It is the difference of those who say, "To be on my side you have to successfully be a little me, doing everything that I say" and those who say, "To be on my side, don't line up with those who oppose me." Do, and don't. Do demands servitude, demands that your mind be obsessed with them in every waking hour so that you are dependent on them for the lines that define your life. Don't says "The line you have to pay attention to is the one that opposes me. In every other way, you are free to live your life." This is what Paul was talking about in Galatians 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” We know who redeemed us, and we try to walk in the gifts he set out for us.
We also know something else: just as we look in the garden and see that two plants of the same species in the same soil look different from each other, with limbs coming out of the stalk in different directions, so we are different from each other. God likes individuals, and he created myriads of them. In the words of W. H. Auden in For The Time Being in his song of Simeon: "For the Truth is indeed One, without which is no salvation, but the possibilities of real knowledge are as many as are the creatures in His love, and it is not Nature which is one public illusion, but we who have each our many private illusions about Nature. Because in Him abstraction finds a passionate For-The-Sake-Of, by Him the continuous development of Science is assured." And if you have never read For The Time Being consider this your invitation.
This plays out in public drama every day for us: the furious opposition to those who express things differently, followed by the explanation that there is liberty in conversation to explore, and contrast. The declaration of who is for and against takes two forms, and you can see that I strongly prefer the form that Jesus Christ used. But then, he is the Son of God, the one who died so that I could be free from the fear of death and hell.
If you're not free from that fear, and you're struggling with that moment in the middle of the night where you know that you are not always the good guy you pretend to be, I invite you to think in new ways, and be remade in the image of Christ, and take on his righteousness. If you need a quick guide, here you go. Just scroll down the page.
I am indebted, for the contrast of "do" and "don't" to Stephen W. Browne, author of The View From Flyover Country". He once condensed his point in this way:
“The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do.” – Eric Hoffer
I have been thinking a lot lately about that observation by Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman-philosopher.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since it occurred to me that one of the differences in American politics that divides us lies largely in that distinction. In general, the right wants more to tell you what not to do, the left wants to tell you what to do.
That’s a generalization of course, but I think a valid one.
All government, and religion for that matter, has dos and don’ts. Things to be done or not done considered good for individuals in particular and society in general.
Some of it is arbitrary. Do drive on the right side of the road. Some countries drive on the left side, it doesn’t matter which just so long as everyone does the same.
Some of it is pretty important for all of us though. Don’t kill other members of society, and don’t take their stuff. If people ignore that, pretty soon we don’t have a society.
Some of the dos are important and necessary. Do pay your taxes. Do what you said you would when you signed that contract
But I think a free society is one in which the law is more concerned with the don’ts.
Some disagree. Barack Obama once described the Constitution as “a charter of negative liberties” and expressed a desire for a government that provided more positive stuff like healthcare.
To that end he mandated everyone (with some favored exceptions) buy an insurance policy and the things to be covered by those policies – a long list of dos.
The right favors don’ts more. Don’t smoke pot, don’t patronize purveyors of illicit pleasure etc. These things are held to be bad for you, even make you a bad person, and to be bad for society in general.
Notice a crucial difference. If you disagree with either of these things, it is almost always easier to get away with breaking the ‘don’t’ laws than the ‘do’ laws.
If you hold certain behaviors are victimless crimes and harm no one, you can be discrete[sic, should be "discreet"] about them. And if in fact you aren’t harming anyone others can exercise a little benign hypocrisy and pretend they don’t notice anything. In fact, if there’s nothing to notice it probably means you’re not harming anyone.
But not furnishing proof of health coverage or not baking that cake (“Do business with everyone who walks in that door!”) can’t be hidden.
A society that works well enough requires don’ts. Don’t kill, cheat, or steal.
But utopia requires dos. Do call anyone who demands it “ze, zhir, zhey.”
People who want to be left alone are don’t people. “Mind your own business” means “don’t bother me.”
People who want to mind other people’s business are do people. “Do this or you’re a bad person!”
Even in matters of religion you’ll notice the Ten Commandments has only one “do this” in the list, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The rest are “don’t do these things.” And notice something else about them G.K. Chesterton pointed out.
“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”
Notice, that's two books I suggested you buy, and one that I quoted from that I expect every educated person already has: a King James Bible. Feeling bookish, I suppose.