We are slaves to freedom. John went to live in Vail after college in the mid-eighties. When I met him, he was in his second decade in Vail, still skiing, still waiting tables, still scamming on women after a late night of drinking. We worked together as waiters at a restaurant in Vail, the defunct Dancing Bear. John turned to me and said he heard I was a Christian. Yes, I answered. He said he could never be a Christian as he loved his freedom too much. He was in his early thirties, alone, and as a ski bum, with few prospects for a future. I asked him what freedom meant to him. The conversation then staled as the lunch rush started. Ten years later, and I still wonder what became of John. If he was still free in his prison?
Ever since the French Revolution, freedom has been defined by action; freedom from oppression meant no external force should constrict our actions; freedom to do meant we chose our own actions. Liberation and hedonism are the twin Gods of freedom. Down with the tyrant, overthrow the dictator, power to the rebel become slogans to relate to Government, Church, Parents, and anyone who would restrict our actions. Teenage rebellion has become a rite of passage. The other person became the limit of our freedom. Advertisers have learn to manipulate us by appealing to this freedom, freedom being expressed by buying their products, by being blind to their control. How many CDs has Marilyn Manson sold by plugging into this ethos? Irony drips from the fangs; freedom makes plump turkeys to be plucked by the latest fade promising to liberate us. Freedom construction as action imprison us.
From the vantage of freedom in action, anyone who restricts our freedom is by nature a limit on our freedom. So, where does it leave the individual? If the other limits our freedom, then the other enslave us. Jean Paul Sartre, the radical prophet of this freedom, rejected God and also is famous for his quote in No Exit, "...hell is other people" Sartre was logically consistent. If he embraces freedom of action, then he must reject God, and view others with, at the very least, suspicion. This freedom reduces, indeed, eliminates the possibility of Love. Is it any wonder that we, in the western world lead rootless lives defined by a certain vacuum-like existence; the vacuum sucking out everything but our latest technological toys. "I do what I want." "You are not the boss of me."
Jesus promise freedom. Certainly, he meant something beyond the storming of the bastille, violence to all who would restrict us, I-do-what-I-want type of freedom. Looking into the eyes of my new son, I experience freedom. Freedom beyond action, as I can tell you that in the middle of the night, his cries of hunger cuts against my wanting to sleep. I answer his call, and feed him. My wife has had her freedom in action limited by our baby. Yet, she has been liberated by loving our son. Jesus looks beyond action and transforms the person. The most profound question one can asks about freedom is who is the one doing the choosing. If the self is defined by desires, then freedom can only in be enslaving.
Freedom can be understood beyond action and though of as ontological. Such a freedom comes from the social understanding. Freedom coming from being known and knowing a community. Such freedom comes closer to what Jesus meant. We know this freedom when we first taste love. We see the object of our love and we are overwhelmed, and yet we are free. When I see my wife and the baby together, I not only understand this freedom, I live it. Such freedom is immune to manipulation. It is like the light at the center of our being. Hell ceases to be the other, and the other becomes the very expression of freedom. While this is much closer to what Jesus promises, there is still a way to go to get the full understanding of what Jesus means about the truth setting us free. Next, Christian freedom.