What Is Freedom

Viktor Frankl states (in “Man’s Search for Meaning”) that our final freedom, which no one can take from us, is how we choose to REGARD our circumstances. Freedom is a word which has many different meanings in various contexts, but does not imply absolute freedom. Sartre in the opening pages of “Being and Nothingness” basically says that we are doomed to be free, since to totally give up ones freedom would require an exercise of freedom. Read (or re-read) Camus’ novel “The Stranger”, and think about the limited freedom of choices which the protagonist Merseult has at each stage in the story.

Aristotle talks about “anangke” or necessity. For example, as a sphere increases in size, the surface area increases as a function of the SQUARE of the radius, while the VOLUME increases as a function of the CUBE of the radius, which means that a cell cannot grow to the size of Cleveland, because the ratio of cell mass to cell surface becomes at some point too great to allow for metabolism.

Curiously, the Qur’an finds the notion that God can be limited even by God’s own decrees to be unacceptable. Hence there is one verse (Surah 2:106) None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten but We substitute something better or similar; knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?

One can see how this notion of an unlimited freedom of God can become a “sticky wicket”

By contrast, the Judaeo-Christian scriptures describe a Deity which chooses to be self-limiting (e.g. “for God cannot lie” and “I have sworn and shall not repent”, etc.)

“Freedom” suffers from the problem of “qualia.” For example, it is fine to speak of a red flower or a red wagon or a red sunset, but when we attempt to abstract to a notion of “red in itself”, or to further abstract to “color” then we run into philosophical problems.

Abraham Lincoln wisely observed that “in a conflict, each side asserts that they have God behind their cause, but they should rather ask whether they are on God’s side.”

I saw an “independent” movie (Indie) about a young German-American who decides to move to Germany after WWII to help with the reconstruction. He asks a Catholic priest there, “Each side prayed to God, but God cannot be on BOTH sides.” The priest mentioned that verse “ye are neither hot nor cold so therefore I spew you out of my mouth”, hinting that possible God views each soul’s motivation on an individual level, and not on the basis of Yankee/Confederate, Allied/Axis, etc.

The devil is in the DETAILS. There is a story about a man who is taken down to hell and given a vision of what hell is. He sees a long table loaded with delicious plates of food. People are tied to their chairs, each with a very long spoon tied to one arm. They are starving because they cannot put the food on the spoon and get it to their mouths. Then the same man is whisked up to heaven and given a vision of heaven. He sees the same long table and the same people tied to their chairs with the same long spoons. But each person is dipping his spoon and feeding the fellow across the table. Both heaven and hell have the same limitations, but heaven is more pleasant because the people there choose to work with the limitations in a less selfish fashion.

When the wise Solomon wrote “There are ways which seemeth good to a man, but the end thereof is death” he was speaking directly to YOU. When the Prophet Jeremiah wrote “all of your righteousness is as a filthy rag” he was writing directly to YOU. When Jesus said in that parable “go away, I never knew you” he is speaking to you.

Indie just means it was an artsy obscure movie with a kind of existential theme, so mainstream Hollywood would never touch it. And you would only see it on cable channels that feature such obscure films with existentialist type themes. You have probably seen “City of Angels” with Nicholas Cage, but you never saw what it was based on “Wings of Desire” (Himmel Uber Berlin) by German director Wim Wenders staring Peter Falk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wings_of_Desire

Jallaludin Rumi said “There is a place beyond the notions of right doing and wrong doing. I shall meet you there.”

The first Sufi Martyr, Hallaj, as he was led to the gallows for execution, for blasphemy, said to his orthodox Sunni executioners, “If I had had YOUR experiences, I could do no other than condemn such as I to execution for blasphemy.”

But if you had had MY experiences, you would have no other choice than to exclaim as I did “I am one with Allah”.

if you had led my life, and had my experiences, you would see things as I do. If I had led your life and had your experiences, I would see things as you do.

Yet we are both, in a sense free, but at the same time, we are both in bondage.

Do you want to become as I am? If yes, then I ask,
Why?

Do you want me to become as you are?
If yes, then I ask again,
Why?

No two people share exactly the same belief in God. Jefferson wrote that in a letter to a friend. There are upwards of 1 billion Roman Catholics, which means that there are 1 billion different notions of what Roman Catholicism is. Many are troubled by notions of clean and unclean; right and wrong; them and us. And you are not alone. Many in America are troubled by the same thoughts, questions.

For an American were to read Salman Rushdie’s novel “Satanic Verses”, it is very unlikely that they would understand what Rushdie is trying to do, because you have not grown up in a culture of pluralism and syncretism where Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam have co-existed for millenia and have given rise to such hybridization as Sikhism and Sufism. Most Americans cannot understand such a book. They have not lived on a diet of Bollywood “theological” movies about the Hindu scriptures of the Ramayan and the Mahabharata. I have experienced all these things for years, and so I can understand Rushdie. If you did what was necessary to understand Rushdie as I do, it would involve transforming yourself into something totally alien to what you are, and perhaps something un-American (not in the sense of McCarthyism, not in a bad sense). The majority of the world is un-American in a way that Americans find difficult to understand or accept.

It is not a matter of finding all the answers (which is a vain Sisyphean task), but rather to stem the flood of questions. Don Quixote never slays the enemy or finds his Dulcinea, but yet reaches a point where he ceases his wanderings and quest. Every question conceals a quest, and quests often lead to violence and confrontations.

You have succeeded in provoking thought. This is just the sort of dialog I look for. And it is like a mental exercise for me, gymnastics if you will.

Notice how doctors and lawyers always speak of “the practice of medicine” and “the practice of law.”

Certain things are never a destination but are always a process or exercise.

What we are doing here is similar to Zen koan practice. There are many books on koans, but one in particular, “The Iron Cow of Zen”, by Albert Low (published by QUEST no less) is a very good illustration of what we are doing here, and how Eastern philosophy deals with the human problem in a very different fashion that Western philosophy.

It is good that you ask such questions, and that you are looking about, willing to consider unlikely answers from very different traditions in distant lands.

Your mind is open. Your openness to all these ideas is a tremendous freedom in itself.

If you take a look at Plato’s Republic, which is a long dialog, something like ours, which Socrates has with some friends, you will find what is called “Plato’s Cave Analogy” which is a sort of parable that Socrates tells to illustrate what is involved in the problem of comprehending reality. Many people are bound in the cave. They cannot turn about but must stair at a wall. There is a fire behind them which casts shadows on the wall. (Its sort of like that movie, Matrix). One fellow frees himself, and exits the cave into the sunlight, to see reality in itself, rather than the shadows of illusion. He feels compassion for those still in bondage, so he returns to the shadowy world of the cave, and attempts to free the others.

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