I have long wished that the author of the Course would have addressed the subject of politics in what he dictated to Helen Schucman. I have finally found a place where he did. It is found in all the earlier versions, but was edited out in the process that produced the familiar, FIP version. Here is the passage, which came directly after what is now T-7.II.2:
You have heard many arguments on behalf of “the freedoms,” which would indeed have been freedom if men had not chosen to fight for them. That is why they perceive “the freedoms” as many instead of one.
But the argument that underlies the defense of freedom is perfectly valid. Because it is true, it should not be fought for, but it should be sided with. Those who are against freedom believe that its outcome will hurt them, which cannot be true. But those who are for freedom, even if they are misguided in how they defend it, are siding with the one thing in this world which is true. Whenever anyone can listen fairly to both sides of any issue, he will make the right decision. This is because he has the answer. Conflict can indeed be projected, but it must be intrapersonal first.
When Jesus mentions “the freedoms” that people have argued for and fought for, I think we instinctively know what he means. He is talking about the freedom to live the way we want. Poking around on the Internet, I find different lists of what the freedoms are, but they are all variations on the basic idea of living freely. There are the four freedoms (from Franklin Roosevelt): freedom of peace and expression, and of worship, and freedom from want and fear. And there are the three freedoms: expression, peaceable assembly, and association.
“The freedoms,” then, involves collective issues, social, economic, and political issues. Trying to secure the freedoms (through argument or fighting) means trying to secure for people the power to live as they want. It means trying to make a difference on a collective level. It means, in some sense, social and political activism.
And Jesus actually addresses this! I think we should pay very close attention to what he says here.
First, he is clearly against fighting for the freedoms. This should be noted, because freedom and fighting are usually paired. The scenario is that someone is in control and is benefiting by clutching our freedom in his greedy hands, and we need to fight to wrest our freedom from him. How often have we heard the phrase “fight for freedom”? (If Google is any indication, the answer is more than two million times.) We even speak of “freedom fighters.” So by telling us that we shouldn’t fight for freedom, Jesus is saying quite an important thing.
What’s wrong with fighting for freedom? As best as I can make out, fighting for it assumes that it is not true (“Because it is true, it should not be fought for”). It assumes that with our fighting we have to make it true, make it real. Part of this is the assumption that certain people will not benefit from freedom (“Those who are against freedom believe that its outcome will hurt them”), which is why it must be forcibly wrenched from their grip. They have to be fought for it because they have something to lose. Overall, our fighting is meant to establish as true something that is not currently true.
The hidden implication of this fight has at least two effects. First, by affirming that freedom is not currently true, it distances us from it, makes it seem out of reach, over the horizon. That explains Jesus’ comment that these freedoms “would indeed have been freedom if men had not chosen to fight for them.” Second, it shatters them into many freedoms rather than one. If freedom is established by our fighting, then bits of it can be established separately. Our fighting may have already established freedom of worship while we are still working on freedom of peaceable assembly. But if freedom is already true, then it’s all already true. All aspects of it go together, and thus it is all real together. It is one thing, not many.
OK, so we shouldn’t fight for it. But does that mean we just sit back and shift our own thinking and not concern ourselves with collective issues? Clearly, he is not saying that. Freedom should be defended, he says. Fighting for freedom is an in appropriate way of defending a profoundly appropriate thing, “the one thing in this world which is true.” That is why Jesus says “they are misguided in how they defend it,” rather than saying they are misguided in defending it.
So how should we defend freedom? By siding with it: “it should not be fought for, but it should be sided with.” To side with means to agree with, to support. The form of siding with that Jesus has in mind here seems to be case-making: “Whenever anyone can listen fairly to both sides of any issue, he will make the right decision.” He seems to have in mind, in other words, making the rational case for freedom, so that those who listen with an open mind will be persuaded.
But I thought good Course students were never supposed to take sides! Apparently, we are—not against people, but with the truth.
I think we can pull quite a bit more out than this, though. It is very likely that “Those who are against freedom” because they “believe its outcome will hurt them,” are the guys in control, the ones we are fighting so that we can win our freedom. (How many people who feel their lives are in someone else’s control are against freedom?) We are supposed to look at them and realize that they will actually benefit from freedom, and that somewhere inside they know this. Their problem is that they are in conflict within themselves. In their minds is the knowledge that freedom is true and the belief that tyranny is happiness. They then project this internal conflict out onto the interpersonal scene. (“Conflict can indeed be projected, but it must be intrapersonal first.”) Now they see a raging conflict between the forces of freedom and the forces of tyranny. But the conflict is not real. Deep inside, they know that freedom is true and freedom is their happiness. And if we can approach them in this spirit, they will eventually side with that inner knowing.
We need to go one last step with this. We need to also apply this picture to ourselves, as those who want to see freedom on a collective level. We too are filled with inner conflict. Deep inside, we know that freedom is true, but we have also accepted into our minds the inner tyrant, the ego. (There are many Course passages likening the ego to a political tyrant.) So we have an argument going on inside of us, between freedom and tyranny. We then project this argument outside and see that same raging conflict I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Having given power to the inner tyrant, we also give power to the outer tyrant. That’s why we fight him, and that’s why freedom seems so distant, always over the horizon.
If we can withdraw all power from the inner tyrant, we will naturally stop seeing the outer tyrant as so powerful. Our attitude toward the outer tyrant will be, “Look, brother, we’re on the same side. We both want freedom. That’s why I’m not going to fight you. You don’t know it, but you want freedom—for everyone—more than anything. The prison you’re defending actually imprisons you. And you’re fighting a losing battle, because freedom is the truth. That’s why I’m already free, regardless of what you do. But if all of us are to discover that we are free, the truth of freedom will need to be made manifest on all levels. And so, for the sake of that, for the sake of your freedom, let me lay my case out before you. See if you don’t find it persuasive. See if it doesn’t trigger a knowing deep inside you. And if you aren’t persuaded by my case yet, I’ll merely find another way to make it. Because it’s only a matter of time before you stop siding against the freedom at the seat of your being.” I’m not saying we actually say that to those in power. That would sound incredibly condescending. But I think that should be our attitude inside.
I’m also not saying I have this all figured out. I actually wanted to write this post so that I could understand this passage. Any given paragraph in the Course is usually made up of mostly simple sentences (like “This is because he has the answer”) that end up having very complex relationships between them. So it can take some real work to pull out what’s there.
Having tried to do that in this case, I find myself intrigued. I get a kind of Gandhian flavor from this. It doesn’t feel exactly Gandhian, but it does feel in the ballpark. Anyway, I’m going to keep thinking about this, and I hope you do, too.
(I just remembered that I wrote another blog post on politics and the Course several months ago, based on another passage from the early dictation. Having just re-read that post, it has some definite similarities to this one. If this topic interests you, you might want to check it out.)