We are slaves. All of us.
There are levels to slavery. The most inhumane and evil is physical slavery. There are more people physically enslaved today than ever before in human history. Beyond that, there are generational injustices that persist for hundreds of years in societies where slavery was once widely accepted. To enslave another human being is to take the place of God … without the freewill and grace God gives.
The next level of slavery is involuntary oppression. This is often systemic and controlled meticulously by those who hold power. This includes many of the humanitarian horrors of our recent history—from Nazism to ISIS. It always exists somewhere. People are controlled by others—their freedom is bartered for delusional ideologies. Their breath and beating hearts are sacrificed for someone else’s selfish ambitions. This is clear to us in extreme cases, but less obvious in more subversive, culturally ingrained ways. This is why watching The Matrix fifteen years ago was a spiritual epiphany for me.
“You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell, or taste, or touch.” –St. Morpheus
As a white, middle-class, straight, Christian American man, I entered the batter’s box with a 3-0 count compared to most others. But the system in many ways still enslaves me. Ironically, for people like me, the slavery looks a lot more like trying to keep power than trying to attain freedom—but it’s just two sides to the slavery coin. When your goal in life is to retain a state of privilege that may or may not have anything to do with your actual person, you can unknowingly become a systemic slave master. It’s a powerful thing—the fear of losing that which we’ve always taken for granted.
There is another level of slavery. While it may not be as obvious or systemically evil as other forms of incarceration, it persists in the hearts and minds of human beings everywhere. We find ourselves trapped. Enchained in cycles of self-destructive thinking. We prophesy our own slavery to ourselves and fulfill it by sabotaging the good things that are available to us. We lock ourselves into ethno- and egocentric worldviews. We refuse help for our emotional fragility. We rant and hate against others, but truly only hate ourselves. We are not free. We are slaves to our own misery. It must do something for us or we wouldn’t keep doing it. Many of us have settled for defining the good life as making sure we are superior to those different to us without realizing that we are all slaves to different masters.
I can’t help but think that realizing and verbalizing our common bondage can somehow break down barriers. It can unite us in our all-for-one desire to be free.
The ancients seemed to know that to be human was to yearn for freedom. They saw, wisely, that we are our most alive when we journey from slavery to freedom. We are at our very best when we find our freedom without enslaving others.
This, I believe, is at the heart of the Jewish and Christian devotion to Moses and the Exodus story found in the Scriptures. It points to belief in a God who saves us all from our misery and leads us on a journey to freedom. There are truths in the text than are obvious—and others that have been censored in our recent Hollywood retellings—that I want to share. This story matters deeply to me, because it has given me freedom. And I want it to do the same for you. I believe it will.
Join me in Cincinnati at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on January 23 and 24 to experience the story of The Exodus. Bring a friend. It might be the portal to the freedom you’ve been searching for. I’ll see you there.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Leo Reynolds