Saturday, March 08, 2008


Freedom always confronts the individual with painful contradictions and with responsibilities that he must exercise in the face of choices and risks. The individual never likes that; he much prefers a necessary, inevitable, clear course: in this way at least no time is lost in deliberation, and there is no binding responsibility. The individual is always ready to submit to necessity, as long as freedom's vocabulary is preserved, so that he can equate his servile obedience with the glorious exercise of a free, personal choice.

I picked up Jacques Ellul's book The Ethics of Freedom again this afternoon and was skimming it to ponder some of his thoughts along with some of the things I have been thinking about. I am convinced that freedom really does scare most people and I think Ellul in his comment above describes the condition most live in. Most talk about freedom, all the while they are not free at all.

Religion shapes people to say...."Tell me what to do...define a list for me and I will do it"...and then we live in fear of wandering outside those boundries unsure of what will happen to us if we do. This is law and can never produce freedom. Conformity and rebellion are just the opposite sides of the same coin and there is no freedom to be found there. But as you will read below Ellul describes religious conformity to be the most dangerous because it produces the strongest illusion. Jesus in his telling of the prodigal son story was saying the same thing.

"Innumerable works of sociology are based on the uncritical and undemonstrated and irrational assumption of human freedom. The incurable tendency should warn us that of all the factors in human life freedom needs the most cautious handling and is the most illusory.

This is the more true because, as we have seen, man does not want to live as free man. He fears freedom but wants to say that he is free. Freedom in Christ comes under this rules too. Since the illusion of freedom constantly recurs, Christians as men continually interpret the feeblest conformity as Christian freedom, but are unable to see it in and of themselves. Indeed they are the first to fall victim to the illusion just because they know that there is a liberating love of God.

When the non-Christian accepts the illusion of being free he has no firm basis for this and so his belief is fragile and can easily be overturned. But Christians have the assurance that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Obeying human nature they quickly change this solid reference into intolerable vanity. Their fall is even greater. Since freedom leads them to this illusion shared by all, they are more effectively alienated than before they knew they were freed, for their alienation rests now on the conviction that they are free in Christ and it is thus a perversion of freedom. They are also doubly alienated, falling back under the common determinations and yet imagining that they are free in Christ. Confusion of the freedom given by God with a freedom native to man; confusion of the act of grace with nature, brings them under the bondage of an illusion of freedom."


Sue said...

This all makes so much sense.

Do you think the religious shenanigans are a necessary part of any believer's journey? Like, if the culture (specifically talking American culture here) wasn't so promulgative of being "religious" in the ugliest sense of the word, if in a wonderful world the Christian culture was grace oriented and free in its true sense, do you think most people would still go through that whoel "religious" hoop jumping thing at least inside, because of the way we work? Or do you think it would be able to be skipped, in the way that Paul seemed to be describing on the 700 Club interview, where he was wanting to save his kids from all those years of being away from Papa?

Just thinking out loud here ... :)

Kent said...

Is it a necessary part? I really don't know, my gut tells me it is a treadmill we are born on. It really seems that until someone comes face to face with the dead end road of performance/obligation (whether religious or secular) as an attempt to appease God and everyone else, they will remain trapped/stuck. Religion/Law does play an important part though. Just not like most involved with it think. It really is a game we can't ever win and the only way of having any sense of peace is to live in denial and act as if things are other than what they really are. And most of the time the only way people can even accomplish that false sense of peace is through comparison. "I'm at least better than those other people are."

I think what Paul alluded to is something we always hope for others but reality seems to tell me, within everyone's freedom to choose you just never know.

The painful process into Christ's freedom just seems impossible to avoid. Law is suppose to expose our inability to perform well enough to ever feel at peace but the Christian religion so often immediately steps in and offers a new set of performances and often the process of internal transformation is aborted and then the illusion Ellul speaks of fills the void.

Kent said...

Here is another quote from the book. This book is so worth the effort it takes to get through it. It's one I go back to often.

"This is why it is a mistake to present the demands of the Christian life on any other grounds than that of freedom. Without freedom they are radically impossible."

and here is some more:

"We are wrong to speak only of the ambition and pride of popes and prelates, of their ardent self-interest in trying to control temporal matters. There was here a genuine concern for the world. There was a conviction that they had the key to wisdom and justice for the world. They thought that they could give the world just and good institutions in which men could live both as Christians and as true men. In this regard the medieval churches mounted a positive operation except for one thing: it demanded suppression of freedom.

Everything else was catered for. Everything was foreseen and calculated in advance for better truth and fuller justice. But the manifestation of freedom was out of the question. This is the one dimension that has been missing in the church from the very first. But this is the decisive dimension without which the Christian life is without significance for the world. In the absence of freedom the forms of the church's actions have all become legalistic. Here is the real betrayal."

This last line says it pretty clearly a plays itself out over and over from denomination to denomination...and it is because freedom is feared:

"In the absence of freedom the forms of the church's actions have all become legalistic. Here is the real betrayal."

OKDiane said...

Like Sue, I’m thinking out loud.

To become truly human means making a deliberate, informed choice to live in fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To make such a choice one has to see and test options. When the freedom to do that is restricted the processes is distorted.

If one were born into an extended family of people who had made the choice to live in that fellowship and had no fear about that process, what would the processes look like?

In a culture where trial and error is acceptable and consequences lived through together without recriminations it would certainly be different than anything I’ve ever seen. But what guilt and/or shame would the one in the process of choosing impose upon himself? That would probably vary, but it seems it would be left behind more quickly if it wasn’t being reinforced by the elders of the community.

Jesus said that in the resurrection there would be no marrying or giving in marriage, which I assume means no more people being born into the processes of choosing. Is that the point at which the fellowship will be complete and life will go on in fullness?

Kent said...

Diane, I have never considered it quiet like you said it in your comment about the resurrection.

All I know is as long as the freedom to choose that has been given to everyone by God is monkeyed around with by others through the explotaion of fear, shame and guilt it will remain an adventure in missing the point, regardless of how great the intentions might be.

But thanks be to our Father who has made a way for those being joined into this relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, to break free and begin to walk along side others to help them see there is hope that remains.

OKDiane said...

Kent,amen to that. That's the reality of the here and now.

Jennifer said...

All I know is as long as the freedom to choose that has been given to everyone by God is monkeyed around with by others through the explotaion of fear, shame and guilt it will remain an adventure in missing the point, regardless of how great the intentions might be.