True Freedom, As Articulated in the Story of an Ancient Philosopher

credit: Xufanc, Wikimedia Commons

There is an old story that speaks to the true source of freedom:

The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for his supper. He was seen by the philosopher Aristippus, who said, “If you would learn to be more subservient to the king, you would not have to live on lentils.” Diogenes replied, “Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to cultivate the king.”

We often think that money, power, and access give us freedom; this may be partially true. If I have money and access I can usually procure more things and have greater variety, but what deeper freedoms have I surrendered for the surface-level freedoms of variety and quantity? In return for these lesser freedoms, the world usually demands a loyalty that require us to surrender important core principles. In exchange for access to this world’s income, approval, and trinkets, it is usually demanded (explicitly or implicitly) that we adopt the ways, thinking, and morals of the world. Satan articulates this transaction very clearly to Jesus:

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours” (Luke 4:5-7).

In making this one concession, Jesus would have gained the “freedom” to maneuver and to do as He pleased—but what a concession!

Worshiping the devil or his world (for he is the prince of this world) is too high a price to pay for its passing and limited freedoms. Yet in subtler but real ways, it is something most of us do. We will compromise moral truths and even commit sin in order to ingratiate ourselves to others. To be popular, we will parrot the views of the world—even if they are contrary to God’s revealed truth; we will remain silent when we should speak. We do not always do this in malice, but rather out of our weakness. We feel pressured to conform, knowing that it is required for access and approval.

Is giving in to this pressure really freedom? As Diogenes teaches, we need to learn to “eat lentils” if we want to be free. We must become free of our desire for this world’s passing trinkets (and they are only trinkets compared to what God offers). Until we do this, the shallow freedoms of the world will appeal to us too much. Of true freedom St. Paul writes,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

Help us, Lord, to be truly free.

One Reply to “True Freedom, As Articulated in the Story of an Ancient Philosopher”

Comments are closed.