Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Truth Sets Us Free:
True Freedom is Not the Ability to Merely do as One Pleases, but is the Ability to Conform Oneself to the Truth

Pope Benedict speaks of, and writes on, freedom and truth quite often, as he recently did in the Mass he celebrated with his former students. Over at the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, referenced frequently here lately, Msgr. Charles Pope has recently written on The Paradoxes of True Freedom. In his post, Msgr. Pope raises the point that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever one wants or as one pleases without restraint, rather, true freedom is the ability to what one ought to do, that is, the ability to do good, to do the right thing.

In our age freedom is a distorted and detached concept, a kind of abstraction. There is little connection of freedom to responsibility , to the common good or to truth. To the modern world freedom is essentially understood as “the ability to do whatever I please.” . . .
For a Christian however freedom is the capacity or ability to obey God. Now this is paradoxical to be sure, especially for the modern world where obedience and freedom aren’t usually linked. But for the Christian, sin is slavery and the truth which God reveals sets us free. . . .
Insisting on freedom without any connection to what is good and true does not free, it enslaves. True freedom exists within boundaries and guard rails. Some things must be held constant and unyielding if there is to be freedom. There must be some rules or freedom breaks down and is crushed by anarchy, chaos and power struggle. In the end, what makes us truly free is to obey the Father. This frees us from the slavery of sin and gives the capacity to obey God. Anything less is the slavery of sin.

Being a strong lover of liberty, I strugged with this idea for a long, long time, that true freedom was the abiity to do what you ought to do, the ability to do the “right” thing, rather than what you might want to do. If I can’t do what I want, if I am restrained from doing as I please, either by outside influences or by self-restraint, then how can I be truly free??

It wasn’t until I understood sin as being a privation of the good, a distortion of truth, rather than, for example, a violation of rules or disobedience against God (not connecting the dots between Him and Truth), that it started to click (See, Augustine, City of God). That, and reflecting on the “self-evident truth” of the “inalienable” nature of liberty (See, Declaration of Independence).

I can be truly free while restrained from doing as I please because true freedom is necessarily restrained. True freedom, by its very nature, is necessarily limited, in that it is inalienable, that is, it cannot be alienated, that is, it cannot be given away. If freedom were able to be given away, if one was free to be unfree and able to choose to be a slave, he obviously would no longer be free or in a state of freedom. The consequence of sin is that, by embracing a false and counterfeit “freedom,” we necessarily become a slave to error, to falsehood and untruth, that is, a slave to sin, as the Monsignor says, even if we erroneously continue to insist that we are still free.

True freedom exists only in order, not disorder. A choice or act is freely made only when it is made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily, with an understanding of the nature and consequences of that choice or act. If one cannot, because of external factors or because of a defective internal conscience, recognize what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil, then one cannot make an informed and intelligent choice. Error and falsehood does not lead to truth, it leads to further error and ignorance of truth. Consequently, making erroneous choices, choosing to do that which is wrong, which is contrary to truth and order (in other words, to sin), distorts and impairs one’s ability to further recognize truth and good over that which is false and evil. To do that which is inconsistent with truth is not freedom, but is instead being confined and controlled by error.

If you insist on doing as you please, rather than following the road map and the road signs, pretty soon you are going to be on the wrong road going in the wrong direction. Now you are no longer free to get where you had planned to go, you are instead a slave to your own foolishness.

Freedom necessarily is dependent and contingent upon truth. Thus, it is necessarily limited by truth, including moral truth, such that the ability to engage in something contrary to truth, as one might want to do, is not freedom at all. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge does not free us, it does not make things clearer, it does not make us like gods, empowered to choose and determine what is right and what is wrong; it only enslaves us to error and sin.

It is, and only can be, by doing what we ought to do, doing what is right and good, that is, acting in conformance with truth (or, put another way, acting in conformance with Truth, i.e. the Logos, i.e. God), acting in a manner consistent with the truth for which we were made, that one can be free.

On the other hand, when one insists on doing as he pleases, without any consideration for truth, and thereby acts contrary to what is right and good, then he strays from the path of truth onto the path of error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately he is, not merely a slave to error and untruth (sin), but is so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that he is “doomed to die,” and not merely bodily death, but eternal death (Gen. 2:17).

Freedom does not mean, freedom cannot mean, the freedom to not be free, the freedom to be a slave. Likewise, freedom does not mean and cannot mean the freedom to do that which inevitably leads to death. That counterfeit freedom which acts contrary to God leads only to death. The dead have no rights, they have no freedoms, they are merely dead.

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