Freedom From and Freedom For
Land of the free, home of the brave. The former isn't of much use without the latter; it is no coincidence that college campuses are the most ideologically unfree places in the country; and that it is difficult to conceive of a group more cowardly than college deans.
"Academic freedom." What is it for, anyway? Like any other form of freedom, it cannot merely be "freedom from." If it isn't simultaneously freedom for, then it is worthless. It equates to nihilism, or freedom to be absurd (which is no freedom at all).
Toward the beginning of God's Gamble, Bailie cites an article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine (which you may recall from the fourth to last paragraph in this post), called In the Age of Radical Selfishness. In it the author speaks of how our "freedom from the gravity of age-old constraints" has been "accompanied by a weightless feeling that attached itself to even the most fundamental human decisions."
Even? How about especially? For in order to achieve the kind of Timesmanian weightlessness he's talking about, one would require a radical, ontological freedom. It is beyond anything conceived by America's founders, who bequeathed to us an ordered freedom-for, not merely a rootless and chaotic freedom-from.
Given the latter kind of freedom, the author asks: "Why bother? Why get married? What are families for? What was new about these questions was that they didn't have answers, or that the answers they did have were so multiple and contingent and arbitrary that they never felt like answers at all."
Multiple, contingent, and arbitrary. That is the way it must be if there is no One at the heart of it all -- which is to say, no ground and no telos. Bailie is not criticizing the writer per se. Rather, he is to be congratulated for his honesty, for having the courage of his lack of convictions. Thanks for nothing!
But can someone really live from that place? Is this really how humans are made -- for nothing? To know nothing, be anything, and end nowhere?
Possibly. Indeed, there are only two possibilities, and that is no doubt one of them.
No, I should amend that. There are three possibilities: nihilism, religion, and Christianity. (I won't speak of Judaism, which wouldn't exactly be a fourth, but rather, a different take on the third.)
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but one of the themes of God's Gamble is that Christianity is the cure for primitive -- which is to say, pre-Christian -- religion.
Remember when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into the desert bewilderness? For 40 years they lived in this in-between state, but it was always with the faith that there was a deustination. But what if the bewilderness is all there is? Taking the long view, it is as if we were liberated from slavery into spiritual freedom, only to be condemned to a vast prison of postmodern nothingness. At least the slaves lived in hope for freedom! But for what does the nihilist hope? A lost paradise that never existed?
"It is a world in despair even when it remains unconsciously so. It is a world of weightlessness, of 'the unbearable lightness of being,' a fragmented world characterized by what... de Lubac brilliantly termed 'the waning of ontological density.'"
Or, looked at from a different angle, we might call it a loss of metaphysical transparency -- thus, a loss of weight and an occlusion of vision, the former going to absoluteness, the latter to infinitude. You might say that infinitude without weight -- without a center -- reduces to a kind of absolute diffusion. And absoluteness without transparency is like being encased in ice, or released into a null-de-slack called Death Circle.
It reminds me of, say, behaviorism, which explains everything about man, and therefor nothing. Everything is simply a conditioned response -- even language -- so there is nothing that isn't determined. Which certainly cures the disease of freedom. Although the patient doesn't survive the operation.
"Whatever the putative benefits of having been freed from tradition, that freedom has been accompanied by the loss of a sense of being part of a larger story in the context of which one's life might make sense, a story about why we're here and what we should be about while we are, a story that demands something of us and situates our lives in a living historical drama in which what we do has both meaning and consequence" (ibid.).
Well, progress has its costs, right? Perhaps the existentialists are right, that the cost of freedom is absurdity, precisely.
It scarcely needs to belabored that this goes to the unbridgeable divide between Red and Blue. As far as I can tell, most Red Pill People are still rooted in -- or have returned to -- tradition, while our Blue Pill coastal elites have extricated themselves from anything as naive as "meaning," and wish to drag us with them into their cold and dark echo chamber. Perhaps if everyone believes in nothing, it's not quite so lonely in there. But if just one person escapes the Matrix -- AKA Plato's cave -- then that unsettles the herd. The left hates no one as much as the runaway slave.
It's the same vis-a-vis primitive religion, by the way. It only takes one awakened conscience to ruin a human sacrifice for everybody.
Which is an important point, because if Bailie is correct, we all have a deep structure of pre-Christian religiosity. We can jettison Christianity, but don't be surprised when this unleashes a hunt for victims.
About our postmodern idea of freedom-from. Bailie points out that it is "based on a very weak understanding of freedom and its spiritual depth. Our civilization rests on the strength of the natural family and on the willingness to sacrifice freedom, understood in adolescent terms, in favor of freedom freely subordinated to the responsibilities of loving service."
That is a loaded paragraph. The other day we spoke of the energy released from the fission of Trinitarian love. This love is the glue that binds the family, which in turn is the incubator of human personhood. The family isn't just anything, let alone nothing. The Christianized family was a long time coming. It didn't happen overnight, but only after centuries of leavening by the Christian message. Thus, we know there can be Christian individuals. It remains to be seen if there can be any other kind, because the experiment is ongoing.
But if this were real science, the experiment would be suspended on the ethical grounds that it's causing too much harm to the subjects.
To be continued...