Monday, July 04, 2005

What Does the Christian Religion Have to Do with Liberation?

“The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

The religious sense turns the understanding of the concept of liberation inside-out and upside-down. In the secular and pagan mentalities, the concept of religion as liberation is counter-intuitive and contradictory. In contemporary society, liberation is generally understood to be freedom from restrictions on personal autonomy. Religion is commonly perceived as something that imposes rules and restricts personal autonomy. But if the understanding of meaning of such things as love, parenthood, the rights one has over one’s own body, or the body of another, are determined by the common way of thinking, then this is an imposition of power and slavery to the common way of thinking. Luigi Giussani in his book, The Religious Sense, says, “Let us begin to judge. This is the beginning of liberation.” By this, he means to question everything and to learn to think critically. This is no idle past-time but hard work. We must break our attachments to impressions already formed. Giussani says, “You must love the truth of an object more than your attachment to the opinions you have already formed about it.” More pithily, he says you must, “Love the truth more than yourself.” The hard work of freeing ourselves from the common mentality and of impressions and assumptions already formed is the beginning of freedom.

God does not suppress the freedom of human beings to act but, rather, makes freedom possible because man’s errors, faults, and fatigue limit his operative freedom. (Giussani). In the book, City of God, St. Augustine says, “Take the case of the will. Its choice is truly free only when it is not a slave to sin and vice. God created man with such a free will, but, once that kind of freedom was lost by man’s fall from freedom, it could be given back only by Him who had the power to give it. Thus Truth tells us: ‘If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’ He might equally have said: ‘If therefore the Son loves you, you will be saved indeed.’ For the same reason that God’s Son is our Savior He is also our Liberator.” Augustine was very narrow in citing slavery to sin and vice as barriers to freedom. I would add attachments to fashionable opinions and ideas, the influence of mass media, peer pressure, and ignorance in general. For the Christian, true liberation is only found only in taking up our crosses and following Jesus Christ, because He, and only He, provides release from the punishments and effects of Original and ongoing sin (man’s errors, faults and fatigue).

A secular minded person might say that yes, the non-religious person may be a slave to lust, money, status, and so on, but that an ideal religious person, rather than being a slave to earthly powers and influences is merely a slave to God instead. They may ask, so what’s the difference? Yes, it is true that God is the creator; we are the created, and we are at his mercy. However, our relationship to God is not one of master-slave but of the unconditional love of a father of his children.