Unknown persecution

Being an ignorant captive may be the ultimate deprivation

Issue: "Smoking guns," March 6, 1999

There's been a good bit of emphasis of late-and properly so-on the issue of persecuted Christians around the world. But while pondering their sometimes terrible plights, I couldn't help wondering: Which is worse-to be held captive or restrained by an alien faith or ideology when you're well aware of exactly what's going on, or to be held captive and not even realize it?

In one sense, it's an easy question. For even if there are millions of people in this world who are ideological captives, but don't even know it, why disrupt their comfort? If they're rocking along happy and comfortable in their ignorance, why spoil things?

Yet maybe we should. Because what you don't know can hurt you. To hold a person captive without even letting him know he's a captive, no matter how kind you might be to that prisoner, is a far worse form of persecution than the most vile abuse you can inflict on someone who's fully aware of his bondage.

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It's not just a theoretic exercise. For here's the deciding factor: If you are being held a prisoner, and know it, you at least have the chance to consider and perhaps plot your escape. If you're not even aware of your captivity, you might spend your whole life unwittingly wasting opportunity after opportunity to free yourself from your bondage.

Incredible as it seems to us in our glib context, there have been brave souls who even while being burned at the stake rejoiced in the freedom they were experiencing. We have eyewitness accounts of the testimony they gave to their liberty. But by the very nature of the case, we are unable to get into the minds of those who are today unknowing victims of other kinds of captivity. People obviously don't describe in detail experiences they never had-and that's right at the core of their problem.

There are big ways and little ways to hold people captive without their knowing it.

You have to include, for example, the whole structure of state education. Especially over the last half century, the state-sponsored educational monopoly has lulled millions of its participants-both students and teachers-into the assurance that here was the ultimate in opening up the human mind. But what in fact has occurred in the nation's state-funded classrooms (and this includes elementary, secondary, and the higher levels as well) is that a fairly narrow ideology has been promulgated with shameless loyalty. In Christian terms, of course, it totally misses what true freedom is all about. But even in terms of a secular renaissance spirit, typical statist education in 1999 is pitifully cramped, confined, and politically correct in its vision. Yet ironically, those who drink at its fountain suppose themselves to be the freest people.

You also have to include the contemporary entertainment juggernaut. Both its participants and its patrons fancy themselves as liberated folk who can say and sing and show just about anything they please, whenever they please, wherever they please, and to any audience they please. Gone are all the restrictions and disciplines of yesteryear. Yet does anyone pretend that even with all that license, the creative spirit at the end of this century is producing anything like the volume of masterpieces produced in the earlier periods of history? Or has the liberty we enjoy actually built walls around our creativity?

Sexually promiscuous people revel in their presumed freedom, constituting still another macro example of folk who couldn't possibly imagine themselves to be somebody's captive. The other morning, I listened to a customer at the Waffle House brag loudly on and on about his exploits. He was not, I should say, a good candidate just then to sit and listen to me rave about the genuine liberties of commitment within marriage. Yet for all his braggadocio, he was a prisoner of the most pitiable sort-and didn't even know it.

But it's not just the great big issues of life. In the next booth to me at the same restaurant was a young woman with terrible table manners-even for the Waffle House. Laughing boisterously, stuffing her mouth with her fingers, smacking her lips sloppily as food fell over the table, I'm sure she saw herself as a free spirit. At a superficial level she was. And she'll never understand why certain opportunities in life never come her way. Nobody ever taught her that manners are themselves rooted in a complex but learnable system of expressing deference to others-and that simple but profound omission makes her a slave of sorts.

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