Thoughts on Freedom

The long-awaited reopening of indoor coffee shops and restaurants has finally arrived. Despite the remaining mitigations such as continuing to wear masks when moving about indoors and continuing to keep one metre of social distance, it still feels like a massive step closer to life as it we used to know it. To be able to sit around a table with up to six friends from different households feels almost like an unthinkable amount of freedom, “a giant leap for mankind (sic)”. We can finally have visitors at home , as long as it only involves one other family and no more than six people in total, and we can even have to them stay overnight!

In some ways these new freedoms, and all the freedoms still to come, are almost as unsettling and as frightening as the start of the first lockdown. There is considerable comfort in rules. The simple clarity of the first lockdown was refreshingly easy to understand. “Stay Home, Keep safe, Protect the NHS.” Not easy to do, or to endure, but at least easy to understand. And if you broke the rules and were caught out, you had no excuse, as many discovered who certainly should have known better.

Rules tend to be simple and clear, like that.

“This is the line and you must not cross the line or else you will be punished or suffer the consequences.”

In theory, and to some extent in practice, a life lived according to the rules, even when the rules are draconian and harsh, can be safe and rewarding, even tempting. In a recent survey conducted in the former USSR in 2020, a surprising 75% of responders agreed with the statement “the Soviet epoch was the best time in the history of our country, with a high level of welfare and opportunities for common citizens." And that was the case even including the era of Josef Stalin’s purge in 1937.

With increasing freedoms and choice comes increasing messiness, and that can be very, very, uncomfortable. As we are allowed more and more freedoms and we rediscover the reality of having to cope with each other’s choices and mess, it will definitely be a challenge. But ultimately freedom is too important to be put off. The temptation of holding onto the safety net of inflexible regulations and rules must not become an excuse for accepting less than the full and abundant life that is Christ’s ambition for us. So lets greet each new freedom with enthusiasm and passionately reembrace the wonder of this gloriously messy life in all the breadth of its wonderful, colourful rainbow.

Rev Ian Carton is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.