Friday, June 12, 2009

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne

My current read is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. Browne was professional investor and writer, as well as the Libertarian Presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.

This book was first published in 1973, and is Browne's treatise on how to avoid falling under the control over other people, institutions, and ideas that enslave us. His objective is to teach readers how to become freer from these fourteen 'traps'.

They are:
1. Identity trap
2. Intellectual trap
3. Emotional trap
4. Morality trap
5. Unselfishness trap
6. Group trap
7. Government trap
8. Despair trap
9. Rights trap
10. Utopia trap
11. Burning-issue trap
12. Previous-investment trap
13. Box trap
14. Certainty trap

These traps are mostly states of mind, whereby a person incorrectly assumes that they cannot -- or should not -- be free and rule themselves. Browne attempts to cut through these faulty beliefs.

The book (so far) seems strongly Objectivist. It is not a strictly libertarian work, and directly rejects libertarian or other political activism. Browne advises that, in the face of government restriction, one should avoid government, not confront it. Don't organize against government, because that will incur retaliation from government. Just keep a low profile and focus on your own desires. Your goal shouldn't be to free society, but to free yourself -- to care about your happiness and only your individual happiness.

It's quite an interesting work. Here's a passage from The Morality Trap:

There are plenty of people who will be delighted to tell you how to live. You'll hear the words "moral" and "immoral" often enough.

A person who tells you to act "morally" might have any one of a number of reasons. He might really believe that your moral conduct is essential to the future of the world. Or he may believe that he's God's appointed policeman. Or he may be using morality as a weapon to pressure you to do what's best for him. Or he may just have nothing better to do with his time.

Whatever his reason, remember that it's his reason. Too often, morality is used merely as a tool by which one person hopes to manipulate another.

Your reasons for how you live will necessarily be your own. No one knows you as you can know yourself. And only from that self-understanding can you hope to create a code of conduct that will bring you the freedom and happiness that you crave....

Personal morality is an attempt to consider all the relevant consequences for your acts. If you think out of morality for yourself, it should open up a better life that will be free from the bad consequences that complicate matters....

When you decide to take matters into your own hands, someone may ask you, "Who do you think you are? Who are you to decide for yourself in the face of society and centuries of moral teachings?"

The answer is simple: You are you, the person who will live with the consequences of what you do. No one else can be responsible, because no one else will experience the consequences of your actions as you will.

During my own long exit from Christianity, I slowly came to realize that the leaders of the Church who claimed authority over my life -- to whom I had willingly yielded authority -- had only self-serving motives. It would have been difficult for them to be more blunt and explicit that they really didn't care about what happened to me and my family. They had broken covenant with me, therefore I was under no obligation to heed their will in any matter.

The expectation and birth of my daughter really sharpened my thought processes. I was a father. I held my child in my arms minutes after she was born and promised her that I would do all within my power to provide for her and protect her. The Church had done nothing but drain me and my family emotionally, physically, and most importantly, financially. As a husband and a father, it would have been recklessly irresponsible for me to remain a Christian.

I had to get out of that cult before it destroyed us all. So I did. To be a good father to my child, I had to be a fully functional human being, and so I acted accordingly.

Responses were numerous, and usually supportive. Some, not so much. Some questioned who was I to dare to speak out against the Church. Some suggested that I had a moral obligation to God to continue to remain under its domination (God and the Church being synonymous). To reject this obligation imposed upon me was immoral.

Who am I to determine right and wrong? Who am I to oppose the Church? I am human being. And for the sake of myself, my wife, and my child, I will be as free a human being as I possibly can.

No god worthy of my worship would condemn me for having done so. And if a god sends me to hell for refusing to sacrifice my daughter for the petty whims of liars and frauds, then to hell I will gladly go.

17 comments:

psychodougie said...

[respectfully/humorously!]

what if (or potentially when) your daughter tells you to go to hell?
the way you explained it sounds like trap #1 - finding your identity in her.

and what of deontology, or is he just trying prescribe the limits of that?

psychodougie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Very astute, psychodougie.

Well, here's how I see it: I willingly created this child, knowing that she would be born into the world helpless. So she's my responsibility.

Anyway, that they simply didn't care about what happened to this child told me all that I needed to know about the moral fiber of these men and women who claimed authority over me. It was time to overthrow that authority and place it on more reliable shoulders -- mine.

As for your second question, please elaborate. I'm a bit confused by what you mean.

psychodougie said...

deontology" dei (it is necessary) + ontology (being) = the idea that we do something because it is the right thing to do, not just because it will end up better for us (so opposed to consequentialism).
so is he a deontologist (there are things that are Right and Wrong and should be done regardless of consequences), or are these sort of ethical/moral issues delimited by 'freedom' (in his understanding of the term)

my first point was also that finding your identity in a church (and i think i mean a particular local church and/or the denomination) can in many cases be just as big a trap as finding it in another person (and either of these over against a creator God)

sounds like an interesting read

John said...

No, he's clearly a consequentialist, albeit with some limitations. He states that one's goal should be to be happy, and to make completely individual decisions about how to go about being happy. Morality is entirely subjective.

bob said...

Reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged I think even more than freedom her view of objectivism was driven by the power of reason. Reason may bring freedom but it must be the starting point otherwise we may only think we are free.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

I have a question.

Have you actually "exited" Christianity, or have you simply "exited" the United Methodist Church?

Here is my reason for asking...

I was born and raised a United Methodist. The 9th direct decendant of my 7*great grandfather who was baptised in the ME church by Bishop Asbury. However, I no longer attend church except when I go home to Memphis. I have no desire to transfer my letter to another local UM church. I don't tithe, I don't participate, I call myself a UM, but I'm not really sure if being a Methodist were made a crime, there would be enough evidence to bring charges, much less, a conviction.

However, I am a devout Christian. I am clinging and trusting by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ each and every hour for my Salvation. My entire life is governed by my Christian Faith. Not the UMC, but my personal pilgrimage with the Lord thru this life. My understanding of the Christian faith, my understanding of the King James Bible, and my listening to the Holy Ghost, touches each and every decision I make at home and at work and in the world.

On paper, I may be a Methodist layperson because I haven't left the church, but I ceased to yield to the authority of any Methodist Elder or Bishop years ago.

So, my question to you, have you really "left" the Christian Faith, or have you simply "left" the UMC (and any other organized church for that matter)?

John said...

Hi Keith.

Well, here's the thing about seminary: it teaches you a lot about what Christianity means.

I buy into Oden's notion that it is possible to discern a true from a false Christianity by the consensual teaching of the majority of the Church over time.

And the foundation of Christianity isn't the Bible. It's the Church. The Church predates the Bible (as we know it) and wrote, compiled, and translated it. As blogger Jonathan Marlowe once helpfully pointed out, all I know about Jesus comes from the Bible, which is a product of the Church. Which is, I might add, an unreliable source. So I really don't know who Jesus is, or was, or will be. Warm fuzzy feelings (being 'moved by the Spirit') yes, but those have really led me astray of late, so I really can't get a grasp on who is Jesus.

But I know what the Church is, and that it teaches that there is no Christianity outside of itself. John Wesley once said "The Bible knows no solitary religion." This sentiment that one cannot be a solo Christian is taught throughout Christian history.

And the Church is "one". That's the meaning of the term "catholic" (lower-case c) in the Apostles' Creed. Or more popularly:

I am the Church
You are the Church
We are the Church together
All who follow Jesus
All around the world
Yes, we're the Church together

Sound familiar? The notion that there is one single Church, an invisible union of all believers supernaturally powered by the Spirit of God into lives of increasing holiness is standard-issue doctrine for the Church.

Another belief central to Christian teaching about the Church is that it is the Body of Christ. Now Christians say that term a lot, but stop for a moment and think about what that statement is. To claim to be the Body of Christ is an enormous undertaking in personal and social holiness. It shouldn’t be taken casually.

Now when I exited the Church, I did so in a very controlled fashion, planning step by step. Everything I did was to test the validity of the Church. I would judge the truthfulness of the claim to be the “Body of Christ” by what these senior leaders of the Church did – two bishops, several district superintendents, and an entire committee trusted to evaluate those called into the ordained and licensed ministry. And, most importantly, I told them that that was exactly what I was doing, in writing, giving them weeks in advance to think about how they would respond.

They failed so colossally that I deemed that the Church had failed the test to be the Body of Christ. And so out I went.

It’s important to note that Methodist doctrine teaches that the UMC is only one particular tradition within an entire panoply of legitimate Christian traditions, and that those ordained in the UMC are ordained to serve the entire world, not just the UMC (hence the ‘open table’ of communion). And that the ordained are not simply called by the church (lower-case c) but by God himself. And bishops are not simply consecrated by the church, but God is intimately involved in the process of selecting who shall be in positions of sacred authority.

These people were completely unworthy of that authority.

Take, as one small example, my complaint against Bishop Whitaker. I sent this on to Bishop Hope Morgan Ward (the president of the Jurisdictional College of Bishops, whom the Discipline designates as the person to hear complaints against bishops), who simply dismissed the complaint and wouldn’t explain why. Not a single bit. Even when I pressed her to explain from the Discipline, citing paragraphs and sections, how I was wrong in my very through and lengthy complaint (I know the Discipline, dammit). She wouldn’t. I pressed her again on a specific complaint, the third one. This addressed the incredibly callous nature with which Whitaker had treated me, utterly uncaring and heartless in his words. I asserted that he had failed to be a pastor by doing so. Even if he wasn’t obligated to take my side on my complaint, he was always obligated to act like a pastor.

John said...

More of my response to Keith (apparently Blogger cuts out after 4,096 characters):

Whitaker could have disposed of this specific charge very easily by simply writing a half-hearted non-apology to me. But he didn’t. And Ward’s response to my request for an explanation of her reasoning for the dismissal of this charge was too…refuse. She directly refused to justify her actions.

By doing so, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward rejected the doctrinal notion that bishops are required to be pastors over their flocks; that they are required to care.

That’s just one small example, among many. Anyway, how could I possibly remain in an institution that I knew to be completely rotten at the top. Every single – EVERY single senior Church official that I interacted with during this process totally didn’t give a shit and/or lied to me.

Why would I remain, even as a lay person? Why? There was simply no good reason to say, and plenty of good reasons to get the hell out.

So, accepting that there is no Christianity outside of the Church, and refusing to stay in the Church, I am therefore no longer a Christian.

Now, of course, I am willing to allow the Church to reconcile itself to me. But realistically, this is extremely unlikely to happen. (1) It would mean being humble and admitting wrong, and that’s not an option for the Church and (2) It wouldn’t be profitable. I’m not willing to get involved in negotiations unless the Church demonstrates that it’s really serious about reconciling itself to me. And the way of doing so is to compensate me for my immediate losses during seminary and candidacy, $204,500 in 2008 dollars.

Which is a hell of a lot for an individual Christian, but chump change for the Church, not to speak of many subdivisions thereof.

And after that, representatives of the Church (upper-case c) and I can sit down and negotiate terms of reconciliation.

Now the Church isn’t going to do that because clergy and the institution as a whole tends to look at people as potential warm bodies in a pew, dollars in a collection plate, or free labor on church cleanup day. They can do math, and I wouldn’t be a good investment; I wouldn’t be profitable.

But the Body of Christ isn’t supposed to be about profit.

All I’m doing is holding the Church accountable to its own rhetoric.

Where am I spiritually? What do I believe? Dunno. I’m taking my own sweet time figuring that out. Oh, I’m hurting. I’m angry. All the time. But I’m angry about what people have done to me in the past, not what they’re doing to me now. And what they’ll never get to do to me again.

bob said...

John, Your obviously still in great pain over the actions of Christians around you specifically the D.S., and the Bishops. So I hesitate to persue Keiths question further, but I believe he was more asking if you don't still relate to God through the teachings of Jesus. Making it a question of weather your all right with God or not.

John said...

I have no quarrel with God.

I am no longer sure what are the teachings of Jesus Christ, as I only have them through an unreliable source.

Keith Taylor said...

John,

I can't speak to 2000 years of church history and all the human failings that have occurred in the church since Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ.

I can only speack for myself, right now.

I don't owe anything to any Pope, any Cardinal, any Methodist Bishop, any Elder, and church committee. They have no authority over my life, no authority over my faith, no authority over my relationship with God.

I am saved by God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

God the Father, by His grace.

God the Son, by His Righteousness, death and blood, and life.

God the Holy Ghost, by His illumination, by His renovation, and by His preservation.

I don't need a formal relationship with an organized church. I agree that I am a member of the universal catholic church, but that still doesn't mean I have to be an active participant in a formal church.

I agree with your comments on Bible, but I also know that every single book in the Hebrew Bible (aka, the Old Testament) points to Christ and I know that the Church has had nothing to do with that. I believe the Bible to be the true Word of God and I believe that God is certainly able to protect his word from men and women who have a political agenda to corrupt it.

John said...

I don't need a formal relationship with an organized church. I agree that I am a member of the universal catholic church, but that still doesn't mean I have to be an active participant in a formal church.


I have nothing but praise for this attitude. But you should be aware that it stands athwart 2,000 years of Christian tradition. For whatever that is worth.

I agree with your comments on Bible, but I also know that every single book in the Hebrew Bible (aka, the Old Testament) points to Christ and I know that the Church has had nothing to do with that.


I used to say this a lot, too. But you know what? The 1st Century Jews were expecting a military liberator. And based upon what we call the Old Testament, they had very good reasons to expect exactly that. The OT points to the emergence of a messiah, probably from Bethlehem, and of the lineage of David. Beyond that, it's awfully vague.

Besides, can you really know Jesus from the OT alone? Can you know his teachings at all from just the prophets? And does the OT point to Jesus in the NT, or was the figure of Jesus in the NT re-arranged to fit into this new interpretation of the OT?

All we really have to go on is the word of the Church.

The proof of Christianity doesn't lie in historical evidence or formal logic. It doesn't lie in the Bible, for that is a circular argument. The proof of Christianity lies in how it changes lives for the better in a way that nothing else does.

I believe the Bible to be the true Word of God and I believe that God is certainly able to protect his word from men and women who have a political agenda to corrupt it.


Why do you believe this?

Keith Taylor said...

I believe the Bible to be the true Word of God and I believe that God is certainly able to protect his word from men and women who have a political agenda to corrupt it.


Why do you believe this?


John,

I believe it because as I stated above, that God the Holy Ghost, by His illumination, by His renovation, and by His preservation has revealed it to me to be true. I can't give you deductive reasoning for how or why I know it to be true, but I know it to be true by the Holy Ghost just as sure as I know that God exists and I am saved thru the righteousness, death & blood, and life of his Son, Jesus Christ. I am a man of science. I have two degrees in Mechanical Engineering. I work in the field of Nuclear Power. So, I am not wired for spiritual hogwash. I don't believe in fairies, or ghosts, or pixies or any of that Disney nonsence.

However, the truth about the One True, Triune God and his Holy Bible is revealed to me, by God, and I believe it to be so, and have utmost faith that is.

Not an arguement that I can defend in any matter, but you asked.... and that is my answer.

Jonathan said...

As blogger Jonathan Marlowe once helpfully pointed out, all I know about Jesus comes from the Bible, which is a product of the Church.

I had intended for the argument to flow in a different direction. Rather than thinking, "I can't know Jesus, because the church is so corrupt," I was hoping to persuade you to say, "the church can't be TOTTALY corrupt, otherwise it would not have introduced me to Jesus."

Regardless of which way you take it, the underlying premise is the same. The church and Jesus are inextricably linked. I would hope this would lead people to faith, but I cannot avoid the real possibility that it may lead some people away from faith. Which is why we don't need more methobloggers; we need more Mother Teresas, Dorothy Days, and Francis of Assisis.

Why does Jesus stay married to the church when it is so unfaithful? Why did Yahweh stay in covenant with Israel? Why did Hosea marry Gomer? It must have something to do with grace. Lord forbid that we ever use that as an excuse for cheap grace.

John said...

I had intended for the argument to flow in a different direction. Rather than thinking, "I can't know Jesus, because the church is so corrupt," I was hoping to persuade you to say, "the church can't be TOTTALY corrupt, otherwise it would not have introduced me to Jesus."

Regardless of which way you take it, the underlying premise is the same. The church and Jesus are inextricably linked.



I'm sure that the Church would like to take the approach of "Well, we have a monopoly on Jesus, so we can do as we damn well please, and you're just gonna have to suck it, bitch."

Although in my own case, it's very unlikely that the bishops etc are thinking in spiritual terms. I was struck by the total absence of spiritual language in the entire process. Just power politics, that's all.

Why does Jesus stay married to the church when it is so unfaithful? Why did Yahweh stay in covenant with Israel? Why did Hosea marry Gomer? It must have something to do with grace. Lord forbid that we ever use that as an excuse for cheap grace.


Well, Hosea married Gomer because he was told to. But I like the Yahweh metaphor. When Israel broke the covenant, Yahweh abandoned Israel to the world, and renewed the covenant when Israel repented. I'm certainly willing to forgive the Church when and if it repents to me.

Jonathan said...

The church should never pretend to have a monopoly on Jesus, but we should live as if Jesus had a monopoly on us.

No one can argue you back into Christianity. I know that stories like yours happen, and they make me sad. But I also know that stories like this happen, and they give me hope.