Freedom: A Lenten Meditation

By Daniel Deen –

*Dan Deen is assistant professor of philosophy at Concordia University Irvine where he is lead professor for philosophy in Concordia’s Core Curriculum. He regularly blogs for 1517 The Legacy Project on issues of science/religion and apologetics and is friend of The Jagged Word.

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Everywhere I turn, my freedom is being stripped away. In the classroom I deal with an apathetic student body. The pleasure sought in contemplating the Good, True, and Beautiful is transformed into a post-lobotomy sterility as the texts are stripped of their genius in place of exercises to promote basic understanding. I head to faculty meetings where I learn that the current student body has the highest rate of psychological duress in our history. I learn that this is not particular to my university and that manifestations of the distress include suicidal tendencies, drug use, promiscuous sex, and the general academic apathy of earlier. Shit.

My leaders, in an ever increasing fear of authority, require numerous recalibration of work flow. In search of the most efficient input-output mechanism, I constantly appease my bosses so they may impress their bosses. The stress involved in such a shifting work environment requires multiple “enrichment” programs. I am asked, then required, to participate in sexual harassment seminars and leadership retreats. Thus, I dutifully sequester my freedom to the will of authority as I seek to fulfill the ever shifting bottom-line and appease management, relaxing fears of the ever present lawsuit. All for leaders who face giants not in the spirit of David and Goliath, but David and Uriah. Shit.

Longing for simplicity and escape, I turn to leisure. But, my doctor informs me that my drinking habits and the personal burning of incense in my bodily temple cause cancer. My temple aesthetic demands medium rare altars topped with fresh center-cut sacrifices of pork, no good says doc. My skills at leisure are legion, but the extra pounds accrue and coupled with the smoking, drinking, and eating increase the likelihood of a heart revolution. Shit.

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As I contemplate these scenarios I notice an invisible hand at work. It is not the beneficent hand, made famous by Adam Smith, but the sinister hand of the Law crushing all that is beautiful in this world. The Law suppresses freedom, silencing its expression behind a veil of piety. The loss of youthful innocence, the loss of workplace satisfaction, and the loss of restorative leisure are consequences of a Law-intoxicated society. Then I notice an even more insidious truth about my life. I am the Law. And, I love myself greatly. I might parade around campus as a lover of wisdom encouraging students to waken from their dogmatic slumbers, but I over-promise and under-deliver. “Come,” I say, “examine what it is you value. Investigate the Good, True and Beautiful and you will for the first time be able to participate in John Stuart Mill’s wonderful ‘experiments in life’.” You see, I cultivate a certain autonomy, a freedom that is at once moral and intellectual. A freedom that promises a life of value, meaning, and human flourishing. A freedom that is easily deceived. A freedom that neither I nor the people I inspire truly desire. Given freedom, we hurriedly construct bodies of Law to protect our freedom. My freedom, your freedom, quickly becomes my bondage, your bondage. Leading students into this frame of mind truly marks me as the devil’s whore. Shit.

I reflect on Eden. I see my reflection in the serpent, coaxing Eve away from the very freedom, vocation, leisure for which I long. Adam and Eve traded freedom in an instant to become enslaved to the very mind that demands freedom. They wanted more, they desired the sweet nectar of the fruit concerning knowledge of good and evil. They wanted to know about their freedom, and learn they did. A world of suffering, death, efficiency, departments of education, heart attacks, and laziness to name a few. A world of Law created in our own images. An expression of our autonomy and freedom, where we are tormented with the ability to recognize it ought to be better. Fleeting glimpses of the Good, True, and Beautiful that appear when one has the courage to stand against our images of the Law, only to be broken by the very institutions given over to protecting such freedom—the Church and State. Shit.

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I am not alone. My garden is bleak and treacherous, as is yours. Our freedom we actively, willingly exchange for bondage. Chains that are only broken in the sweet release of death:

Come, sweet death! Come soothing rest.

Come and lead me homeward.

I am weary of life and longing.

Come, I am waiting for thee,

Come now and set me free.

My eyes at last are gently closing now,

Come, blessed rest. (J.S. Bach)

Shit.

Who will deliver me from this body of death? Come Lord Jesus–Amen.

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