Yesterday, I talked about this idea of “deep freedom” – being free FOR something, not merely free FROM something.
I suggested in yesterday’s post that defining a vision of what America is free FOR might be something difficult for most of us to articulate. I think that is because we have a relativist approach to human flourishing – whatever is “right” for me might not be for you.
Let’s pretend that I sent out two opinion polls – one asks if you agree that American life should be “aimed” at the “goal/telos” of something called human flourishing – the other poll asks for you to define human flourishing, what would the result of that polling be? I think we can all agree that almost 100% of those polled would agree that American life ought to be aimed at the idea of human flourishing. And I think we can equally agree that we might have as many differing visions/definitions of human flourishing as there were polls taken. Why is that?
I think the answer lies in the fabric of our economic DNA – a latent by-product (or side-effect) of a competitive economy. In a capitalist economy, the fundamental philosophy or assumption at work is that competition is what makes the world go ’round. In order for “me” to win, someone else will need to lose – or, at least, not win as big as me. The entire little system is predicated on the idea that there are scarce resources and for me to be successful in the market-place I need to leverage myself to “win”.
The philosophical root of this is something called “individualism”.
And here is the fundamental flaw – or, if you will, the Achilles Heel – American life has lost the imaginative capacity to dream that our own individual human flourishing is contingent upon the human flourishing of those around me. (We used to think that science supported the notion of “survival of the fittest” when in fact cooperation is the strongest force in nature – see the documentary “I AM”).
This is no call for liberal political activism. This is not even an attack on the system. Rather, I am trying to aim us at one simple gospel thread:
The abundance of our life depends upon our capacity to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Deep freedom has to work from this assumption about the world. God did not create the world for MY flourishing, rather, He created the world for OUR flourishing. When we live into our identity as bearers of the image of God we cease to compete with one another, because your God-bearing qualities that come with being human do not come at the expense of someone else – that is to say, you cannot compete for or win your DNA as a God-bearing human being. Further, showing up someone else’s failures to live into their God-bearing identity does not make me more God-bearing than they. We find quite the opposite – showing up someones God-like-imageness makes us more fully alive.
Saint Augustine would remind us, that God created us to be free. Before we fell we were free. Think about that. We were free before there was ever anything to be free FROM! Still yet we were free. And we were free to be fully human in the presence of God and all he had created. Fully alive to flourish as he had created us to do so.
The aim of all human life – political life, social life, religious life, communal life, etc., – ought to be toward the idea that we are only free when we care about the human flourishing of our neighbors. Announcing to the world that no enemy can conquer us, that we are free FROM tyranny, does not make us a truly free people. Deep freedom works toward the flourishing of the whole citizenry.
*For a fantastic read on political life and human flourishing, I highly recommend every American read Miroslav Volf’s book “A Public Faith”.