What would you think if you were to hear the following statements? “People I love were catastrophically blown off the planet by me doing what I did.” “I trashed their expectations.” Would you think the person speaking might be about to apologise?
You might be surprised to hear, on the contrary, the following. “It was something I just couldn’t control.” “I was just caught up in a maelstrom of emotion.” “This is what I needed to do.” “I couldn’t put it on hold.” If a man used statements like these to defend his actions in raping a woman, what would you think? Would you accept these as valid justification for his action?
And what would you think if in the same conversation you heard these? “It’s not any reason to have a cataclysmic bust-up.” “Everyone has to accept this.” Would you think the person speaking were trying to diminish the significance of what they’d done? Might it sound like they were suggesting that people who had had their expectations trashed so badly they were “catastrophically blown off the planet” shouldn’t make a big deal of it, but should just get on with life?
You can watch a true story, an Australian story, where all of these things were actually said here. And the response from our society and the television producer who framed the story? Celebration of the actions of the perpetrators.
Some people would object to the use of the word “perpetrators” in the context of this particular story. You might, too. But the language used above speaks for itself. It is the language of freedom gone feral. Feral freedom says do whatever your desires lead you to do, and if people get hurt, well that’s regrettable, but unavoidable. Feral freedom says actions resulting from your exercise of freedom are beyond criticism. The voice of feral freedom will brook no limits on its own liberty, but ironically denies freedom to any voices that might object to the way feral freedom has been exercised.
Our society now values the exercise of freedom in pursuit of self-centred hedonism even above family (the nearest thing to a god for many). We now no longer care about the “so long as nobody gets hurt” tag on the end of “We are free to do as we please.” We express regret for hurt, but not for wrongdoing. We demand acceptance of our actions, which are considered beyond censure, but don’t seek forgiveness for our actions, which would entail acknowledgement that they are beyond acceptable.
And if actions are criticised, there’s always the get-out clause of helplessness. “It wasn’t my desire, it was what I had to do.” This is the language that denies personal responsibility and justifies any action in the name of a greater cause. It’s the language we expect of military or political PR spin doctors explaining the latest campaign. Military strategists refer to the human carnage resulting from single-minded focus on achieving an objective as ‘collateral damage’, a price worth accepting for the greater good of achieving the objective. We hear the same from political leaders when they speak of the compulsory acquisition of a family’s home – their castle – as a regrettable but necessary sacrifice in order to build a new runway.
So what was the objective in this true Australian story? Protection of the weak? Development of infrastructure for the good of many? Neither of the above. Just the pursuit of personal happiness with disregard for the wellbeing of anyone else, in a display that points to a self-centred view of the universe, an absolute lack of character, and merciless rejection of prior commitments made mutually in good faith.
Human beings are made for better than the inconsiderate pursuit of our own happiness. We are born to be free. But we are not born to be feral.
We are to take responsibility for our actions, not avoid responsibility by blaming circumstances or the siren call of our own desire. We are different from wild beasts, who act without restraint because they have no moral compass. We are free agents, not victims helpless to resist emotional urges.
We are called to be free, but we are not to use our freedom to indulge ourselves (Galatians 5:13). We are to live as free people, but we are not to use freedom as a cover-up for evil (1 Peter 2:16). True freedom is not unfettered. True freedom is offered by Jesus, who said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34).