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Celebrating Independence Day means thinking about the meaning of "independence," something most of us usually take for granted. There are a number of ways to define Independence:

"Freedom from the control or influence of others."
"The power to act or speak or think without external threats or restraints."
"Freedom from dependence."

These statements are often used in a political context. But how does the concept of independence relate to our spiritual life? Jesus says in John 8:32, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." He is saying that while we don't yet know the whole truth, life is a process which will reveal it to us. And as we better understand truth, we gain a higher degree of freedom. The question is: From what does the truth set us free?

Truth is a universal reality. God's truth is forever. Truth can't be owned any more than God can be owned. Yet, religion acts as though it does own the truth. It seems to say, "Our way of thinking is truth, and any other view is untruth. If you don't accept our beliefs, you can't have access to our truth. And if you don't have access to our truth, God will send you to hell. Because-God agrees with our version of truth."

Jesus said that the truth bestows upon us the gift of freedom. Yet, religions tend to enslave rather than liberate their followers. They claim the authority to reward believers with heaven or to punish dissidents with hell. One aspect of this authority involves the church telling us, "Do not think for yourself. Let us think for you. The mind which God gave you will lead you to hell if you use it." This kind of attitude imprisons our bodies in an earthly institution and imprisons our minds in a culture of fear.

Since truth is intended to set us free, this kind of institutional "truth", which springs from fear rather than love, cannot be authentic.

So let's look at those definitions of "independence" again. "Freedom from the control or influence of others." Do we really need a flawed human institution to give us the last word about God? How can the church possibly do this when it doesn't believe that God has said anything new for the past 2,000 years?

"The power to act or speak or think without external threats or restraints." How am I to evolve spiritually if every new idea of mine brings forth the threat of excommunication from the church? How can I understand my personal mystical experiences if the church assures me that they all come from the devil?

"Freedom from dependence." Sunday school is appropriate for children, but adults are called to "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling." That means trusting our own experience, not relying on someone else's view of reality. The truth sets me free from ignorance, but I have to face the possibility that some of my institutions may be the source of that ignorance..

On this Independence Day, we have not only a right but a duty to be free from dependence on any earthly authority which would limit our thinking and demand that we accept their dogmas without question. We must subject every so-called "truth" to one critical test: Does it enslave our mind, or does it set our soul free?

Thomas Paine, the famous pamphleteer of the Revolution, once wrote: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

Posted 7-1-04

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2004