Freedom, Part III

I have written that the primary way we understand and experience freedom is through the choices we make.  For example, our decisions can lead to material well-being or financial ruin. Good choices lead to more freedom. Bad choices lead to less freedom. Our moral decisions might lead to virtue, or they might lead to suffering. If we see freedom only in a material context we might confuse material well-being with freedom. There are so many ways to understand freedom.

Henry David Thoreau, while sitting in jail, once observed that he had more freedom than many of his friends not confined to jail. His friends, he said, believed they were free, but in reality they were slaves to material need, to cultural expectations, or limited by resources. Finally his observations led him to conclude that a person’s state of mind is what determines freedom because the way we think about ourselves and the world is what determines our experience of freedom. Freedom, for Thoreau, was a state of mind, or a state of being, rather than simply the ability to make a choice.

This state of freedom in which we exist, which I referred to in my first post on freedom through God, is a free gift, given without conditions. Love, and by extension God, can only be expressed in a state of freedom. When we believe that love is required, that love is commanded, or that love is returned only with obedience, we are confusing love with something else. We will eventually come to realize that one of our greatest gifts from God is freedom because true love cannot be expressed in any other state of being. True love requires freedom.

Consequently our greatest expression of love is to hold another person in freedom: free from our desires, our expectations, our requirements, our conditions, free from anything that does not accept unconditionally what the other person wants or seeks. This is one of the ways that God expresses love—by giving us freedom. God accepts us for who we are because love accepts a person for who they are, not who they might become or who they have been. To do anything other than to hold another person in freedom and accept them for who they are is to violate the laws of love. Love does not transform us through control; love allows the fullest extent of whom we are to be expressed.

Because love and freedom are so intricately woven together the expression of true love in the world feels dangerous and radical. Love and freedom feel dangerous and radical because we know evil can take advantage of vulnerability and openness. We have a choice. We can see freedom in terms of owning guns, having a government defense budget sixteen times greater than any other country in the world, and give in to the material perspective that we need to build walls between ourselves for protection. Or we can have the courage to express love in spite of what seems impractical and foolish.

My observation—from the perspective of my own life experience and from a study of history is this: most wars are waged out of self-interest, not for freedom and not for democracy. The ideologies most often expressed through patriotism and partisanship are usually propaganda. Most revolutions occur when the self-interest of a few denies the rights and freedoms of others. The worst exploitation occurs when the knowledgeable and powerful prey on the ignorance and vulnerability of others. If I accept what I have written about freedom and love, I understand that to exploit others is to deny the responsibility that comes with the freedom I have been given. To deny the responsibility that comes with freedom is immoral.

As a practical matter I have to understand that when I violate the precepts of freedom and love I should expect others to fight against me. The higher the walls I build to protect my exploitation, the more pervasive the ideology I use to shield my self-interest, the more radical the methods will be that are used to undermine my position and status. If my “freedom” is sustained by the exploitation of others, I should expect others to seek to destroy the structures that support my freedom. I can fight to preserve my way of life, but I should understand that when I live free because of the suffering or exploitation of others I no longer stand on the moral high ground.

We can spend all the money we want on airport security and we can spend money to build walls on all of our borders with other countries, but freedom achieved through the exploitation of others will eventually fail. Security is a consequence of compassion and justice. Ultimately, freedom means nothing without love.