(Translation into most languages at tab to the right)
I’ve been thinking about slavery and the people throughout the millennia who have been slaves – and the estimated 50 million people worldwide who are currently enslaved. (1) Every empire from the beginning of recorded history has functioned and prospered on the backs of slaves: people captured during war or kidnapped, enslaved against their will.
In the modern world, people can end up in ‘slavery’ in a variety of ways: economic, sexual, labor, etc. They may have been enticed or tricked into their captivity by promises of adventure or money, coerced or blackmailed because of a past circumstance, or forced into it due to poverty and debt.
How does it feel to be enslaved? Much of the time, it destroys one’s sense of personhood. Your ability to exercise your will and make choices has been stolen from you. Control and exploitation by another person or entity has robbed you of your dignity and ability to determine the direction of your life. It can feel like being on endless stairways that lead nowhere.
One thing is certain: no one ever consciously chooses to be enslaved. No one. But the many lures currently dangling in front of young people to have fun and feel free and to be in control of their own life and happiness can be so deceptive. Yet they are not mature enough to be capable of discerning that they are actually making a choice to become imprisoned – whether it is with alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, gambling, power, success, etc.
I think it is safe to say that anyone who has struggled with any type of addiction knows they are enslaved. They are in servitude to an all-consuming, dominating, master. Their world is restricted due to the demands their addiction places on them. I saw this play out in pitiful detail in our son’s long struggle with heroin and alcohol. I didn’t understand why he would want to cut a trip short or not go at all if we were flying. It was due to needing to use and/or maintain a supply of illegal drugs. As he became unable to focus on his university classes, he had to drop out and work at jobs frustratingly inconsistent with his interests and well below his God-given abilities.
He was not free in any sense of the word.
What is real freedom? Is it to be ‘a free agent’ able to do whatever one wants regardless of society or others’ thoughts or needs? To not be responsible to anyone? To chant the modern mantra that individual freedom is our right and supersedes all other claims? Or is it something more, something that starts in our mind and soul and that results in the ability to make good choices in order to be healthy and safe and productive and of service to others? Webster’s Dictionary describes freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery.” Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right to do what we ought. (John Dalberg-Acton)
Once someone is addicted, how can they escape the slavery of addiction? We need reformers and abolitionists who know specifics of ‘the slave trade’ and how to liberate individuals. And also, how to reform not only the laws and principles of society but how we think about addiction in order to accurately view those who are enslaved. In the past, in whatever culture slavery was embraced, the way a society could justify its policies was to consider those people as ‘less than’ – less than human, less than worthy of normal rights, even less than deserving of wanting another way of living. And even further, that these slaves should be content with their bondage.
I love this song by Kim Hill, She’ll Come Around. It speaks to this point.
We all know that is not true because if we put ourselves in their place for a moment – walk a mile in their shoes – we would do anything to be free. But do we all understand and admit that most people who are living in addiction, if given a choice and a viable option, would choose to be free? If so, let’s get rid of denigrating thoughts and words and help change public policies to teach preventative measures to parents and young people and provide restorative solutions to those fighting addiction. (2) And may each of us encourage those who struggle by helping them find real, lasting solutions to the weight of bondage they stagger under.
Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.
Mark Heard’s Victims of the Age is a song all about what young people have been and continue to be struggling with growing up in the modern world.