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Freedom, yes – but from whom, and to do what?
January 21, 2012
Freedom: The Real Meaning.
Sunday January 15, 2012, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time1 Sam 3:3-10, 19
Why did the American colonists fight their revolution against the British?
The average American would say, well … we fought for independence, for the freedom to manage our own affairs. Freedom is the cause we declare for most of our conflicts: why the North fought against the South in the civil war, why we sent troops against the Nazis and Imperial Japan, why we intervened in Korea and Vietnam, and pursue Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Freedom from the oppressive control of others, freedom to develop my own potential and pursue my own happiness – these ideas are very appealing.
So Appealing that southern slaveholders used them to justify secession. In their view Lincoln in the White House posed a threat to their freedom to hold their property and maintain their way of life. Pornographers claim that their freedom to produce and market smut is one of the foundational freedoms for which patriots fought and died. Abortionists claim that the freedom to destroy the child in the womb is essential to the freedom of womankind.
When American forces first crossed into Iraq at the beginning to the second Gulf War some were greeted by Iraqi men who waved and chanted “sexy, sexy!” I never read an explanation for this. I guess they equated freedom with sexual libertinism, an idea they may have gotten from watching American porn.
So, yes, freedom sounds good, freedom from what, and for what?
St. Paul talked about freedom. The Christian was free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law because Christ is our salvation. The Christian is free to eat the meat of animals that had been sacrificed to idols because the Christian knew that idols were nonsense and that there were no such gods or goddesses as the pagans worshipped.
But there were those who misunderstood, perhaps deliberately. In ancient Corinth they used a slogan that summed up what they thought Paul was saying:
”Everything is lawful for me.”We know the slogan because Paul quoted it in his First Letter to the Corinthians, quoted it so as to correct it, and we have part of that correction in our first reading today.
The whole correction takes several chapters to develop, but the gist of it is that, yes, the Christian is free to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but not if it leads others into sin. And, yes, the Christian is free from the cultic requirements of the Mosaic Law – the hair-splitting Sabbath restrictions, the kosher food regulations, ritual circumcision – but there is still a moral law that applies to all people always and everywhere because it is rooted in human nature. Paul is quite blunt about this. He writes:
”Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)The ancient Corinthians were confused about freedom, thinking that it meant freedom to do whatever they might feel like doing, even if it harmed others, even if it harmed themselves. Many people today are confused about freedom in the same way. How many ways has the ancient slogan, “Everything is lawful for me” been reformulated? “What’s wrong for you isn’t necessarily wrong for me”, “Don’t force your morality on me”, “My body, my choice”.
Who but someone deeply confused about freedom could possibly think that it is good and right to exercise “choice” no matter what harm might be caused by that choice? You’d have to think that each human person is a completely independent, autonomous law unto themselves, with no ties or responsibilities to any other person. But that is obviously not true. All our choices impact others somehow or other. I wouldn’t have food in my refrigerator except for the connections that bind us all to one another. I wouldn’t have a refrigerator.
What is St. Paul’s answer to “Everything is lawful for me”? We just heard it in ch. 6 v. 19:
”You are not your own.”To the radical individualist, this is unbearable heresy. I am not my own? I am not master of my own ship? The absolute arbiter of right and wrong for my own personal universe? Aagh! I am so oppressed!!
But there is no getting around the simple truth that I am not may own. Of course, I have free will. I course I have free choice, for good or ill. But equally of course I do not live in isolation from others, unaffected by what happens to them. My wishes do not determine the meaning of the universe. I am not God.
When I recognize my connection to others, and acknowledge my dependence on the Almighty, then I am truly free – free from the tyranny of myself; free to find my true fulfillment according to the Creator’s design; free to glorify God in my body that He made, in my life that He so graciously gave me.
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