A Christian Understanding of Freedom

Photo by Hanna Zhyhar on Unsplash

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

“My body, my choice,” the rallying cry of the pro-choice movement, has been adopted by those opposing mask and vaccine mandates…

In Vogue, Molly Jong-Fast said that the phrase, when used by conservatives who oppose vaccine mandates, shows that “for Republicans, it’s a case of government regulation for thee but not for me.” Of course, critics would accuse her of the same hypocrisy for being pro-choice but also favoring vaccine mandates.

Certainly, the complexities of abortion and Covid prevention are different. These are not identical issues. But the mutual slogan points to an underlying agreement between these warring factions: They both understand liberty primarily as the absence of restraint.

This is how Americans in general tend to envision freedom. It’s what the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty — the autonomy of individuals to do what they want to do. Personal choice is therefore the essential quality of liberty….

The truth is that our personal choices, particularly those that are difficult and cost us something, are often not merely rooted in what we think is right for us, but in what we think is just and good in an absolute sense. For everyone. Personal choice then cannot be our only way of assessing whether something is ethical or just in a society.

Christian ethics call people to ideas of freedom that are not primarily understood as the absence of restraint, but instead as the ability to live well, justly and righteously….

We therefore have obligations to others, even obligations that we do not willingly choose. Our personal preferences and maximal autonomy must be set aside for the sake of loving our neighbor and for the common good.

It’s rarely admitted aloud but asking someone to seek the good of others is often a call to suffering in one degree or another….

e can and should enact legislation like paid family leave, no-cost health care and other measures to support mothers, just as we support economic relief for those affected by Covid prevention. But we cannot deny that even if we seek to lessen the load, we are asking people to bear a burden….

Consumer capitalism is not going to teach us about how to pursue arduous goods, nor is technological progress, nor is either American political party. Theoretically, religious communities are places that train us toward ends other than individual autonomy. They point us to something bigger and higher than ourselves, calling us to love God and our neighbors. However, this is unfortunately not always the case. Many religious communities have lost their ability to articulate an alternative to the sovereignty of personal choice and individual autonomy….

We need a rooted and robust call to love our neighbors, our families and the marginalized, the needy, the weak and the afflicted among us. Individual liberty is not a bad political starting point, but it’s inadequate to orient our lives. We need other stories that teach us how to live justly and wisely in the world, that lend us a vision of positive liberty, that show us what freedom is for.