One of the great paradoxes of freedom is that it really cannot be had unless we limit it. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy wherein no is really free to act. Consider that we would not be free to drive if all traffic laws were ended. The ensuing chaos would making driving quite impossible, not mention dangerous. The freedom to drive, to come and go, depends on us limiting our freedom to merely do as we please and cooperate through obedience to agreed upon norms.

Right now I am writing you in English. I appreciate the freedom we have to communicate and debate. But my freedom to communicate with you is contingent on me limiting myself to the rules we call grammar and syntax. Were there no rules, I would lose my freedom to communicate with you. And you also would not be free to comprehend me. Consider these sentences:

  1. Jibberish not kalendar if said my you, in existential mode or yet.
  2. dasja, gyuuwe %&^% (*UPO(&, if gauy ga(&689 (*&(*)) !!

What, can’t you read? Clearly when I assert absolute or extreme freedom neither of us are more free. Rather we are more limited.  

So the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience freedom by excepting constraints to our freedom. Without contraints and limits, we are hindered from acting freely.

Jesus and Freedom – Here too is an insight to what Jesus means when he says that If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31-32). There are many people today who excoriate the Church and the Scriptures as a limit to their freedom. Unfortunately many Catholics are also affected by this notion. To such as these, they say the Church is trying to “tell them what to do” and Christians are trying “to impose their values on the rest of us.”

Now of course the Church cannot really force anyone to do much of anything. But beyond this, notice that announcement of Biblical truth is said by many today to threaten freedom, not enhance it. But Jesus says just the opposite, it is the truth that sets us free. Now the truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If “A” is true then “not A” is false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it to enjoy its freeing power. And the paradoxical result  is that the propostions of the truth of God’s teaching do not limit our freedom so much as enhance it.

Image – As we have seen, absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is chaos wherein no one can really move.   Every ancient city had walls. But these were not so much prison walls, as defending walls. True, one had to limit himself  and stay within the walls to enjoy their protection. But within the walls there was great freedom, for one was not constantly fighting off enemies and distracted with a fearful vigilance. He was freed for other pusuits, but only within the walls.

Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less than free. Addictions and compulsions in our society abound. Neuroses, and high levels of stress are major components of modern living. The breakdown of the family and the seeming inability of increasing numbers to establish and keep lasting commitments is quite significant. A kind of teenage obsession with sex is evident and the widespread sadness of STDs, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers)  and abortion are  its results. Addiction to wealth and greed (the insatiable desire for more) enslave many in a kind of financial bondage wherein they cannot really afford the lifestyle their passions demand, and they are unsatisfied and in deep debt. The so-called freedom of the modern world apart from the truth of the Gospel is far from evident. These bondages also extend into the members of the Church to the extent that we do not seriously embrace the truth and base our lives upon it. The Catechism says rather plainly:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC # 1733)

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead only hindered freedom and outright slavery.

This video is very creative indeed. It shows a “Jibberish interview” which illustrates how we are free to communicate only within the contraints of grammar and rules of language.

12 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    May God open hearts and eyes.

  2. Vincent says:

    Wonderful! I’m saving this to share. I often try to explain this concept to people, and this is as succinct and clear a presentation of it as I have seen.

    I am constantly amazed at how much we agree on some issues and how profoundly we disagree on others. (I’m sure you must feel the same way.) I guess that while we both agree that freedom is destructive if it becomes unhinged from the truth revealed in Jesus Christ, we disagree at certain points on what that truth is and how it is discerned.

  3. Kim says:

    Wonderful post! You are a great gift to the Church. I just entered the Church in August (praise be to Jesus Christ!) and I’ve been trying to explain to people from my liberal past how absolutely free I am. They don’t get it at all, and I can’t explain it well. I’ve tried to explain my freedom from bondage to my own mind and sin, etc. but this post really helps.

  4. luzvimindarp says:

    A blessed day Msgr. Pope, this topic is really true..you enjoy the real freedom in truth and in spirit if you let yourself in doing the teachings that our Lord Jesus has taught us through His practice and teachings as written in the Bible. It is hard at first try, but if you let yourself free from your self restrictions and focus of being obedient to Jesus teachings..then you will discover that life is beautiful with God as your Teacher or a Leader…and you will enjoy life in its fullness…His yoke is really light. God bless us all.

  5. Alan says:

    There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true. The first false definition is “Freedom is the right to do whatever I please.” This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power. Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor’s chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor’s mattress with used razor blades—but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion. There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good. In order to overcome this confusion of everyone’s doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, “Freedom is the right to do whatever you must.” This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society. Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: “A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation.” So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.

    The true concept of freedom is “Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought,” and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God. True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics. In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.

    -Archbishop Fulton Sheen

    • Thanks for this wonderful quote. Sheen is always great.

    • Christopher J says:

      Sir,

      I am not Catholic, or very religious for that matter. However, I propose there is a fourth definition of freedom. “Freedom is the right to CHOOSE whatever we ought”.

      Everybody in this country has a freedom to go on a mass rampage, but does everybody perform it? Of course not. Because in this universe, all energy must flow, it does not get destroyed or sent to non existence. Humans behave in similar patterns. Example: By eating all the food stores for winter, I am now faced with having to find more in January and might starve. Nothing and nobody stood in the way of him making this decision, or somebody not stopping a mass killer. Most faced with a violent act, will, because they have integrated patterns of morality on their subjective world, will flight. Some, will choose to fight, or maybe their neurochemical predilections chose for them?

      Societies emerge to support each other to provide conducive behaviors within the social contract. No paper proclamation will send a radio signal causing a human to behave in x fashion.

      One can choose many options. Therefore Freedom is the right to choose what we ought”.

      The outcome is determined by good friends and a good community, be it in the church or state. We all have the freedom to be better people and treat others better, but what truly happens only you can decide.

      Thank you sir.

      -Christopher Sean Jannette

  6. Nick says:

    This is really helpful. Thanks!

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