14 May 2012

Set Free

Set Free 
United States – 1976
Director –
Omega Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 42 minutes

I simultaneously love and cringe at the cruel and irony in that title; Set Free. It’s as if every secular stereotype about Christianity and its professed morality was simply embraced as an obvious necessity. Of course, the title is meant to refer to the spiritual freedom supposedly discovered by the men it depicts; born again convicts, some of them on death row, in San Quentin Maximum Security State Prison in 1976. They are hardly “free” in any sense that you and I might tangibly comprehend of course. But, through a belief in Christ and their own subsequent re-birth, they have ostensibly become “spiritually free.”

Boy, he sure looks like he feels "free"
The veracity of this claim of “freedom” rests of course on the Christian assumption that morality comes through God and his religion, that morality is received by imperfect men, from God. If morality is externalized, or not of men, it becomes normal, even expected for men to commit immoral acts. This is an awfully convenient claim because it means that a person doesn’t have to live the morality, only the practice, the ritual, the rites of religion. This is because, while certainly admirable, morality isn’t necessary to the practice of the Christian faith, it’s just a side benefit. Would anyone argue that moral behavior is invalid when practiced outside a religious context? No, but by Christianity’s standards, an immoral person can, through piety and ritual remain a good Christian, while a moral person who is not “saved” (or converted) is surely going to Hell.

'Powered by Christ'
And this gives us some idea why it’s easy, or inspiring for death-row inmates to find “freedom” in a Christian re-birth. They are Set Free from responsibility for their past behaviors by the ritual of Christianity; which is principally testifying and prosthelytizing, of which constitutes the entire forty-two minutes of this film. A number of the converts admit of this freely, asserting that they “couldn’t do it, only Jesus could do it” for them, and that he “gave them a new brain.”

Of course, these inmate’s failures to observe social duties, moral obligations which are general and well known, is what led to their paying the social price for their crimes. This of course is the cruel irony of the title to which I was referring. These inmates are in no sense of the word “free.” Their feelings of guilt (however subconscious they may be) has led them to a double incarceration. In the physical sense of course there can be no question, but in coping with the reality of their circumstances they have been led to a doctrine which asserts strict rules, yet in no way prevents them from returning (either to the behavior or the prison to which it led them.) That is because, as many believers have forgotten, spiritual enlightenment still does not free us from our moral duties to ourselves and others.

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