Why Is It Good to Be Free? (Gil Dueck)
As I vaguely alluded to in my previous post, freedom has been in the news here in Canada with Québec’s proposed “secular charter” and all of the commotion this is stirring up. Freedom from religion? Freedom for or of religion? Whose freedoms win? How do we prioritize? Of course, these questions extend far beyond the boundaries of Québec cultural and political realities. They are alive and well wherever we turn in our increasingly globalized, post-Christian world.
I started to write a post about some of these themes, but then came across this piece that my brother Gil wrote a few years back. Not being able to improve upon this, I am reposting it here. His challenge to critically evaluate our love affair with freedom is a timely one, as is his reminder that, for the Christian, love, not freedom, is and has always been our true north.
We live in a culture that has a very high value on freedom. We value freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a host of other less basic freedoms. We have a well-developed historical narrative (even if many of us don’t know it that well) that tells the story of the West as one of gradual liberation from the forces of tyranny and oppression (religious, political or otherwise). We have a well-developed code that tells us what our freedoms are and there are significant segments of our population that see it as our manifest destiny to export our understanding of freedom to the rest of the world.
Now I am a big fan of freedom, particularly the amount that I enjoy at a personal level. The lack of freedom that many endure in other parts of the world is a scandalous injustice that is rightly opposed and resisted. But I find myself wondering about the state of freedom here. And I think in our context, a context where we enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom to determine the course of our lives, the question takes on a bit of a different shape.
The question that I think about sometimes is: “What should we do with our freedom?” It seems to me that this is a question that we in the modern West have a very difficult time answering, even aside from the stories we’ve heard of freedom being taken to ridiculous, even obscene limits.
It seems to me that freedom is not an end but a means. We desire freedom for some other purpose, whether that purpose is practising your religion, speaking your mind, getting rich or dying your hair and getting a nose ring. Freedom is a state within which we can move toward the achievement of other goals. In fact it’s difficult to imagine freedom even existing outside of some external expression where it became obvious what we intended to do with it.
So what are those goals? Do we have any cultural consensus around what freedom should be used for? Should we? Or should that be a matter of individual preference?
For me one of the more compelling elements of the Christian worldview is the notion that freedom is to be highly valued but valued for a clearly defined purpose—the purpose of becoming what we were intended to become as human beings.
And the word that I think comes closest to that purpose is love.
Love is impossible without freedom for to love is to choose the other without compulsion, whether that other is God or the neighbour beside us. So, in the Christian view of things, love is more basic than freedom because it is an end that encompasses the basic goals and aspirations that we have as human beings as well as the purpose for which we were created.
I think there’s more to be said on the Christian view of freedom, particularly the unpopular notion that you have to give it up and accept a vision of being human that you don’t get to define, but I think it holds a basic coherence that is worth emphasizing in a cultural atmosphere that seems clear in its desire for freedom but a little fuzzy on what to do with it.