Freedom is of non-negotiable importance to us because having it affirms the most fundamental dignity of our humanity. Many films, stories and historical events hail freedom as an indisputable quality of human life. Everyone wants it. People will even die to ensure that others get it. To deny others their freedom is to deny their right to being human. It denies their given worth, dignity and value as soulish, sentient beings. In cases where freedom is denied to others, oppressors must carry the worldview that the oppressed are sub-human, commodities or instruments whom are of lesser worth than they. A view of equality with others demands a respect for the freedom of others.
But what exactly does freedom mean? Does it mean you can do whatever you want with constraint, without limitation? Is it the same as having power? Most generally tend to define freedom according to a quantifiable perspective. How much you are allowed to do or able to do defines how much freedom you have. I’ve been asked a number of times, “Why be a Christian if all it does is limit your freedom with rules of what you can’t do?” Good question. Freedom was not only viewed in quantifiable terms by the great philosophers of old, like Aristotle, the great theologians of the Christian heritage or by the Bible. Instead of defining freedom by quantity what if we defined it by quality? Freedom should be defined by telos, an ancient Greek term that means purpose or design. For instance, if you were a knife, what would define your freedom? What does it mean for a knife to be free? Is it based on how many different things you could do? If a knife were used to tighten screws, dig holes in the ground or open bottles and cans, the knife would not experience greater freedom even though it’s doing more things. In fact, that knife would not be very free. Freedom for the knife would be in cutting – cutting vegetables, fruits, meats, rope, cardboard, paper, etc. – and in doing it well. The more a knife can cut and cut well, the more freedom that knife has. According to this notion, freedom is defined by design. Freedom is not measured by how much you can do but by whether you’re doing what you’re designed to do.
If we use the teleological view (telos) to define freedom, what would it mean for us? Living out our designed and living it out well determines not only our capacity of freedom but our quality of living a flourishing life. So, doing more or doing whatever you want doesn’t make you free. In fact, if you’re doing a bunch of things you weren’t supposed to be doing, it makes you less free – like a knife trying to unscrew screws but never cutting. The Bible tells us that we were designed to love God and love one another – the second being most realized by the first. Christ redeems us and recreates us from being slaves to our vices to being children of God, which is what we were designed to be. So a negation of our freedom is not merely a matter of limiting what we can do but prohibiting us from being what we’re supposed to be, called to be or designed to be. Restrictions can serve to enhance our freedom then because they empower us to be what we’re meant to be. Many of us are fighting for more freedom in our lives – financial freedom, relational freedom, freedom from limitations, freedom to have more choices, freedom to spend, freedom to do. But we shouldn’t be too drawn into a consumerist view that freedom simply means more. Rather we should incorporate a teleological view that freedom means purpose – discovering our purpose and fulfilling it well. So, are you free?