Saturday, March 23, 2024

Adventures in Entropy

It seems like every time we visit Florida something breaks down. Last year we spent most of our vacation trying to get the air conditioning in our vehicle repaired. It was a comedy of errors that took several weeks and two different repair shops to temporarily resolve. It never was satisfactorily fixed.  

So this fall we decided to purchase a new-to-us (used) vehicle. That ought to solve the problem! Then, of course, someone dented our front fender within three months. Our “new” car now looks old. We never found out who hit it. The previous year the internet at the condo failed. After lots of fiddling around, the modem was replaced.  

This year it is the air conditioning in the condo that we rent. We arrived at the condo last Saturday. The place seemed stuffy. A few minutes later there was a knock on the door. A repairman informed us he had come to fix the central air. After a couple of hours he “fixed” it. Forty-eight hours later it was blowing hot air again. It took four more days to get someone to replace the whole unit.  

Yet the saga isn’t over. As I was writing this post there was another knock on the door. The repairmen need to put a new door on the closet where the central air/heat is located to provide ventilation. They left a moment ago. It will be a day or two before the repair is authorized, purchased and installed. They will be back, they promised. 

Everything falls apart. We can’t stop it. It is the law of entropy. As if entropy isn't fast enough, merchandise is intentionally designed to fall apart so manufacturers can sell us replacements faster. It is called planned obsolescence.  

Likewise human bodies fall apart. Apparently the Creator also made the universe with “planned obsolescence” built in. (The literal interpretation of “the Fall” is a misinterpretation.) Scientists call it the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I call it getting older. The body breaks down.  

The universe had a beginning according to both science and scripture. At that moment of creation it was at "zero entropy." Like the antique wind-up clock on my mantlepiece, the universe was wound up “in the beginning,” and it has been winding down ever since. The same with the human body.  

I am winding down. Ten years ago we attended a financial seminar to help us plan for retirement, sponsored by the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. The speaker explained that there are three stages of retirement: go-go, slow-go, and no-go. Our sixties was go-go. Seventies is slow-go. I am not looking forward to no-go.  

With the breakdown of the body comes pain. There is not much we can do about it, but the church can help. The apostle Paul said, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Elsewhere he wrote, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  

Science fiction author Spider Robinson succinctly said: “Pain shared is pain lessened; joy shared is joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy.” The purpose of the church is to refute entropy.  It is called love. 

Come to think of it, that is the message of Easter. Resurrection is a refutation of entropyOn Easter death is overcome. Pain vanquished. The Kingdom comes. Easter is not just a date in history or a holiday on the calendar. It is now. The eternal risen Christ “was and is and is to come.” 

Then and now “He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." Easter is the end of entropy.  

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Escape from Freedom

While a freshman in college, I read Erich Fromm’s famous 1941 book Escape from Freedom. Fromm was a German Jew who fled Nazi Germany. He explored the reasons why people would willingly submit to authoritarian rule. He theorized that humans either embrace freedom or seek to escape from it. 

Embracing freedom is healthy and courageous. Yet many people seek to escape from freedom by means of psychological escape mechanisms. Fromm identified three main mechanisms: automaton conformity, authoritarianism and destructiveness.  

Automaton conformity is conforming to a group’s preferred type of personality, losing one's self in the process. It transfers the burden of choice from self to society. 

Authoritarianism is giving control of oneself to a political movement or leader. By surrendering one's freedom to someone else, the freedom of choice is almost entirely removed.   

Destructiveness is the attempt to eliminate others in order to escape freedom. If that means genocide, overthrowing a government, overturning an election or burning down the country, so be it. Fromm said that "the destruction of the world is the last, almost desperate attempt to save myself from being crushed by it." 

Later in college I read Sinclair Lewis’ 1936 novel It Can’t Happen Here. It describes how a Hitleresque politician rose to power in the United States to become the first American dictator. These days I find myself recalling the insights I received from reading these two books. Now it seems like it could happen here after all. 

I watch American politics today, and I see life imitating art. History is repeating itself, or at least it is echoing. As Mark Twain is anecdotally reported to have said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”  If that is true, then the 2020’s are rhyming with the 1930’s.  

On February 20, 1939, a Nazi rally took place at Madison Square Garden, attended by more than 20,000 patriotic Americans. It took place two days before George Washington's birthday and was promoted as a “Pro-American rally.” A huge portrait of Washington hung behind the dais with equally large American flags draped on either side.  

The National Anthem was sung. The American flag was saluted with the Nazi salute. The rally was opened by James Wheeler-Hill, national secretary of the German American Bund, with the words: "If George Washington were alive today, he would be friends with Adolf Hitler." Fritz Julius Kuhn, a German Nazi activist, who served as the elected leader of the Bund, was the keynote speaker.   

After the rally the Bund came under investigation, and its financial records were seized. It was discovered that $14,000 (about $273,000 in today’s currency) from the contributions raised during the rally was spent by Kuhn on his mistress and various personal expenses. Kuhn was convicted of embezzlement and sent to prison in December 1939. 

Does any of this sound familiar? It does not take an historian to see parallels to today. I hear echoes of fascism every day in election year rhetoric. I hear rhymes of the 1930’s in the news every morning. Why is this happening? Fromm understood. People are seeking to escape freedom.  

American society is changing rapidly, and that is threatening to people. Change threatens traditional religion, the traditional family, and traditional values. So people take refuge in an imagined, unchanging, and idealistic past, seeking to bring back “the way things used to be.” People see this goal as an exercise of their freedom, but it is actually escape from freedom.  

True freedom is freedom for all. Not just for me and people like me, but for those who are very different from me. Religious freedom is not just for my religion but all religions. Not just for those of my sexual orientation, but all orientations.

It means allowing others to express themselves morally in ways that do not conform to my moral values. It is to refuse to use government power to control others’ behavior, as long as it does not impinge on others’ freedom. True freedom is freedom for all or it is not freedom at all.  

The same is true for spiritual freedom. It is tempting to surrender our freedom to religious authority. To believe only what our religious tradition tells us is safe to believe. To not color outside the lines. To consider our scriptures, our creeds, our leaders, our founders, our church, and our understanding of God to be infallible. There is security in believing we have the one true religion. But there is no freedom in such faith. It is only the illusion of freedom. 

Freedom is a paradox. We love it, and we hate it. We imagine ourselves to be free when we are not. The more we examine our choices, the more we see how limited our freedom really is. Our thoughts, opinions and actions are largely (if not completely) determined by unconscious forces beyond our control. When we realize how unfree we really are, then there is an opportunity to be truly free. 

True freedom requires a spiritual resurrection. We die to self and live to God. We view the world through the eyes of God. We see ourselves as God sees us. We see that only God is truly free, and therefore we are free only in God … or as Christians say, “in Christ.” As Jesus said, “When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”  

When we are spiritually free, then political freedom does not scare us, neither our own freedom nor others’ freedom. We can be free and allow others to be free. To be free is to live authentically as one’s True Self, rather than living in bondage to the psychologically and socially conditioned personality that we mistake for our self. Then we can stop this mindless rush toward political Armageddon and take our rightful place as citizens of the Kingdom of God.