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On Passover, freedom and fundies


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Had a few thoughts about the larger meaning of the holiday as I was cleaning last night....beyond OCD preparations, going gluten-free or 3,500 year old history.

[Let me know if this is too preachy or too much like a sermon.] Basically, this is about freedom, and the psychology of liberation. I see a bunch of themes that also relate to fundies.

1. The Importance of Remembering

This is a big part of the holiday - we're supposed to tell the story, complete with show-and-tell props for the kids, and really remember that we were oppressed slaves.

Compare and contrast to "the good ole days" revisionist history in fundie circles, where women and African-Americans were all happy and knew their place.

2. Personal connection to the struggle

There's a part of the Seder (ceremonial dinner at the start of the holiday) where we're told that if we hadn't been liberated, we'd still be slaves. Freedom isn't something that we can take for granted - people struggled for it, and our freedom comes from their struggle. We need to see OURSELVES as having been liberated.

Compare and contrast to those who put down those who fought for rights, while sitting back and enjoying the benefits of those rights.

3. "In every generation" we face threats

This line is part of the Seder. Our rights and freedoms are not a one-time battle of the past - there will be threats now and in the future.

We can't say that we are "over" struggles for equal rights. Those rights can be under attack at any time, and we can find ourselves repeating history. We need to remember that women in places like Afghanistan and Iran once had far more rights, and saw them ripped away.

4. "For you were strangers in Egypt" - the importance of empathy

There's a line in the Bible that we shouldn't oppress the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. If we've experienced oppression, we aren't supposed to just forget the experience or focus on gaining power - we are supposed to develop empathy, to look at those with no power who are oppressed and see a little piece of ourselves.

Compare and contrast to those who think this idea is some sort of modern godless liberal notion.

5. "Bread of affliction" - the cost of freedom

The reason behind all this cleaning and getting rid of bread goes back to the story in Exodus that the slaves had to prepare to leave Egypt so quickly that their bread didn't have time to rise. The larger message is that liberation requires sacrifice. You may need to give up your bread (material comforts), and you'll need to move forward even when it's scary.

Compare and contrast to the scared fundie bloggers, who want to keep the world at bay, and who seem convinced that they could never cope with working in the world. I'm also reminded of the middle-aged women who would sometimes come to my office, with nice clothes and jewellery, confessing that they were being abused but terrified of coping on their own. In some ways, they were worse off than the poor teen moms that I represented, because they felt trapped by possessions.

6. 40 years in the desert - getting rid of slave mentality

The story is that the former slaves couldn't cope with having their leader go up on a mountain for 40 days, or the idea of struggling to enter the Promised Land. They knew that they had been oppressed as slaves, but freedom and taking responsibility for themselves terrified them. They started to wonder if they would have been better off back as slaves in Egypt. Only 2 of the guys who had been over 20 when they left Egypt got to live to enter the Promised Land. 40 years in the desert was needed as a psychological buffer zone, allowing a new generation to come along that was born into freedom.

In most cases, groups don't have this 40 year buffer. Fear of freedom can be a very real problem - it's hard to break free, but it's also hard to continue to live free. This fear can fuel a desire to escape from freedom - in some cases, causing a rise in fundies or other authoritarian movements.

Reference to age 20 is interesting. Youth are often at the forefront of the struggle for freedom. I learned that during the Holocaust, for example, the older people and the Jewish establishment were often worried about rocking the boat, and they were more reluctant to leave. It was the youth movements that led uprisings.

[bTW, I thought it was interesting that in South Africa, those born within the last 20 years are known as "born-frees", because they never lived under apartheid.]

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Perhaps if the religious school teachers and rabbis I had growing up were as eloquent and thoughtful as you are--and as willing to look outward and apply the teachings to the general population instead of circling the wagons in an "us vs. the world" mentality--I wouldn't have been so quick to reject the faith of my birth at such a young age (I was 12).

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Thought of one more point:

7. Not being afraid to challenge the dominant society and its beliefs - it's ok to offend when you are fighting your oppression

Part of the Passover story involves each Israelite family sacrificing a lamb, and using its blood to mark their doors.

Some scholars have pointed out that in ancient Egypt, sheep (esp. the ram) were divine symbols. Slaughtering sheep, if those around you consider it to be sacred, would have been the ultimate act of chutzpah. This act marks the first step that the Israelite masses took toward their freedom.

I don't expect anyone to go around sacrificing sheep today, but the equivalent would be standing up and declaring that we don't believe in a God who forces some people to submit to others, and not being afraid of being labelled a heretic or causing offense.

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