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Defining Freedom, part 1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. — Galatians 5:1

We are proud that we are not subject to any external authority, that we are free to express our thoughts and feelings, and we take it for granted that this freedom almost automatically guarantees our individuality. The right to express our thoughts, however, means something only if we are able to have thoughts of our own; freedom from external authority is a lasting gain only if the inner psychological conditions are such that we are able to establish our own individuality. — Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

We live in a nation that prides itself on the freedom of its citizens. If this freedom is to be a reality rather than a dream, we need to fully understand its meaning. St. Paul and Erich Fromm both remind us that just at the point when we congratulate ourselves most loudly on our liberty,  we are in danger of enslaving ourselves again in more subtle ways.

I really do mean ‘enslaving ourselves’. There are activists on the Right and Left who are eager to warn us that our freedoms are being trampled by the government or by corporations. But, in fact, both the government and corporations are made up of people like us. We can’t attain freedom by blaming some sinister group of Other People. We need to cultivate the attitudes and disciplines of freedom in our own lives.

Freedom requires us to be competent, to cast off our total dependence on the mysterious workings of the global economy and grow, make and mend many of the things we need. It requires us to cast off  our addictions to chemicals, to money, to speed, to noise, to approval, so that we can channel our energy and wisdom into the pursuits that matter most to us. It requires us to cast off dependence on electronic distractions, to learn critical thinking and to preserve quiet space for discernment, so that we are able ‘to have thoughts of our own’ and to hear God’s promptings which lead us into true freedom.

Until we do these things the most benign economic and political system cannot set us free. Once we do these things we possess a freedom that no government and no corporation can take from us. Once we do these things we can work effectively together to create a world in which it is easier—not guaranteed, but easier—for people to be free.

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