Freedom, a Paradox By J. Reagan

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2012/08/24 at 9:00 AM

We humans are the only creatures that do not have to act in a predetermined way; we can radically alter the circumstances of our lives if we so wish. A tree will grow in the same spot year after year and follow its prearranged cycles. A dog will never live like a fish and a cat will never fly. Humans have found ways to both live under water and fly.

People have a moral dimension that other creatures do not have. We can produce a Mother Teresa and a Hitler, great saints and great sinners, and every level in between. The reason is that humans have the power of choice, of free will; we can decide to do or not to do something.

The Greeks of the ancient world, who helped lay of the foundation of our own civilization, were the thinkers of their time. They thought about almost every aspect of human existence. They delved into mathematics, physics, medicine, music, and literature. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, Hippocrates, are among the more notable of them. They even had an atomic theory.

Their philosophers pondered the question of free will and its significance. They came to the conclusion that there is a paradox (apparent contradiction) in the matter of free will. They said that there are two kinds of freedom of the will, a “freedom from” and a “freedom to”. The former is negative and the latter is positive. “Freedom from” is the idea that no one should tell us what we can and cannot do, that we are free agents answerable only to ourselves.

The paradox here is that when we set out to be totally free of inhibitions, laws, rules etc, we eventually become, not free, but enslaved to our desires. They very things we thought would show our freedom bind us in a grip of negative habits and vice, and which, under our own power, would be proportionately difficult to overcome. Thus unlimited freedom turns into slavery.

“Freedom to” has its own paradox. In order to be free to accomplish anything of value or anything worthwhile, we must be willing to restrict, limit and restrain our free will. The reason you can read this essay is that I have limited myself to using certain words, in a certain order and arrangement. I could have used many of the other thousands of English words, but the result would be a different message or none at all…jibberish. I happen to enjoy choirs, but only because the choir members agree to follow a certain pattern of notes with no deviations. Imagine what would happen if the choir members decided that “no one was going to tell them what to sing”, and they all sang different hymns at the same time.

Man is the only creature that can conceive of and try to attain goals. No goal is reached in a haphazard way. Plans must be made, and part of those plans are restricted choices we must make to be successful. If one wishes to become a doctor, he/she must, long before, set out on a prescribed  course of study, and restrict himself or herself to whatever aids in the pursuit of the goal.

We live in a “Sez who?” society. Authority at every level, divine, parental, civil, educational, ecclesiastical , is being questioned and/or ignored if anyone so desires; each one becomes his or her own lawmaker. We forget that legitimate authority comes from God, and, therefore, obliges us to obey lawful rules. Too many people in authority have brought disrespect and disregard on themselves. Nevertheless, when we look around us, we see all too often the fruits of the “Sez who? Society”: dangerous addictions, high crime rate, low church attendance, rampant illicit sex, abortion, deficient education, evolution as fact, greed at every level (called “inflation”),  scientism (the belief that only science has all the answers), etc.

The Greeks had it right, BUT, because they did not have the benefit of Revelation, their idea of freedom is valid, but incomplete because they had only human reason to work with. It was not until the coming of Christ that we learned the true meaning of freedom. “The truth shall make you free.”

Because the Greek philosophers’ ideas of freedom were limited,  they relied on human reason alone, and, while they did develop some sound ideas, they were, nevertheless, incomplete and insufficient. They based everything on the idea of restraints and lack of restraints which is valid only to a certain extent. After all, it was a pagan world they lived in. We have the guidance of divine Revelation. It tells us that the real origin and basis for freedom is truth. “The truth shall make you free.”

Christ Himself referred to Himself as “the Truth.” The Gospels tell us that part of the mission of Christ on earth was to tell us how to find complete and necessary truth because it is only in truth that we find real freedom. Ever notice that false gods always seem to reduce freedom? The followers of Islam certainly have diminished freedom.

It does not require much observation to realize that we live in a world filled with errors and lies in all areas of life: ecclesiastical, political, moral, economic, social, scientific, educational, etc. Note also that the more error and falsehood involved, the more freedom is diminished. Ex. Darwinism has become a religion in the scientific world. Any opponent speaks out risks danger of grave consequences to his position and status. The same attitude is developing in the matter of global warming. The elites have decided that it exists, and anyone who questions it is subject to ridicule, ostracism, etc. In both Darwinism and global warming, contrary facts are not given a hearing. This means a loss of freedom to make our own judgments in such matters.

It is truth that makes us free. It is Christ who gives us true freedom. We can better understand this by using the terms the Greek philosophers used, “freedom from” and “freedom to”.  In Christ, we have a “freedom from”

ANXIETY: Christ Himself told us we need not be anxious about anything because God is in control of the world and whatever happens in it. With Him as our guide, we are assured that whatever comes to pass, good or bad, it will be to our advantage eventually.

ERROR:    Using the inspired Word of God and the  Catholic Church as a beacon of truth and  standard of behavior, we can judge and evaluate the myriad false ideas being tossed around today.

DOUBT:  The suicide bomber can only hope that his actions will bring him to heaven.(They won’t.) The Christian who believes in Christ and His promises KNOWS what his destiny is.

FEAR OF DEATH: The modern world seems to have a mania for staying alive as long as possible. Of course, the reason is that too many think that the grave is the end of the story. The Christian knows that death for him/her leads to the second and better part of life as  his/her soul goes to meet with Christ while the body remains temporarily on earth.

In short, believing the truth of Christ rescues us from the baneful effects of our sinful human nature, and gives us freedom that the non-saved can’t even imagine.

There is a positive side the God’s freedom, the “freedom to.”

Human freedom is tenuous, and fickle, and can be dangerous when misused; too much freedom often leads to disaster.

God’s freedom is infinite, constant, and eternal.

We are free to be all that God has designed us to be, free to be what no human power can give, free to reach our full potential which is eternal union with God.

The Greeks said that true freedom lies in restraint. So too is it in the Christian life. We call this restraint obedience to God’s will. That is the source of man’s true freedom because it will lead to eternal glory in which human freedom becomes perfect, and a more mentally peaceful existence on earth. That is God’s plan for us.

There will be no “freedom from” in Heaven because there will be no  doubts, fears, anxieties, or errors, etc. The least free person is the habitual sinner. Listen to his last lament.

“The past has deceived me; the present torments me; and the future terrifies me.”

The true Christian, free in Christ, will never need to utter these words.


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