In speaking of Freedom, I don't want to get into the muddy field of politics, except to say that political freedom is bound to be partial only. It is impossible for everybody in any kind of society to be entirely free; and often when a ...colony is "freed," the first result is that a whole lot of people are thrown into jail! Another point is that, if freedom consists in the ability to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, then obviously it depends partly on what you WANT. That is to say, if you want to do what you can do, then you are entirely free, even if you cannot do much else. A man who has come to terms with his limitations and is happy in them, is a free man; whereas another, who is always dissatisfied and strives after the unattainable, feels surrounded by prison bars. Take marriage, for example. Here two people, a man and a woman, are tied together for life. If the husband wants to go in one direction, and the wife in another, they are under tension and strain all the time, and feel that the wedding ring is a fetter of slavery. But if they both want to go in the same direction and at the same pace, then nothing hinders them. Together they are as free as the wind!
The next thing I want to say is, that although your freedom is endangered if someone else tries to force you to do something, it is not endangered if you try to force yourself. Swedenborg says: "Self-compulsion is perfect freedom." That is to say, if you see something you think you ought to do, and compel yourself to do it, you are entirely free, because you are doing what you want to do. Maybe you don't want it with your lower self, but you do with your higher self. And the more your higher self can rule you, the freer you are. This is not sufficiently recognized by those who argue for a permissive society, and think they ought to be able to do anything they like - just anything! Actually a "permissive" society, without bounds, is much more difficult to live in than one in which life is ordered by accepted rules and taboos; because in a permissive society the responsibility rests with the individual to decide what will really make him happy; and most of our young people are not equipped, by insight or experience, to make such decisions. They would be better off if their freedom were restricted until they had matured sufficiently to be able to "compel themselves." The Epicureans in ancient Rome, who made the search for happiness their goal and were the experts on the subject, found that permissiveness was not the solution to their problem. If they over-ate, they got indigestion; if they over-drank, they got a headache, which were far from being happy states! And if they had too much sex, sex ceased to give them pleasure. Their conclusion was that moderation and self-control were necessary if you were to enjoy life to the full.
Freedom does not consist in being able to break laws, but in working with them. A motorist can drive freely across a great city, only if he strictly obeys the traffic laws. If he says: "I claim my freedom as an American citizen to drive on the wrong side of the road," he will soon find himself imprisoned in a hospital bed! The astronauts got to the moon only by working with, not against, the laws of science. God has given us the spiritual laws of a happy and fulfilled life, in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount; we must work with these laws, not against them, if we are to achieve satisfaction and contentment. Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The next thing to remember is that freedom does not necessarily have to do with actions. A polio victim confined to an iron lung can nevertheless enjoy intellectual freedom, freedom to love or hate, freedom to choose between various values, various reactions. Dr. Frankl, the Jewish psychologist, spent some years in a Nazi concentration camp and tells of the ghastly treatment meted out to the inmates with the express purpose of de-humanizing them. Even there (he said), so long as you remained sane, you could choose how you would react to the tortures and humiliations, and each person reacted in a different way. In this area of choice, everybody is free. Free will is the determining factor of our lives. It is indeed so important that, when it was in danger of being destroyed from within, by evil spirits from hell, two thousand years ago, God himself came into the world as Jesus Christ to restore it. Without free will, man would not be man.
Swedenborg explains that we derive our free will from the circumstance that we are in a state of equilibrium, or balance, between heaven and hell. Evil spirits are trying to drag us downward, and angels to raise us upward. These forces are immensely powerful, but are so precisely balanced by the Lord that we ourselves can tip, the scales by adding a very little pressure on one side or the other. Thus, every choice we make has repercussions reaching to the remotest limits of heaven or hell: which explains why the angels rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. In this area of choice, we can side with the devils or the angels; and, however evil we have been in the past, we are free at any moment to change our allegiance and tip the scale down on the side of good. (And, of course, vice versa.) Our choices are not pre-determined by our character, as some psychologists seem to think. No one can tell from your character, however well they know you, how you will choose in any particular situation. On the contrary, your choices form your character. This gets us away from the old idea of predestination. We are what we have chosen to be.
One of the first great thinkers to grapple realistically with this concept of freedom was an ancient Briton named Morgan, who lived in the Fourth Century A.D. and wrote under the Greek name of Pelagius. He denied original sin, said that Adam's fall affected Adam only, and maintained that every man was entirely free to choose good or evil; and that if a man is to be saved it must be through his own efforts and not just the grace of God. All this seems common sense to us today, but it was appalling heresy in the Fourth Century, and was violently opposed by the Church Fathers, especially the far subtler St. Augustine of North Africa, who said, "NO! Adam's fall made us all slaves to sin! Freedom consists in being born again as children of God, loving God, and becoming aligned with God's will!" We realize today that both Pelagius and Augustine were correct, but they were speaking of two different kinds of freedom. Pelagius was referring to the freedom we all possess in this natural life, arising from our equilibrium between heaven and hell. Augustine was referring to the freedom exercised by the angels in heaven, who are no longer in equilibrium, and cannot choose evil, but don't want to.
Students of Swedenborg are sometimes worried by his teaching that our ruling love is fixed at death and we can no longer change our lot. They protest, "If an evil spirit in hell wishes to reform and become an angel, can't he do it?" The answer is, "Yes, theoretically he could, because in the spiritual world you can do anything you want to do. But in practice spirits never seem to want to change their lot. They are no longer in equilibrium, but have joined the ranks of one side or the other, and are now in such a powerful sphere of good (if in heaven) or evil (if in hell) that they identify themselves with it and never change. However, both angels and evil spirits feel entirely free, because they can do whatever they want to do: good, if they are in heaven; evil, if in hell."
But now St. Augustine's insight comes in, that only the angels are truly free. Their desires are in line with the Divine Providence; they want what God wants, and God is in ultimate control. The evil spirits set themselves against God and want to destroy His creation; so, as they can't succeed in this, they feel everlastingly frustrated, and in a perpetual state of indignation - even enjoying it, in a perverted kind of way. They have a "chip on their shoulder," as we say.
Let us see how it works out. The two basic loves of heaven are love to the Lord and love to the neighbor, as Jesus Himself taught us. It is possible for any number of people to love the Lord and each other; the more there are who are doing it, the happier they will be. All are free to express their love in a thousand different ways, and pour themselves out in warm fellowship and mutual felicitations; the happiness wells up and goes on increasing to eternity. This is perfect freedom. Each can enjoy his heart's desire, and is completely fulfilled by doing so. In hell, on the other hand, the basic love is self-love, love of having one's own way, of forcing other people to subservience. This cannot be exercised simultaneously by everyone in a group; it is mutually exclusive. What happens in hell is that one individual gets to the top, by cruelty or cunning, and for a while makes all the others obey him as abject slaves; then he is thrown over and made a slave, as someone else gets to the top. Society is forever bubbling up and down, like boiling porridge. Only one person can be "free" at a time, and he is consumed with apprehension and anxiety lest he should lose his position. All the rest are slaves, because it is logically impossible for more than one to be boss. It is a madhouse scene of mutual mistrust, jealousy and hatred, which Jesus described very vividly as "hell fire and the gnashing of teeth." "He that commiteth sin," he said, "is the bond-slave of sin." Yet the evil spirits are happier in hell than they would be in heaven, for they could not be more free than in hell to exercise the self-love which is their life.
How does all this affect us? Well, you and I will be in heaven or hell one of these days, and, whether we are aware of it or not, we are preparing for that day here and now. We are in the Valley of Decision. Evil is on one side of us, good on the other; and Pelagius was right in maintaining that we are absolutely free to choose one or the other; we are in equilibrium between heaven and hell. Even an excessive interest in one side or the other, throws us onto that side. Continual harping on the theme of crime and violence, and indignation at the present state of the world, links us up with the very evils we are criticizing; whereas turning your mind to good and wholesome things links you up with heaven. "What!" you may say, "Are we not supposed to condemn evil in other people?" My answer would be that "no one, to my knowledge, has given us that responsibility," and criticism of others is a very dangerous game. Remember our Lord's story of the Pharisee and the Publican. "I thank God I am not as other men," said the Pharisee, "extortioners, unjust, adulterers - or even as that Publican over there!" Doubtless the Pharisee's life was blameless; he had kept the commandments from his youth up. Yet it was the Publican, not the Pharisee, who went home justified that day! (Luke 18). Remember this when you see the news on TV or read the newspaper. The whole government is corrupt! There is extortion, injustice and adultery all around us! No doubt about it. However, instead of waxing indignant, like the Pharisee in the parable, and thus increasing our own self-righteousness, let us rather follow the advice of Paul, who said: "Whatsoever things are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report - if there be any virtue or any praise (and you will find plenty, if you look for it) Think on These Things."
Then you will begin to develop these qualities in yourself. Your tastes will change. You will cease to be interested in a number of things which previously interested and excited you. Things which used to irritate and annoy you will now cease to be all that important to you. So will certain other things which you used to want very much but could never get. Other interests will now occupy your attention, interests concerning your relationship with the Lord and other people. A whole new area of life will begin to open up, which Swedenborg calls the spiritual degree of the mind. Of course you will still experience frustrations, but they will never be insurmountable, for you can always draw near to God in prayer, and help other people in some way, even if not in the way you would like. We can always experience a greater freedom in giving ourselves out to others, than in trying to make them give themselves out to us! And this heavenly freedom increases as our spiritual minds are opened to greater and greater depths, until we experience the wonderful feeling of working side by side with the Lord Himself, and sharing something of His infinite power. We are then in the freedom of heaven, as perceived by St. Augustine.
Jesus Christ achieved that freedom while in this world. There never was anyone as free as He was. Even when arrested and condemned to death, He stood there in His bonds, a completely free man. "No man taketh my life from me," he declared, "but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10-18). Because He was perfectly aligned with God, He was absolute Master of His fate. Our freedom will never be so complete as this, but it can ever more closely approximate to it. You don't need edicts from the White House or legislation from Capital Hill; you don't need freedom marches for this kind of freedom. What you need is self-mastery, and a determination to submit yourself to the laws of life, and align yourself with God's will. "If He shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36).
Do you want to be freed from the shackles and limitations of your past? - from the restrictions of your present situation? - from fear of the future? Freed from the itch of ambition, the poison of jealousy, and the bitterness of not being appreciated? You can be free, here and now! Your fetters are already falling from you! You are a child of God - He loves you. Your circumstances are the best possible for you, at this moment, providing the best possible opportunities for your spiritual growth and development. Wonderful happiness lies ahead of you and is available to you. Hold up your head, and walk boldly forward! "Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword, separate us from the love of Christ? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."