Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Notes towards a definition of freedom, part 2

May 08th, 2017 by Vader

The first part of this series of posts proposed a definition of freedom: Freedom is the ability to make meaningful and consequential choices. There I suggested that ability implied a free will, understood as a first cause capable of initiating new causal chains. Meaningful choices are ones which can be made rationally between distinguishable alternatives. Consequential choices are ones that have lasting significance. I further proposed that, in the divine scheme of things, lasting significance implies an eternal Judgment of those choices. Reconciling these attributes of freedom with the omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence of God requires that the causal chains generated by choices exist in a sphere significant to God, but in which He chooses not to exercise His full omnipotence, and which is bounded by His taking the causal chains arising from evil choices into Himself, in the person of the Son, via the Atonement.

In this post, I summarize my understanding of why freedom is a gift from an benevolent God, why it is precious, and  how this understanding informs our approach to liberty, here defined as the social and legal constructs that arise from our understanding of freedom and its worth.

It is clear in LDS scripture that freedom is a priceless gift given by God to His children. It is a show of benevolence so great as to justify walling off spheres of existence from the full omnipotence of God, so that His children can be placed in those spheres and make meaningful and consequential choices, including evil choices. It is a show of benevolence so great as to justify sending the Son to become a Jewish technon and freely submit to death by slow torture, under the hands of the Romans, at the instigation of His own people.

It is also clear that freedom is a burdensome gift. LDS scripture teaches that a third of the hosts of Heaven were willing to follow Lucifer to avoid carrying this burden. As G. has suggested at this blog, I think that Lucifer’s plan was not to take away our power of decision, which was beyond his power. It was to strip us of our freedom by rendering our choices meaningless or inconsequential.

Once it is accepted that God is the Author of our freedom, which He purchased for us at infinite cost, it is natural to ask why. LDS scripture declares that we are the children of God, and LDS thinking takes this quite literally. He intends for us to become as much like Himself as possible; first causes; gods. He wishes us to participate in the most consequential of work, which is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

It seems to me that this largely resolves the problem of evil. The problem of human evil, or the problem of evil sensu stricto, is resolved by the necessity of allowing humans to make consequential choices of their own free will, including evil choices. But I believe it also resolves the problem of evil sensu lato, which includes natural catastrophes arising from no human choice. Natural catastrophes are an inevitable consequence of a dangerous universe, and a dangerous universe provides the imperative for men to exercise their power of choice. Natural evils, like evils arising from human choices, are consequential but confined to a sphere of existence circumscribed by a God who, in the person of the Son, absorbs those consequences into Himself: The Resurrection cometh upon all men, both the just and tbe unjust. As all experience the shipwreck of mortality, whether they will or not, so all are resurrected, whether they will to do good or evil.

I further suggest that there no need to confine causal chains arising from good choices to the sphere in which they were originally made: And their works do follow them. The benevolence of God requires that all causal chains arising from evil choices must have an end, either in Christ through the Atonement or, for those who utterly refuse Christ (those the Latter-day Saints call the sons of perdition, who are never redeemed from Hell) those chains must end in themselves, who are in turn confined eternally to a narrow sphere cut off forever from God. I suggest that the Judgement brings about the termination of evil causal chains. From this perspective, the Atonement actually takes effect at the moment of Judgment, which helps explain why it is Christ who will be the Judge.

With freedom accepted as a priceless and divine gift, it follows that the choices we make that help ourselves and others make good use of that gift are themselves good, and choices we make that hinder ourselves or others in the good use of that gift are evil. The social and legal constructs we choose towards this end constitute liberty. Freedom is a gift of God; liberty is how we honor that gift. In constructing liberty, we must be aware, at least on an inarticulate level, of the three aspects of freedom. Part of the purpose of this series of posts is to articulate this awareness to better inform decisions touching on liberty.

Our notion of liberty must start with the belief in a free will. It is a historical truism that the adherents of philosophies that do not believe in individual free will cannot be trusted to defend freedom. Why defend that which one does not believe exists? If freedom is an illusion, why sacrifice blood and treasure for it?  This requires an act of faith, which I believe must ultimately rest on a religious foundation. I know of no non-religious philosophies that have a good record for preserving freedom as I have defined it. There is good reason why religious liberty is the first freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

There is also no need to defend liberty if freedom is not actually under assault. I doubt there is a thinking person in the United States today who does not believe that this is the case — and most believe that the threat to freedom comes from other political parties. Some of this can be attributed to tribalism, but not all. A significant portion of all major parties see a meaningful distinction between their policy preferences and that of the other parties, and there is even a fair amount of agreement on what those differences are. The only plausible explanation for why both sincerely believe themselves to be the guardians of liberty, and their opponents its enemies, is that at least one side is operating from an erroneous concept of freedom. My own feeling is that all parties show grievous misunderstanding of at least some aspects of the nature of freedom, but less so in the intellectual class among the Republicans than elsewhere. (I am tempted to praise some aspects of the Libertarian Party as well, but I believe their strengths are more than compensated by their errors.) Ultimately, like Bruce C., I am forced to the conclusion that there is a diabolical spirit driving almost all politics nowadays: Lucifer is as real as Christ, and he is the ultimate enemy of freedom, which he opposed from the start.

In the next part, I will explore how we can construct and sustain social institutions that promote the ability to make choices meaningful.

Comments (1)
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May 08th, 2017 05:15:20
1 comment

G.
May 8, 2017

“But I believe it also resolves the problem of evil sensu lato, which includes natural catastrophes arising from no human choice. Natural catastrophes are an inevitable consequence of a dangerous universe, and a dangerous universe provides the imperative for men to exercise their power of choice. Natural evils, like evils arising from human choices, are consequential but confined to a sphere of existence circumscribed by a God who, in the person of the Son, absorbs those consequences into Himself:”

Excellent. And not just the imperative, but the opportunity. Meaningful, consequential action means there needs to be a sphere of things-that-happen, both acting on me and being acted upon, against which my choices can start causing effects and avoiding or resisting other causes. Or embracing them. When you realize that God wants us to have scope for even heroic, world-changing action, then it makes sense that we live in a world where so much can go wrong.

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