Monday, December 28, 2009

Liberty and Freedom

It is very interesting what we consider to be our highest ideal.  And what we will do to try and preserve that ideal.

I was recently sent a quote by Baha'u'llah and asked how I felt about it.  The quote was, "Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench... Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness."

The individual, given the rest of his letter, obviously felt that liberty was the highest standard by which we can judge anything, and felt what seemed like offense at this quote.

My first thought upon receiving this was, "Why ask me?"  Fortunately, my second thought was to try and see what I did feel about this quote, and it was this thought that led to some introspection.

How did I feel about this?  Or more precisely, how do I feel about this?

You see, the highest ideal for me is the truth of Baha'u'llah's teachings.  Of course, this was not something that I always had; it grew upon my investigation and testing of His teachings.  When I became a Baha'i, it was with the conscious knowledge that I truly believed Baha'u'llah had a better of vision of the world than I will ever have.  He had proven Himself correct more times than I cared to count.

Now, when I read a quote like this, my first thought is, "What can I learn from it?"  Even if I think I already know something about what is being said, that is still my first thought, as I truly believe that the Writings are an endless ocean, whose depths are beyond my ability to fathom.  No matter what I have understood from any piece of the Writings, I can always get more out of it.

Having grown up in Chicago, liberty was always held as a very high ideal, along with life and the pursuit of happiness.  And whereas liberty still holds a very high place in my heart, my definition of it has changed.

Baha'u'llah says of liberty that it "will, if carried to excess, exercise a pernicious influence upon men", yet He also speaks highly of true liberty, which "consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments".

So here is an interesting difference between a common definition of liberty, which many think of as freedom from restriction or externally imposed rules, and Baha'u'llah's definition of true liberty, which is submission to His commands.

What do I think about that?

I am reminded of driving a car.  Just imagine, if you will, what the world would be like if there were no rules for driving.  People would be driving everywhere, from sidewalks to fields and wherever else they pleased.  There would be no stop lights, no speed limit, no nothing.  Everyone could do as they pleased.

Some might think this would be wonderful, but can you begin to imagine how many people would die every year from conditions such as these?  And not just drivers, but pedestrians, too.

This would be a false liberty.

By having the rules of the road, and adhering to them, we are given the greatest amount of liberty in our driving.  Although we have to pay attention to a few minor rules, we are, in the end, able to do much more than we could without them.

This same principal applies in many other areas, from economics and the rules of investing, to corporate production and the laws regarding pollution.  When there are no safeguards, for that's what the rules generally are, we see problems occur like the recent economic crisis that has hit the planet, or the on-going problems with climate change.

In other words, Baha'u'llah vision has proven correct: That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker.

But if we place our higher emphasis upon liberty, then we are led into all sorts of errors and confusion.  We often ask for liberty, "and cast away the thing that profiteth" us, injuring ourselves and others at the same time.

So how do I feel about that quote?  I thank God for it.

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