“I am free to make my own choices” is a statement that is rings true to us. The fact that we have freedom is evident not only in our sense of our own life, but also because all the people around us, most of the time, act as if they had free will.
In our Secular Modern society, this statement has been very subtly changed to another one which appears to be true but which is actually FALSE.
The substitute statement is “I can do whatever I want.”
There are many other ways that this same idea pops up continually around us:
“Free will means that I can do what I please.”
“It’s my body, it’s my choice.”
“Be your own person, do whatever you want.”
“Freedom means doing whatever you want to do.”
“You can’t tell me what to do, I’m a free person.”
“Be free, follow your heart.”
“The Church shouldn’t be controlling people; God gives us free will and He lets us do what we choose. The Church should let people be free.”
The problem with the idea that “Free will means I can do what I want” is that if this is true, no one is truly free. We do not have the power to do anything we want, we only have the power to choose between the options that are in front of us. Free will is the power to make choices, but it does not gives us the ability to manufacture any choices that we would prefer.
As a college student I was traveling in Prague. I stopped to look around around a store that had Medieval weapons. You could tell by the craftsmanship that these were authentic pieces: they were like real weapons and not the goofy garbage that is used in fantasy movies. An American tourist (not me, some other guy) was looking at two suits of armor. He really liked one of them but preferred the helmet that was on the other.
The man had four choices:
Choice A: Buy suit of armor number 1
Choice B: Buy suit of armor number 2
Choice C: Buy nothing and walk out of the store with a happy wife (who wants to dust a suit of armor?)
Choice D: Buy both, but this is not really an authentic choice but a decision to avoiding having to make a choice.
Since the man liked the style of one suit but the helmet of the other, he decided to manufacture Choice E: he asked about getting the one set of armor with the helmet from the other set.
The shopkeeper shook his head, “No, it’s not possible, they are different styles”, he said. Most American stores bend over backward to give you whatever you are asking for! This attitude was different to me, and I had to admit I respected it, especially as I glanced back and forth between the suits and realized they really were different styles. The customer was trying to create something that would please his personal tastes, but in the process he was going to violate the integrity of the work of art that he admired. Rather than creating a better work of art, his ideas would have created a travesty that would have looked absurd to anyone with a good eye for armor.
When we move to the idea that “Freedom means doing what you want“, there are a million things that we would want that run contrary to what naturally happens:
“I want to eat ice cream, but I don’t want to get fat”
“I want to buy quality shoes, but I want to pay a bargain price”
“I want high government services but I want my tax rate to be low”
“I want to spend like a drunken sailor and still have financial security”
“I want to do bad things, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m a bad person”
“I want to sleep with someone, but I don’t want any pregnancy”
“I want to cheat on my fiance, but I don’t want her to get hurt”
“I want to get married, but I don’t want that to mean I have to give up opportunities with other women”
The problem with Modern life is that a huge amount of money can be made if you can give everyone Choice E: the option to do exactly what they want without the things they don’t want. Hence, low-fat, low-sugar ice cream gives us the (false) promise that we don’t have to accept the consequences of our eating. Credit cards help us avoid the consequences of our buying. From the Modernist perspective, birth control and condoms are just one more modern convenience to offer us one more option.
As soon as we get into this mode, we begin to expect it. We begin to believe that whenever we don’t like the choices in front of us, the world owes us another choice, it owes us Choice E. In fact, we begin to believe that GOD owes us Choice E and we feel cheated when God does exactly what the store owner in Prague did: He refuses to come up with Choice E because that choice would violate the integrity of the work of art that God has made.
Even though God has refused to bless our plans, we push ahead with them. What happens is that, thinking we are creating a better work of our, we begin to turn our lives into monstrosities, with the head of one thing and the body of another, something actually offensive to God and an absurdity to anyone with a good eye for human life.
In this article I proposed a different different way to see our freedom: Freedom is the ability to make choices. However, even that definition does not fully describe the impact of our freedom, because our choices are not made in a static universe and our life is moving forward in time. Many of the choices we make accumulate: each one steers our life in a direction and they quickly begin to pile up. I would propose that a full sense of freedom, that takes this sense of movement into account, is to say “Freedom is the ability to direct your life toward a goal.”
Our life is like a boat, and we cannot control the winds or the waves, we can only set the sail and move the tiller. These are very little things, but over over the long term they have a big impact: they decide whether when the sun sets we have come to a safe shore or we are out in dark, dangerous water. +