Freedom from nature

Your goal in life is to be free.

Free from nature.

You were born with a particular body, into a particular family, into a particular geographical, social and cultural context, and you were brought up in a particular way.

Your goal in life is to escape from that, and to discover your true self, independent of the constraints of nature.

It's striking how many aspects of our culture can be construed as attempts to do just that.

  • We assert our freedom from nature by moving away from our town (or country) of birth, and by following a career path different from that of our parents.
  • We value technology because it allows us to escape from our own "natural" existence, to forge our own identity, to be whoever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want, whenever we want.
  • Money sets us free, because with enough money we can escape from where we live and be anywhere on the planet within a few hours.
  • Money sets us free, because we can change our bodies so they reflect our true identity. We can even change our biological gender.
  • We perceive our true identity as having absolutely nothing to do with nature (particularly our biological gender), and it is discriminatory to suggest otherwise.
  • We assert our freedom to control our bodies, even to the extent that anything that might depend on our bodies for its survival must, by definition, not be another human being.

This kind of attitude finds its way into the church too. Most obviously, in the liberal segments of the church, attempts are made to re-interpret the faith as if our identity as human beings is essentially genderless. But this attitude also finds its way into the more conservative evangelical segments of the church. To pick three bees from under my bonnet:

  • We tell the gospel as the good news that we will one day escape from nature entirely, to live in an ethereal, heavenly paradise.
  • We find is easy to reconcile the evolutionary narrative with the biblical narrative, because it doesn't matter to us whether agony and death are hard-wired into the present created order: after all, nature is inherently evil, and we are looking forward to escaping from it when this created order is discarded in favour of something completely different.
  • We see environmental concern as a distraction from the work of the Kingdom, because this present created order is of no enduring value, and because our goal in life is to escape from it.

There are philosophical underpinnings for this battle between nature and freedom. I need to delve deeper into them, but for a starting point, read about the Nature-Freedom Ground Motive, as described by Andrew Basden, based on the writings of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.

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