Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What is Freedom?

“Living out of our new selves, we are always already where the command would want us to be.” (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 2005, p.67)

Nothing exposes the lie of autonomous spontaneous freedom than the realization that not one of us is truly autonomous or spontaneous. Indeed each of us is the product of our environments. We make choices based on a plethora of varied influences; everything from media to what we think our parents would do. We often try to kid ourselves about our motivations, but really we are built to respond in this way.

Humanity is a communal creature, in that we thrive on social interaction - interaction that is also sometimes our downfall. Every interaction we have with others influences the decisions that we face throughout each waking moment. Often we end up trying to appease those around us, or at least do what we think would appease our community. We want to be liked. We want to be respected. We want to be significant.

So we play the societal games. Here in the West, consumerism is one such game; we amass the latest things so that we can be ‘normal’ like everyone else. This not only takes a toll on our environment, it also further impoverishes the already poor as they claw at this illusion of ‘normalcy’.

If this vision of freedom is flawed, then what is freedom?

The grain of truth in the lie of autonomous spontaneous freedom is that we do find freedom at the core of our being, living out of our uniqueness. But that kind of freedom is not found by trying to strip away all the outside influences. Rather it is found in realizing something about ourselves as created beings.

Jesus Himself says that the “truth will set you free”. (John 8:32) That passage makes a lot of sense in its context. Jesus is conversing with some believing Jews and tells them that if they keep his commands then they will be set free by the truth. Doesn’t that sound contrary to the popular notion of freedom? It should, because it is. Jesus is advocating a freedom not from God’s influence – but a freedom found by living in God’s influence. Volf uses the Pauline language of old and new selves to argue this same point. (p.66)

The truth that sets us free is the realization that living within the influence of God is exactly what we were made to be/do. When we realize that this is what we were truly made for then it all makes sense. When we live out of this framework then we no longer have man’s fruitless dream of human potential, but rather God’s amazing dream of human potential. These dreams are quite different.

Man’s dream is that we will become masters of our reality. We will conquer frontier after frontier and show what a dominant species really can be. We’ve been living that dream for longer than our planet can bear and now we are reaping the consequences of our arrogance.

God’s dream sees us loving, giving, restoring, cultivating and even redeeming. God calls us to partner with Him in the amazing project of humanity, bringing the realization of love to this world. Giving to the poor who are so neglected in man’s grandiose dreams. Restoring life where the machinations of progress have destroyed life. Cultivating a new kind of humanity, one that lives the great commandment to love. Redeeming the fallenness of humanity through the life of Christ expressed through our lives. This is a dream of freedom.



Kenny said...

Here comes a typical Kenny comment. Be warned. :)

I can't help but say it Frank, for a declared fan of Charles Taylor, your comments on autonomous freedom of the individual (abstracted from the context of the communal) struck me as a little bit surprising. Taylor makes an eloquent defense of autonomy in - The Malaise of Modernity - but he is no modernist, no individualist.

Is freedom/liberty really the opposite of what the modern took it to be? In other words, is the appropriate response to the individualistic notion of freedom (surely an Anglo aspect of modernity not extendable to all other cultures) really asserting the communal? I'm not sure charting the middle course of both/and is right either, but perhaps something over and above those two options that incorporates both from a different vantage point? Just a thought.

And, if you're interested, one of the best books on the subject of liberty I've ever read is that of Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism. Another excellent text is Isaiah Berlin's collection of essays on liberty.

Kudos on the good quesiton/thoughts.

One of Freedom said...

I guess I didn't do adequately what I had intended. That is the downfall of blogging - quick delivery and sometimes the thoughts you throw out there don't say what they would if you had time to really work them through say in a paper.

I was asserting the communal as a normative, not an alternative. I think that communal is hardwired in us, it is what drives us so to speak. I don't think it is a prerequisite for liberty/freedom but a framework that freedom has to take into account.

I was actually going towards a more Ricoeurian Limits as freedom type approach, which is what I am more comfortable with. But I got lost in the need to tackle the communal as Volf heads in that direction in his work (what I was building on). Volf also gets to the point of limits as freedom but obviously more eloquantly than I did.

I'll have to add Skinner to my want to read list. Thanks for the heads up.

Kenny said...

Do you mean the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur?

One of Freedom said...

Yeah that's the guy. He kept his philosophy and theology seperate though - which is interesting. Most of my exposure consists of articles from classes and Thinking Biblically which he wrote with Andre LeCocque (biblical scholar). That is a very interesting book.