Simone de Beauvoire, the famous French existentialist, described a series of human reactions to “the anguish of freedom”. What she means is that when faced by a panorama of choice, overwhelming option, humans have a tendency towards certain actions, because this is a very confusing place to be. Without getting into detail she isolates five reactive categories:
1). The Sub-Human–imagine a guy who pokes his head out the door one morning, sees his car, the bus driving down the road, a sidewalk for walking, and a bicycle laying in the grass. This creates a set of options for transport. But what’s he do? He is so confused as to the correct or best decision that he closes the door and goes and lays on the couch, cracks open a cold one and turns on the TV. He avoids choice. The reason why she called this person “a little less than human” is because they are denying the most basic of human activities…choosing…the will to power. By denying this trait and living in fear, they are escaping freedom and living in slavery.
2). The True believer (my wording)–Faced with the paradox of decision and plethora of realities, this person throws away their freedom by essentially asking someone else (someone in authority usually) to make the decision for them. This person asks God or political leaders or religious guru’s to choose. “Tell me what to believe” they scream. Rather than question through the endless minutia of this or that, they bypass it all and have another dictate. Often, she suggests, the true believer is benign, but at worst becomes a fanatic or a fundamentalist…think The Inquisition or Nazi Germany.
3). The Niehlist–The end road of a true believer can often lead to dissapointment. The authority let them down. The politician didn’t keep their promise. The preacher was unfaithful. And so anger, frustration, and crushing sadness results. Where do they end up? Back on the couch channel surfing. But not out of apathy…rather, out of dissapointment. They have ceased to believe because they believed so strongly. You can always tell a Niehlist because they are in constant deconstruction. They are the perpetual cynic, always critisizing everything but never spelling out an alternative. Sadly, this stage forgets that reality is defined not by negative reaction but by positive momentum. In other words…it’s easy to be against something…difficult to be truly for something. Enter…
4). The adventurer–Realizing that all is meaningless, they grow tired of staying at home on a Friday night and instead invest themselves in (knowingly) meaningless activities or actions that feel good. Their own personal pleasure or good will is of maximum importance. The downfall of this stage is that this person ultimately becomes a slave to their own positive experience and they enslave others to accomplish their wishes. (Pizarro and his conquest/massacre of South American’s etc…)
5). Finally…The Passionate person–for me, I mesh this with Kierkegaard’s own belief in passion and the leap of faith. It is the final stage of maturation in relating to the anguish of freedom. This is a person who has wrestled with the complexity of the world. They have understood rightly that there are NO inherent values around them…that nothing comes as prepacked answers. They know, through hard fought experience, that all things are in many ways different but equal. However…however…they choose a course. They choose a path. They invest themselves, head first into one of the channels or opportunities in front of them, saying “I may be wrong…I might have this all amuddle…but THIS I believe with my life! I will live into this reality!” She says, in a beautiful turn of the pen, “at this final place of true freedom we arrive, where I concern others and I have concern for them as well”. In other words this place of complete clear headedness committed to also assisting others to live in a clear headed way as well, no longer enslaved to the anguish of freedom.
For me, that final stage is the life of faith in our post modern culture. As I look at the world today, and have been for the last 6 months, things have become incredibly grey. I have passed through each of the middle three points of progress. From True believer, asking another man or set of men to dictate belief, to Niehlist, dissapointed in the institutions I had created and I had been given, to Adventurer caught in a reckless pursuit of my own priviledge. And now, I stand on the edge of a great precipace. Behind, the shadow lands of muddled thought and minimal action. Ahead, the kingdom, God’s good dream rolling from the mountain tops that surround our valleys and even now which is beginning to encompass our cities, towns, neighborhoods, and families.
Knowing, that we are easily as wrong as we may be right…not having to convince another person in the known universe…but finally at ease with the relationship I’ve been brought into. A Way of Peace and of Community and of Justice and of Compassion. Life pursuing radical discipleship in the way of Jesus in submission to His words and actions, the best articulation of humanities collective and enduring theme: Divine Spirit inhabiting Human form. This is hardly about a new narrative of beliefs, but actually a way of living an integrated spirituality. Spirit as my relationship with everything around me.
The Spirit is moving…she is stirring…and we feel this in our lives, we KNOW that something (and maybe EVERYTHING) must change. Nothing can remain the same…and yet I alone am different, and I’m alright with that.
I’m taking the leap…I’m living into the Light I see.
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