"One truth: that the mind is below truth, not above it, and is bound, not to descant upon it, but to venerate it; that truth and falsehood are set before us for the trial of our hearts." ~Bl. John Henry Newman
Monday, December 20, 2010
...stretching my philosophical limbs a little bit.
A friend wrote: I've been talking with someone about what freedom is. What's freedom?
This is one of my favorites.
In nature, freedom just means "free from constraint." As in, the water is free to flow downriver when there is no dam obstructing its path."
At the level of human nature, though, freedom also includes a lack of interior (or psychological)obstruction, as well. Our freedom to choose is constrained by our passions: fear of pain or desire for some pleasure/good.
Because human freedom is part of who we are, though, it cannot be divorced from who we are as humans. Sounds simplistic: But it makes all the difference, especially in our "truth is relative, I make my own truth" culture. There is no freedom apart from truth, the truth about who we are and what we were made to be.
So, a person is perfectly free to act irresponsibly or wrongly. But in doing so, he is actually submitting to his own compulsions. And, because we are creatures of habit, a choice to submit to baser desires means that the next time we are confronted with that choice, we will be more inclined to act basely again. At a physical and psychological level, this is how addictions work: sexual pleasure, over-eating, nicotine, soap operas, etc... Freedom is easily lost, when we choose to need things lesser than ourselves.
On the other hand, when a person chooses freely to act well or rightly, he is actually becoming more free of his passions/desires/fears. Freedom expands as it is exercised well (and this is what it means that there is no freedom apart from truth). Curiously, submitting to an objective law higher than ourselves increases our freedom to choose what is good and true next time. And the world of good things to choose from is much broader, wider, vaster, and more beautiful than the world of bad things. This is why men and women exercise: physically, spiritually, and emotionally, we can expand our freedom from physical and psychological limitations.
In the Christian tradition: "For freedom Christ has set you free..." We're not just free to do what we like (although we are); Christ's law is not, "Whatever makes you feel schweet." Rather, we're free in order to become more free. And "more free" looks exactly like Jesus Christ.