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What brings freedom for the individual?

Freedom of the individual is a perennial issue in society; a tension between the needs of society and the wishes of the individual. In most societies we look to the ideals of democracy to guarantee freedom. But, does the democratic ideal guarantee true freedom for the individual? One of the freedoms that democracy aims to guarantee is freedom of religion. We may argue that the true freedom of each of us lies beyond what democracy alone can afford us; and lies within that very freedom of religion.

Recent times have reminded us of some of the shortcomings of democracy as the agent of true freedom. We might reasonably question the essential relationship between democracy and freedom; it does not seem to be guaranteed. The problem lies in the limitations of the concept of a freedom guaranteed by a political and legal process. That freedom may seem better than life under an authoritarian regime, but it is still limited.

We may argue that people are not free if they are wedded to an ideological view of freedom.  We may cite the recent years in the US and the disruption of the former scion of democracy! For example, some people’s valuing a belief in a mistaken personalised concept of freedom, at the expense of common sense and the common good.

A disease-averting mask became a symbol of oppression of personal “freedom”. Part of the problem here is not understanding that rights and freedoms afforded by a democratic society are a covenant with society; and that they come with responsibility in equal measure.

Freedom without this understanding becomes an agent of self-interest and fosters confusion and divisiveness. My “freedom” versus yours.

We may recognise that faith in religion can be the open road to freedom for the individual, beyond that afforded by democracy; but first a caveat on religious freedom. The recent political fall of Afghanistan to an ideological extremism has shocked the world; and democracy-led ideals failed to avert this. A distorted version of a religion of peace has used power, not love, to assert its voice; and, sadly, denies many freedoms to its subjects. A reminder for us that wisdom and love are the true voices of religion; and the basis for freedom-granting faith.

Democracy grants us what we may call external freedoms; freedoms of the ordinary world. Religion however, grants us internal freedoms; freedoms from the more existential human predicament. We are very grateful for what democracy affords, but that does not free us from the existential human situation.

From a Buddhist point of view, we are caught up in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. We regard this as a predicament of suffering. It is a suffering beyond, but also including, everyday kinds of pain and woe. Suffering is being caught up in a confusion driven by propensity for greed, ill-will and delusion; and all that comes of them. The Buddhist teachings, ethical and other practices afford its followers faith in a path beyond suffering, and especially those causes of suffering in which we are enmeshed.

Religiously realised freedoms do come with responsibilities to others and to whomsoever may be the higher powers of our religion. Whereas the higher powers of democratic government are granted in the modes of power, true religion is a relationship based solely in love. In that we may enjoy faith and freedom.

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