The problem of independence

As we celebrate Independence Day today, I’m reminded of some brilliant words from William Cavanaugh and St. Augustine on freedom and independence. These come from Cavanaugh’s small book that you must read, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.

The alcoholic with plenty of money and access to an open liquor store may, in a purely negative sense, be free from anything interfering with getting what he wants; but in reality he is profoundly unfree and cannot free himself.

In order for him to regain freedom of choice, he cannot be left alone. He can only be free by being liberated from his false desires and being moved to desire rightly.

This is the sense in which Augustine says “freedom of choice is not made void but established by grace, since grace heals the will whereby righteousness may freely be loved.”

Freedom is something received, not merely exercised.

Therefore, in order to determine whether a person is acting freely, we need to know much more than whether or not that person is acting on his or her desires without the interference of others.

In Augustine’s view, others are in fact crucial to one’s freedom. A slave or an addict, by definition, cannot free himself or herself. Others from outside the self — the ultimate Other being God — are necessary to break through the bonds that enclose the self in itself.

Humans need a community of virtue in which to learn to desire rightly.

From Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed, pp. 8-9, emphasis and paragraph breaks mine.

Are you being liberated from your false desires?

Is there space in your life for others, and especially for God, to help you recognize and break through any bondage?

Are you part of a community of virtue that is helping you learn to desire rightly?

Some other posts on holiness
Relevance and Holiness
Crying out to save ourselves

freedom and independence

4 thoughts on “The problem of independence

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