The Fourth of July is one of the more important days in the American calendar. Even for those us who find ourselves outside of the States we take note and think about its meaning. Our family has celebrated it in a variety of ways over the years, mostly with friends, usually ending with fireworks.
In recent years, it has been an occasion for me to reflect again on the nature of freedom. I remember having a long discussion with Ray on the way the idea of freedom was used in our national discourse. I thought it had been truncated and cheapened and politicized. Ray loved Mortimer Adler and we went through the chapter on freedom in his Six Great Ideas. This year, coincidentally, I have been reading in Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe and I have again been thinking about freedom.
Philippe begins by remarking that the idea of freedom is one of those rare areas upon which there is unanimous agreement between Christians and secular culture. Modern states arose based on the pursuit of freedom. Freedom is a major theme in the NT. Who would be against freedom? The divergences begin when we identify what is meant. He points out that for modern man freedom is a matter of primarily external constraints and limitations. Freedom means being rid of these restrictions and limitations, using laws, institutions, technology, and cultural pressure as means to that end. The quest is to push back limits: farther, faster, more extreme. Philippe summarizes it as being able to choose from various possibilities, the more choices, the greater the freedom.
There is an element of truth in that, but the refusal to recognize limits ignores reality. There are fundamental aspects of our lives that are not chosen: whether we are male or female, who our parents are, what culture and community we are born into, what language becomes our mother tongue, the early formation that we receive, certain character traits. He notes that as we grow older, too, our range of choices grow increasingly narrower. The choices that we make limit the remaining possibilities: a particular course of education/training, marriage partner, children. And then there are those developments that we do not choose: health issues, the death of loved ones, the loss of a job, a divorce in the family, the apostasy of a friend or child.
The Christian understanding is that man is made in the image of God and that he is made for love, love of God and love of neighbor. There is a CS Lewis quote that I failed to track down that captures this: freedom is being able to love God and follow Him. As Christians we all desire greater freedom from fear, from guilt, from bondage to bad habits and sin that limit growing in our relationship with Him and with others.
Philippe provocatively points out that it also means consenting to what we did not choose. He notes three attitudes that we can adopt when we find things that are negative or unpleasant in ourselves or our situations, things that we may not have chosen. We can rebel (sometimes a positive!), we can resign ourselves to it (a sterile recognition of our powerlessness), or we can consent to it. He argues for the latter because within it is a hope in God who specializes in transforming evil into good.
Understanding this idea is a lot to take on at once and I’m still working it through. It includes consenting to those undesireable elements in ourselves: this is what I have to work with, this is my starting point. It also includes consenting to those setbacks and difficulties and sufferings that we don’t choose. Philippe spends much of this small book elaborating on these two points. I haven’t gotten that far yet, either in carefully reading it or in living out its truth. I wish you greater freedom… [posted by David]