anthropocentrism, freedom, liberation

Freedom Defined

This is part of a study in theological language, the rest of the posts can be found here.

Freedom is a word that is often fought over: one wants freedom, one fights for freedom, one will kill for freedom. However, such an argument assumes a certain definition of freedom, and this is where the real fight lies.

Largely understood, freedom is the ability to make a choice for one’s own. Yet, this is not the whole definition, there are underlying assumptions. Freedom understood by the government is making space for someone to follow their desires, or said differently, the empowering of people to seek after happiness. I’ve argued elsewhere that the government understands its role as coercively subordinating all other social institutions to itself, and with this in mind, I dare say when we speak of freedom in America, we speak using the definition of the government. The notion of a free market — to act on one’s own with limited or no regulation, is a case in point.

However, I want to back up. Before the government grants one freedom, one must be a citizen of that government. Quite simply, one must enter into a community in order to understand that community’s notion of freedom and what freedom really means, and thereby engage in said freedom. In America, as an American, I have rights that are in theory guaranteed (though are continually restricted, or subject to a presidential declarations) and am urged towards enacting the freedom that the community desires. One instance is President Bush’s response to September 11 — go and spend money in the market, feel free to do so. In fact, if you do not exercise such freedom, in some ways, your loyalty may be questioned. Another case in point, try not voting and see what people do. And I don’t mean be lazy about not voting, I mean choose not to take the freedom to vote with a damn good reason.

If the reader has been paying close attention, one would note that in the previous paragraph, the definitional use of the word freedom ceased to be moored to “empowering of people to seek after happiness.” Rather now, one is born or conscripted (as if those are two different things) into the “freedom” of the state. Simply understood, freedom is tied to a community. To be free to do something necessitates a certain communal allegiance. To go willy nilly after pleasures at the expense of others, or to seek to live one’s own life style come hell or high water, means that this pursuit is defined by a certain notion of freedom that comes from a community. Freedom largely understood is at the heart of what a community cares about. Freedom is what the community urges its people towards.

Now, liberation theology (and much of “liberal” and even some “conservative” theology) makes a great deal of the term freedom. Insofar as those seeking freedom understand the term as the pursuit of happiness, I am suspicious and reticent. For those who are claiming a Christological understanding of liberation, but overlay an enlightenment notion of freedom that is inherently structured from within the nation-state I find a conflict. At least with me.

Now, there is a different sense of freedom in the church, as far as I understand it. Quite simply, the freedom of the church is death, to die, to sleep (perchance to dream — I couldn’t resist). Like in our baptism into the community of Jesus, we die to previous attachments, however, we also are identified with Jesus as well, of whom we are not greater than. Importantly, Jesus made mention of this: if the master dies, why wouldn’t the disciples suffer as well? For they are no better.

I certainly encourage the freedom of Jesus, but it cannot be understood as seeking after wants. Jesus came proclaiming the basileia and died for it. Rightly understood, the freedom of Jesus conflicted with the freedom of the state and religious authorities. Christian freedom is the space and power provided by the Christian community (and God) to be and do the things your Christian community (and God) needs or asks of you. The emphasis of a Christological freedom is both highly political, as it is part of the complex nature of salvation, but also entirely in line with some liberation theology.

The rejection of androcentrism in feminist theology denies men seeking pleasure over women, the rejection of anthropocentrism by eco-feminism denies humanity seeking pleasure over or against creation, the rejection of socio-economic and state oppression by other liberation theologies denies humans seeking pleasure over other humans. Some liberation theologies temper the American pleasure seekers, others are more Christologically and ecclesiologically adept (one can see this in how they deal with martyrdom, for instance), recognizing that pleasure is from God, but its not the governing category. Case in point, solidarity is not pleasure, instead it is joy, because we are together, and suffering, because we are together.

Liberation, salvation in all its complexity, is the aim of God.

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5 thoughts on “Freedom Defined

  1. Pingback: Freedom : Sub Ratione Dei

  2. Pingback: Justice Defined « flying.farther

  3. Pingback: A Study in Theological Language: A Series of Definitions « flying.farther

  4. Pingback: Love is the Movement (of Freedom, Justice, Reconciliation, and Solidarity) « flying.farther

  5. Pingback: Pacifism in Light of Freedom, Justice, Solidarity, and Peace « flying.farther

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