As those of us in the United States celebrate Independence Day on July 4, I've been reflecting on the nature of freedom. What does freedom really mean? Who is free? What is he or she free from? How is freedom acquired, and at what cost? The answers to these questions given by A Course in Miracles are quite different from the answers implied by the story we celebrate with marching bands, patriotic speeches, and fireworks on the Fourth.
Every American is familiar with the traditional story (a highly mythologized story to be sure, but I won't get into that here). The American colonists were suffering under the thumb of King George III and Great Britain's exorbitant taxes. "Taxation without representation is tyranny," the colonists said. Their dissatisfaction eventually led to representatives of the colonies meeting in Philadelphia in 1776, where they declared independence from Great Britain. Those representatives signed the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that men (well, white men with property) "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The new American nation eventually won its independence through the struggle and sacrifice of a bloody revolutionary war. This victory led finally to the creation of a Constitution aimed at preserving the hard-won freedoms of "we the people."
The essence of this story is typical of political revolutions: It is about the quest for the freedom of bodies from the tyranny of other bodies, a freedom that is won at great cost. Freedom means the power to do what you will without obstruction, so to have freedom you must fight against and vanquish the obstructers; as the saying goes, "Freedom isn't free." A Course in Miracles agrees that freedom means the power to do your will without obstruction. However, in its view, this freedom is acquired in a different way: by freeing the mind from the tyranny of the ego, a freedom that has no cost at all. Let's look at these three aspects one at a time.
First, freedom lies in freeing the mind. There is a great discussion in Chapter 22 of the Text (T-22.VI) which says that we can choose either the freedom of the body or the freedom of the mind as our goal. Whichever one we choose, the other becomes a means to that goal. Therefore, "Where freedom of the body has been chosen, the mind is used as means whose value lies in its ability to contrive ways to achieve the body's freedom" (T-22.VI.2:1). But using the mind as a means to secure the body's freedom is totally upside down, because freedom of the body, in and of itself, is meaningless. The body is an imprisoning illusion within the larger imprisoning illusion of the world, and how can a prison be free? Instead, we need to make freedom of the mind our goal. When we do, the body because a means to that goal, a communication device for extending the healing gift of freedom of the mind to our brothers. "This is the only service that leads to freedom" (T-22.VI.3:3).
Second, freedom lies in freeing the mind from the ego. As long as we are chained to the ego, all of our apparently "free" choices within this world are just options within the prison system: Do we prefer to do our time in Attica or Sing Sing? The choice between the ego and the Holy Spirit, however, is a truly free choice, our "one remaining freedom as a prisoner of this world" (T-12.VII.9:1). This choice, of course, is the one the entire Course is designed to help us make. And interestingly, the Course's two references to "declaration of independence" (which I'm sure are allusions to America's founding document) are both talking about versions of that choice:
The Kingdom is perfectly united and perfectly protected, and the ego will not prevail against it.
This is written in the form of a prayer because it is useful in moments of temptation. It is a declaration of independence. (T-4.III.1:12-2:2)
In addition, repeat the idea for today ["I am not the victim of the world I see"] as often as possible during the day. Remind yourself that you are making a declaration of independence in the name of your own freedom. And in your freedom lies the freedom of the world. (W-pI.31.4:1-3)
Both of these are practices in which we declare our independence from the tyranny of the ego and its apparently imprisoning world, affirming instead that we are free citizens of the Kingdom of God. The ego is only a false will we have made up; to be in the Kingdom is our true will, and being able to do what we truly will is the very definition of freedom. "There is nothing else that ever should be called by freedom's name" (T-30.II.2:3).
Finally, this freedom comes at no cost. It is our inheritance from God, so we don't need a bloody revolution to win it. Indeed, the Urtext tells us that freedom "should not be fought for, but it should be sided with." We side with it by doing Course practices that enable us to take hold of the freedom that is already ours. Jesus once said of Bill Thetford that "he never just claims his rights." This is all we need to do to be free: claim our rights as children of God.
The point of all this is not to say that political liberation movements like the one that led to American independence are inherently misguided. At their best, like the nonviolent liberation movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., they can actually be expressions of liberated minds, minds that are committed to egoless love. It may well be that America's founding fathers, who were certainly remarkable men in many ways, had some of this spirit behind their movement as well. And believe me, I'm quite grateful that my taxation comes with representation, and that I can write about this very non-mainstream spiritual path of mine without getting burned at the stake or sent to the Gulag.
The point is simply that freedom of the mind from the prison of the ego is where our primary focus should be. This is a freedom we can have regardless of what happens to our bodies; as Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl famously said, "Everything can be taken from a man but…the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." And the best news is that this freedom is a gift from God that is ours forever. Thomas Jefferson was right when he said in the Declaration of Independence that we are created equal and are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (though the Course would point out that we already have happiness). The word "unalienable" means that these things can't be taken away from us. "The right to live is something no one need fight for. It is promised him, and guaranteed by God" (P-3.III.4:1-2). In short: Freedom is free.