Digest of terms


people are free from external constraints and for being truly themselves, however that may be interpreted. In moral and ethico-political contexts the terminology of liberty and liberalism are widely used. In religious contexts, Jewish identity is rooted in the belief that the people of Israel were, on different occasions, liberated from the oppression of exile in Egypt and Babylon (Iraq). Christian identity is characterised by freedom from fear, legal literalism and the driving power of sin,these forms of personal freedom leading to (sometimes utopian) ideals of social freedom. 'Liberty, equality and fraternity', the famous cry of the French revolution, was already inscribed on the outer portals of churches, just as they were visible in the Puritan aspirations that created a commonwealth in England and sailed to create the kingdom of God in America: they are hallmarks of God's order for humanity. This is expressed in the Christian-Marxist terms of 'Liberation' Theology, initially in Latin America, but readily transposed into other Third World contexts (only to be condemned by the Vatican, reflecting the perennial fear of more conservatively inclined people that an excess of freedom is subversive of a proper degree of social order). The Hindu notion of liberation, moksa, is less one associated with social and political freedom, and more of freeing and release from the perpetual mortality associated with the repeated cycles of reincarnation/rebirth (and 'redeath').

In the USA in 1941, freedom from fear and from want were two of Roosevelt's four freedoms, alongside freedom of speech and of worship. In the UK the Beveridge Report of 1942 affirmed freedom of health and social care. In 1948 the UN published its Declaration of Human Rights, which begins: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights".

The obverse of freedom is slavery. One of the most revealing sets of evidence of human capacity for self-deception has been the readiness of religious believers and communists to proclaim their enthusiasm for freedom whilst enslaving significant numbers of their fellow human beings. Christian and Muslim slave traders, Soviet gulag guards and Chinese thought reformers have not been rare species.

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