I recall a conversation I had once with a friend who joked that entering into marriage is the akin to freely imprisoning oneself. To this, I retorted that it doesn’t seem to be imprisonment, but structured freedom, a true kind of freedom.
A recent piece on First Things raises some serious concerns about how we actually look at freedom. Keeping our options alive by not entering into marriage is one of the bigger misunderstandings we make, not only about the nature of marriage itself, but of true freedom.
We think that freedom means the ability to do everything that we want to do, and it does. But we also think that true freedom must be actualized by doing everything that we can do, and it does not. Freedom is the pure potential to do everything that is in our power to do, but true freedom resides only in the choices we make that draw us closer to Goodness and Truth.
The exercise of our own will is what makes us free creatures, but its exercise for the good allows us to become truly free. There is no accident in Christ’s Divine wisdom that, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” These words remind us of two kinds of enslavements: to Satan and to God. Vicious acts enslave us to Satan and virtuous acts enslave us to God.
The problem is that, for most of us, vicious acts seem like true freedom because they allow for us to satiate our bodily passions as they present themselves. In other words, when we want sex, we simply go to a bar and pick up someone; when we want to have an extramarital affair, we simply have to find someone who is willing to do this as well (and there are plenty of options cf. Ashley Madison); when we want to euthanize ourselves, we simply have to find a willing doctor or facility; when we want to abort our children, we simply have to find some reasons why they would be inconvenient; when we want to kill, we simply have to do so in the name of justice; and we do all of this because we believe that to truly be free, we must be able to carry out whatever whimsical feeling we have at whatever moment of our lives. Little do we realize that these are the very acts that enslave us to sin. We are like the nine kings of men from the Lord of the Ring who wield our power thinking that we are the most powerful, not realizing that we are still enslaved to the One Ring. We enslave ourselves convinced that we are truly free.
True freedom then, is when we act in a way that allows for ourselves to grow into our whole humanity. In other words, true freedom is making choices that build our moral characters. Having been married for a bit over a year and a father for a few months now, I would say that marriage and fatherhood provided me with a structured freedom that I find more freeing than ever. I falter in my roles as I struggle with temptations (like wanting to go out and so forth), but I find that when I choose to exercise my will in a way that benefits my wife and child that I grow as a husband and a father, and in this growth I realize that I’m not at all “tied down”; instead, I’m so much more free. True freedom is therefore only achieved when we choose to act in a way that builds ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. But true freedom also means that all these will enslave us to God’s will, and this enslavement is anything but restriction on our freedom. Here, there is no better thought than Bl. John Paul II’s on the matter:
True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. There are many examples of this mistaken idea of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion.
Let me in conclusion address more especially those who are united with me in belief in Christ. Man cannot be genuinely free or foster true freedom unless he recognizes and lives the transcendence of his being over the world and his relationship with God; for freedom is always the freedom of man made in the image of his Creator. The Christian finds in the Gospel support for this conviction and a deeper understanding of it. Christ, the Redeemer of man, makes us free.
Let me conclude with this song that describes how I feel about my freedom: