Do we really want to be free?

Published January 23, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Fr. Rolando V. De La Rosa, OP


Fr. Rolando Dela Rosa

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners” (Luke 4:18). But what if prisoners do not want to be free? What if slaves refuse to break the chains that keep them in bondage? Harriet Tubman, who devoted her life to the abolition of slavery in America has been quoted as saying, “I could have saved more slaves if only I’d been able to convince them that they were slaves.” Although historians say she did not say that, the statement decries the worst effect of being a slave: No matter how despicable slavery is, a slave begins to consider it normal once he gets used to it.

We Filipinos are described as freedom-loving. But are we really? Or, have we become accustomed to the many forms of slavery that we now consider normal? For instance, in the field of education, teachers tell students that they are free to learn and discover knowledge by themselves, through the internet, computers, television, and other electronic gadgets. But this kind of teaching renders children ridiculously un-free because it gives them the illusion that they can know everything under the sun. Often, this leaves children with a heavy load of information which they cannot process. Real study is the disciplined application of the mind not only to know, but to understand reality. Without understanding, the more we know, the greater our confusion.

Social networking makes us feel free to communicate with others. But if we come to think of it, the social media habituates us to be in the company of virtual people. It tempts us to escape “real” society and imprison ourselves in a world where we can give vent to our insatiable thirst for self-validation. Why do many people upload their selfies and do TikToks? They want to live virtually in the mind of others. The number of likes that they get validates their existence, and becomes the measure of their self-worth. This is also an illusion, and it renders us unfree.

As a democratic nation, we think we are free because we are guided by the rule of law. But is it really the law that rules us? Or have we become too dependent on lawyers, many of whom have evacuated moral judgment from legal questions? By presenting conflicting interpretations of legal norms and precedents, they unwittingly suggest that at the heart of liberty is not truth, but pure choice or subjective interpretation.

Our government encourages Filipino professionals and domestic helpers to work anywhere they like. But in their desire for higher salaries and benefits, many end up as replaceable spare parts of the wheels of industry, forced to work in poorly ventilated and unhygienic factories and offices. The stories of workers who were burned alive in poorly-constructed garment factories, and the plight of hundreds of Filipino OFWs who suffer extreme forms of humiliation and abuse in foreign countries are palpable proofs that their employments are actually just forms of slavery.

We want to be free, but how do we understand freedom? Many of us think that being free entails no limits or absolutes. Our society is now culturally awash in radical pluralism – a pervasive ideology that rejects the existence of universal truth. Many people have become slaves to this ideology, and they live as though self-interest, not morality, is the highest norm of public conduct.

Freedom is not the liberty to do anything whatsoever. The goal of freedom is to achieve what is objectively good for oneself and society. We cannot desire this good if we are ignorant of the truth. We cannot love that which we do not know.

The words of Jesus—”The truth will make you free” (John 8:32)— remain our best guide in the exercise of authentic freedom. Presumably, all of us are searching for the truth. But as long as we ignore Him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), our quest for liberation will just make us feel so free and yet . . . so lost.