We are not free, or, better said, we are not totally free. In theory, we may do anything, anytime, anywhere, we are allowed unleash our potential and fly. Of course, there are some limits, but the theorists of freedom tell us those limits are very fragile and can always be pushed forward. So, it all depends on how we want to use this freedom. In theory!
In my opinion, we are a paradoxical generation. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you want to spend more time at home, because you are ill and you are afraid of not going to work because you will get less money and you cannot pay your mortgage; if you want to spend more time with your children, your parents, your friends, and even better, with your loved one, but you have to do overtime; if you want to tell somebody that you hear on television, on the street or at a party that she or he might be wrong and you cannot do that because it’s not politically correct, chances are you might agree with me.
People have wondered since ancient times what is good to do and what not; what is allowed to do and what not, in a word, what it means to be free? Over time, all kinds of definitions of freedom and all sorts of explanations have emerged. Some less accurate, some more precise, some of which people wanted to keep in mind and are still in use today, some of them so disturbing that they are overlooked whenever possible.
The first one of the most well-known definitions tells us that “my freedom ends where the other’s freedom begins.” From a philosophical point of view, it sounds good, but I do not understand what it is about. What do I do if the other is “freer than me,” that is, she or he has dome other forces on her/his side other than common sense? How extensive is my freedom then? After all, all totalitarian regimes say they offer “true” freedom, don’t they?
But, at least from a legal point of view, things seem clearer. Most of the modern legislative systems agree upon the fact that “freedom means doing everything you want, except those actions forbidden by the law.” So, if you want to see how free you are, it is useful to start reading as many laws as possible, and finally you’ll get an idea. But laws change over time. If not them, at least their interpretation. As a result, you may not be as free after returning from a vacation in another country.
Anyway, whatever point of view we choose, there is a pretty good chance we might come to the conclusion that others decide for us regarding how freedom we have. But what if we wanted to decide how free we may be? For those who do not want too much to think about the laws and the way the others behave, Oscar Wilde comes with a very practical solution. In the novel “Portrait of Dorian Gray,” he says it is good for the man “not to make any gesture that he will not agree to discuss after the evening meal.” We have to admit that it is a definition that gives us a freedom as “free” as possible! But it makes us fall to the other extreme – by doing so we are not accountable to anyone except our own consciousness. And if we all behave in this way…
There might be a solution! It is proposed by Augustine and is very simply expressed “love and do what you want”. At first glance, we are tempted to say “Wow!” A Church theologian tells us to do what we want? Yes, but under the condition we love! And this detail changes everything! You cannot love the one next to you and want to make him suffer! And if you are careful not to hurt your close ones, it becomes obvious that many of your “original” ideas cannot be put into practice anymore. So, the meaning of Augustine’s words would be “Do all that goes through your head, provided you do not make your brother suffer.”
If you ask how come Augustine preaches so courageous ideas, you must know that Christ the Savior was his source of inspiration when He spoke what would remain into the history of thinking as the “golden rule”: ” Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. “(The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12). However, Jesus gives another meaning to freedom. For Him, true freedom is the escape from the bonds of sin. ” And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin… If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed..” (The Gospel According To John, chapter 8, verses 32, 34 , 36).
When He speaks to us about freedom, Christ puts it in touch with the truth (The Gospel According To John, chapter 8, verse 32). It cannot be one without the other. You can not feel free as long as you are not honest with yourself and the others. Perhaps many of our problems would be eliminated if we gave up “not to disturb” the others. I know that in Christian religion, it is said that when you are hit to turn the other cheek as well (The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 5, verse 39). But, Christ, also, tells us that if someone mistaken you, show her/him her/his mistake to give him the chance to correct himself. If you fail in doing so, it is advisable to call others to help, and if, even after the rebuke of the community, that brother does not correct himself, leave him, because he does not want to be right (The Gospel According To Matthew, chapter 18 , verses 15-17).
And here, according to the “canons” of the world today, the concept of “politicaly correct”, according to which you are not allowed to tell anybody anything regarding her/ his convictions that might upset her/him. The handiest example is the one about homosexuals. It has gone so far as to attempt, even in an inter-Orthodox specialty committee that has recently met at Chambessy, to remove from the Bible the references that could upset the homosexuals. Fortunately, it has not reached that point, but the gesture of external pressures remains!
However, we are told that we are free! But how much freedom do we have? And according to which definition? In totalitarian systems, it was very clear what you are and what you are not allowed to say! I know from my grandparents and my parents what this meant. But, “in democracy,” these things are not specified, so you always have to be careful! Sure, in theory, you are free to express yourself, but, let’s face it, you cannot afford it!
There are two ways of enslaving a people: with the sword and with the credit! History has shown to those who still have the desire to dominate the others that ruling only by force is not effective. There will always be resentment, and there will always be the risk of a rebellion. But being the creditor of others is a totally different matter. First of all, this type of slavery is desired by the enslaved one. He comes to ask for the loan. And in order to pay it, he will work day and night. He’ll work relentlessly to get a better-paid job, and after he gets it, he’ll be a very disciplined employee not to lose his privileges. And that means silence, accepting compromises and all kinds of incredible pressures! Most of us know these things! We all know the taste of this “freedom”!
Christianity has always proposed another form of freedom. Certainly, this freedom also requires patience, but it is a staunch patience, not a compromise. There is a different thing to wait for the wrongdoer to straighten out, and it is a totally different thing to endure all sorts of immoral gestures to assure you some personal benefits. There is a different thing to have the “freedom” to accept blackmail, and there is a totally different thing that you cannot be blackmailed by anyone or anything. Father Savatie Baştovoi says that “the free man is the one who does not sell his freedom either for money, for women, for wine or glory. The free man is the one who is no longer afraid of death. That is, in his view, “freedom means one not to have any reason to run away from God.”
We do this every time we put other “priorities” before seeking God. If we are sincere with us, we notice that at the weekend, it is too hard for us to reserve two hours of our much coveted rest to go to the church; it is very difficult for us to read a prayer, because we have to find out the “latest” news from the television or the internet; it is very difficult to fast, because we are too busy at work and anyway we eat what we “grab”, and the examples can continue.
The question is the following: do we have any chance of getting rid of this vicious circle? Yes! Christ has told us this for almost two thousand years: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof “(Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 31-34).
If we cared more about non-material things, we would surely be freer and we would have a happier life. We will be able to allow us not to accept all sorts of compromises, to say what we really think, without fear. When we are linked to the material things, we do not have enough time for the other experiences that really make life worth living. Of course we will not spend our holidays at 4 or 5-star hotels, but we will not miss the first day of our children’s school, nor will we meet with our parents when they are already in the hospital, nor will we postpone that meeting with friends we’ve been scheduling for some time.
I do not say to give up our professional dreams, and I do not preach the renunciation to our passions, the dreams we have. Simply, I wish we were not so preoccupied with the material side of life. We all have to work, but work is meant to help us become better, not to enslave us.
To be clearer, I will share an anecdote that has made me think a lot of! An American tourist left for a holiday in a small village in Spain. Every morning, he strolled along the seashore and saw a fisherman returning each day with a large fish and then selling it to local merchants, and going home afterwards. Amazed, the American tourist asked him: “After you sell the fish you catch every morning, what do you do?” The fisherman replied, “I go to spend my time with my family and my friends.” Then the American said, “I think it’s a wrong approach”! “Why?” The fisherman asked. And then, as if he had waited this time since he had arrived in Spain, the tourist went on: “Well, after selling the fish, instead of going to family and friends, you could fish as many times as you can, to catch more fish.” Surprised, the fisherman asked, “To what purpose?” “Well, it’s obvious! If you do that for a while, you will have the money to buy an even larger boat and you can hire even some people to help you get even more fish.” The fisherman asked again, “What is the purpose?” The American continued, “If you work that way for a long time, you could even buy a ship. Then, if you keep working, you will have more ships and so on. At some point, you’ll own a whole fishing fleet.“ As if he did not understand anything, the Spanish fisherman repeated the question: “What purpose?” To which irritated, the American responded: “To spend more time with your family and friends.”