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Interfaith Interludes: The Vectors of Freedom

With the Fourth of July in view, talk of freedom will ramp up in civic and religious life.

We mostly talk of freedom on our national holiday in terms of escape from political, economic and religious tyranny. Independence Day, we call it. We freed ourselves from our colonial British masters.

So far so good. But what’s our freedom for? We are no longer dependent, but if independence is the only alternative to dependence, we will look at every relationship as a threat to our freedom.

If freedom is narrowly defined as the right to do whatever we want without restriction, then we are apt to look at all relationships that involve some sort of commitment—friendships, marriages, social clubs, business partnerships, national treaties, religious covenants—as potentially impinging on our freedom.

The vector of past dependence needs the balance of future interdependence, lest we make ourselves ever anxious in our independence. Freedom from needs to be joined to freedom for. This is where freedom’s work is fulfilled.

When the children of Israel were delivered from captivity in Egypt, they wandered through the wilderness while learning to internalize their freedom. The giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai was a further work of divine freedom. It’s often said that was easier to get Israel out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of Israel. The Ten Commandments are limiting so that they may be liberating.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

If in our personal, civic and religious lives we thought of freedom as the capacity to do good by caring for one another we would creep closer to that divine vision of wholeness and holiness that makes us all the more human.

~ George A. Mason

24 June 2024

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