Six months ago, I didn’t know much about cancer.
If I’m being honest, I would have to tell you I didn’t really want to know anything about it. I called it “the ‘C’ word.”
But then September 21 happened. That was the date of my wife received her cancer diagnosis.
I can’t tell you that I know much more about cancer now than I did then, but I have learned a couple of things.
I learned that cancer is cell division gone haywire.
As you probably know, as human beings, we are each giant cell-producing machines. Old cells die and new ones take their place… at the rate of about 100 billion new red blood cells and over 4 million epidermal skin cells every day, just to name two types of these cells.
Cancer describes the situation in which normal, orderly cell division goes awry and cells start dividing in a non-orderly, chaotic fashion. New cells are created that have no correspondence to replacing old cells that have died.
In other words, cancer is a deadly disease process that bears a striking resemblance to a naturally ordained process of the human body. Some gene somewhere deep in the DNA sends an incorrect signal, which causes wacky, willy-nilly cell division.
As I thought about this description, I began to wonder… is it possible there is a similar kind of disease process at work inside the DNA of our culture… especially regarding the FREEDOM gene?
I absolutely believe that freedom is hard-wired into the socio-cultural DNA of human beings. Witness the lengths to which people living in totalitarian cultures will go to be free. Witness the waves of immigration into free, democratic countries. Witness Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:1 – “For freedom, Christ has set us free,” or this sentiment a little later reminding us that, “… you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”(Galatians 5:13, NRSV).
To be human means to crave freedom.
But here lately it seems we have seen a basic mutation of the freedom gene. “Freedom” seems to have become mutated into “license” and “unfettered self-indulgence… heedless of consequences to others.”
We want to be free to smoke tobacco products, no matter how much second-hand smoke we generate, or how much pressure we put on the nation’s health-care system. We want to be free to ride a motorcycle without crash helmets, or drive cars without seatbelts, no matter how many of us end up in the emergency room.
And of course, we want to be free to own any kind of high-powered automatic or semi-automatic firearm our little heart’s desire… no matter what kind of death and destruction they continue to cause.
I fear we may have entered a time when the cancer of personal license has deformed any idea of “common good” right out of our FREEDOM genome. And sadly, this particular form of cancer seems to be more prevalent in the United States of America than in any other place in the world.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote extensively of the intimate relationship between freedom and responsibility. He talks at length about Jesus Christ freely deciding to bind himself to the lives of those he came to serve… and then set them free as a result.
The American Libertarian writer and politician Harry Browne went a step further when he said, “Freedom and responsibility aren’t interconnected things; they are the same thing.”
If I am to insist that my freedom have no boundaries at all, I am – by definition – asking you to give up a measure of your freedom. I am saying that my freedom to inhale and exhale the smoke of burning tobacco leaves is more important than your freedom to breathe clean air.
And I call that a mutated, cancerous kind of freedom.
Today my wife is taking her last chemotherapy infusion for the cancer that invaded her body. The signs are good that the chemo – and surgery – have done their work and eradicated all signs of this demon from her.
And so we rejoice and thank God.
But I wonder… is there any kind of chemotherapy available for our nation’s “freedom cancer”?
I pray we can find that cure…
… and find it soon.