Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Lineage of Liberty

Let us consider for a moment some other movements that were successful in changing the world for freedom.

It will probably surprise you to know that early Christianity was, in fact, a freedom movement for the most disadvantaged. Women. In the classical pagan world women were considered chattel. Owned, sold into early marriage, forced to abort unwanted pregnancies, kill their infants, resold if their husbands died, not allowed to speak in their own defense or raise a hand to keep their children from a similar fate. They owned nothing, being property themselves. No manumission was possible short of the grave.

In early Christian communities it was different. A woman chose her husband and when she would marry. She was free to keep her children; she was a respected member of the church community, contributing time and money in her own name.

How did this change that world? Look around you. In the 300 years that this was true of Christianity the sect grew from an original estimate of 3,000 to a majority of the population. Other factors contributed. Such as nursing the sick, family and pagan neighbors, through the frequent plagues that afflicted cities, but the increase is steady, lead by the majority of women in the Christian sects. A steady 40% a decade until Christianity was the dominant religion of the Western World.

You can view Christianity as a religion and disregard its effects. Or you can view it as a philosophical and cultural pattern of behaviors that worked. Benevolence worked. Freedom worked. The world changed.

When I began studying the cultural content of freedom movements I did not expect to find Christianity among them. But it was. So was Islam, it its early years. Again, lead by increased freedom for women, it became a major cultural force along with becoming a major religion.

But we do not need to end our inquiry with religions. We can look as the origins of America itself.

Early Puritans and Quakers, despite reports to the contrary, were bastions of comparative female freedom. That is not to say that they were what we would view today as egalitarian in a gender sense, only that they gave women a greater share of freedom than the cultural and religious offerings otherwise available to them. Women, the least free, chose, and the world changed. The American Revolution, Transcendentalist Movement, the Abolitionist Movement, the Suffragist Movement. Each of these reflect the same underlying dynamics. Women worked, most often without credit, and the world changed.

The reason that New England, the source and strength of the American Revolution, was able to field the incredible 10,000 men marching towards Concord on April 19th lay in the fact that wives, mother, sisters and daughters both urged them to act and continued to provide the capital to make it possible.

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