I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.
The majority of people in the world are not really free. I define freedom as not having to do what your whims, urges, and emotions want you to do. Under this definition, here are levels of freedom.
First is the person who is not free at all. They are so unfree (yes, I’m going to use that word) that they are not able to distinguish between their moment by moment urges and whims and their true selves. They will shoot someone for what most of us would see as a minor offense, or otherwise allow their emotions to completely dominate them.
Next is the person who is barely free. They are sometimes able to distinguish between their emotional state and their “inner self”, and so perhaps desire something other than temporary gratification. They might choose not to commit violence, or a crime, or some negative defining event at work that would get them fired. That they are capable of making this choice is a critical distinction between them and those at the first level. They do not see their need for approval, for others to agree with them, etc., as a part of themselves they need to be rid of.
Above that are people who not only are capable of choosing something for themselves other than what a momentary urge might dictate (otherwise known as basic self-control), but these people actually choose a lifestyle of ongoing self-denial. They actively seek to use their time, talents, and resources in ways that they have consciously and rationally chosen, rather than doing whatever they feel like doing at any given moment. This is the level where most people live most of the time — working hard to be good and do right things and avoid wrong things. Some of these people see their needs for admiration, promotion, approval, etc., as a problem, call it “sin,” and simply try hard not to feel these things. Many religious people get to this place and think the journey is over. They don’t realize it is meant to lead to yet another destination.
Because above that are those who have discovered that their momentary whims, urges, opinions, judgments, and desires actually compose an entirely separate self — that they are, in fact, two people. We can see this when we make a comment such as, “I just can’t stand thinking this way anymore, I’m sick of it.” When we analyze that statement we see that we are deeply divided against ourselves. As I have preached on occasion, “there is you, and then there is a you that is sick of you.” At this level of consciousness, we choose to shape our lives around practices that will help us to continue to see the “false self'” clearly and to reject it in favor of our true self.
Finally, after a while, some people have engaged so long in practices that bring increasing freedom from the false self that they are in fact no longer living out of the false self at all — or perhaps hardly at all. These are people that Buddhists call “enlightened” ones; they have achieved what Christians might refer to as Christian “perfection.” They are living in truth, but better yet, they have learned to “see” (to think about and understand reality) in such a way that they are in a great position to know what truth is. This is because they have removed the main obstacle to seeing clearly, which is our individual bias toward seeing things as we want to see them. They do not need others to approve of them or agree with them in order to be happy. Their happiness does not depend at all on circumstances being just right, or people not bugging or irritating them. These people live in a new reality where the things that once disturbed, threatened, bothered, infuriated, depressed, alienated, and discouraged them have lost their power to be truly upsetting.
Each of these levels brings increasing freedom, as I have defined it. If freedom is simply being able to do whatever we want to do, then freedom involves the freedom to destroy ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said, “Devote yourself to sin (doing whatever you want to do) and it’s your last free act.” There are free acts that destroy freedom — which of course is a contradiction. True freedom would be the freedom to live completely without constraint, without ever posing any threat at all to one’s freedom.
It is Christian teaching that this is the kind of freedom possessed by God. And “possess-able” by God’s children.