liberty,”
when they are obliged to use the ridiculous word, in quotation
marks: no principle, they are telling us, was involved, for example,
in the American Revolution; economic causes alone produced that
struggle; and Patrick Henry was engaging in cheap melodrama when
he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Liberty,
in present day education, is regarded as entirely out of date;
and standardization has taken its place. If, it is said, we allow
all sorts of queer private schools and church schools to confuse
the minds of youth, what will become of the welfare of the state?
How can we have a unified nation without a standardized school?

The bill
establishing a Federal Department of Education, despite the powerful
lobby working in behalf of it, has not yet become a law, but I
fear that these setbacks to the attack upon liberty, unless the
underlying temper of the people changes, are but temporary, and
that the process of standardization and centralization will go
ruthlessly on.

From such
a slavery, which is already stalking through the entire earth
today, in the particular form of the materialistic paternalism
of the modern state, from such a world of unrelieved drabness,
we seek escape in the high adventure of the Christian religion.
There and there only, we think, is liberty to be found."

If this address
were to be given at the same place today, I daresay that the speaker
would be written off as a lunatic or a “fringe conspiracist.” Why
is this? Was Machen, a gifted thinker and biblical scholar, a lunatic?
Was he so far off? The problem is that his prophecy is dead-on.
The people of the “modern state” as Machen has called it, have forgotten
what freedom means, and they have accepted the imposter which goes
by the same name. We are now so far removed from the tyranny of
a king that we have forgotten how tyranny begins, and thus we cannot
see it beginning in the form of democracy. It is frightening that
at the consent of massive numbers of people the new king, a.k.a.
the President of the United States,is enjoying a plethora of new
powers; unchecked powers that allow him to make decisions for the
deceived masses in the name of democracy. It should be frightening
to us, as it was to Machen, that throughout history, people have
willingly surrendered their freedom in similar ways. Many Germans
assented to the will of Hitler, at least in the beginning, when
they thought his decisions to be in the interest of the people.
Do we know what freedom is anymore? How would we even know if we
are free? When will we realize that our choices are illusory and
that we have been misled into a grave mistake? Will it be too late?
People like Machen have been warning us for years. The founding
fathers warned us about the very path on which we are now embarking.
If we sacrifice liberty for safety, we will lose both. Our problem
today is that we don't think we are sacrificing liberty, because
we are beginning accept the ridiculous substitute which bears little
more than a lexical resemblance.

October
31, 2007

Matthew
Rondeau [send him
mail
] is a theological student at Southeastern Baptist Theological
Seminary.

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