Freedom

What is freedom? That is one of the questions that plague me today. The most obvious characteristic of freedom is being able to do what one wants to do without hindrance from the government or from others. But shouldn’t that “without hindrance” come with caveats? For example, one should not be free to murder someone else. But if freedom comes with caveats, what is the nature of these caveats? A philosophy professor of mine once said, “Freedom implies responsibility and that’s a hard lesson to learn.” Wise words from a wise man. What is the nature of responsibility? It, like freedom, is something you have to figure out. I still grapple with these issues myself … mostly because I am a philosophical kook who spends far too much time ruminating. One of my issues concerns religion, and more specifically Jesus of Nazareth.

I don’t know about anybody else, but there have been several times in my life when I was reading a verse from the Bible and I just “got” the verse. I knew what it meant, and I felt it in my bones. I remember once, shortly after I had come to terms with my own eventual death, when I was glancing through the New Testament, and I came upon a place where Jesus said, “… when I tell you, you are free.” I don’t remember the complete phrase, as the ellipsis will attest to, but it had a dramatic effect on me. There was another spot where Jesus said, “They are wrong about sin.” At the time, I understood that to be an erasure of the concept of sin. For a while, I came to believe Jesus was saying that there was no such thing as “sin.” In other words, I was “free” from the concept of sin. Upon reflection, I have difficulty accepting this concept of sin, or the lack thereof. I’ve wrestled with it. And I’ve come to believe that I must be missing something. The fact that this particular “existential moment” is buried in my past, so I can’t really examine it as well as I would like, also makes it more difficult. Let’s go back to my philosophy professor: “Freedom implies responsibility.” You are responsible for your own life and you have to own up to your own mistakes. You can still do wrong, but I think what Jesus meant was that there is no “magical” nature to “sin” like what was commonly understood at His time. For example, part of Catholic doctrine is abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. Failure to do so is (or may be) a sin. Here, sin has a kind of mystical nature to its meaning. I mean, really, why would eating meat on a particular day be wrong? And Jesus is saying here, that it’s not “wrong.” You are free to do so or not. You may gain a benefit (in terms of willpower, etc…) from doing so, but it shouldn’t be understood in terms of sin.

There is a Buddhist koan (a paradoxical statement designed to impart profound knowledge) that states, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Generally, Buddhists do not regard this as an exhortation to slaughter moral teachers. Instead, it means something similar to what we have been discussing: “Be your own master.” At least, that’s what I get out of it. No one else can run your life. It is yours to do with as you wish. You are completely responsible for it, both the good and the bad. It is similar in meaning to what Jesus said when he said, “… when I tell you, you are free.” I think I would prefer Jesus’ statement (partly because I have a Christian bias) because there is no chance you would confuse it with a statement advising the slaughter of moral teachers.

Finally, it is worth noting that after making a few searches for those statements by Jesus, I haven’t been able to find them again. It may be a difficulty in using particular translations. Or maybe there is some other issue like distorted thinking or poor memory. Anyway, those are my thoughts regarding freedom and religion.

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Death and Satan

There are three or four places in the Gospel of John where Jesus uses the phrase “The Ruler of this World.” Taking the expression out of context, Jesus referred to The Ruler of this World in three ways (this is from memory; I may be missing one of them). He said: 1) Now, the Ruler of this World is driven out; 2) The Ruler of this World is coming, and 3) Because the Ruler of this World has been condemned. What did he mean by that expression?

Modern scholars believe he meant Satan. Satan is “The Ruler of this World.” They argue that “The Ruler of this World” means that Satan is the master of worldly things and earthly philosophies and belief systems. I’m not sure I agree.

Have you ever read something in the Bible that you just “got”? You’d read it a hundred times before and never fully understood until that one time you read it and the meaning strikes you to the core. This has happened to me on several occasions. One of these was the phrase—which I had heard in song and scripture a number of times—“You satisfy the hungry heart with gifts of finest wheat.” I remember singing that verse many times in my youth and not really understanding it. Then, in college I fell in love and the verse took on new meaning. I identified it with a euphoric experience of romantic love which is very similar to the love of God—at least, how I understood it at that time. Another time I just “got” the meaning of a Biblical phrase was when I read the expression “The Ruler of this World.” It was in the expression in John where it says “The Ruler of this World is coming.”  I understood it to mean “Death is coming.” This was largely because I had just come to terms with my own eventual death and that existential experience was fresh on my mind. It was starkly clear to me that the expression “The Ruler of this World” meant Death. Because what else can be said to rule the world but “Death.” Plants, trees, animals, people … they all eventually die and nothing one does can stop that. Indeed, in this sense “Death” does rule the world. I think I also read the other spot in the Bible where it says “The Ruler of this World is condemned,” and I couldn’t understand it because interpreting “The Ruler of this World” as Death doesn’t work there.

Later, courtesy of my “antichrist” experience, I came to realize that “The Ruler of this World” meant Satan. And I came to believe that the expression “The Ruler of this World” had a double meaning. First, it meant “Death,” (like in the expression “The Ruler of this World is coming”) and then, more deeply, it meant “Satan.” Indeed, I believed the understanding of Death for “The Ruler of this World” implies the scope and extent of the meaning of the true meaning of “The Ruler of this World.” So, in my mind Satan is death; that is, death is Satan’s ultimate power. When we die or when someone else we care for dies, it is Satan that kills them, not God. From there, I came to the conclusion that the universe (that over which “Death” has scope) is Satan. And that’s how I came to believe my alternate theory which I have presented in other posts and pages on this site.

Those are my thoughts on Death and Satan. Hope that was at least … entertaining.

Death

What is death and what is the role it plays in life? The Existentialists have a fascination with death … at least, that is my understanding. Back in my college days, I only studied existentialism in maybe one or two classes. I had a friend—a history major—who claimed to be an existentialist. According to him, the defining characteristics of existentialism are the incommunicability of a certain aspect of life experiences (I agree with that) and the importance of “coming to terms with one’s own death” (I agree with that, too). Oh, and there’s also a leap of faith thing … which is just a fancy name for talking openly with a friend. I’m not sure if actual existentialist philosophy embraces those three things, but I agree with my friend that they are critically important.

Anyway, back to death. According to my existentialist friend, there is a point in one’s life where one “comes to terms with one’s own death.” He described such an experience as a “hole in the soul.” According to him, it helps clear up what’s important. And I agree with him. It does. I came to terms with my own death at mass in a church where the pastor was giving a sermon on Death, The Great Teacher. I remember the gospel reading that inspired that sermon that day; it was the one where the woman comes in and bathes Jesus’ feet with myrrh and the Apostles are complaining that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus comes to the woman’s defense. When I was younger, I thought the Apostles were in the right. But if you hear Jesus’ words when you are coming to terms with your own death, He wins the argument hands down. He said, “The poor will always be with you, but I will only be with you a little while longer.” Basically, He knows He’s going to die, and soon; so, He tries to drive home the point that the Apostles should cherish him while he still lives. And that point he makes is both universal and atemporal. That is, every member of your family and every one of your friends will die, and they will die soon. Because, when Death is the end, whether it be 3 days or 30 years, the adjective is soon (I know, soon is really an adverb—adjective just sounds better). Jesus’ lesson is always about love. In light of death, His teaching simply gains more force and wisdom. I know in my case, after that particular sermon, I went home and called my best friend on the phone just to talk to him and hear his voice. It was a very powerful experience.

I was going to discuss Satan a little bit, in relation to death, but I’ll leave that to another post. With that, I bid you farewell.