When Saint Augustine was in Africa (where he was from) he was shaped by the dominant worldview around him – like all of us. That worldview, though geographically in Africa, could be classified as “Eastern.” But when he traveled North, which was philosophically the center of the “Western World” he was met by another world and worldview. That worldview is written powerfully on the DNA code of American life – the Western Worldview. And Augustine noticed something immediately about the assumptions that Western people had about the world.
First, Augustine noticed that Western thinkers valued something above most other things – freedom.
Second, Augustine noticed that Westerners thought freedom meant “freedom FROM” tyranny or oppression.
So to give you an example, we Americans think of ourselves as a free people. We have freedom. And what we mean when we say this is that we are “free from the threat or reality of tyranny” – which I suppose is a rather good thing.
But Augustine was quick to point something out. This is not what it means to be free. In fact, being free FROM something with no vision of what you are free FOR, Augustine says, is a sort of slavery all its own.
Augustine heralded to the Western world true freedom – I call it “Deep Freedom”. We would do well to listen. This is the crux of the totality of Saint Augustine’s thinking and theology, and almost nothing has had a greater impact on my reading of scripture.
True freedom, in Augustine’s view, is not just situated or defined in terms of being free from something. Rather, true freedom or deep freedom, is situated toward or oriented around a certain Telos, or “end.” That is, to be truly free is to be properly aimed at a liberating telos.
And I want to submit to you an idea that I had as I reflected on this, leading up to this week of America’s celebration of Independence Day – the primary reason all our talk and piety and pomp about “freedom” has not translated well to the rest of the world, the reason they don’t “buy” our vision of freedom and resist so strongly, has nothing to do with them not wanting to be free from tyranny. Everyone wants that! Instead, they are rightly asking the question “to what end?”
And that is not a bad question. It’s a good one. Maybe the best question. So let’s ask it for ourselves. As a “Free Country” – a citizenry who claims and reclaims liberty – to what end are we aimed? Where are we going? What is the telos or goal of our life together?
Doesn’t it seem so simple an idea to ask such a question? Yet I am guessing we would have terrible difficulty answering it. And the problem is this. If the aims and ends and telos is not rooted in something deeper than merely being un-impinged by outside dictation of our lives, then we are not truly free at all. Deep freedom is not just free from, it is free for. What are we free for? Our own self-aggrandizement? I hope not.