What does it mean to be free?


One of the main reasons people refuse to follow the teachings of Catholicism is because they are too addicted to the pop culture. And, in case you haven’t figured out the obvious, the teaching in Catholicism and the teaching in the pop culture is about as opposite as you can get. In short, the reason people don’t marry Catholicism is because they are already married to the pop culture. Catholicism is the antidote to the pop culture, and the pop culture claims it is the antidote to Catholicism. Here, we see a stark example in which you can’t serve two competing masters. One of the ways to get people to embrace all things Catholic is to have them see how ugly their current master is. No one will want to marry the Church if they don’t first see how bad their current spouse is. So, in this article, I will strip away one of the cheap messages of the pop-culture to help people realize how crummy their current master is, so they’ll be in a better position to turn to their real master – the Church established by Jesus Christ.


In doing so, let’s use a popular children’s tale as a bridge to illustrate the ways of the pop culture. The story Alice in Wonderland showcases a place in which one can escape the traditional world and enter into a realm where anything and everything goes. In Wonderland, a person appears to be free in the sense they can do whatever they want and explore many unique experiences. This “free” world in Wonderland starts out fun and exciting, but after a while, it turns bizarre, chaotic, and eventually becomes dark and disturbed. The Alice in Wonderland story illuminates how an idea that appeals to your emotions, can start off with excitement and amazement but when the truth is exposed shows that it was nothing more than a death trap.

There is an overall idea in today’s culture that in order to define yourself you need to break away from restrictions and be “free” to do whatever your will wants. Once you break free from any rules and barriers, you are in the driver seat to make your own self. Then, you will begin to live and really know who you are. Therefore, our modern culture associates freedom with breaking away from borders and restrictions so one can reach fulfillment. However, much like Alice in Wonderland, this idea may sound pleasing to your senses, but eventually, it brings you confusion and chaos. In this article, I will zoom in on this all too predictable idea that to be free and to obtain happiness means you need to break away from rules.

As is typically the case with most emotional phrases of the pop culture, this slogan “to be free” has little logic and truth connected to it. The first assumption when someone chants “we need to be free” is that they don’t want any restrictions put in front of them. In other words, a person is best defined when they have no limitations, rules, or restrictions. However, to define yourself you need barriers and restrictions. To define anything you need to identify what you are and what you are not – and to define what you are not you need boundaries and restrictions. This assertion is one of the first rules in Plato’s laws of logic. It is called the law of identity. The law of identity is very simple. The law states that a thing is what it is and what it is not at the same time. For example, the law of identity states that a tree is a tree. The next part of the law is to acknowledge that a thing is not what it is not. So, the law of identity next states that a tree is not a house, rock, door, etc. To know what a tree is you need to know what it is not. And the list of what a thing is not will be much longer than the list of what a thing is. To know what a thing is and what it is not, that thing needs limitations or restrictions. If a thing did not have limitations we wouldn’t know what it was. Therefore, without boundaries and restrictions, there is no definition. And without definition, chaos would enter- thus, destroying any and all meaning of that entity.


G.K. Chesterton has us imagine a rapid river that moves with gusto and purpose. The reason the river is well defined and has strong movement is because of its sturdy borders in the river bank. Conversely, a pond that has weak borders becomes lazy and holds no movement, thus is not well defined. Therefore, for an entity to have any meaning and direction it needs restrictions and borders.

The state of Illinois is defined by its borders; by its restrictions. If Illinois didn’t have these restrictions, it would have no identity. It would be lost adrift with no concreteness in which to distinguish itself. A basketball court is identified by its borders and restrictions. The same holds true for a car, painting, guitar and basically everything you can imagine. The law of identity also applies to people. In order for you to define who you are you need to say who you are not. When someone says his name is James, he simultaneously is saying his name is not Eric, Bob, Phil, Mike, Dan, etc. To declare anything, you need to restrict its opposite. When I said “I do” to my wife, I simultaneously said “I don’t” to every other woman on the face of this earth. Notice with the law of identity saying “no” and putting up barriers is a good thing because by doing so you are pointing to that “yes” of what that object is. Without the negative, you don’t get the positive. Jesus himself confirmed this way of thinking when he stated, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). Notice Jesus didn’t say let your no be yes. In other words, Jesus is declaring that saying “no” is positive because the no points to the opposite – to the yes.

To define yourself without restrictions is impossible as definition requires restrictions just like the definition of a triangle requires only three sides – not four, five, or six sides. Now we can see how defining yourself without restrictions is self-defeating. It would be like saying you can’t speak while speaking! So, if you want to tear down the three sides of a triangle, you no longer have a triangle. The triangle is thus alone and adrift into nothingness without its borders and rules. Without restrictions of what a thing is not, it is impossible to identify that thing from anything.

Often, artists – whether musicians, sculptures, performers tend to view themselves as being “free” in that they have no restrictions. However, their artwork requires restrictions. If a musician didn’t have restrictions in his music, it would be a random, unrecognizable mess – akin to children banging on the piano in a haphazard fashion. If a sculpture didn’t have boundaries in his sculpture, it would be unrecognizable. It would be lost in a sea of emptiness with no distinction of what it is. Sadly, because modern art has embraced a mentality to “break free” from standard rules, modern art has become an out of control mess. To see an artist’s brief analysis of this click here

In short, without limitations and rules, a thing becomes nothing.

In fact, the whole definition of the pop culture that to be “free” you need to remove restrictions is using restrictions in this very definition of freedom. Recall that when you define anything you need to restrict what it is not as defining requires restrictions. When the pop culture defines freedom, they are using restrictions. So, ironically the pop culture is using restrictions to tells us to not to use restrictions! The logic of the pop culture is as bizarre as that scene when Winnie the Pooh answers a knock at the door by saying, “no one is home!” It is completely self-defeating.


Now, that we’ve shown that the culture’s idea of freedom is self-defeating let’s ask the more important question – what is the real definition of freedom? The great philosophers from Plato to Jesus didn’t see freedom as an idea to break away so “I can do what I want to do.” They saw freedom as a bonding to something so “I can be the person I was designed to be.” Therefore, you can’t just chant “freedom” as if it’s self-evident without referencing what you are breaking free from and what are you running to. Plato equated freedom to a thing’s purpose. That is a thing is most free when it is used for the very purpose in which it was designed for. For example, a fish is most free when it is in the water rather than out of the water. Why is this? Because a fish was designed to be in the water. Thus, in the water environment is where a fish thrives. We’ll also notice that a thing’s freedom comes from the entity that created the thing. For someone to understand what makes them the most free, they would have to consult the very entity that created them – God. Yet, the modern culture takes freedom in the opposite direction. Society wants to break away from God to be free. However, to break away from God would be like cutting off the very branch you are sitting on. This would not cause freedom but would cause a sad fall in which the person would deteriorate.

Now that we know where freedom comes from, we next need to see where it goes to. If the modern idea of freedom is “to be able to do what I want to do,” we can see that this teaching of freedom is nothing more than old-fashioned self-worship. Suddenly, the self becomes the complete author of the person. But, how is it possible that the self can free the self? This is simply a logical contradiction. Furthermore, if freedom comes from the entity that created the person, one needs to ask – did that person create himself? No, the self didn’t create the self as self-creation is a circular impossibility.


The other fact we need to confront is that the self is corrupt. The Christian assumption declares that our thoughts that guide our desires and thinking is highly flawed (a.k.a. sin). Even modern psychology confirms this. In her book, A Mind of Its Own, psychologist Cordelia Fine systematically proves that people’s internal thought process is really guided by selfish, and dubious motives. Deep down we know that our thoughts are messed up. How do we know this? Imagine people could know your real thoughts – and the motivation behind your thoughts. Most people would be very uncomfortable with this scenario. They’d be uncomfortable because they know how ugly their internal thoughts are. This poses the question if our thoughts are defective and corrupt, why would we let them be our guide to what makes us free? To let the self by your author is not only a logical contradiction, it is incredibly dumb. You would let a flawed source be your ultimate guide on how to live? This would be like betting your life savings on the advice of an inept financial advisor.

The culture primarily looks at freedom as some sort of creating power that allows the individual to “do anything in their expressive way.” However, this is simply a clever way of saying freedom allows me to be a god. All this shows is that chanting “freedom” is a cunning way someone can follow the old religion of self-worship.

So, we can now see that the modern culture takes the idea how one should be free from its natural, good source (God) and moves it to a lousy source (the self). To break freedom away from its divine source and bond it to the flawed self is highly problematic. If one lives by this motto, sadly, they will attach themselves to a bland self-centered absorption of themselves. Self-worship always ends up going down a grisly path as it was self-worship (pride) that lead to Lucifer’s tragic fall.


The final nail in the coffin on society’s idea of “freedom” is that it actually does the opposite of what it is claiming to do. It claims that it can bring people happiness. However, this idea can’t be further from the truth. If the teaching moves freedom from God to the self, a person does not become free. They become, in fact, enslaved to the flawed desires of the self. Recall, that society’s teaching to be “free” means there are no more restrictions on the person. The word “no” is replaced by the word “yes.” But, if you can’t say no, you’re going to be taken over by your warped desires in which the negative is always affirmed. Saying the word “no” saves people from the tyranny of their own desires. For example, if you can’t say no to alcohol, you’re in trouble. Moreover, an alcoholic who can’t say no to a drink is not free from his corrupt desires. Sadly, he is a slave to his desires. He doesn’t control his desires. Rather, his desires control him. At this point, he has become a hypnotized soul. He is in a zombie-like trance and is completely controlled by his distorted desires. Do we again see how the inability to say “no” and put restrictions on negative things (our flawed desires) doesn’t make someone free – it makes them an enslaved mess.

Modern freedom masquerades as removing the “no” – removing the restrictions. This makes about as much sense as a person saying, “Remove the car lane barriers so I can be free to drive.” Obviously, this wouldn’t cause freedom – it would cause a crash.

You are not free when you cannot say “no.” After all, the devil tricked Eve because she couldn’t say no. So, part of having freedom is your ability to say “no” and put up barriers. Isn’t interesting right after Jesus says “let your no be no,” he then says, “Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). In other words, if you can’t say no or put up restrictions, just like Eve couldn’t, all this shows is that you’ve been cunningly duped by the demonic. What the devil does (as he did with Eve) is he plays off people’s feelings and makes them so emotionally confused that they can’t put up restrictions.

Freedom is not an anything goes and nothing counts explanation. Freedom is to become the happy, whole person you were designed to be. The self doesn’t define the truth or create the truth. The self merely discovers the truth. Mankind didn’t create the laws of physics, we just discovered them. We didn’t create the world or the self. Humanity just showed up on the universe scene and all the sophisticated and interconnected laws that govern the universe were already working for us. Therefore, freedom has nothing to do with the ability to create on your own. The idea that freedom is associated with self-creation is actually the devil’s old religion of self-worship.


As we explore what it is to be free, we now see that for a person to be free, they need to be aligned to the entity that created them – God. The other aspect of what it means to be free is that to be free needs to be attached to the truth. Even Bob Dylan knows this. In his song, Jokerman, Dylan writes, “Freedom, just around the corner from you but with truth so far off, what good would it do? Freedom and truth are a packaged deal. Freedom without truth is meaningless. Jesus called himself the truth (see John 14:6, 18:37). Moreover, he plainly said the truth was connected to freedom when he declared, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Notice Jesus didn’t say “breaking away from rules and restrictions will set you free.” He said truth. And to know the truth, you have be guided by rules – whether physical laws (mathematical laws) or spiritual laws (Sacraments). Moreover, to know the truth you have to say no and restrict what is not true. So, for a person to be free, he needs to be able to say no; to be able to have borders and restrictions. Restrictions and borders are a good thing because they allow us to become clearly defined. Otherwise, we become confused and lost in a cacophony of noise without any definition of who we are. When you know who you are not, you will begin to know who you are.

Today, young people envision that when they break away from Catholicism, they are escaping free of chains and running from a dark cave into a great utopia. It’s the exact opposite. They are running away from true happiness and freedom and crawling into a dark cave filled with prison bars. To think you are liberated from breaking away from the rules of the Church is like a person thinking they are liberated from breaking the rules of gravity by jumping off a roof. It’s not going to end well for them. How sad it is that teenagers and adults alike view Catholicism as the restrictive boring parent and the pop culture as their cool hero when it is the other way around. This would be like a drug addict viewing his doctor as the repressive villain while his real hero is the drug dealer. Sadly, most people are living in opposite world where they view the solution (Catholicism) as the problem and the problem (pop culture) as the solution. To reverse the solution and the problem is to commit internal suicide and not even know it.

While the allure of the pop culture’s motto to be free might entice our senses just like the glamour that Alice first experienced in Wonderland, this initial attraction turns out to be fool’s gold. Ultimately, just like in Alice’s story the charisma of the message in this world, leads to darkness and despair. Young people today need the Church desperately. She can rescue them from the chains and enslavement they found themselves in pop culture land.

If anything, at least this grim picture in the pop culture will make people dump it, so they will now begin to listen to their real source of freedom – the Church.



Post Script: In the New Testament, freedom is never represented as personal autonomy. Rather, it is presented as freedom from sin (Romans 6: 18-23, John 8:31-36), freedom from the old covenant law (Romans 7:3, 8:2, 10:4, Galatians 2:4, 4:21-31, 5:1, 13) and freedom from death (Romans 6:21, 8:21). Therefore, rather than just chant “freedom” vageuly the New Testament specifically identifies what it is breaking away from – sin and dysfunction.


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