One of the central words in our cultural vocabulary is ‘freedom’. It is regarded as a positive word and it seems as if we all desire to achieve it. When I contemplate the sense of this word it strikes me that there is a significant difference between the freedom I believe the Church is called to preach and the freedom the world proclaims. For the world, freedom means something like ‘possibilities for the individual’ and the aim of this freedom is ‘personal happiness and fulfilment’. The irony of this cultural quest for freedom is that no one ever seems to find it. Few ever reach a state of personal fulfilment and for those who do, it does not appear as if it last for very long. Consequently the small part of the world’s population that actually are free to pursue their own happiness search for something that no one has ever truly acquired. The search for personal happiness could therefore be described as a leap of faith and my claim is that it is a futile one.
The truth is, I believe, that individuals can never be free alone; rather freedom can only be found when our subjective identities are expanded into non-existence as they are incorporated into a greater communal life – the Sanctorum Communio. The central problem of the modern search for individual freedom is not simply that it is ultimately unattainable but that the search for it always takes place at the expense of ‘the other’. This is most likely more true today than ever before but the strong economic growth in the ‘Western’ parts of the world the past centuries has pushed the negative consequences of our individual search for freedom out of sight. There are of course poor and suffering people in our ‘Western’ countries as well but you need different measurement when you deal with the issue of financial injustice on a global scale. My point is that the negative effects of the search for freedom is not particularly visible to us and the consequence is that we feel pity when we see the starving children in Africa rather than experiencing guilt. We do not see the connection between them and us. Our pity then leads us to donate a small portion of our income to charity, and we then walk away feeling good about ourselves while our ignorant attitude keeps the status quo in place.
My biggest frustration in regards to the ‘Western’ search for individual freedom is that the Church seldom appears as a radical alternative to the world. It seems as if we have accepted the notion that religion should be a private matter and my claim is that we are in need of some fresh prophetic voices and an Exodus from this idolatrous and self-serving culture. ‘I’ can only be free insofar as ‘you’ are free and ‘we’ can only be free insofar as ‘they’ are free. The word ‘freedom’ should mean something to us but it is a communal word based on loving relationships, not selfish desires.