Few ideas are more deeply rooted in our minds in the West—and especially the United States—than freedom and liberty. If there’s one thing left to unite Americans in our increasingly pluralist society, it’s our commitment to freedom. True, we may disagree greatly about which freedoms should take priority: the freedom to voice our opinions, the freedom to participate in the political process, the economic freedom that comes with a living wage, the freedom to do with our bodies as we please, the freedom to practice our religion, the freedom to marry whomever we’d like—to name just a few of the most prized liberties. But almost no one questions that freedom itself is good—perhaps the highest good—for our society.
And yet, for all of our commitment to freedom, we don’t often stop to ask what exactly freedom is and why it matters so much. What exactly does freedom mean today in our modern democratic society? Is freedom simply absolute, autonomous, unconstrained choice—the definition that seems to be most prominent in our culture? How does this definition fit with the meaning of freedom as it has developed within the biblical and Christian tradition?
Christian understandings of freedom often sit uneasily beside modern ideas of freedom as pure, unrestrained choice. For both the Apostle Paul and St. Augustine, for example, true freedom included not only freedom from sin but also freedom to righteousness. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is,” Paul wrote, “there is freedom.”
Over the course of the 2014-15 academic year, we cultivated a conversation on the topic of “Freedom and the Free Society” at the University of Minnesota and with the church community of the Twin Cities. One of the high points in this conversation was our 19th annual Holmer Lecture on October 17. The lecture was given by political theorist Patrick Deneen from the University of Notre Dame, on the topic “After Liberalism: Imagining a Humane Post-Liberal Future.”
Deneen considered conceptions of freedom across the political spectrum, asking if there are alternative visions of a humane political order that might follow in liberalism’s wake. You can watch the lecture on YouTube, listen to it on Soundcloud, or read a transcript of the lecture at the Australian Broadcasting Company’s Religion & Ethics site. For more on the subject, check out Deneen’s recommended books on Christianity & politics.
We continued to pursue this theme of freedom throughout the rest of the year, as well—through disciplines as disparate as medicine and literature, biotechnology and economics.
- William Hurlbut (Stanford), “Biotechnology, Freedom, & the Pursuit of Happiness”: YouTube | Soundcloud
- Gloria Halverson (CMDA), “Human Trafficking and Medicine”: YouTube | Soundcloud
- William Cavanaugh (DePaul), “What Do I Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice”: YouTube | Soundcloud
- David Skeel (UPenn), “The Bipartisan Benefits of Hobby Lobby“: YouTube (forthcoming) | Soundcloud (forthcoming)
- Dave Deavel (St. Thomas), “The Tao of Jack: C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom”: Soundcloud | Recommended Reading
- Joseph Pearce, “Freedom & Slavery in The Lord of the Rings“: Recommended Reading
We hope that you’ll enter into this conversation with us by listening to and learning from these recordings, and the broad range of works our speakers recommend. Our hope is that together we will come know the truth, and that the truth will set us free.