Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are we free?

In our Pauline theology seminar, one issue we discussed is the notion of "freedom" and how Western, post-Enlightenment, judicial ideas of "freedom" have severely crippled the way we can properly understand what Paul was talking about with regard to freedom in Romans. What Dr. Campbell has been stressing to us in class is that true "freedom" as designed by God is not that we get to do what we want, choose what we want, etc., but rather true freedom for humanity is their proper responding to God's benevolent acts, especially as experienced through Jesus Christ. A week or two ago, he assigned to us a reading out this book by Richard Bauckham (who is in town to lecture @Duke this Thursday/Friday):

The chapter that was assigned is the second chapter (though after I read this chapter, I've decided to try to read the whole thing sometime in the near future) titled "Freedom in Contemporary Context." There was one particular issue that Bauckham addressed which I thought was thought-provoking.

Under the subheading 'The car as symbol of freedom,' he writes:

"There is no more pervasive symbol of this freedom and its destructive futility than the car. Cars are the modern sacrament of freedom; they symbolize it and promise actually to give it. We can glimpse the kind of freedom they promise in the typical television advertisement: an individual driving through open countryside, mountain ranges, and deserts with the widest possible horizons. Some also navigate nimbly through picturesquely narrow streets. Cars offer individuals the freedom to go wherever they wish, whenever they like, as fast as possible. They give independence, freedom to be entirely one's own master, not dependent on others, not even accompanied by others. They suggest the freedom of escape from any situation and of new opportunities and experiences always to be found along a new road. They give the feeling of control over one's destiny. This is why most car owners cannot imagine living without one. But, as always, this kind of freedom restricts the freedom of others. The more people have cars, the more difficult life becomes for those who cannot afford them or are too old or too young to drive; public transport decays, and shops and community facilities are no longer within walking distances. But the more people have cars, the less the car owners themselves enjoy the freedom they value. Commuters spend highly stressful hours in bumper-to-bumper, slow moving traffic. Motorways become car parks. Roads destroy the countryside the car owner wants the freedom to enjoy at the weekends. Moreover, since car ownership has become common, cities and most aspects of life in cities have developed in such a way that normal life requires constant long journeys. The freedom to travel has incurred the necessity to travel. Against typically of this kind of freedom, cars increase personal independence at the expense of the community. Many a vast residential area is for many residents no more than a place through which they drive on the way from their houses to other destinations.

All this would be true even without the ecological disaster. But we must add that cars are the single largest drain on the earth's resources and major polluters of the environment. Most cars still belong to the affluent West. As they spread inexorably to the rest of the world, the environmental consequences will be dire. What applies to the differential between car owners and others in our society applies to a much greater degree on a world scale. The planet can support the kind of freedom the car gives only for an elite. The more car owners there are, the more the freedom of others suffers. The more car owners there are, the more the quality of their own life suffers. There is no way out of this trap except by reevaluating freedom."

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