Hey, gotta’ solution: why choose? To anyone surveying our current cultural scene, and its splintered breadth of options political, artistic, religious and social, an easy attitude rises from the pack: why choose a worldview to commit to – and all those hurdles called dedication and loyalty and sacrifice – when we can choose nothing, and live free of care? In societies as complex and fragmented as ours, it is a lot of work to survey every point of view out there. Why bother then? Why should I commit to a faith that will reduce my personal freedom, by telling me to live a certain way, and reduce my intellectual autonomy, by telling me to believe certain things?
Freedom from constraints. Sounds like a simple concept, right? Avoid serious commitments, and soar like an eagle, detached from the frenzied discussion below. This commitment-phobia is something many young folks today are committed to (!), according to leading sociologists. In a major survey of young adults today, for example, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith describes this as one of the major tenets of young lifestyles:
Numerous dimensions of the culture of emerging adulthood – uncertainty about purpose, delaying settling down, the individual as authority, amorphous relationships, strategic management of risk, the tentativeness of cohabitation, aversion to moral judgments, reluctance to commit to social and political involvements and investments – reflect and reinforce their interest in maintaining as many live and promising options as is feasible. [i]
Yet, if I may beg to differ, I don’t think this kind of absolute freedom exists, or can ever exist. It is a myth. Every lifestyle will bind us and every conviction will restrain us, no exception. If one chooses to live his sexuality openly, for example, and change sexual partners as often as he pleases, he will enjoy the freedom to choose a new girl when the current one is not as appealing. But this very act will also constrain his freedom: this person will close itself to the pleasures of being committed to someone, and all the trust, serenity and shared memories of a lifelong relationship. In a similar way, someone may want to maximize her intellectual autonomy and believe that all truth is relative. But then her freedom will be restricted, because she won’t be able to believe in an infinite number of specific truths – be it evolution, Jesus’ resurrection, or karma – and won’t believe in something with all her heart.
Any choice, personal or intellectual, binds us. And not to choose binds us too, without giving us any real benefit. Absolute freedom is a myth; it does not exist. We will never be free from everything. The fish cannot swim outside of the water, or he dies. But inside the ocean, obeying the parameters he was created for, he is free to swim everywhere.
But what if we framed personal freedom differently? What if the question were, instead, not freedom from something, but freedom for something? What can truly capture my heart? What can I live for? What is the true life I can commit to? What is the most compelling worldview I can believe in?
And here comes the twist. Paradoxically, if we find the best choice, and believe the real truth, and really commit to it, we will find the freedom for which we were created. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” said Jesus.[ii] We will be free for life. Truth will bind us and therefore free us evermore. We will be free to be the persons we were created to be.
What do you live for then?