Monday, December 2, 2013

Freedom and Authority

An Introduction and a Summary of the Well-Known Book, Freedom and Authority, Authored by Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios

Fr. Paul Verghese (The earlier name of Paulos Mar Gregorios) was invited by the Lutheran seminaries in the United States to give the Hein Lectures in 1968. The lectures were put together to publish the book, The Freedom of Man, in the United States. Later the material of this book was modified and expanded for the situation in India, and was published as Freedom and Authority in 1974 by CLS and ISPCK . In the foreword, he admits that he was inspired for this book by the students, the Blacks, and the women, who are leading the movement for human liberation. He admits his debt to St. Gregory of Nyssa, from whom he learned the meaning of freedom. He is grateful to Nicholas Berdyaev and Vladimir Lossky for leading him to Gregory of Nyssa. He admits that he learned the art of thinking primarily from his western teachers, but the content of his thought primarily came from his own eastern tradition.

In the preface to the Indian edition, he rightly points out that Indians today lack the ability of systematic thinking. We read a lot, and we quote freely, but we rarely do our own original thinking either in sciences or in theology. But he also admits that it might be a good thing that we don't go to the other extreme of spinning out a new theology that goes out of fashion soon. We need some concrete person or institution that materializes the thinking before we can make a judgment. He points out the example of the Marxist parties in India. People are not attracted to Marxism as a way of scientific thinking. Only when the party materializes the Marxist ideas into proximate and manageable goals, the people get attracted. Similarly, the Christian church in India needs to become a community that materializes the Christian faith into proximate and manageable goals. This book, he claims, makes an attempt to present the Christian faith as a coherent set of ideas, and also makes an invitation to try a community life based on it.

In the introduction, he states a major human existential problem as it was clearly visible in the second half of the twentieth century-- the crumpling down of the authority structures. The human community has been held together by authority structures, but today they are falling apart, which threatens the very existence of humanity. Children don't obey parents, wives don't submit to their husbands, and employees don't submit to their employers. Students disobey their teachers, laymen do not obey their priests, and even soldiers defy the commands of their officers. Command has become the least effective way to make others do one's will. Church dogmas were blindly believed, but not any more.
Our world has witnessed in the modern era several movements of freedom:
  1. Political decolonization. 1500 million people all over the world broke their political chains and marched ahead with a new confidence.
  2. Movement against white superiority. The awakening of negro self-consciousness in the Afro-American people.
  3. Revolt against socialist Dictatorships. Countries are gaining freedom from socialist dictatorships.
  4. Revolt against ecclesiastical authority. Catholic bishops and theologians are openly encouraging disobedience to papal authority.
  5. Revolt of Youth against the authority of the older generation.
  6. Revolt of Women against male authority
The Diagnosis
How do we diagnose this situation? Mar Gregorios asserts that there is no need for alarm. Humankind is going through severe pain, but this is not due to any illness. This is merely the birth pangs that would give birth to a new humanity. He further claims that the central element of human evolution is a dialectic between authority and freedom. Humanity grows by discarding freedom-hampering authority structures, and by developing freedom-fostering authority structures. This understanding presupposes three assertions:
  1. Man is basically good by nature.
  2. Real good happens only in freedom, for forced good is not good.
  3. The combination of freedom and good, which may be called love, develops only in the structures of a freedom-fostering human community. 
Authority and freedom look as if they are opposed to each other-- when someone exercises authority, someone else might lose freedom. But it is not so simple as that. We have to ask which authority and which freedom.

Authority can be coercive (arbitrary) or persuasive. Coercive authority disregards the freedom of others, but persuasive authority regards the freedom of others. The authority of parents over children, teachers over students, pastors over parish people, and a government over the citizens needs to be persuasive, not coercive. Whenever some pressure is applied on human will, it reacts to that pressure. Human will always revolts against coercive authority. What kind of authority is God's? Is it coercive or persuasive? In the Old Testament we see a God who is more coercive than persuasive. But the God and father of Jesus Christ is more persuasive than coercive, whose example Jesus Christ asked us to follow.

Freedom is the power to think, feel, speak, and act following one's own will. If someone prevents me from following my own will, I don't have freedom. If I make someone follow my will, he/she is a slave to me. A master exercises coercive authority upon his slave. A slave is not allowed to follow his own will. If he does, it is considered a crime in the system of slavery. In an ideal healthy community, every human individual has freedom. However, one's freedom is limited to his/her own life. One has no freedom to interfere in the life of another person. The freedom to live is a privilege of every human individual. Along with that every human individual has the responsibility to let others have the same freedom. There is no privilege without responsibility.

When we have the freedom to live, and when we let others have their freedom to live, we create rules and willingly submit ourselves to them. Road rules are excellent examples. Where there are road rules and where people strictly follow them, people have the freedom to travel around with very few casualties. A society cannot function without rules. In an authoritarian society, someone creates and enforces rules on the rest of the people. In a democratic society, all people participate in the creation of rules, and all people willingly submit to the rules. Let us imagine heaven, the ideal world. Are there rules there? Yes, there are rules, for without rules no society can function. However, all people willingly and habitually create and follow the rules, and it makes life smooth and joyful for everybody. In contrast, hell may be imagined as a place where no one follows any rules. In heaven, the ideal world, all people are mature, free, and responsible, but in hell all people are immature, bound, and irresponsible.

Our real world is a mixture of both kinds of people. There are mature and immature people, responsible and irresponsible people, those who choose good, and those who choose evil. The presence of good and evil in our world presents an excellent opportunity for people to grow in freedom, maturity, and responsibility. People lack such an opportunity in heaven and in hell, and so there is no opportunity to grow in either of those places.

God is free, and out of his freedom flows only good; no evil. God has granted freedom to humankind-- the right to choose good or evil. Until humankind attains the maturity and perfection of God, humankind will continue to make wrong choices. There might be free beings elsewhere in the universe and also in other dimensions. Our religious traditions call them angels and demons. They also have the freedom to make choices. Thus though good originates from God, evil originates from the wrong choices of the free beings in the world.

So what is our present situation? We are naturally good, and created free. However, we need to grow to maturity-- as perfect as the heavenly father is perfect. We are always surrounded by evil tempting us to choose evil just as Adam and Eve were tempted to make the wrong choice. Jesus himself was not immune from such temptations. He was tempted by Satan to make wrong choices. Nobody is free from such temptations. We have to consciously overcome the temptations and make the right choices as our Lord did. If we do not fall to the temptations of evil, then we will be attacked by the evil forces in various ways. Temptations are internal, but such attacks are mostly external. We need to stand with God and face the powers of evil in our everyday life. Life is a battle with evil.

Augustine, a fourth century father of Latin Christianity, asserted that mankind is basically evil, and so we are not capable of making any right choice at all. Pelagius, a contemporary of Augustine, revolted against this view by going to the other extreme. He claimed that mankind is in a position to easily choose between good and evil. He did not see the power of evil that surrounds us. Along with a low view of Man, Augustine also promoted a low view of this world as well by holding an other-worldly view. The western Christian world, which includes catholic church and protestant churches, still suffers from these distorted views of Augustine. Backed up by political power, the western Christianity spread its influence throughout the world in the past few centuries, and even the eastern Christian churches were not free from their influence.

Attempts to Regain the Original Christianity
So what exists as Christian church in the world today is mostly a distorted version of the original Christianity. As stated by Mar Gregorios, "Official Christianity sounds ludicrously unintelligent and seems utterly unappealing to the moral conscience of mankind, even to many who have not yet given up their Christian faith." There have been several attempts in the modern world to bring Christianity back to its original form. Although none of them has had the power to achieve the goal, they are treated sympathetically by Mar Gregorios. Five of those attempts are listed in the first chapter:
  1. Secularization and Pragmatism. Begun as a revolt against ecclesiastical control, secularization has developed as a religion with its own worldview, according to which the world that appears to our eyes is all that exists, and man is in control of this world with no one above him. Secularization and Pragmatism, its twin sibling born in America, support and reinforce each other. According to pragmatism, usefulness to us determines the meaning and value of everything.
  2. Ontological disillusionment and Existential stance. When secular and pragmatic philosophers refused to deal with the ultimate questions of existence, and set a limit to their quest-- to what we observe or what is useful and relevant to us, philosophers like Husserl and Heidegger stayed in ontological quest asking basic questions of existence. Husserl's quest was for intellectual certainty through careful mapping of the whole region of consciousness. Heidegger seeks the nature of 'being'. Truth for him is an unconcealed relationship between the knower and the known; not a correlation between fact and proposition. Truth is also the knowledge of things in their totality of relationships, the knower included in the whole. Some other philosophers who are under the umbrella of existentialists, such as Kierkegaard, are anti-intellectual and anti-system.
  3. God's death and hermeneutical quest. The Death of God movement in theology was to reform Christianity. In Nietzsche's words, "God as the declaration of war against life, against nature, against the will to live! God-the formula for every lie about the 'beyond'!" It is this God Nietzsche's madman pronounced dead.
    The mainstream theology proceeds within narrow and manageable confines. Instead of considering questions on being, it explores questions like who was historical Jesus, and what is the canon within the canon for interpreting the Bible. This hermeneutical quest is no likely to yield answers to the fundamental questions about human existence.
  4. The Future of Belief and Belief in Future. The Future of Belief is a book by Leslie Dewart which made a minor storm in Catholic circles. He de-supernaturalized God by liberating God from the Greek conception of God. Mar Gregorios suggests that his criticism of classical western theism would have been enriched by a knowledge of the Greek fathers' views.
    A spatially transcendent God , which is quite difficult for western thought, is replaced by a temporal transcendent God. This idea originally came from The Principle of Hope, a book by Ernst Bloch, a German Marxist philosopher. Jewish messianism is the influence behind his thought. The German Theologians like Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Metz, and the American Theologian Harvey Cox are Blochists. Unlike Bloch's view, the Christian hope is based on the Cross and Resurrection, which makes these theologians re-establish the belief in resurrection as a historical event.   
  5. Liberal Humanist and the New Marxist . Humanism believes that the full development of man is possible and is to be striven for. Economic development is regarded by most as the first stage of development. But ideas differ as to the next stages. Liberal Humanist is committed to the unity of mankind and faith in the future of man. The future of man is conceived in simple terms-- cultured, secure, with a pluralistic and permissive social structure. Marxist humanist comes in as a critic of liberal humanist and as a pioneer pointing out that the Liberal humanist's ideas only help to give the glow of morality to a corrupt and dehumanizing system. European Marxists emphasize that man was the cental concern of Marx and so anything that dehumanizes, whether in Communist countries or in the west, is an enemy of Man. Later Marx went to the extreme of denying the authoritarian God to affirm Man. 
The Features of Authentic Christianity
The primary distortion in Christianity, separation of knowledge from life, started as early as second century with Irenaeus. In taking a stand against Gnostics such as Basilides, Cerinthus, and Marcion, who claimed the authority of a secret tradition from the apostles, Irenaeus produced a different set of propositions as inherited from the apostles. Thus the seed sown by Irenaeus further grew up with Origen, who said, "the teaching of the church handed down in unbroken succession from the Apostles, is still preserved and continues to exist in the churches up to the present day, we maintain that that only is to be believed as the truth". The Christian faith has been reduced to a set of doctrines. Origen further claimed that a few doctrines were left behind unclarified by the apostles for the later theologians to work on.

The Cappadocian fathers, however, asserted that the knowledge of God is depended on ethical maturity. There is no way of knowing God apart from living a Godly life. Holiness is not a matter of ethical purity; it involves transfiguration of the very being of man into the likeness and image of God. Among the Cappadocian fathers, it was Gregory of Nyssa who presented this thought most systematically.

For the Stoics, who saw God as the soul of the world, God could not be independent of the world. But God is fully transcendent and free of the world for Gregory. Manicheeism held that matter existed eternally alongside God, and was the source of evil. But for Gregory, the material world exists within God, for matter itself is spiritual (a form of energy as we would say). Being the image of God, Man has to be free like God. Evil has its source in this freedom. Gregory also held that evil, as the absence of good, has no ultimate reality. It is in the struggle against evil that man develops his freedom and becomes mature.

Gregory's thought may be compared to Indian thought especially with Sankara's Advita Vendanta and Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita. Ramanuja's thought is similar to the Stoics in viewing the Cosmos as the body of God. For Sankara, the Cosmos is Brahman misunderstood by avidya. For Gregory, seeing from the perspective of the cosmos, it exists apart from God, and it comes into being from the will of God. However, seeing from God's perspective, nothing exists apart from God, who is infinite.

Gregory views the difference between the creator and creation as follows: creator's being is self-dependent, but creation's being is dependent on God. Also creator's being is no need of a becoming, but the creation's being is in a state of becoming. For Gregory, man's existence in time is not a mere illusion or a dream, but of eternal significance. But for Sankara, the historical existence makes no difference to the jivatma.

The Way Forward
What lies ahead in our way toward genuine freedom? We have to really make the trip in order to find out. Only a few guidelines about how we may make the trip is possible.

The king needs to be replaced with shepherd. The king uses coercive authority, but the shepherd uses persuasive authority. God needs to be seen as a shepherd rather than a king. All the shepherds in the world in all walks of life, including governments, receive their authority from God, the real shepherd, and they need to learn to use persuasive authority. They need to become good shepherds as Jesus describes in John 10 by caring for the sheep and by developing a warm and a healthy relationship with them.

Attempts to grasp the ultimate reality need to be abandoned. Any attempt to conceptualize it leads us to frustration. We need to maintain right relationship with the ultimate reality. Being far beyond our power of comprehension, the ultimate reality needs to be praised and adored.

A positive and appropriate attitude needs to be developed about our tradition, the path we have already covered. We need to acknowledge our past, with its successes and failures, in order to make a victorious journey forward. We need to become aware of the common heritage of the humanity as a whole. Openness to future without sufficient awareness of the past is superficial. Loyalty to the past tradition without openness to the present or future prevents us from moving on.

Discipline needs to be developed with the awareness that if you need to get freedom, you have to give freedom to others. No privilege without responsibility. People should willingly take part in creating laws and also should willingly obey those laws. 

These principles need to be experimented in the laboratories of communities, so that once they are proved to be successful, they can be followed by the human community as a whole. An experimental community needs to be ecumenical with people of various races, of various religious traditions, and of both sexes. Tagore's Shantiniketan, Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram, and Aurobindo's Ashram are examples of community experiments in India.

No comments: