The Common Good

'Duck Dynasty' and the Idolatry of Freedom

I know. We’re all a little fatigued about the Duck Dynasty and freedom of speech controversy. As many have pointed out, everyone has been free during this controversy. Phil Robertson was free to make his statement to GQ. GQ was free to publish it. A&E was free to suspend Robertson for making comments that it thought hurt its image. And, despite that justification, A&E is free to air Duck Dynasty marathons on Dec. 24 and 25. (Yes, on Christmas Day you can watch 12 1/2 hours of Duck Dynasty. A&E is taking this controversy straight to the bank!) We are free to watch, or to not watch, future episodes of Duck Dynasty. We are all free to take sides. And bloggers are freely adding to our Duck Dynasty fatigue by writing endless blog posts.

This blogger asks for your forgiveness in writing yet another post that adds to our fatigue. So I’ll keep this brief.

There is something about freedom that we are missing in this debate, especially from a Christian point of view. When it comes to freedom, we want to fight for the freedom to do or say whatever we want. This is the highest point of freedom in the United States. It’s a freedom that is based on freedom for individual rights. It’s a freedom that says that I should have the right to say whatever I want without any negative consequences.

Whenever Christians use “freedom” and “rights” as an excuse to marginalize a group of people, we become idolaters of freedom. This idolatry of freedom has negative consequences. Actually, “demonic consequences” is not too strong a phrase. In his book Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, Wolfgang Palaver states, “[I]f we fail to use our freedom in a positive way, it can lead to an explosion of the demonic” (28).

We are seeing “an explosion of the demonic” in this controversy. As Michael Hardin reminds us in his ebook on “The satan,” the word satan means accuser. An “explosion of the demonic” is an explosion of satanic accusations against our fellow human beings. “Freedom” is being used on every side in this controversy as an excuse to accuse our fellow human beings of violating someone’s “freedom.” This is the satanic idolatry of freedom that is leading to “an explosion of the demonic”, of endless accusations in the name of “freedom.”

Fortunately, there is a way out of this idolatry. We can “use our freedom in a positive way” as Palaver suggests. In this positive sense, freedom does not lead us to seek ourrights over and against them; rather, Christian freedom is about being for our fellow human beings and loving them just as they are.

Paul pointed to this positive sense of freedom when he wrote in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The American notion that freedom is about the individual is false. Freedom is always relational. When Paul wrote “but through love become slaves to one another,” he meant that we are bound to one another. We can be bound to one another through love or through hate. The question of freedom is always the same: Are we going to use freedom in a negative and idolatrous way that leads us to unite over and against our fellow human beings as we fight for “freedom”? Or are we going to use freedom in a positive way that leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves?

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

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