The Price of Freedom

By Christopher Ryan Maboloc
Ateneo de Davao University

The headline reads, “Over 300 dead in bloodiest day of Syria conflict”. The message is clear, without any form of intervention, there will be more killings and thousands more in Syria. The United Nations has remained ineffectual in securing the safety of civilian lives. The empire of America is busy with its domestic elections, and more than anything else, the issue that the US electorate is more concerned with is “jobs, jobs, jobs”. In theory, any sitting US President can choose to begin, or end any war. But the body count will continue, for the United Nations is effectively debilitated with the reluctance of Russia and China to cooperate. Syria simply is a hopeless case. Add to this problem a man named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his constant vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world and Israel’s threat of a pre-emptive strike on Iran, then you certainly have a recipe for a new world order – the end of the world.

The ramifications from an artless “Innocence of Islam” video have put question the very limits of free speech. President Barack Obama has mentioned during the United Nations General Assembly, that certain values are universal, freedom of expression being one of them. But while this and as to whether or not the US had information of a pending attack in the Libyan embassy on the anniversary of 9/11 are debated in the press, notoriously being given an Anti-Obama slant by Fox News, nobody seems to care about the fact that each and every single day, there are many dead children retrieved from homes destroyed by bombings and mortar fire in that callous Syrian conflict.

Undeniably, political rhetoric has overtaken the promise of salvation. The blood of martyrs is written all over every wall in countries torn by civil wars. In times of war, murder is justified in the name of nationalism. In politics, the issue is control – the total subjugation of our humanity in the name of sovereignty, at the expense of the lives of people. In retrospect, while the world was trying to avert nuclear disaster by limiting the stockpile of nuclear weapons, former State Secretary Henry Kissinger and Chairman Mao still had time to talk about “philosophy” in their many confidential meetings. Religion seems to be absent in the overarching scheme of the socio-political apparatus.

What is the understanding of religion today? Dr. Romulo Bautista explains that “religion is commonly used today to refer to those beliefs, behaviors, and social institutions that have something to do with speculations on any, and all, of the following: the origin, end, and significance of the universe” or that aspect which concerns “what happens after death; the existence and wishes of powerful, non-human beings such as spirits, ancestors, angels, demons and gods; and the manner in which all of this shapes human behaviors” but, he adds, “because each of these makes reference to an invisible (that is non-empirical) world that somehow lies outside of, or beyond human history, the things we name as ‘religious’ are commonly thought to be opposed to those institutions that we label as political” (Bautista,1)

The Dalai Lama, just like Christ before him, said that we need compassion in the world. The problem, however, is that man is selfish. Globalization is simply another name for world domination. China is building a new world empire by being the world’s biggest factory. What is the role of religion in all these? Does religion make society more democratic? Or does it be-muddle it? Of course, we still believe that democracy is the very ideal men seek to install in every society. But the road to peace, often interspaced by wars in the name of God, is always tainted with blood. Maximilien Robespierre, a murderer who championed The Reign of Terror, once exclaimed that “what is the objective toward which we are reaching? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws are engraved not on marble or stone but in the hearts of men, even in the heart of the slave who has forgotten them or of the tyrant who disowns them.”

Thus, we often ask, should the death of thousands be the price for the peaceful enjoyment of freedom and equality? But where is thy Lord amidst all these torment and torture on the powerless? One argument is that religion is a remnant of human ignorance. Primitive people in the earliest advent of human civilization worship gods because of their insecurity. God is the idealization of the human essence. The notion of divinities is no more than a projection of what they do not have. Primitive man had no answer for the wrath of nature.

Today’s modern religions carry the same predicament. God is seen as the light, as source of hope, as our eternal salvation. We think of heaven for life on earth is unbearable. The point is, however, man need not be saved later. Those children who are dying in ubiquitous refuge camps need to be saved now. But the downtrodden cannot rely on the love of Angelina Jolie. The world needs to defy the cunning ways of tyrants like Bashar Al Assad. What we need now is the strength of human resolve.

Thomas Paine, in denouncing Christian mysteries, prophecies and miracles, advanced the cause of the marriage between reason and religion: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.” Indeed, for the powerless among us, there is no other recourse but through prayers. But prayers cannot bring peace. The reason is simple. Prayers cannot feed a hungry stomach. There cannot be peace on earth if the world remains unjust. If we bring people together to pray, the only thing that it does is offer a minute of silence. But our prayers will not change the lives of men.

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