Sometimes people who have been deprived of rights are the ones who teach us the most about persisting in the struggle for freedom.
Take John Bunyan, the Baptist preacher who began writing the classic Puritan epic "The Pilgrim's Progress" in 1675 while in prison for his religious beliefs. Told in the form of a dream, Bunyan's allegory became a staple of instruction for people of faith for centuries. In it, a pilgrim named Christian makes a journey from darkness to light, from sin to what the Bible calls "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21).
Christian faces many obstacles as he climbs the hill to the freedom of the Celestial City. At one point, he encounters a couple of other travelers heading pell-mell back down the hill. Timorous and Mistrust (subtlety isn't the aim here) inform Christian that two lions lie in wait up ahead. What to do?
After a battle with doubt and discouragement, Christian decides the Celestial City's promise of everlasting life is greater than the fear of failure or death. He goes forward.
Only then does he find out something of gigantic importance for every freedom fighter, something that Timorous and Mistrust had failed to see. The lions are chained. What looks like a devouring threat isn't. In fact, a recurring theme in this allegory is that the divine presence watches over and delivers the sincere seeker. Good Baptist that he was, Bunyan made it abundantly clear that sin isn't going to make it to the Celestial City. But God helps the one honestly striving to rise higher spiritually, and vanquishes all opposition.
The insight in a preacher's dream surfaced 200 years later in a woman's discovery. Mary Baker Eddy's contribution to the cause of freedom grew out of a different kind of rights-deprivation. Imprisoned by poor health for years before she found a reliable method of healing through prayer, she borrowed Bunyan's imagery to illustrate a point of her own in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Gazing at a chained lion, crouched for a spring, should not terrify a man. The body is affected only with the belief of disease produced by a so-called mind ignorant of the truth which chains disease. Nothing but the power of Truth can prevent the fear of error, and prove man's dominion over error" (pg. 380).
Mrs. Eddy discovered that "the truth which chains disease" - and sin, and evil of any kind - includes the spiritual fact that nothing really has substance or power but what God causes to be. And God causes only good. So, whatever isn't good can be destroyed by recognizing it as an error, as ignorance of God's reality, as illusion.
This breakthrough of Christly logic allowed Eddy to win her own health, heal others, and to fight for reform in religious and scientific thought. And the ideas presented in Science and Health continue to impel this reform.
A major step forward for anyone fighting for justice, opportunity, happiness, or health is to confront the evil in one's path as powerless, as having no God-derived authority. That doesn't mean ignoring the evil. It means dealing with it in the only way that finally destroys evil - with the spiritual truth that good is the only reality. No power can prevent the freedom mandated for the children of Almighty God.
Fear, bigotry, selfishness, pain, are always chained because they're lies, illusions. They don't originate in God or reside in God's creation.
On the other hand, good can't be chained. It lives in the unimprisonable thoughts of people all over the world fighting for religious and political rights, equality of the races and sexes, and the understanding of God as the upholder of universal justice.
March is Women's History Month in the United States.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society