The most Free

The most Free

[Hier ein weiterer Auszug aus einer zweiten längeren Arbeit für das Lithuanian Free Market Institute (Lietuvos laisvos rinkos institutas), einer privaten Wirtschaftsforschungseinrichtung in Vilnius, zum Thema, „scarcity“ – Mangel oder Knappheit. Das Thema Freiheit und die Grundlagen der Freiheit hat ja gerade in Corona-Zeiten an Aktualität nur gewonnen.]

The greatness and importance of freedom has the effect that liberal (libertarian) economists and political thinkers will often regard it as an end in itself that needs no further justification. The philosophy of freedom is rarely discussed. (Otfried Höffe recently elaborated on the philosophy of freedom in Kritik der Freiheit: Das Grundproblem der Moderne , 2015.) They defend it by arguing that freedom is a necessary condition for morality and all our actions. And they put forward all kinds of utilitarian arguments: freedom is of great usefulness for us personally and for life in society.

This is all very true. But again we have to ask: Why is it the case? Why does liberty work? That is, why do human beings flourish in an atmosphere of freedom? Why is freedom – and not equality – primary? What is the ontological foundation of freedom?

We look again to the triune God. God is, as we have seen, personal. Freedom is a category applicable to personal willing, choosing and acting. An impersonal deity or a transcendent force is not free, it simply flows or emanates. Now the Bible portraits God as most free. He is in himself wholly self-satisfied; he does not need anything from outside to be who he is. God was already fully God without the world. He necessarily exists, but this necessity is not an attribute of his outward acting: his will, his acts, his love etc. are wholly free, not conditioned by anything outside of him. God was and is not compelled to do anything. If he commits and binds himself to something and someone (e.g., his own promises to human beings), he does so freely.

God is not limited or coerced by anyone or anything. If the world would be a necessary emanation or an aspect of his being, this would be different. Freedom in God only makes sense if he is distinct from the world. He is free to create or not to create. He acts in complete freedom. Fred Zanders in The Deep Things of God: “Creation was not required, not mandatory, not exacted from God, neither by any necessity imposed from outside nor by any deficit lurking within the life of God.” We don‘t know why God created at all. But we know that “it would be wrong to say that God created because he was lonely, unfulfilled, or bored. God is free from that kind of dependence.” God creates and redeems freely. Because God was not required to create, he is not forced to save. Grace is gratuitous. It is “for free.”

God is free from creation and therefore able to be free for creation. Michael Horton: “God does not need time, but he freely enters it; he does not need a house, but he builds one anyway. All this is for our benefit, out of God‘s zeal to dwell together with finite, embodied creatures in covenant. That God freely does this in creation, without any inherent need, is a testimony to his unfathomable goodness. […] The God of Scriptures is essentially independent yet freely chooses to bring creatures into fellowship and communion with himself.” (The Christian Faith)

We have seen that freedom is interpersonal. It should not be equated with independence. This is explained by the doctrine of the Trinity. God is indeed independent, not in need of the creation; and this ultimate independency is unique to him, the Creator. Nevertheless, that is not all. He is in eternally three persons, and all three are free in a social web of relations. God in his triunity is free for the other Persons, and that is the reason why he can also be free for creation. This is reflected in our human world: We are not just free from but also free for – to freely enter into relationships.

God‘s freedom and human freedom are mutually reinforcing characteristics. The fact that God is not the world, that he is distinct from creation, opens a ‘space’ of freedom for human beings. Egyptologist Jan Assmann coined the term “Mosaic distinction”: the distinction between true and false religion, introduced by Hebrew monotheism. This also implied the differentiation of God and the world. This was a totally new idea because foundational to the ancient pagan worldview was the conviction that the divine cannot be extracted from the world. Thus Assmann calls the pagan polytheism “cosmotheism”: the universe is divine or permeated by the divine. On the contrary, in monotheism the divine becomes emancipated from its integration into the universe, society, destiny, and it faces the world as an independent entity. At the same time humans become emancipated and a real counterpart of God; there is now a place for partnership and relationship with God, and freedom. In this way monotheism set people free to be morally responsible, says Assmann.

In a pantheistic or cosmotheistic worldview there is no final foundation for freedom. Only in a worldview that distinguishes between God, the divine, and the created realm, does the concept of freedom appear. This has significant implications. For example, we are free to study nature, to work on it, to transform it, because in itself it is not divine. If it were divine we would have to venerate it, manipulate it, use it for religious purposes such as, contacting the gods, spirits etc. Modern natural science could only flourish in a monotheistic paradigm. Bavinck:

“Man can attain to a true, free relation to nature only when he stands in his true relation to God. And this we owe to Christianity alone. In the polytheistic religions […] man cannot obtain this freedom over against nature, because all creatures, plants and animals, woods and trees, mountains and brooks, stars and suns, are conceived as inhabited by gods and spirits.” (The Philosophy Of Revelation)