I have long lived in a Christian frame of mind where there are constraints of thought, constraints of behavior that I am now so accustomed to as to be almost imperceptible. I’ve assembled the list from the ancient writings of the Old and New Testament. For example:
Do not speak God’s name lightly or in oath or jest
Do not take what belongs to others
Do not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage
Do not envy what others have
Give a part of your income to God/others/the church
Work hard and honestly at your job
Treat every person as equally valuable in God’s sight
Obey those in authority/don’t cheat the government
Pray about the things that disturb you
Surrender your life to God daily
Know and honor the Bible
Have confidence in God’s love
Be humble and aware of your own shortcomings
Don’t judge others
Don’t kill or even hate others
Trust God at all times
I find this list, though it may seem long and cumbersome to an ‘outsider’ as reasonable and comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Not that I am a pristine example of the list, but following it is woven into the fabric of my life. It does not feel in the least oppressive.
I find, however that lately the country in which I live, which has for the most part reinforced these values, has become something quite ‘other’. For several decades, there has been a concerted effort, both in entertainment and public policy to ridicule and fundamentally change any belief of this sort, or to add to the list significant rules and strictures which multiply almost daily. There is a concerted and intensifying effort to create followers of a new faith, a new religion, a new dogma. I find myself an alien in a country where my own faith is the enemy. Rather than expanding my life with the new views of freedom from old rules, I find myself in an impossible catch-22. In order to embrace and live in the new ‘religion’, I must discard the old. But I cannot. It has become a part of me. It is me. Therefore I must somehow live in both, and this results in an ever shrinking ideological place to stand. The space is narrow, and closing fast.
Assumptions of guilt are made before I even take a breath, or speak a word. Dozens of high-profile examples are paraded before my eyes as cautionary tales. Breach the thought lines, and you’ll be made an example of. But while I am ever more constricted, oppression is a wide highway. No one, not even the members of the new ‘faith’ are safe in a climate of soft totalitarianism.
I fall back on the final entry on my list. Trust God at all times. It may well be my last place to stand.
Just now it feels wide and spacious.