Saturday, February 25, 2017

What Do You Live For?

"What if what we long hoped for does not come? The willingness to live for a better day."

What am I living for? Living for the joy of acquisition and power is self serving; living for the good of others is perhaps more in the Way. Yet we can seem to think ourselves to be living in the Way and yet we are not. There are those who convince themselves they are right; their ego has the answer, it is good--for me.
Do you live for freedom? In one sense freedom is the absence of restraint. There is nothing to hinder me to act as I choose. Suppose, however, that you live in a universe that for every choice I might make, the world has already determined the response, responses for which I have no control. I may remain physically free, no one has tied me down or locked me up, but I seem to lack freedom in a more durable and possible sense. While I am free to act as I choose, my choices are not free.

There is another type of freedom says the Christian philosopher and theologian, Augustine of Hippo. In the book, On Free Choice of the Will, translated by Thomas Williams, Augustine writes, "I have freedom to choose in a way that is not determined by any thing outside my control, what Augustine called metaphysical freedom. The view that human beings have metaphysical freedom is also known as Libertarianism."
Augustine is one of the great defenders of Libertarianism. He says that human beings are endowed with a power called the will. A person can direct his will to go in seemingly limitless directions. His own freedom of direction, then, can be thought of as free choice.

A person may choose for himself money, power, influence, sex, excesses of all types; these choices so mentioned have all been external choices, made by factors outside the person. If so, then a person could not be entirely responsible for them.
But it is not external factors that determine our choices. Rather it is internal states: beliefs, desires, hopes and fears. Since it is the desire, the will of a person and the character which determines one's choices, freedom therefore is not threatened.

Yet a Libertarian like Augustine would not be swayed by this. He says that in fact, human beings are rational thinking, and free choice makes them therefore responsible. Because persons have metaphysical freedom in this view, they are capable of making a real difference in the world. We may write our own "scripts." We may be truly in the image of God, the Creator, bringing something into the world that previously did not exist before us.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hostage to the Idea of Possession

"Eros makes promises, but agape keeps them." -- The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Often we find ourselves in places which we never have dreamed of before, places which call for our complete attention, and challenge us beyond measure. Love is one of those places; yet there is no school for love, no way to read a book to easily or painlessly learn of its nature. So we come into adult life armed with the love we learned as children within our family, the love that we may have encountered in our religious experiences, the friendships we develop in our youth, the pleasures of shared activities and hobbies with family, friends, groups or clubs. All this we bring into adult life, but romantic love, eros, we have the least direct experience of as young adults. Perhaps we witnessed the many occasions of fondness and affection our parents exchanged, a friend in high school, a romantic flush that grew for a few months and then faltered.

Bringing these early experiences into the everyday world, we find that one day, we are inexplicably drawn, impelled into a connection with one who is not our family, not quite like anyone whom we've known before, and yet we are drawn to them, to a flame that seems to burn brightly when together. A relationship develops, perhaps not like one we've known before in our young life, but then a bit like every relationship we have experienced. There is friendliness, sharing, laughter, understanding, and perhaps, a quiet peacefulness when together. But what of it? Much of our social relationships are influenced and dictated not by the individuals, but by societal norms and values which seek to define and place persons into fairly rigid categories. And society, as a component of the everyday world is rigid in conforming to the established norms. Unlike the words of poets, the mystics, and philosophers, living a love story can be difficult and confusing. We, in love, suffer strongly and frequently. In adult life, is this all of love-- it is so complicated and often painful, we think.

Poets and philosophers alike have spent many words describing the almost indescribable. They write words of love, friendship, affection, brotherhood; the writer Dante said of love, "[there was] the love that moves the sun and all the stars." It is this love, all encompassing that concerns Peter Kreeft in his book, The God who Loves You. He writes in a Christian perspective of love experiences. "Everything is a gift from God," writes Kreeft. This is, he says, incredibly simple, yet our human tendency towards complexity makes it look murky and confusing. The writer, Chesterton, said "life is always confusing for one without clear principles." Yet here is, says Kreeft, simplicity itself, shining brightly if we will only look. God is Love. What he wills for me, comes from goodness, for my own good. This, "is not poetic fancy, but sober, logical fact."

We may then view love in the light of goodness. What comes in a life may be a sign, an indication pointing the way; it means something. Our suffering in love means something, in this view. Christian thought believes that like the Christ upon his cross, our suffering is for all, for the common good--ours and others. Love then, points the way back to the divine giver. The parables of the Christ do not tell us to love humanity in the abstract. We are called instead to love our neighbor as ourself. We are not called to like our neighbor, but to love as ourself. It is to individuals that this love is directed. God's love then is personal, like a mother or a father love; it is unique because it becomes us, and giving it then, becomes its expression and cause. Love means then to share the light of the world, one person at a time with our family and friends.

Here is the part which becomes difficult for us: When we share with our neighbor, love, as ourself, we sometimes confuse the love God gives with our physical, corporal self. It's as if, in love, we have given our self literally, and not spiritually; thus in ego, a sense of possession arises. You are mine and I am yours. Perhaps even ownership, a relation which gives no heed to free will, replacing loving freely.

God is a lover. God is not a businessman or a manager taking account of all his stock. Martin Luther wrote in his treatise, The Liberty of a Christian, that what God wants is not possession nor a technical performance in life, but something simple and profound. God wants our hearts. He gives and we receive through the Spirit. A heart may not be demanded or bought; it may not be contained or caged. It is freely given, and freely received. Luther was right. This is a simple truth which liberates us from the darkness and confusion of love. In love we are free.

As adults we may first try many ways to obtain and capture a heart. Some may work for a time, but ultimately the heart of love is free and flies where it wills. It cannot be possessed. This is frightening to one who feels great desire or need for that heart. Yet thinking carefully, one may discover its source is not the person who first made its presence felt, the Beloved, but the One who gave it first in the Spirit of Love. The one who loves all, who loves freely.

The chains of possession must not be; yet at times ignorance or wickedness overcomes, and possession is confused for love. It is not. Love is free and must be. This recognition of freely given love is a love that honors, respects and lasts at least as long as the One who formed us in it. Thus as adults mature, many come to the knowledge that romantic love "reveals the beloved, and is meant to point us towards union, Oneness with God."