Cynical vs. optimistic views of freedom and love

A cynical definition of freedom: Maximizing one’s individual self-expression, not having any guilt or shame or disappointment, having the total ability to control one’s destiny, and having total prerogative to define one’s identity and the meaning of one’s own life.

An optimistic definition of freedom: Doing what we were designed to do, and being what we were meant to be.

This is optimistic because it assumes that we do, in fact, have a purpose and a meaning.

Freedom in a purposeless or meaningless world is ultimately… meaningless. But if God has a meaning and a purpose for our lives, then freedom means living that out.

If we have no greater purpose, then freedom requires manipulating the outside world (including people) to conform to our inner desires. But if God is real, true freedom is conforming our inner desires to his reality. It’s more about our own character development and having a relationship with God.

The pessimistic view of freedom (maximizing self-expression, defining one’s own identity and meaning) assumes there is nothing greater than ourselves. It means the self is one’s last hope.

One has to trust that they have the ability within themselves to manufacture a durable and satisfying meaning and purpose. It’s like saying, “I’m all I have left. I am the light at the end of the tunnel.”

This view of freedom is initially exciting, but in the end is despair. The self is too enslaved, too dependent, too needy, too desirous, and too defined by involuntary nature to manufacture meaning and purpose. This is especially true for the naturalist (who has reduced reality to mere physical nature).

If freedom means defining our own morality and cutting off what that causes pain, then it means the death of love.

Love isn’t morally indifferent: If we don’t love people we *ought* to feel guilt and shame. And when we do love people we should feel satisfied and fulfilled. When we don’t “mourn with those who mourn”, or “rejoice with those who rejoice” — when we are indifferent — we should ask God to change the way we feel. When we fulfill the obligation of love we flourish.

I remember asking my atheist friend Richard, “Don’t you have a moral duty to feel a certain way about other people?” And he said, “No.” I was surprised by how cold he had become. That is no more liberating than permanently losing your eyesight or legs. It’s better to see and feel and know pain.

The same things that “bind” you and help you feel pain help you know satisfaction, and meaning, and function… and love.