Freedom to flounder

“To food, friends, and freedom.” My traditional toast at dinner is usually readily echoed, whoever happens to be at our table. Yet if I were to substitute Freedom for a more specific word that historically has had much of the same meaning – salvation – then many of our guests might choke on their brussel sprouts.

Over the last century, the West has rightly pursued the ideal of freedom from external constraint, whether legal, social or political. The effect has thankfully given greater liberty (if not yet equality) to individuals, and particularly women, and minorities. Yet, we now face a host of social challenges from having forgotten the second kind of freedom: freedom from internal obstacles; salvation from ourselves and from our fathomless ability to screw things up. The notion of salvation promises freedom from the less beautiful chambers of our hearts; but sounds alien to modern ears because we too easily forget our own human frailties.

In an age where almost everything is permitted, our leaders and commentators have lost the moral courage to articulate how we can be saved from our instinctive choices. Poor diets have created an epidemic of diabetes. Poor financial discipline contributes to debt. Lack of community commitment has led to epic levels of loneliness. How many couples get help to navigate the useful constraints of marriage? How many of us feel confident to justify our own conception of virtue in an age of cultural relativism? Collectively, an excess of freedom has left us floundering.