Without freedom we lose our autonomy, we simply become a mechanism within a machine. Without Freedom, love remains inauthentic, since it would be given in this impulsive, determined fashion. Imagine a husband saying to his wife, “I Love you because I have to.” God insists that we do not “have to love Him” rather he reminds us that in order for us to be happy, we have to Love him. In other words, God doesn’t force anyone to be happy, rather he gives us the freedom to live a miserable life or a fulfilled one where we choose love.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that Christ, when crucified was experiencing joy. Many would have a difficult time understanding this. However this is because joy, for those with spiritual depth goes deeper than sensation and emotion. Rather Joy is born of peace, and peace is born of a will that is not at war with God’s own will. Christ joyfully laid his life down; he did not do it resentfully. It was the greatest way he could express his love for his Father, and for us. Not only did he express his love for us through this action, but he helped us in a way that we will be eternally grateful. God did not do this with sorrow, he did it with joy and with suffering, co-existing beside each other.
And so freedom does not always “feel” good. In fact you could be bound to a cross, nailed to it, and dejected by many, and yet most free of all. Want to know who was enslaved? The crowd of people yelling out, “crucify him, crucify him.” Yup, they were enslaved because they were simply shouting out what everyone else was shouting. They were going with the tide of the crowd, enslaved by fear. Fear that the same thing that was happening to Christ would happen to them. The disciples were also enslaved. Did they take part in the jeering? No. But they certainly promoted it with their silence and abandonment.
If a man has a great deal of wealth which empowers him to own much, travel many places, go on a great number of adventures, and socialize with a great number of people, why is he unable to follow Christ? Because of fear. He is afraid of letting go of his stuff, he is afraid that without it he will not be happy.
True freedom is expressed in a man, nailed to a cross and enslavement is expressed in a ruler unable to free an innocent man. Our culture rarely understands freedom in its proper context, because it has a very external and superficial view of freedom. An atheist once suggested that the greatest way to achieve happiness was found in the “will to power.” But in reality its quite the converse. When we have the ability to choose from a list of 1000 options of how to live our life, we say yes to one of those options and no to 999. The more “external” freedom to do “whatever” the more we have to say “no” to in life.
However, it is a grave and serious problem when one decides for another what is right for them. It is always wrong to decide what is right and wrong out of a personal preference for the truth, whether that be for yourself or for your child. Freedom is discovered when we have access to our own vocation in life. A calling, something God himself has built us for. This does not mean that our “desires” automatically determine our calling, since many of us, including Christ would not desire to carry a cross, let alone, die on it. There are layers to our desires, and sometimes they are a bit out of order. Sometimes we can desire things that are not healthy for us. Bad eating habits, drug-addictions, unhealthy friendships; all of these things can develop as a result of making decisions by the seat of our pants. But if we have the same spiritual depth as Christ, we realize that the vocation of every person is to Love in the Truth or univocally, to love in a genuine manner.
So from this discernment we can easily establish that freedom exists not as an end in itself, but to enable us to Love, and Love is undoubtedly something good. Therefore freedom is not so much defined as the ability to do whatever, but rather to do what is good.
The question then arises, can people define what is good and what is bad for themselves out of preference? Furthermore, can a person decide for themselves what is good for another person as well, out of their own personal preference. If our preferences are often tainted by desires that are out of order and sometimes lead us away from happiness.
So we come down to the question of truth and humility. If we are to know or define what Love is or what Goodness is, we have to first admit to ourselves that it is possible to lie to ourselves and to others. This should go without saying. Humility is not lying to ourselves but rather is the surrendering to the truth. Humility itself implies being grounded in the “earth,” having our two feet on the ground. This means we do not fantasize about what the truth is, or construct it for ourselves.
Here is the Christian perspective. When Adam and Eve were in the garden, God told them to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This doesn’t mean Adam and Eve did not know what was evil and what was good. God had clearly told them, eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil: bad. Eating of any other tree in the garden: good. So what is this type of Knowledge God is speaking of? Its the type of knowledge that we grasp at. Its the type of knowledge where I say, “I don’t care what the truth actually is, but what I do care about is what the truth is for me.”
This is the deadly sin of Pride. It is pressing the button on our seat that ejects us from reality and says, “I’m God, I define right from wrong, and no one else can tell me anything different from what I prefer to be the truth.” In other words, we do not discover the truth, we invent it out of nothing.
This pride can also be discovered in the form of dictatorship. If a dictator says, “This is the truth, and you all must agree with it, because I said so,” than he is simply a man who defines truth for himself and imposes that pride on others. But a leader that imposes laws that maintain reality, rather than his personal preferences is one who wants to keep his people locked into reality. This is a good thing.
One of the problems with pride is it isolates us from others. If we define the world according to our own preference, than when we clash with others who also, apparently have that right we are undoubtedly mixed into a competition. Instead of two people being united by the same reality, we have two people who define what reality is for themselves.
People undoubtedly experience reality differently, but this does not mean the difference is prideful. For instance a man in Japan and a man in Canada experience the sun setting at different points of the hemisphere. They both experience a fragment of reality, and when you put the two together you get a more complete picture of reality.
Freedom therefore is only “genuine” when it is experienced in an objective truth. Enslavement is when we define reality according to our passions/desires. For instance, if a good friend dies, we may pretend that it never actually happened. We would prefer that it didn’t, and that certainly is an understandable reaction to have. But if we started to live in the illusion that it never happened we would never find healing for the legitimate grief we experienced. If we hate chocolate cake, and yet its served to us, no matter how much we prefer that it would not be chocolate, it will still be chocolate. If you have an allergy to peanut butter, it doesn’t matter how much you prefer not to have that, if you eat it, you will either die or need to go to the hospital.
In the United States, Obama has been pushing for women’s right to kill their child after they are born, only if they are born after a failed abortion attempt (which has happened). What this demonstrates is that the mentality behind the law is not based upon biology, or science, or reality, but a preference for if a person should be alive or dead. This is and has always been the epitome of evil. For if defining what our preference of reality comes at odds with an unborn or even born child, we become a tyrant by imposing our preference on that innocent child by suggesting that their life has no value in their preferred world view. If however the government does not allow women to kill children, its the result of respecting the dignity of women. How so? The law implies its not within the nature of a woman to kill or hate life. Pro-life laws respect the dignity of women by preventing them from doing something that contradicts their own dignity, as well as the child within their womb. If however it becomes open to debate what a woman has the right to determine, it also relativizes the dignity of women. That means to say that some women have dignity (their nature is to not kill) while others have the nature to kill. Of course, such a view of women ultimately is disrespectful towards women. Whether women like it or not, they have dignity.
We could go through history on many levels on this question, dealing with races, minorities, et cetera, but the point itself can be drawn out of simple reasoning rather than referring to such inflammatory situations. But at this point someone may feel judged. It’s important to realize that every human being is guilty of this crime. Some are guilty of defining the truth when it comes to sexual desires, food-desires, money-desires, ways of coping with anger, what we do with our time, and how we appreciate or envy other people’s talents, relationships and property. The question really is not about how I feel about the fact that I’m proud, but rather “What am I going to do about it.”
Pride is one of the reasons we stay proud. Confronting the reality of our own pride is the hardest part of the spiritual life. Because we are afraid of the truth about ourselves, we would rather avoid it altogether. To be proud is ultimately to be afraid.
We do not want to admit we are imperfect. Oh, we can say, “I’m imperfect” easily, but when it comes to actually listing our imperfections we get scared. We speak about our pride generally and vaguely because it’s conventionally a sign of humility. But if we never actually acknowledge it to ourselves in very concrete ways, we are simply lying to everyone and ourselves with the facade of humility. But if we say, “I was rude to John.” Or “I should not have stolen that music.” Or “She deserves better than what I gave her,” then we are onto something closer to love.
It’s scary to look at our pride because sometimes we spend all our time making fun of, or judging another person’s arrogance and bad decisions. We spend much time pointing our finger at others only to realize we have four other fingers pointing right back to us. A good way to avoid looking at ourselves is to look at others; it’s called scape-goating. So we get tunnel vision and focus on our preference for reality about ourselves and about the world and block out everything else. That is our safe-place to go, as we are ejected from the ground of humility into la-la land. This is where our heart turns into stone; everything others say is “judgmental” and “offensive” unless it strokes our pride. We do not love our enemies, we hate them, and we only love our allies. Because anything that causes us to admit we are not perfect, wants to destroy us. The irony is, we can never be perfect or even close to perfection unless we first realize we are imperfect. If we are sick and don’t realize it the cancer grows. But if we treat it early, we will regain some health. The same is true for the soul.
Even if we find someone with our preferred world view, we will never really enter into a real relationship with them. Rather we will simply be together for convenience, however the will of each individual is centred not on the good for the other, but rather the preferred good of the other. That means the will is ultimately oriented towards myself, and my neighbour becomes a mere extension of my preferences. This is not real love. Love is willing the good for the other, for their own sake.
When Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they put themselves at the centre of the universe. They refused to serve God, because to serve means to be subordinate to God. God who is the source of everything good.
The Devil villified God in order to convince them to ignore his commandments. His COMMANDMENTS. A God of love who commands. The Devil convinced them that this one commandment was huge. The first thing he did was exaggerate the commandment. “Did God really tell you not to eat of any of the trees in the garden?” Of course God did not say that, there was only one tree they could not eat from. Then Satan continues to imply that God is a liar: God said you’d die? You will not die, no you will become like him instead! What is the devil doing here? Trying to convince them that God is some sort of moralizing tyrant that wants to prevent us from acheiving our full potential. Saddly, Adam and Eve were already like God. Satan was trying to sell them something they already had.
What was God’s first commandment? “Be fruitful and multiply.” Wow. Here God completed this great work of creation and the first thing he does is share this act of creation with Adam and Eve. “Create life with me! Let us co-create together in love.” However for some reason, society is convinced that the Church, like Adam and Eve’s view of God, is a moralizing tyrant that wants to hold people back from their full potential. Our society has been duped.
Who is God? According to Jesus, he is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” When we reject the moral way of living, we reject God. When we reject what reality is, we reject God. When we reject the gift of life, our very existence or the existence of our neighbour, we reject God. We say, “I will define the moral way.”
Listen to this quote:
U.S. Supreme Court
PLANNED PARENTHOOD v. CASEY
505 U.S. 833 (1992)
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
As Fr. Barron mocks this statement he says:
“Who am I? I’ll tell you! What’s my life about? It is up to me! What does my life mean? I’ll tell you! Its up to my freedom. Of the Universe…wow this is really getting expansive. I can define the whole universe around my freedom. And the mystery of human life. Boy is that all? This is freedom run a muck. And the theological name for this is Pride.”
I suppose I would like to end with one statement. There is always fear behind pride – always. God is loving, no matter what decisions in your life have been made as a result of pride, he is a healer who wants to give you and me a fresh start. He makes all things new. Be not afraid to confront that truth, its the path to true freedom and true love.