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What is Freedom?
How is it ordered, & how is it related to Politics and to Play?

For more on Freedom, see Independence, Government, God, & Theocracy

F. Earle Fox

Freedom is a slippery quality, and depends very much on from which worldview you are making your definitions.  There is a worldview of difference between the kind of freedom possible in the Biblical view as against the secular/pagan world without a Biblical creator/sovereign.  See Ordered Freedom Amendment.

The Pagan/Secular World

Freedom is a notion which in the West had pagan beginnings with the early Greek understanding of "eleutheros" (freedom).  As the Greeks emerged out of their early pagan mists and mythology, and as they distinguished themselves from the very centralized, non-individual Persians with their victories over the Persian invaders in the 5th century BC, they moved strongly out of the early "Great Mother" stage of the pagan cosmos where we are enveloped in nature, tribe, and clan, into what I would call the "secular" stage of human development, where we humans assert our individuality over the forces of nature, culture, and of determinism.  We tried to declare our freedom, as it were, from the forces of mother nature and take control of our own history.  It is a freedom "from" restraint, to do our own will, to design our own environment -- salvation by control of environment. 

The pagan gods and goddesses gradually fall into the background as we humans begin to assert our own individuality.  We begin to sense our own capacities and achievements, and want to define our own meaning and future.  This is the early era of heroic achievement and empire building, signified in the Homeric stories of the Trojan Wars.  The powerful sense of individuality portrayed in the Hellenic epics defined manhood for generations of Greeks and Romans as the Iliad and the Odyssey became the "Bible" of the Hellenic and Roman cultures, and, for better or for worse, for much of later Western culture. 

This development of manhood and freedom took place in quite a different manner with the Hebrews.  More on that later. 

Natural Freedom & Moral Freedom

Christian philosophy has traditionally made the distinction between "natural" freedom and "moral" freedom.  Natural freedom is simply the capacity to will, to choose, to make choices freely.  That is, we have a genuine capacity to discern differing possibilities, and to choose between them.  Moral freedom is the freedom which develop as we make moral choices, that is, as we obey the will of God, which is designed to nurture, support, and guide our personhood into the fullness of its capacity. 

When we obey God, we become more, not less, free, in the same sense that your automobile will run more freely if you obey the owner's manual sent with the car by its manufacturer, and thus take good care of it.  The car has a given nature which can be abused and damaged.  Human beings likewise have a given nature which can be abused and damaged, thus eroding our freedom, or destroying it all together.  God gives us a Manufacturer's manual by which we can maximize our ability to act, and pursue our rightful and most joyful life -- the "pursuit of happiness". 

Freedom "From" & Freedom "For" 

The pagan and secular worlds tend to see freedom as freedom "from" something -- freedom from want, fear, disease, poverty, famine, war, etc.  It is primarily freedom from interference with my own desires.  "Freedom from" is defined in terms of "from" that which inhibits my comfort and well being -- freedom from dangers and from lack of necessities.  That was the subtle seduction in FDR's "freedoms from".  FDR did not tell us about the freedoms "for", or our obligations. 

The modern secular libertarian definition of freedom runs essentially: "The right to do anything I want so long as I do not infringe on anyone else's life, liberty, or property."   That is the definition generally accepted by "liberal democracy".  The right to that freedom is thought to reside inherently in the individual, such that government, laws, etc., are often thought to be necessary evils, not goods in themselves. 

This view of freedom does not progress much, if at all, beyond natural freedom, the mere capacity to make choices.  Since rights and value are thought to inhere in the individual in and of himself, so likewise, freedom is thought of as that individual having the most unrestricted freedom to do whatever he desires.   

The notion of universal moral rights came out of the Bible.  No other religion or philosophy could put a foundation under such rights.  And objective rights will not survive the loss of the Biblical worldview

Freedom "from" is not wrong, but it is only a beginning.  It is necessary because the self is a good thing.  But not sufficient.  Taken by itself, it leaves us in a self-centered, narcissistic state of mind, an idolatry of the self. 

The other side of freedom is freedom "for".  We will have this kind of freedom (beyond the narcissistic) only where there is some sense of objective morality, some sense of obligation and rightness about how to behave.  We are in that case intended "for" that rightness, to accomplish that rightness, whatever it might be.  God tells us what that is: to love Him and one another. 

You might add: freedom to seek and speak the truth.  We abnormally (not normally) tend to think of these items as obligations pushed upon us by a God who butts in on our freedoms.  Even Christians commonly fall into this trap.  They are indeed obligations, but the law was made for us, for our benefit.  So, if we pursue these things, we will flourish.  Love, truth, and righteousness are all targeted by tyrants, and become forbidden when the tyrant gets control.  So the freedom to pursue those things is not a minor thing.  It is the foundation of all our other freedoms. 

The Greeks struggled mightily to define this objective moral sense, as attested by their great staged tragedies (their way of integrating their religion, philosophy, and emotional struggles), and by their great philosophical traditions. 

But they were unable to sustain this sense of freedom "for" (excepting in the sense of "for whatever I want" -- which always catapults us into power struggle) because their worldview could not sustain an objective morality.  They believed the world to be a closed system, the "Perennial" cosmos, within which, search as we might, there is no intelligible morality, only power struggle.  Much of Greek philosophy was an attempt to find this standard of justice, righteousness, and how we should live, but they could not rise far, or for long, above the vortex of strife and conflict which the Greeks (and most societies) believed was the nature of life.  [Note: for a discussion of this problem in Greek philosophy, see the "Addenda" to Part I (Defining 'Oughtness' & 'Love' in Law & Grace in Imago Dei.

It was assumed by nearly all pagan peoples that the strong "should" rule the weak, that that was the nature of things.  That was necessarily so since there was nothing in their cosmos to tell them otherwise.  And, the imperative for survival made it unavoidable that every society would be in practical fact run on the principle that "Might makes right".  Life was eat or be eaten.  So freedom was for the strong, not the weak.  Mercy was considered foolish, not wise.  As Darwinism came later to understand it -- survival of the fittest.  But the fitness had nothing to do with moral quality.  It was a case of who could eat whom (and, with modern evolution theory and survival of the fittest, it still is).

Western Civilization is sliding rapidly back to that unhappy situation as we continue to subvert our Biblical foundations. 

[Note: A fascinating introduction to ancient myth and history can be had from The Teaching Company, which gets some of the best professors available to put their courses on video format and at reasonable prices.  Their series on Egyptian, Greek, and Roman myth and early history are very enlightening on these issues.  There is nothing in the pagan world which tells them other than that the strong should rule the weak, that might makes right -- despite their yearning for something better.]

The Biblical World

The open-system Biblical world, given to us through the Hebrew Torah, came through an intrusion of the living God into our closed-system cosmos of the Fall.  God understood that the world into which we had cast ourselves by denying Him had two fatal flaws

1. no ontological security, no foundation for secure being,
            or really, no foundation for being
at all;  and,
2. no moral foundation, no purpose or direction for life. 

In the Fallen world of the closed circle, there is thus stability neither of being nor of morality -- the interlocking foundation of warp and woof upon which all meaningful life must be built. 

The Biblical world supplies ontological stability because we rest on the eternal Hand of God, our Intelligent Designer.  Our being is secure so long as we do not wander off His hand into the fallen closed circle cosmos. 

And, God supplies moral stability because, being Creator ex nihilo, He (and, logically, only He) can determine our reason for being, our reason for existence.  Reason for being is the only possible foundation for morality, i.e., for an objective difference between right and wrong, good and evil. 

As we destroy our Biblical foundations in the West, we are also losing both warp and woof.  As truth is being relativized, stability is eroding in an abyss of random chance, and morality has already all but disappeared into the same black hole.  So we understand only "freedom from", not freedom "for".  We want to be left alone, to have no authority over us "telling us what to do", which we find oppressive. 

But that leaves the cosmos in chaos, with 7 billion or so of us all moving in different and contrary directions, with no possibility of mediating between our conflicts -- other than power struggle and mind-control (invented in the late 1800's).  Without ontological and moral stability, freedom in any meaningful sense is impossible to sustain.  The secular/pagan world can supply neither of these. 

But if

(a) we have real moral obligations; and if

(b) the obligations which God imposes on us include truth, freedom, and a loving community, then we are in quite a different situation; and if

(c) our human nature is understood to be intelligently designed for freedom because we are being invited into a freewill covenant with God; and if

(d) our human nature has a specific structure which can be either nurtured (our freedom grows) or damaged (our freedom diminishes); and if

(e) God has designed His purpose for our existence (expressed in His laws) so as to enhance our freedom precisely so that we can make a free choice about His offer of the covenant; then

(f) obeying his laws  turns out to be a very practical good for us, not an arbitrary imposition.  He is showing us the way to freedom and life. 

So the obligations of law are meant to show us the way to freedom, not merely freedom "from", but freedom "for".   Freedom "for" has essentially to do with freedom in community, in relationship. 

The Free Society - 5 Decisions

We should ask, "What would a really free society look like?  How would we know one if we bumped into it?"  The items "for which" we are set free can be given as five decisions.  They describe how to build just such a community:

1. the truth decision - to be truth-seekers at any cost to ourselves; 

2. the ontological stability decision - to rest our dependency on (receive our being from) that which is truly dependable (the Hand of God);

3. the honesty, personal integrity decision - to take responsibility for our own actions, reactions, and attitudes, to be WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) persons, open and honest, responding with truth;  

4. the moral decision - to put ourselves under the legitimate authority of the cosmos, the Law and Grace of God;

5. to do all of the above with loving spirits, to be lovers of God and of souls -- and thus carrying out the two Great Commandments of God, the love, community decision. 

Love is thus the end goal of the five decisions, and truth is the foundation upon which a loving community is built and love is exercised. 

These five decisions are inalienable.  No one can make them for us, not even God.  And no one can take them from us - except God, and He guarantees them.  They all build on each other, step by step, leading to the strongest kind of personal stability and presence, bound by truth and love.  (For a whole chapter on these five decisions, see Biblical Inner Healing, chapter II.)

These decisions define the nature of the Kingdom, the freest possible community.  No other community than that of God can successfully combine both freedom and law.  In this community the law is all about building our freedom.  We are obligated to be free so that we can make honest decisions about our relationship to God and one another.  Only the free go to heaven because heaven is, by God's definition, made up of the free.   Any subversion of these decisions will automatically lead to a subversion of our freedom as human beings, and ultimately to death and hell, the cosmic dump.   

Play, Noise, & Harmony 

But the fallen world resents the incursion of God into its realm of independent, autonomous decision-making, and fights to maintain freedom "from" without the moral obligation of freedom "for" -- and by so doing, guarantees its own continual collapse and self-destruction.  Witness human history.  

Sometimes that resentment and running from God is from ignorance rather than rebellion.  We just do not understand what is at stake, the nature of God, the terms of His covenant.  Those are the people Christians should search out, to present them the Gospel.  Something in them wants the truth, they just do not now where to find it.   

Everyone must deal with the five decisions and will make them one way or another, but the rebellious world will work to prevent anyone from making the five freedoms "for" in the Biblical way:  commitment to truth at any cost to oneself, dependency on God, open and responsible personality, obedience to God, and loving one's neighbor just like one loves oneself. 

So the freedom "for", for making those five decisions, is absolutely crucial to our spiritual and emotional growth.  I have, in other words, the inalienable right to seek truth, and all the other five decisions as well, whether any tyrant likes it or not.  Tyrants do not want their subject to be educated to be free, and so will always try to interrupt and/or control those decisions in a non-Biblical direction, most especially the truth decision.  (That is the most important reason why civil government should never control education -- parents should.) 

These five decisions set me free in a manner the fallen world can hardly imagine, let alone attain.  The world is baffled by this kind of freedom to be myself in a truthful and loving manner against all resistance.  (Read - or hear - Because He's My King - That's Why!)

All five decisions are based on my relationship to God, Creator of heaven and earth, who resides outside the cosmos itself.  My relationship with God and my freedom are therefore untouchable by the forces of worldly control and destruction -- as attested by the history of martyrdom and prison literature for over 3000 years. 

[For more about how our human nature is bound up in these decisions for freedom, see Biblical Inner Healing, especially chapter II.] 

This freedom offered by God in the Bible, is the only freedom which can sustain a free society and a free people.  Just as a musician or athlete trains to produce a kind of freedom that most of us cannot attain, the freedom to "play" an instrument, or to "play" a sport, likewise, the freedom of the children of God to "play" life beautifully comes from the discipline of those five decisions. 

Play without discipline is noise (just listen to an as-yet-undisciplined beginner musician practicing...).  And just so, freedom "from" without freedom "for" is chaos -- spiritual noise.  Every orchestra requires a conductor, and just so, only freedom under Godly discipline brings playful harmony. 

The  Subversion of Freedom - Hate-Crime Law - the Criminalizing of Truth-Seeking -
        & Its Antidote

So, if Jesus, who is the face of God turned toward us, is not the conductor, there is little or no hope of sustaining ordered freedom either in personal life or in political life. 

A clever and now popular means of subverting freedom increasingly employed is "hate-crime" law.  Such laws are justified as protecting some group from the hatred of others (such as black people from racial prejudice, or homosexual persons from criticism of their lifestyle).  It is reasoned that the hate involved in such ill will justifies a tougher penalty. 

But, as Thomas Jefferson noted, the reach of civil government does not extend to beliefs, feelings, or preferences, only to behavior.  Whenever the coercive force of government is directed at belief, feeling, or preference, the freedom of discussion absolutely necessary to a free society is undermined.   

Hate-crime law, for example, forbidding criticizing of homosexual behavior is designed, not to protect homosexual persons, who already have the same protections as anyone else against bad behavior, but rather to shut down criticism of homosexual behavior, which is clearly self- and socially-destructive. 

The freedom to seek truth is the primal of all freedoms, the foundation upon which all else rests.  But hate-crime laws are the tools of tyrants, not of freedom-lovers.  Hate-crime laws do not protect freedom, they subvert it by undercutting the open level playing-field of public discussion, tilting it to favor one side, in our present case, the homosexual lobby.  These hate-crime laws criminalize criticism of homosexual behavior, and in doing so, criminalize truth-seeking.  That is totalitarianism at work. 

Truth-seeking is the foundation of all legitimate freedom.  Truth, freedom, and love all require each other.  None of the three will survive without the other two. 

The antidote for such subversion is the return, by way of spiritual renewal, to the freemarket of ideas which is primarily the product of our Judeo-Christian heritage.  

For more on Freedom, see Independence, Government, God, & Theocracy

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