Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Religious Sense: Essay IV

“Complete self-fulfilment, this is freedom.  Freedom, for the human being, is the possibility, the capacity, the responsibility to be fulfilled, that is to say, to reach and confront one’s destiny: it is the total aspiration for destiny.  Thus freedom is the experience of the truth of ourselves.”

This beautiful excerpt from the text arrives as a breath of fresh air towards the end of an otherwise joyless chapter in Giussani’s book, namely, “Consequences of the Unreasonable Positions”. To be fair, the chapter was intended to be about the repercussions of irrational positions before the ultimate question; it was a chapter that needed to be written and Giussani outlines these repercussions in vivid detail. These are listed out as: a break with the past, incommunicativeness and solitude, and a loss of freedom. They are all just as dreary as they sound. However, I’d like to focus on the latter part of the chapter, which I thought was extremely thought-provoking.

He begins his paragraph entitled “Loss of Freedom” by pointing out that our perceptions of most things are shaped by the common mentality of the time. Words like love, fatherhood, obedience, freedom, all these acquire meaning that is “taken from a power”, as he puts it. So we must discard this definition of what it means to be free; we have seen in earlier chapters that it is no use trying to fit our experiences into another’s mould. Where then must we start? He provides the example of the girl who in spite of not expecting it was given permission to go out with her friends; she experiences a greater freedom then, than if she knew she was going to go out anyway. Freedom therefore, is the satisfaction of a desire. Now, he says, imagine experiencing this freedom not just on week-ends or while doing our own thing, but always, wouldn’t this be a good definition for freedom? This leads us into the excerpt that is the topic of this essay. This definition of freedom as being “the capacity to reach and confront our destinies” is probably one that should feel right to most of us; after all, thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) would not have died over the course of human history to defend the cheap thrill of fulfilling a desire. I use the word “cheap” here in the sense that Giussani does; the pleasure of doing what we want is only a means to an end, a pleasure that once fulfilled, fills us with disgust because it does not last. Then, circling back to the idea of freedom being a right that is granted by the state, he shows how that is also a flawed, misleading concept that reduces freedom to something that you had to be born into (as in the time of the Romans), as opposed to the noble concept of the right to achieve your full potential.

So where does this freedom, and our burning desire for it, come from? It cannot just be from the biological make-up of a man; this would lay waste to any attempts by us to define any of the words that we associate with our humanness; “freedom”, “rights”, the very word “person”. Thus we must assume that we are not just the fruit of the biology of our mother and father; we possess a direct relationship with the infinite, the source of all things. In not so many words, Giussani is laying the foundations for the argument for the existence of “the soul”. And when we look at things this way, it makes sense that the Church “in its tradition, defends the absolute value of the person, from the first instant of conception to the last moment of old age, however decrepit and useless the individual may be”. The Church is acknowledging the fact that we are not just the stuff we’re made of, we’re much more, and we know this because we feel it inside of us every time we try to put a finger on the meaning of the above words. Without the soul hypothesis, what basis do any of have for claiming to have rights? (As an aside, this is an excellent starting point into the “argument from morality” as proof for the existence of God.)

Then Giussani says the most beautiful thing I have heard in a long time, “Freedom is dependence on God.” What a lovely paradox to arrive at after all of our speculation on what freedom could be! In the same way that we are content with “receiving” our freedom from the state, when we accept that God is the source of our freedom, the natural response that we should have is to depend on him for everything! This is not slavery; this is a recognised, loving relationship with the One who moves all, who gives all. It is akin to the relationship that a small child has with his father. He depends on him for everything, but he does not see it as such. No, this dependence arises naturally, instinctively, because in the child knows that his father gives him everything. More than that, the child knows that his Dad’s primary concern is his happiness and well-being. In much the same way, if God is the source of our soul, isn’t it the most natural thing in the world to define freedom as dependence on Him?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:29-34
This verse from the Bible sums up what is probably the best part about dependence on God; your life is now not yours, it is His, and hence worry cannot come into the equation. And if there is no worry, then we can be truly free to be the best person that we can be every day, every instant, of our lives; for we are now not just living for ourselves, but for each other, and for Him. Then, “reaching and confronting our destiny” is not just a nice phrase, or wishful thinking, it is something we have been charged with. This is true freedom. This is the joy that only dependence on God can bring.

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