Homo Liber

To enjoy the “good” we must trust God and obey him. If we disobey, we will have to decide for ourselves what is good and what is not good. While to modern men and women such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humanity.
– John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative (p.101)

Recently, I overheard a bit of conversation between a young woman and her brother.  Apparently, he was in the process of moving in with a new girlfriend, who had two young children.  The sister was explaining to him reasons that she was against the idea.  She said that she was concerned for him and for the children of his girlfriend.  She also mentioned the fact that her own children would be wondering about the morality of what their uncle was doing.  She would not want to make him look bad to them, but she would have to be clear in teaching them that what their uncle was doing was wrong.

His message was pretty simple: He cared for this girl, it seemed good to both of them that he move in with her; and since he was a grown man, he did not have to have anyone’s permission to do what he wanted to do, and no one should be judging him for it.

I began to think of the assumptions that lay beneath the arguments of both the sister and the brother.

Decisions about such things as where and how to live are so large, and yet so basic, that they reveal a lot about us.  Deciding to live here with these people in this way, rather than there with those people in that way, declares much of our worldview to all who encounter us.  Further, when this brother gives a defense of his actions, he declares even more.  His defense – specifically the part where he says that he need not give any defense – comes from the great heritage of Enlightenment liberalism. 

Depending on who is casting it, a biblical view of man is likely to identify such things as the imago dei or the (potential for) filial relationship to God as being the core essence of a human being, that which makes us human.  But liberalism says that the core essence of our humanity is our freedom.  And this is not even the great philosophical distinction of free will as over against determinism.  It is simply the notion of societal and cultural liberty. 

In other words, our truest essence is Homo Liber.  For a man to be himself in the fullest sense, he must be free to choose this or that.  Especially in America, our lives as choosers are seen to be most fulfilled when we have the greatest number of choices with the greatest number of alternatives.  This thinking is what lies behind arguments for everything from legalized abortion (pro-choice) to the invitation to shop from a given retailer (‘we have the largest selection of…!’). 
Apparently thinking themselves to be high-minded and progressive, a local Oregon town elected themselves a cross-dressing mayor a couple of years ago.  Recently the town and its mayor have been back in the news.  City employees are tired of the mayor showing up for meetings and public gatherings in short skirts and high heels.  Completely unable to deal head-on with his right of choice, they are reduced to making vague arguments about his attire being unprofessional.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with having the freedom to make decisions, the freedom to choose some things over others.  I do not want that freedom to go away.  But the question is:  Is our freedom to choose at the core of who we are?  Is such “liberty” the thing that makes us human?

That, it seems, was the serpent’s argument.


6 thoughts on “Homo Liber

  1. Great statements. Very relevent to the current American core problem. Wrong question. Since God has allowed (designed) us to make choices, we must. The question as I see it is, How do we use what freedoms are available and bring glory to God? Paul had no problems using the freedoms of a roman citizen to do Gods will.

    • Sure… I do not mean to deny this. What I am trying to call into question is the idea that our being free to choose — purely in and of itself — is central to our human essence. When our freedom of choice is seen in such an absolute way, it will tend to be discussed as separate from any notion of responsibility — or, to use a biblical term — faithfulness. This is what you seem to be concerned with, as well. What I would aver is that the reason we have freedom of choice is not just so we can have freedom of choice, as if it were its own absolute end — freedom for freedom’s sake. Rather, the reason we have freedom is so we can be faithful in our choosing. So we should see ourselves as something more like Homo Fidelis. 🙂

      • I think if we take a fairly close look at the serpent’s message in Genesis 3, we find him basically saying to the woman (and her silently watching husband), “God is keeping something from you. He does not want you to be a seer or a knower of things in your own right.” Then the woman begins to see things for herself and to make decisions for herself. This is exactly what the serpent is working for. He wants the human couple to think that they have their own right to life liberty and the pursuit of whatever they think will make them happy. Take this idea back to the story at the beginning of this post regarding the young man who thinks he has a right to do what he wants without anyone else “judging” him.

      • Having a man-centered perspective rather than a God-centered perspective makes a big difference in how we view this thing we call freedom. So what is freedom? The first definition in the dictionary I used is “The condition of being free of restraints.” A secular view of freedom to be sure because this is a man-centered view that is outside God’s laws. It makes man’s rights sovereign. But we are not our own; we were purchased at a price. Based on God’s word, freedom is freedom from sin. Freedom comes being within God’s laws where God’s rights are sovereign (not ours).

        Our choices reflect our heart’s attitude of who is sovereign. If our lives are characterized in general by a “my freedom is sovereign,” what does that say to God? The serpent successfully convinced Eve that “man” should be sovereign and Adam jumped on that bandwagon without pondering the consequences right after Eve. Really, why should we follow God’s restrictions when that’s not freedom based the humanist secular perspective? If one looks at what Eve’s (and Adam’s) choice brought about, did they choose wisely. We should think very carefully about our “freedom” to do as we please. Does our choice please God or do we intentionally choose ourselves over God?

        The denial of God as the source of freedom (and truth and law and reality) provides an easy departure from a Christian worldview. And I don’t think it’s about judging; it’s about teaching discernment and encouraging self-reflection in children who will become adults.

      • Quite so!
        The same apostle who wrote, “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? (I Cor.10:29)” also instructs us not to “use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal.5:13).”
        Peter puts it perhaps even more bluntly: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (I Ptr.2:16).”
        Years ago, I heard Os Guinness in a lecture refer to something G.K. Chesterton said. To free the tiger from his stripes, he said, is not to make him free, but rather to make him not a tiger — and therefore not really free. This touches on the heart of what I was talking about in the original post. I believe it comes down to a question of what we are. It is no use trying to deny what I am. This is the great error of existentialism. I am not free to name my own essence.
        It was for freedom that Christ set me free. But if I take “freedom” to mean that I can do whatever I want, ironically, I will be resubmitting myself to a yoke of slavery. And that is because of what I am created to be. I am not a Mormon godling. Nor am I a mindless automaton. I am a human being, created by God for relationship with Him. He is in the process of transforming me from rebel to loyal servant, and from slave to son.

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