Obstacles to Freedom
We recommend reading this article first: What is Freedom?
When we are talking about obstacles to freedom, the first thing we must contend with is sin. A lot of people have a problem with this word, for many reasons, but often simply because nobody likes to be told that they’ve done wrong. So how do we actually define sin?
“Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.’” (Catechism, 1849)
Sin is when we freely, knowingly choose to engage in an act that goes against our true human nature and purpose. Sin is the result of attempting to attain a good in a disordered way. For example, gluttony is a corruption of the perfectly good, natural act of eating. Sin corrupts our nature and enslaves our will.
Sin enslaves us through material attachment, vice, obsession and addiction, lust (for sex, for power, etc.) and egotism. Sin blinds us to our human dignity, the true nature of our being and the true purpose of our being.
Our Society’s Loss of the Concept of Sin
Our society is losing the concept of sin, because it often denies free will. The human being is not viewed as a free moral agent with temptations and obstacles to overcome, but as a mere product of his past, his environment, his biology and his conditions. In a lot of ways this is saying “I’m a human doing, not a human being.”
When sin and free will disappear from society’s viewpoint, so does personal responsibility. Then, sin just becomes an engineering problem. It is society, or law, or the individual’s biology that must be “fixed”. Free will and personal responsibility never enters into the question.
This leads to dangerously unrealistic techno-(dis)utopian schemes or oppressive systems such as communism, which unrealistically attempts to reduce human problems to one factor (economy, in the case of communism).
Just as collectivism causes harm to individuals, so does hyper-individualism, which says “I’m not responsible for how my actions or works affect others.” Artists and content producers frequently say such things. While we are not able to predict, nor responsible, for all the effects of our actions, we are generally responsible for them to the extent that we can predict them. We are also responsible for any objectively evil or disordered act.
Our society has also strongly embraced relativism, which does not see an objective nature or purpose to human beings, only a relative one which depends on the subjective desires of the person. This, in turn, degrades and ultimately eliminates the concept of human dignity.
After all, what is human dignity, if what is dignity for one is not for the other? Perhaps prostitution, and regular drunkenness are my ideas of dignity. But in reality, it is just a complete loss of the concept, which ultimately is a denial of objective truth.
Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root. (Catechism, 1865)
So, sin reinforces sin, creating vice if not stopped.
Fear & Freedom
Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to freedom. It is what keeps “good people” from being free and a popular tool for governments to use against their people. What do people fear? People are afraid of of being social outcasts, being rejected, and seen as unapproachable. People are afraid of losing material wealth, livelihood and job security. People are afraid of commitment, of having to change their ways and perhaps losing comforts. People are afraid of the responsibility that freedom entails.
Commitment to the truth is a difficult challenge. We might indeed have to drastically change our ways. The inner self says “Yes”, but the selfish ego says “No!” Commitment in general is not very popular anymore. Less people are making a commitment to marriage, since they don’t see value to commitment anymore. But while we have our “options open” we miss out on the true value of commitment and freedom itself.
The fear of losing one’s wealth, livelihood or job security is hardly new. But it is foolishness at its core. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
After all slaves were legally freed in America, many slaves stayed with their old masters, because they did not know what else to do. They were unprepared and afraid of the challenges of freedom. When the Soviet Union fell, many Russians felt similarly, and were distressed by the changes that came about and the new responsibilities that come with a freer system of government. While some people, like St. Paul, can be free even while imprisoned, others are imprisoned by their fear even though they are legally free.
When we become free, we live up to different standards, objective, not subjective standards, and thus what we do, how we behave and even how we talk changes. This can easily make us outcasts. There is something “different” about those who are free. They are not preoccupied with the same things, they don’t talk about the same things, they don’t do the same things. Dare we reject fear and be “different”?