What is True Freedom?


The eternal recurrence

In The Gay Science and other works, Nietzsche presents his idea of the eternal recurrence. The demon in Nietzsche’s work poses this question “Do you want this once more and also for innumerable times?” (The Gay Science, 341). According to Nietzsche, most of us would tremble at this question because we do not truly love our lives. Perhaps, Nietzsche has also recognized our fear of our own will. To be human is to have the freedom to decide between good and evil, and these choices do indeed have a far reaching impact. Human beings are doomed to have an ambivalent feeling about the choices they make and consequently, even their own freedom.

Is freedom real?

Ultimately, the concept of freedom without our Christian faith is limited. In earthly visions, freedom often appears to be merely a deception. To the jaded Hamlet, the world is a prison with many gilded dungeons (Act 2, Scene 2, line 247). This dismal view of life is accurate in the sense that frail mortals have little power on their own against the forces of the universe. We cannot escape death, suffering, or the fallen nature of our world. Nonetheless, the Church affirms freedom as God’s gift to man “so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator” (CCC, 1730). The affirmation of our freedom imposes a weighty responsibility. On our own, we seem often incapable of choosing the good. This necessitates our reliance on God.

God transforms our freedom

We need God to transform our freedom and, in a sense, lift freedom from our shoulders. We must seemingly exchange our freedom for obedience to God, but the great paradox is that in love and service to God we become truly free. Saint Josemaria Escriva says “where there is no love of God, the individual and responsible use of freedom becomes impossible” (Friends of God, 29). The more we love God, the freer we will become of the very things that take away our freedom and the more we will become truly responsible guardians of our freedom. Our freedom will be transformed and perfected into what it was intended to be, an expression of our unity with God.

This transformation can change every aspect of our lives. Suffering can become a joyful expression of our free acceptance of God’s will. Indeed, true freedom can exist even in a prison cell because we can always align our will with the will of God. Christ said “I lay [my life] down of my own accord” (John 10:18). On the Cross, Christ remained free. Freedom dignifies our suffering and makes us co-redeemers with Christ. We no longer go through life complaining when we have embraced our freedom. We may have given up our freedom, but we have done so to become freer.

Freedom decreases for those who disobey God

As much as our freedom increases as we serve God, it diminishes when we choose to disobey God. As the Catechism says, “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” (1733). Escriva explains that “a person, who does not choose, with complete freedom, an upright code of conduct, sooner or later will be manipulated” (Friends of God, 30). Sadly, we cannot always resist the allures of the world and the weakness of our flesh. The freedom and power that the world holds up is indeed a sham because often it is truly addiction, unhappiness, and irresponsibility in disguise.

We are the makers of our destiny

I would like to return to the idea of eternal recurrence one more time and the idea of embracing this earthly existence. The saints truly loved their lives and embraced suffering; they saw themselves as shapers of their destiny. Indeed, the popular notion that we are the writers of our lives is true with one important caveat. Our freedom is created for a particular end. Generically, it is happiness or beatitude. Specifically, it is God. Freedom, paradoxically is not ours to keep for ourselves, but to give to God. In the words of the Catechism, “by free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude” (1731). Freedom should be the compass that points us back to our creator. The fact that we are free indicates that we are created in God’s likeness and that we must seek God.

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