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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.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Even here in the USA we have the same problem… freedom is the ends itself. We have freedom FROM the government regulations, freedom from oppression (sorta), freedom from people telling us how to live…

    … but what we really should be looking at is we should have freedom FOR the good of mankind, freedom FOR the care of the poor, etc. That’s Christian Freedom… it’s a freedom that says, “You’ve been set free from your old bondage… now, what are you going to do with it?”

    September 20, 2013
    • Absolutely, Robert. Well said.

      September 20, 2013
  2. MDAELE #

    yup that rings true
    as long as we recognize that freedom isn’t freedom at all unless people can do whatever the ___________ they want to do with it – freedom FOR, freedom FROM, freedom TO…
    what begins to be a little bizarre is how in some ways the nature of freedom actually draws out the struggle between good and evil.
    Freedom we consider to be a valuable (even virtuous) aspect of our society and even of human nature – yet without freedom available it would seem possible to eradicate expressions of evil from human experience.
    so perhaps if we hunger for freedom we must then also be prepared to suffer the pain of evil expressed in our society???

    September 20, 2013
    • as long as we recognize that freedom isn’t freedom at all unless people can do whatever the ___________ they want to do with it – freedom FOR, freedom FROM, freedom TO…

      Or, you might say that such a vision of freedom is really little more than enslavement to one’s desires, impulses, and preferences… :). I think Gil is actually arguing for a vision of freedom that goes beyond this. You also allude to this in your comments about evil.

      September 20, 2013
  3. Paul Johnston #

    This is very important writing. I hope it finds a wide audience, particularly within Christian culture. As a community of people (such as we are) this understanding that freedom is the “means” and that love is the “ends” is an essential distinction from cultural definitions that are too often nothing more than, “enslavement’s to impulse” or self interest apart from the concerns/needs of others.

    A book/charter defining what important ideas like love, freedom, truth, beauty, community,commerce et al… from the Christian perspective is badly needed. So many of us have the “spirit” but we lack in vision. Our discernment’s are confused as we have allowed ourselves to be informed by false interpretations, anti-ethical to the Christian life. We will have to redefine ourselves in a modern context; coherent of mind, inspired in spirit.

    Our brothers and sisters in Quebec, those who oppose us, see one thing one thing clearly. They too understand that freedom (as they would define it) is but a “means”. A means they intend to apply so as to suppress the word and will of God within our culture(s).

    The fight is coming close to home now….it was always close, just better disguised…it is good for us that our opponents are now openly declaring themselves. We will either, “put on the armour” and defend God’s people or be exposed as weakly rooted and swept away by the coming storm.

    The coming conflict should be embraced with a spirit of thankfulness. We have allowed the “thorns and brambles” of culture to “choke” us for far too long.

    It is well past time for an accounting.

    September 27, 2013
    • Good to hear from you, Paul.

      You said:

      A book/charter defining what important ideas like love, freedom, truth, beauty, community,commerce et al… from the Christian perspective is badly needed.

      Perhaps we could start with 1 Corinthians 13? Matthew 5-7? That should keep us occupied for a while :).

      The proposed Quebec charter is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it could simply be read as a making explicit of what is already implicit in most of Canadian culture. The public sphere is deliberately “neutral” with respect to religion—at least that’s how it is spun. Of course, many people are well aware that this is simply switching the political imposition of one ideology for another. Once it was Christianity, now it’s a fairly aggressive secularism. I think there are good reasons to speak out against the Quebec charter. Unfortunately, the good reasons aren’t always the ones that grab the headlines. Usually it is resisted in the name of some vapid “tolerance” or “diversity” which, in Canada, tends to mean, “you’re all allowed to believe whatever you want so long as it stays private and doesn’t disrupt anything.” Not a good enough reason, in my view…

      September 27, 2013
      • Paul Johnston #

        Always a pleasure to “drop in”. His peace be with you, my brother. 🙂

        September 30, 2013

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