Danger in a Free World

berlinwall

The world, or most of it, is marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today. In a commentary in the Kansas City Star (here) one German from what used to be the other side of that cold wall reminisced, “When the wall came down, we all wanted to be Americans. To us, at that time, it meant to buy beautiful things.” But, as it turned out, this dream wasn’t all that satisfying.

The article continues:

But as her small apartment began to fill with things, she began to notice something leaving as well: The passion that had infused her life. No longer was she weaving subtle anti-government statements between the words of her performances. No one cared for such things; they were all too busy with their own lives. Her shows were no longer driven by a need to bring hope to society. People had become increasingly isolated and self-absorbed.

In work, and in society, Schmitt sensed the notion of a greater purpose was fading.

Why did a life oppressed by fear and totalitarianism have meaning, when a free life became a bit empty? The world, as a whole, was obviously safer. Yet, to many, it felt more dangerous. It’s irrational. But so are the threats of this modern world.

There is, I think, a good lesson in what in means to be free in this keen observation.  For, a free world and a safe environment can prove to be just as dangerous. The words of Bill Clinton come to mind in such moments. I believe there was some wisdom in his answer to the question why he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. He said, “Because I could.”

I am certainly not advocating a totalitarian regime. But freedom itself, or the idea of it, can be turned into something which rules our lives in a very totalitarian way where we do things – at times unexplainable and oftentimes in vain – simply because we can.

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3 thoughts on “Danger in a Free World

  1. With the Berlin Wall in place, the Germans living in East Berlin — under a totalitarian government — knew what they could do and what they could not do.

    As a result of the Berlin Wall being knocked down in 1989, the residents of East Berlin were able to have more freedom; however, with freedom one also needs to have responsibility. The East Berliners were surprised to discover that, although the Berlin Wall was knocked down, they did not have the freedom to do whatever they wanted to do, but that they had to be accountable for their actions.

  2. “Because I could.”

    Three words that define exhaustively the contemporary culture of the world, even in countries where the legal framework of American style liberty is lagging behind, because culture is transmitted faster than law, due to media and marketing.

    These three words define everything from the acceptance of deviant sexuality to aborting babies to death on demand to gluttony to flagrant waste to… you name it.

    “Anything you want to do, I’m happy if you make it go right, and it’s true if it makes you happy, you know, it makes the world more bright, and you shall have liberty, liberty, it always was yours anyway.” The quoted words are put in the mouth of God in a song by the group Incredible String Band (Cutting the Strings), and I wonder now if they knew (back then, 1970’s) what they really meant. It’s obvious, though, what they mean now.

    Just as you posted this, Fr Milovan, our brother David Dickens, an Orthodox online poet, posted these words…

    “Christ is not for the having of things
    Foolish man, you will not find him there

    I tell you a full belly is no revelation
    Not even if fed from plates of gold”

    (http://nothinghypothetical.wordpress.com/)

    What the East Germans found out in aping the American model “because they could” is what David is hinting at in this poem, don’t you think?

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