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Lesson 107- Freedom From and Freedom To

In my last two programs, I have been trying to begin my analysis of the third or Mental Level of evolution and each time I find that I have to spend more time in laying the groundwork for it. The reason is that evolution can be described as a process that is moving from the non-conscious to the conscious; from the potential to the actual; from the accidental to the rational; from the simple to the complex; from “other control” or slavery to “self control” or freedom; or from a destructive relationship to a productive relationship. Each one of these requires a fuller explanation and that is why, each time I get ready to discuss the Mental Level, I find myself instead discussing one of these trends of which the Mental Level is the culmination. Once again, I find myself needing to further explain a theme that I began in my last program.


In my last program, I ended by talking about the movement throughout history of the human race from a destructive relationship, based on law, punishment, and compulsion, to a productive relationship, based on freedom and love. In other words, a movement from a relationship based on the Old Testament to one based on the New Testament. In fact, if this were not necessary there would have been no need for a New Testament. In John I, where he speaks of Jesus as the Word or Logos that the Father used to create the universe, he ends by saying, “the law came through Moses but grace and truth came though Jesus Christ.”

It seems that it was always part of God’s plan that one day we would find our way back to Him once we acquired the Knowledge of Good and Evil through our own knowledge, free will and choice. In earlier programs, I quoted St. Thomas Aquinas’ observations on this issue when he wrote:

“The road that stretches before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs. Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness: sure for all our blindness, secure for all our helplessness, strong for all our weakness, gaily in love for all the pressures on our heart. (In other words, we are to live by a faith that a loving God created the universe and wants to share all of its secrets with us.)

In the Darkness (of ignorance, doubt, and uncertainty) beyond the world, we can begin to know the world and ourselves, though we see through the eyes of Another, (who is God). We begin to understand that Man was not made to pace out his life behind the prison walls of nature but to walk in the arms of God on a road that nature could never build.

Life must be lived, even by those who cannot find the courage to face it. In the living of it, every mind must meet the problem of mystery, (which is our inability to know completely). To some men, this will be a joyous challenge, that so much can be known and truth not be exhausted; that so much is still to be known; that Truth is an ocean not to be contained in the pool of a human mind. To others, this is a humiliation hard to accept, for it shows the limits of our proud minds. In the living of life, every mind must face the unyielding rock of reality; of a Truth that does not bend to our whims or fancy; of the rule that measure the life and mind of Man.                

In the living of life, every human heart must face the day to day decisions, or rather moment to moment choices of heaven or hell. Before every human heart that has ever beat out its life, the dare of goals as high as God Himself was tossed down to be accepted or to be fled from in terror.       

God has said so little (through Scripture and Revelation) and yet what He has said has so much meaning for our living. To have said more would mean less of reverence by God for the splendor of His image in us.

Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards (or dangers) of the nobility of Man.”


What this suggests is that the sin of Adam and Eve eventually had to take place because a free will isn’t free until it exercises itself by saying “No!” Parents experience this during the “terrible two’s” when the child show the first signs of becoming a separate individual by exerting its will in opposition to that of its parents. It’s the first sign of their growing sense of independence and the need to have an individual identity. I suspect that it repeats itself when we reach the teenage years when parents once again have to face rebellious children who, chaffing under the restriction of their parent’s authority, begin to test all the boundaries. In fact, according to many psychologists, the act of negation is necessary for us to develop a sense of ourselves. For example, if every time I got up the chair that I was sitting on got up with me and continued to be attached to my body, I would have no way of knowing that I and the chair were separate entities. The same is true in our dealing with others. If every body thought, said, and did everything the same, we would have no way of separating our own identity from those of others. In fact, Hegel said that nothing could be known except in contrast and comparison to something else. Thus, identity formation requires a “clash of different wills.” But without this separation from others, we would never be in a position to make a “free will” connection with them at some later time. And that is the secret to love: a connection between two beings who, recognizing their separate identity, yet choose to unite.

In fact this is a major difference between Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, who reject the objective world and individual identity and Western religions like Judaism and Christianity who emphasize the objective world and individual identity. It may also be a major difference between the right hemisphere and left hemispheres of our brains. The right hemisphere, lacking language, is unable to designate an individual identity to things by naming them. Thus reality is perceived as a united whole of One or a world in which “no thing” exists. For example, if we were animals, lacking language, we would be unable to mentally separate a chair from a floor, or wall, or TV, because the only way we can become consciously aware of them as separate entities is to be able to name them.


Hindus, who reject the logical, verbal, objective conscious mind, believe everything is one, and that individual existence is an illusion. They say that the only thing that is real is God and everything else is just an expression of Him. Their symbol for reality is a non-progressive circle and any attempt to change the outer world is impossible. Thus, the idea of free will or forming a relationship with God would be nonsensical because you are Him. Thus, the goal of Eastern meditation is to reject the exterior world and to get beyond the layers of illusionary reality until one reaches Nirvana, a state of nothingness or nonexistence. At this point, like a cup of water that is pour into a soup, representing God, one’s individual identity, which was an illusion anyway, disappears.

On the other hand, Judaism and Christianity emphasize the logical, verbal, objective, conscious mind. For example, in the Old Testament God begins the creation when he speaks; Jesus, His Word or Logos is the Creator’s craftsmen; the creation, like the left brain, is linear, developing or evolving from an Alpha to an Omega, from the Kingdom of Mental Darkness to the Kingdom of Mental Light. Instead of trying to reach Nirvana, a “state of nothingness” or nonexistence, through the rejection of the objective world, the goal is to get out of Gehenna, the hell of nothingness or “empty thought” and to reach the “fullness of life” and existence by seeking and following objective truth through the exercise of our logical left lobe. Like Hindus, Jews and Christians seek union with God but without losing one’s identity. Instead of being a cup of water poured into a pot of soup, our union with God is more like the vegetables in the soup which, although they are part of the soup, they still maintained their own individual identity.

Thus, the Eastern religions emphasize the characteristics of the right hemisphere of the brain and the Western religions emphasize the characteristics of the left hemisphere and the globe, when looked at from our perspective, looks like a human brain with Israel, the midpoint between the East and West, positioned where the corpus collosum is located.

The point of all this is that only in the West could St. Thomas’ statement, “Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it.”  makes any sense.

Where Hinduism rejects free will and individual identity, Judaism and Christianity accepts them. Where Hinduism seeks the “destruction of life and consciousness”, Judaism and Christianity seek the “fullness of life and consciousness.” Where Hinduism seeks “nothingness”, Judaism and Christianity seek “somethingness.” Where Hinduism symbolizes reality as a “revolving circle of existence”, Judaism and Christianity symbolize it as an “evolving line of development”. Where Hinduism sees our relationship with God as what Eric Fromm would call a destructive relationship in which through Karma or Fate He controls our lives, Judaism and Christianity sees our relationship with Him as moving from a destructive relationship, based on power and control, to a productive one based on freedom and love. And that is what the third or Mental Level of evolution is about. It’s about how the whole history of Mankind is the story of our movement from the Kingdom of Mental Darkness to the Kingdom of Mental Life and from our destructive relationship with our Creator to a productive one. In essence, it is a story of the growth of individual freedom and it appears that our Creator believes in the old adage, “If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t return, it never was a loving relationship. If it does, then it is true love.”  But how does this happen?

According to Eric Fromm in order to understand how one develops from a destructive, unfree relationship to a productive free one, one must understand the two types of freedom, “freedom from” and “freedom to”, that he describes in his book,  “Escape From Freedom.” He originally wrote the book as a classified report during World War II at the request of the State Department that wanted to understand why the intelligent German people were willing to blindly follow a madman like Adolph Hitler. Since Fromm, a psychologist, was a German Jew who had fled Germany to escape the Holocaust, he was eminently qualified to comment on the psychological causes behind the rise of Hitler. After the war, his report was declassified and published as “Escape From Freedom.” The title is very provocative because the common perception is that one “escapes from slavery to freedom” not “from freedom to slavery.” Yet, that is exactly what Fromm is saying. Under the right, or wrong conditions, people will surrender their freedom for security and that is exactly what happened in Germany during the rise of Hitler.

Freedom, it appears, is not the sacred and ultimate desire of the human race that modern gurus suggest. Rather history and reality show that “order” is the foundational principle and without it, “freedom” is an expendable trinket. Will Durant, a famous historian, after a lifetime of studying history, expressed the same idea when he summed up what history had taught him by saying, “When freedom destroys order, the need for order will destroy freedom.” Thus, revolutions that begin with a call for freedom, often are followed by a dictatorial system when they become too chaotic. Witness, for example, the French Revolution that began with the motto, “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality” and ended in a “Reign of Terror.” It took a dictator like Napoleon to restore order.


Our basic need is to belong to some type of order because only order provides the necessary predictability that gives us the security to risk freedom. We might say that “we need order to survive” and “freedom to develop” and survival always takes precedence over development. In fact, it is the foundational principle that freedom requires to exist. So how does one become free?


Fromm says that we must go to the child in the womb to learn the secret of development because it is totally guided by the natural laws that govern reality and the universe. In the womb, the child begins almost totally united and dependent on its mother for survival. However, this is only a temporary state because almost immediately it starts to prepare itself to take over the functions necessary for its survival. In other words, it begins a process of moving from dependency to independency. This process, according to Fromm, is the method through which we become free. However, it must follow the proper order or else it will “backfire.” Thus freedom must be looked at from two different perspectives: “freedom from” and “freedom to.” “Freedom from” refers to the “permission to be free”, while “freedom to” refers to the “ability to be free.” This is what the nuns in elementary school were trying to teach us when they made us distinguish between “may” and “can.” I can still hear Sister Sophia response to my question, “Sister, can I go to the bathroom?” To which she responded, “Mr. Reilly, if you have two legs you can go to the bathroom. Now would you like to ask me for permission to leave?”

In proper human development “freedom to”, the ability to be free, must always precede or come before “freedom from”, the permission to be free. Thus, the child in the womb is constantly developing the skills and functions that he will need in order to become “free from” his mother’s body. In the womb, nutrition and oxygen are delivered through the umbilical chord that connects him to his mother. However, during his nine months stay in his own personal “Garden of Eden”, he is developing the “ability” to become “free from” his dependency on her. Equipment like a mouth, eyes, arms, legs, lungs etc…, which have no functional purpose is the womb, are developing in anticipation of the moment when he will be set “free from” his protective environment. In fact, we now have pictures of the child in the womb sucking his thumb and we also know that he is practicing breathing by “taking in” and expelling water from his lungs. In other words, these systems must be operative and perfected before he is born or else he will not be prepared for the next step towards his independence and freedom. Thus, says Fromm, “freedom to”, the ability to be free, must always precede “freedom from”, the permission to be free, or else psychologically we will want to “escape from freedom.”

Thus, in proper development the order is “freedom to - freedom from”, “freedom to - freedom from”, “freedom to” – “freedom from”, or “ability - permission”, “ability – permission”, “ability – permission.” So long as the process continues to follow this order, our development from dependency to independency or from “other control” to “self control” will be orderly and life enhancing. However, if, instead, the order is “freedom to - freedom from”, “freedom to - freedom from”, and then “freedom from” – “freedom to”, at that point, when we have the “permission to be free” while lacking the “ability to be free”, our freedom will create in us fear, uncertainty, and anxiety and we will seek to “escape from our freedom” by regressing to a previous secure state. In other words, we will stop our advancement towards a productive relationship and move back towards a destructive one either by trying to impose our will on others or by turning control of our lives over to someone who promises us security.

In other words, “When freedom destroys order, the need for order will destroy freedom.” This should be a warning to those who deify freedom by treating it as an “end in itself”. Phrases like “let it all hang out”,  “ Do your own thing!” and “If it feels good, do it!” carry the seeds of their own destruction.  Hegel once said that any good idea taken too far ultimately becomes a bad idea. Freedom taken too far becomes chaos; order taken too far becomes a dictatorship. The truth, as always, because it is a “union of opposites”, is the midpoint between the two. 

This, according to Fromm was the reason why the German people willingly turned control of the state over to Adolph Hitler. Germany was in political and economic chaos following its defeat in World War I and the punitive measures of the Versailles Treaty made it even worse. At the same time, Germany entered a period of moral decadence that caused many people to feel as though the county was falling apart.  Thus, according to Fromm, the German people were psychologically prepared to accept any strong person who promised to restore order.

However, if the march towards freedom follows the proper order of “freedom to” and “freedom from”, or first “ability” and then “permission”, then the balance between order and freedom is maintained. Our Founding Fathers realized this and warned us that it would be impossible to create a free society unless people realized that only responsible people are capable of being free. “Irresponsible freedom” will always destroy itself.

Yet, there is even a hidden danger when the proper order is followed because, as ability grows so does pride and self-assurance. The risk and danger is that whenever any destructive relationship evolves to the point where the dependent member no longer feels that he needs to be controlled by the dominant member, it could spell the end of the relationship. Thus, parents have the unenviable job of preparing their children to leave them by teaching them to take care of themselves. The risk is that once the destructive phase of the relationship is ended, it might spell the end of the relationship in any meaningful sense. Having set their children free, they may never return except at those times when tradition and obligation require them. The upside of this is that there is also the possibility that the parents and children might reconnect as adults and form a productive relationship based on freedom and love. In which case, they come together freely and frequently because they share common interests, values, and goals.

Of course, there are insecure parents whose own inner emptiness causes them to either consciously or unconsciously hinder the development of their child in order to keep him or her dependent or obligated. The easiest way to accomplish this is to prevent the child from developing “freedom to” or ability so that the child is unable to become “free from” dependency on the parent.

What makes this so insidious is that it looks like love and kindness because the parent is constantly taking responsibility for things for which the child should take responsibility. The parent may truly believe that this is an indication of his or her concern for the child but in reality it the surest way of debilitating it. And without a growing sense of ability, it will never be able to move beyond a destructive relationship with the parents.

Of course, the parents could do this with the best of intention. However, it can also be done with the worst of intentions. Take, for example, the case of slavery in the United States. How do you keep three million people in slavery without building high fences that they can’t climb or fettered legs that prevent them from running. The answer is to keep them dependent children who are unable or unprepared to take care of themselves. That is why the slave system in the United States tried its best to destroy the family and to prevent any slave from learning to read or write. The slave owners intuitively sensed that without an intact family, the child is rootless and will fail to develop the confidence and self-assurance that is necessary for proper development. And if this should fail to do the job, denying him the ability of reading and writing or access to an education, guaranteed that he would remain a dependent child for the rest of his life. The end result was “Uncle Tom” a child-like clown whose docility assured his owner that there was no threat that he might run away. On the other hand, there were slaves like Fredrick Douglas, who managed to learn to read and write and became exactly what the slave owners feared most, an “educated slave” who wanted to take control of his own life. If “Uncle Tom” didn’t need walls or chains to keep him enslaved, there were no walls high enough or chains strong enough to keep slaves like Fredrick Douglas on the plantation, and, at the first opportunity, he ran away and eventually became a leader of the Abolitionist Movement that led the fight for the elimination of slavery. Later, it was Douglas who said, “Without struggle there is no progress” thereby indicating what Hegel had demonstrated in his dialectic. The laws of growth and development are based on struggle and whoever fails to face the struggles and challenges that life presents, will fail to become “all that he can be.” It’s just as Jesus said, “If you want life, and you want it fully, pick up your Cross and follow Me.”

The lesson that slavery teaches us is that a person who lacks “freedom to” or the ability to be free will never seek “freedom from”, the permission to be free. On the other hand, any person who develops “freedom to” of the ability will demand “freedom from” whether it is granted or not. 

The relationship and difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to” was illustrated by the lives of two great Black leaders following the end of slavery: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery and was nine-years-old when he and the other slaves on the plantation were set free. In his book, “Up From Slavery”, he tells how they cheered, jumped, and dance when the Emancipation Proclamation was read to them by a Union officer. However, after the celebration, they started back towards their cabins to gather their belongings, and the older members went back and asked if they could stay on the plantation and continue to do the only thing that they knew how to do. On the other hand, the younger members, full with the sense of being free, ran down the road enjoying the removal of the boundaries that had contained them. However, after this brief display of unfettered freedom, many of them became drifters moving from one mining camp to another and eventually they returned to the South and became share-croppers sometimes on the same plantation where they had been enslaved. Eventually, they ended up again in slavery as the white owners manipulated the system so that they were eternally in debt to him and couldn’t leave the plantation.

W.E.B. DuBois, on the other hand, was raised as a free person in the Northeast and attended the best schools. He eventually became the foremost critic of Booker T. Washington because of Washington acceptance of the “separate but equal” doctrine behind the Jim Crow Laws of the South. He considered Washington to be a traitor to the Black cause because instead of opposing the laws requiring separate schools, water fountains, and rest rooms, Washington was more concerned with creating Tuskeegee Institute for the purpose of training emancipated slaves the skills they needed to take advantage of their freedom.

DuBois eventually became a founding member of what later became the NAACP.

The conflict between these two great Black leaders illustrates what Fromm meant by “freedom to” versus “freedom from.” Although DuBois is often portrayed as a “freedom fighter” and Washington as an “Uncle Tom”, the truth is that both were fighting for the freedom that they needed. DuBois was a talented, educated man who already had more “freedom to” or ability than the society would grant him the permission to use. Washington, on the other hand, had more “freedom from” or permission than he, and other ex-slaves like him, had to ability to take advantage of. Thus, where DuBois was demanding that society should get out of his way and allow him to exercise the talents that he already possessed, Washington was trying to catch up with the skills that he needed for the freedom he already had.


The thing that we have to keep in mind is that all of these principles and laws, to the extent that they are true, are a reflection of the mind of God. Thus, we should logically assume that whatever is true about the growth and development in each individual life on the micro level, is also true about the growth and development of the universe and life itself on the macro level. Thus, to return to my original observation, our relationship with God in the Old Testament was a destructive one based on law, punishment, and compulsion while our relationship with him in the New Testament calls for a productive one based on freedom and love. Like a good parent, God has been preparing us to leave Him by encouraging us to learn to think and act for ourselves. Like all parents, He runs the risk that once we grow in ability and self confidence we might decide, as the Secular Humanist have, “There is no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself.” In other words, having broken the destructive relationship, Mankind is refusing to reconnect on the productive level.

We can see this happening in the Church where for generations Catholic attended Mass every Sunday under pain of mortal sin. Then, when in recent times, some theologians began to say that it wasn’t a mortal sin to miss Mass, attendance dropped off drastically, especially among the young. In other words, if there is no punishment and I don’t have to, I won’t. Which raises the question, how many of us would have any relationship with God, if He removed the promise of heaven or the threat of hell? The answer is, “only those who, understanding that He is Love and Wisdom personified, freely choose to form a productive relationship with Him. It was what He wanted all along. As St. Thomas said, “

Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image in the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards (or dangers) of the nobility of Man.”

The Church has always recognized these two types of relationships and, while seeing the necessity for a destructive one in our formative years, still hoped that it would turn into a productive one as we matured. Take, for example, the Act of Contrition that we were taught as children to recite after confession.

“Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. And I detest all my sins because I dread the lost of heaven and the pains of hell. (that’s a destructive relationship)  But most of all because they offend Thee my God who art all Good and deserving of all my love.” (and that’s a productive relationship). I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life… Amen

                   God, it seems,  is growing impatient with those who relate to Him only on the destructive level and I suspect that at this moment He is shifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat and only those that truly love Him for Himself will be found worthy for the Kingdom of God.


Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!