“Freedom v. Slavery,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
In the modern world, the word freedom has acquired what I believe to be a mistaken meaning and import. Freedom in the world today is interpreted as meaning that as long as you do not break the law, you should be free to do anything you want. Implied and implicit in this notion of freedom, which many people embrace wholeheartedly, is the idea that there are no fixed moral laws. Since we should be free, under this understanding of freedom, to do whatever we want as long as we do not break any laws, one can only conclude that any objective morality has gone by the wayside, to be replaced by a kind of moral relativism which means that we make our own morality when we adopt this idea of freedom.
Under this understanding of the idea of freedom is the idea that we should be free to pursue whatever may please us at any given moment, as long as no one else is harmed, and one can only conclude that we can even be free to harm ourselves, if we wish, short of suicide. Thus there has come about a kind of free market sexuality, embracing all kinds and types of sexual conduct, with the exception of incest, although some people will not even stop at that, if they can get away with it.
Freedom also, under this definition, involves pursuing and acquiring as many material goods as we can obtain. It involves and allows for a kind of excessive ambition with the result that life becomes a competitive race where we all seek to outdo each other and make the others surrounding us potential rivals and enemies in pursuit of the material and power goal. I have two arguments with this concept of freedom. First, I do not think that doing exactly what you want, in the unfettered fashion this word suggests in the modern world, results in any kind of freedom in the true sense of the word. The freedom the modern world embraces, which most people think to be a good thing, results in a kind of self-worship, self-adulation, and certainly self-involvement.
The result is that rather than involving ourselves in positive and fruitful relationships of service and love with others we shrink within ourselves devoting ourselves to ourselves. The end is that we are somehow so self-encased as to be immovable, and virtually helpless and dysfunctional. We are barely able to include others within the range of our concerns and in so limiting and devoting ourselves to ourselves, we become virtually chained and encased within and to ourselves.
This is hardly freedom.
Freedom properly understood makes us involved outside of ourselves in love, service, and relationships with others. The freedom to do exactly what you want leads to an increasingly shrunken personality and people do not become grown up men and women but remain petulant selfish children.
Second, I do not think the freedom the modern world so lauds and praises brings us any real and lasting happiness. Happiness consists of going outside ourselves. Happiness involves involvement with others. Happiness is the basis for all relationships, especially friendships. When we have relationships, we step outside of ourselves. When are free to do what we want, we are stricken, encased, and paralyzed in our freedom to do completely and exactly what we want
I have occasion to speak with elderly people or people who, for one reason or another, cannot work anymore. They say they were happier working and are happier working. Control and discipline and involvement in ideas and tasks outside of ourselves brings us true freedom; the freedom to do what we want brings only intense self-involvement and great unhappiness. There can and could be no more unhappy person than a person who is alone, and free to do exactly what they want at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of each day of their lives.
Let me add this note, perhaps somewhat philosophical, but I think rather true. Freedom is embracing the good. Freedom to do what can be casually termed the wrong thing is no freedom but only a privation. Evil has an impermanent existence; tyrannies rise and fall; imperialism gave way to democracy; kings gave way to parliaments; apartheid gave way to self-government; and slavery and serfdom gave way to freedom. As long as we embrace selfishness and dominance in the guise of class advancement, we remain markedly and totally and completely unfree. Freedom with this many choices only leads to extinction and nothingness.
There is only true freedom and it is only found in love and service and involvement in the lives of others. For the Christian, freedom is only found in living the love of Christ in relation to our neighbors.
I make a final note and statement. Albert Schweitzer was a world authority on Bach and eminent theologian and philosopher at the beginning of the 20th century in Strasbourg, France. He was also a Christian and pastor. He left his position in the university to go to medical school to become a medical missionary in French Africa out of love and concern for the suffering of Africans. He lived a life of medical service for his entire life in French Africa. For many, he is a forgotten figure today. Dr. Schweitzer chose true freedom and gave his life as a gift of God in the service of others and their suffering. If you want to know more about Dr. Schweitzer you are free to read his two autobiographies “Out of My Life and Thought,” and “The Primeval Forest.”