Competing Concepts of Freedom

A lecture presented on the Acton Institute Conference

Reclaiming the West: Liberty in Equality or Constraint,”

November 29, 2018, Munich, Germany

Mateusz Wichary

Freedom is a powerful concept. It touches hearts, ignites emotions, raises hopes, destroys and builds societes, evokes love and hatred. It is a concept that connects the individual to the state. Also, man with God and God with the nation. People fought for freedom throughout their entire history. At the same time, people experience lack of freedom regardless of the political situation. Freedom relates to heart first.

The title of the symposium Reclaiming the West: Liberty in Equality or Constraint: indicates the tension we experience in Europe. The quote of Alexis de Toqueville about democracy indicates the importance of definisions of concepts we use. Guided by those two blueprints, in my presentation I would like to focus on the concept of freedom and two of its contemporary usages. As I will argue, one of them is closely related to equality and individuality; second to conscience and resposiblity.The first one is offered by contemporary Western European culture. Second by historical Christianity. These are two different answers and, in essence, exclusive. I am convinced that those competing concepts of freedom will built Europe in a very different way. If we are to „reclaim the West” we need a reflection in this field. I will also argue, that the 2nd definition of freedom – a Christian one – must be recovered.


I will start with a vision of freedom that is shared and promoted mostly by the Western cultural mainstream and EU political elite. Its sources can be indicated in many places. It is both Christianity, with its emphasis on individual dignity, and French Revolution, with its emphasis on equality. Later, it is communism and marxism with its revolutionary zeal to free the oppresed and fight against the system. Of course, today the challenge of The Internationale: „There are no supreme saviours, Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune” refers not to the class struggle, but rather to struggle betweens sexes or ANY social structures that try to define the boundaries for the individual. However, the refusal to recognize any moral superior authority remained.

So, the mood still is very similar. Let us listen to the chorus of The Internationale:

„This is the final struggle
Let us group together,

and tomorrow The Internationale
Will be the human race.”

Today’s attempts of this struggle are still accompanied by the eschatological zeal borrowed from the Bible. Chosen opressed nation is to beat Egypt and the historical necessity is on their side. The chorus’ mood of The Internationale can be still heard in the belief of the urgency of the cause and a revolutionary conviction that the end justifies the means.

The contemporary version of The International Polish researcher Agnieszka Kołakowska sees in the hit Imagine of John Lennon:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

There is no time to do the proper exegesis of this powerful text. Let me just quote her conclusion: „This is a vision of the final victory of the guards of political correctness: the victory of ideology over common sense and reason, over language and history, over science and facts – over man and freedom. In other words, the victories of totalitarianism on a global scale.”1

This is done in the name of two basic ideas: equality and individualism. Let’s look at them for a moment.

Equality assumes that essential (ontological) diversity is bad. Equality implies essential unity. This means that all diversity must be equally valid and allowed, that is, all boundaries and distinctions should be treated as merely relative and only functional. Also, as much as possible, vauge, indeterminate, doubtful and temporary. It also means that any belief in the actual existence and usefulness of boundaries and differences is a heresy.

This principle was uptly traced already in 1869 AD by Abraham Kuyper. Describing the French Revolution as „the striving for imperial unity” but with one difference from the past: „Whereas in the past that unity would be imposed upon the life of nations externally – by the sword – today it would be insinuated into the very heart of the peoples by its own fermentation. The bare political unity of the past was methamorphosed by the catastrophe of 1789 into a social unity.”2 Such unity, he says, is false unity: it means „eliminating diversity” through „uniformity to unification” what robbs people „from their characteristic genious.”3

Such equality compels the differences to be irrelevant if not unreal. It also means a dogmatic rejection of other views. The revolution does not allow for a fair exchange of views with the supporters of exploitation and oppression. It also postulates as an act of faith acceptance (misleadingly called tolerance) for all possible varieties of diversity. Any other attitude contradicts equality. It also means reluctance, if not rejection, of thinking in terms of good and evil, truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness, precious and wicked. These all concepts are means to control and opress. Values, theorems, beliefs – all are to be relative and liquid. They should not be sharp and precise, because the assignment of such meaning to anything immediately puts at risk equality of other aspects of the world. The only unwavering conviction is the essential unity of everything.

It also sets the directions of scietific reflection and mission of both philosophy, art and culture. It concists in incessant and constant promotion of equality, and therefore convincing about dellusion or relativity of differences. Everything must be seen and proven to be the same: sexes, races, cultures, nations, traditions, religions, convictions, values. This belief in my opinion – apart from the sense of guilt of Western societies due to colonial history4 – causes unshakable (so far), and often against experience, support of multi-kulti vision of Europe, with the migration experiment as its main project. It also promotes politically correct vision of Muslims as essentaily the same as european westeners. The only thing that scares the civilized one and is unacceptable is the reality of differences, the precision of distinctions,5 and setting the borders.

What also is not acceptable is any scientific research that proves that not all styles of life, including homosexuality, are in the same way cool and great, becouse some of them have the consequences that some other have not, or that there are important differences between sexes, or any other real differences.6 Unfortunately, scientific institutions willingly subdued themselves to this ideologization, which is a cause of infamous testimonies of ostracism and severe repressions against scientists, who have reached a politically incorrect conclusion even in a rigorously scientific researches.7

In this context, it is also worth asking a question about ecumenism. Unfortunately, many ecumenical initiatives are based on a priori tacit assumption that there are no important doctrinal or ecclesial differences; that there is essential unity – in Christianity or even all religions. And both developement of charismatic movement, which transcends all traditional boundaries of Christendom and some reflection of Vaticanuum Secundum, consciously or unconsciously, support such trends.8

It is also worth paying attention to the development of gender ideology. From a reasonable conclusion that biological reality is closely connected with culture, which interprets and gives meaning to given biological facts, sometimes in a very useful way, but nevertheless not always happily and reaching those same conclusions everywhere, the ideology is created in which the biological hardware of humanity disappears, and all we are left with becomes relativistic options, a software that is subdued to one’s right to choose. In words of Marguerite Peeters, „The gender word defines not some recognizable reality, but an intellectual creation that has no basis in reality – an abstraction.”9 This abstraction is very strongly embedded in but one conviction – the lack of established norms and the relativity of everything. It can be seen in the fluidity of LGBTQWERTY indentity or queer concept, which neglects any classifications of sexual behavior.10 It is also worth emphasizing that in the light of gender ideology, humanity must free itself from the Christian family model, which supports set sex-role models of but one father and one mother. In its perspective it is an institution denying equality and ultimately opressing an individual.

Here, let me go to individuality. Undoubtedly, individualism results from the discovery of the role of the individual in the Renaissance and Reformation. However, it is something else. Individualism is the belief that the overriding, if not the only, real value is the right of an individual to freely choose; the right of absolute self-determination, for which any limitation is an unbearable oppression. It is connected strongly with the concept of equality I just described. Lo, all are equal, becouse all are in the same way individuals. Here lays the equality. The only and absolute one.

In this perspective, the freedom of individual choice devoid of connections and dependencies is understood as the fulfillment and crowning of human being; his true redemption from oppression. The purer, more free from chains of religion, social pressure, tradition, or even sentiments and affections and other attachments his choice is, the better. In this vision to be truly a human being is to be completely free from any and all „sacred codes”11, which teach one how to act. Freedom is the neglect or destruction of all borders. The individual, not instructed in any way, guided solely by his unpredictible will, is the ideal of fulfillment and the same time peak of ultimate freedom, to which each one must necessarily aspire and which is to be secured by the government.

Is this convincing vision? Before I answer to it, in the Christian perspective, let me draw attention to one important fact, which emerges from this discussion, regardless of further investigations.

Freedom thus understood is, by definition, empty inside. The method is what bring the value; the essence is irrelevant. Nothing has the value in the whole of universe, but free choice of an individual, whatever he or she chooses.

Freedom is, therefore, unordered, unconditional, unspecified, unpredictable. Freedom is described only by negation and of no affirmation.

It seems to me here very proper to summ it up in the words of the Polish Orthodox theologian, rev. Henryk Paprocki. In his reflection over the violation of the First Commandement, he quotes Athanasius: „Polilatria is a godlessness, many principles are lack of any principle”; and he comments: „Faith in everything is unbelief. It’s chaos. Everything is a soap bubble, turning into a drop of dirty water.”12


Let’s move on to Christianity. Of course, it’s such a broad scratch of the perspective, that I inevitably risk being accused of being too vague. I will, however, take a chance, referring in my lecture to the doctrines and beliefs shared by all Christian traditions.

I will begin with the fact that human being, as male and female, was created in the image and likeness of the triune God (Gen 1:27). In God, „one and three is equally ultimate” (C. van Til). This means that human being created in its likeness to God is inevitably and invariably not only an individual, but also a community. It is no coincidence that „it is no good” for Adam in the perfect Garden to remain alone (Gen. 2:18). Even as he had fellowship with God and animals, he felt alone without fellowship with Eve. His nature demanded bonding.

This means that human being is unfunfilled, when he/she is lonely. We are created for the community, to belong with each other. Freedom from from dependence, from strong relationship, from the community is a curse, not a blessing. And community is not simply totality of individuals; its arithmetic sum. Community is a new quality and identity created in which one finds himself or herself in taking role in this corporate entity. „It is more blessed to give than to take” (Acts 20:35). Yes, it is, becouse giving yourself to others, becoming blessing for others is the most exact expression of our likeness to God. And it is a set rule. It is rooted in the fact of eternal relationships of three persons in unity of Godhead as well as human likness to this eternal fellowship.

This emphasis on community in itself speaks about the values important for freedom. It is listening, understanding, cooperation.

Secondly, man created by God in his image was created as a moral being, what means having a conscience. Again, inevitably and invariably. This is emphasized by the French thinker Chantal Delsol, indicating the difference between the Christian concept of the person and the contemporary concept of the individual.13 The idea of the person presupposes the existence of an individual conscience, or internal judge, who exercises moral judgment to the behaviors and attitudes with which the person meets. „Sacred codes” here are acceptable, since well being of conscience is the higher principle than freedom. Freedom refers to activity and choices done in accordance with conscience, not simply done in a way that is independent of anyone. Therefore Christian freedom is affirmative. I act freely, when I act in accordance with my conscience.

Therefore, also the Christian concept of personal freedom requires man to fight against natural inclinations: it is good and right to fight with what we judge as bad. Meanwhile, the individual is „reckless and childish, falls into the very center of the former institutional forms of despotism, contemporary totalitarianism and the omniscient state.” The individual is not responsible for himself. The only task of an individual is to make unhampered decisions and realize his/her freedom.

Freedom, therefore, in Christian terms, is inevitably combined with acting in harmony with conscience. A human being acting against his conscience is not free, but enslaved. Disregarding conscience, displacing its existence and stopping its voice is the humiliation of man, and not acting in his favor. It is not a release from evil, but a drive to evil. Freedom from conscience is the repression of the highest and most valuable source of our dignity and exaltation.

This statement indicates that there is no freedom without morality. Of course, it does not informs us, what kind of morality is right or true. But it shows that by giving up morality, we give up our humanity. Freedom alone is not enough. And speaking about biblical morality, it teaches many such values, like justice, honesty, respect and self denial. Christian freedom is filled with values, becouse it recognizes the importance of conscience.14

Thirdly, human being created by God in His image fell into sin and is responsible for it. Christian anthropology says that man can not help himself. I need God, I need my guilt to be removed and help to live according to my conscience, which I freely subdue to God’s revealed will. The redemption in Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit caused by him and the knowledge of God as the Father is God’s gracious response to this fallen condition.

This God’s action outside of us and for us (extra nos et pro nobis) is the only hope of man’s freedom. Man, with his freedom, is to be redeemed. Man is not able to answer the criticism of his own conscience. In order to become free of guilt and shame, he needs a relief that satisfies the conscience. It is a substitute sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his place. To become a man free from the destructive influence of sin on his life, he needs the power of the Holy Spirit and a new community in which he can live his life in a new way, in accordance with the will of God, that is, the Church.

Thus freedom of human being beyond the influence of God’s saving grace is exposed to the destructive influence of factors that inhibit its expressions. Christian spiritual masters speak here about one’s own sinful inclinations, but also surrending to the spirit of the world, or ordinary conformity to the will of others. Yes, this conformity can also occur toward the Church and Christian community. Yet, despite its mistakes and sins, the church can not resign from its culture-forming role, because it can not give up the community as such.

Freedom, therefore, does not exist except in God and His grace. Freedom is a gift. It is a special feature of a man who, when acting according to his/her own convictions, experiences his/her own strenght and fulfilment – or weakness and anxiety – depending on how the action is judged by his/her conscience. In both cases, freedom is a gift, because it is speaks about his/her dignity, his/her moral nature, which is not some sort of washed-out concept, but a fact of being created in God’s likeness, that prooves to be real in him/her through soul, always and everywhere. It is this freedom too, from which also arises human responsibility for his/her life – and responsibiluty eternal.

Freedom is also a task. A call to obey God; to discovery of calling; to perform activities for the benefit of the community, in self-giving way; to breake the power of sin and weakness. It is the quintessence of humanity, because it is in our freedom, that is voluntarily and willingly, that we are to find ourselves in relation to God. He planned it that way and this way it is pleases him, like in the case of His self-begotten, incarnate Son, who asking wheather „this cup should omit him” in His freedom added: „but let your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

Governments should make space for such freedom to every man. Lord Acton in his „History of Freedom” prooves, that freedom is a state that „guarantees everyone protection in doing what they consider their duty, from the pressures of power, majority, custom and opinion.”15 I am not able to unravel the question here about how the state should do it. Let me share, however, that in principle, history proves, that in most cases countries based upon Christian principles created such space extensively, though not absolutely, also for those who believe in a different way and non-believers, while modern European states exclude Christian expresions of such freedom. This is because Christianity respects the conscience not only of its own, but also of others. A necessary condition for authentic worship of God is acting in the freedom of conscience. By the modern Europeans described above, Christianity is being banned, as a powerful „sacred code”, that threads the freedom of individual and equality of all people.16

In conclusion, the Christian concept of freedom is rooted strongly in eternal nature of God. By doing this it confirms his dignity and the value of his/her decisions through his similarity to God and teaches him/her the meaning of conscience. It recognizes the personhood of every human being but also places man in the community. Christianity speaks about the reality of fall, sin and curse. It speaks also about redemption in Jesus Christ, which makes freedom being able to be restored from the influence of evil. It sees freedom as a gift of God and a constant task. The state and human authorities should provide sphere for such a life to every human being.


Are these two concepts of freedom compatible? What to do facing two such different positions?

Let me share with full awareness of my own limitations, few thoughts.

First, Christians should not have an affair with modernism. We already have our Beloved One and while we are still waiting for the wedding, flirting with others is a sin.

Secondly, we should name reality in a way that is consistent with our conscience. We should stick to biblical values, definitions and language. We should not pretend that it is different than it is. Freedom begins in semantics. It is impossible to express devotion and obedience to Christ in a politically correct language. Recently, I worked in the European Avangelical Alliance on our position on Homosexual Partnerships. My biggest concern was the courage and lack of timid attitude. Freedom starts with mind. Without free expression of thought it is impossible to support any position.

Thirdly, we should confront the alternative and expect conversions. True freedom is attractive. Christian freedom is dynamic blessing. Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel becouse he experienced its power unto salvation (Rom 1:18). If we do not experience it, let’s look around. Let’s borrow this fire from other places in our globe. Europe is not everything. Let’s look to Korea, China or Africa; India or Latin America. Christianity is winning. Kingdom is coming. Let us not let our own hopelessness win our hearts, because this is not its proper place!

Fourthly, we should influence our governments. The church unwisely withdrew from the public square. In a real way, the church itself is responsible for the current situation. It is said, that the world knows no vacuum. Therefore when we give up, someone will inevitably take our place. It is also worth noting that the situation is changing right now. States of Hungary and Poland perceive the church (churches) again as an important factor in social life. Sometimes to the surprise of churches.

In this year Poland, my country, although we have over 1,000 years of history, celebrates the 100th anniversary of independence. It was an opportunity for many events and meetings, among which I will first of all mention the 11th Congress of Gniezno on 21-23 September 2018. [The first Congress took place in the year 1000. The guest of the Polish ruler, and later the first Polish king Boleslaw Chrobry was the German Emperor Otto III. The occasion of the meeting was the pilgrimage of Emperor Otto III to the grave of Bishop Wojciech, a German missionary among pagan Prussians, but also the first martyr in the history of the Polish Church. Becouse of its unique tangle of Christian and socio-political issues since 1997 the Congresses have been renewed.]These are important international meetings of the highest political and church dignitaries, but also thinkers – in the ecumenical formula, thanks to which I was present on them twice, as a representative of my Church. This year the main theme was: „Europe of free people. Inspiring power of Christianity.” The Congress was opened by the President of Poland Andrzej Duda. In the Message, whose reading opened the celebrations, we read, among others: „Being free is to be for others”. Also: „It was Christianity that brought values that were not very present in public life before: forgiveness, mercy, self-giving. The world of the 21st century also urgently needs this inspiring power. „

Christianity and Europe have benefitially co-existed with each other for at least 1000 years. There is a possibility of reclaming the West – or at least East.

Fifthly, remember the consequences. „Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal 6:7). Let us not deceive ourselves. God will not allow to be mocked. We will sow what we reap. When salt lost its taste, it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Sixth, let us remember Christ’s promise: „I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). In words of Johannes Reimer, „The gates stand for the place where decisions in the city were made. It was the place where the local ecclesia met. Jesus promise is powerful: he builds a church, and hell will not rule in the gates of the city.”17 The zeal of our opponents is taken from the biblical heritage; why does church is not using it? It is never enough love and kindness in speaking the truth; but taken the zeal on the other side, I consider it equally necessary, if not more important, to see courage and decisivness also on Christian side. It is us who have hope, and not only eternal, but also temporal. Kingdom not only in heaven, but also on earth. Yes, there is no easy and simple solution. Christ carried his cross and we are to carry ours too. He denied himself and the Christian is also called to do the same. We should not expect any success short of following this example. But let us also remember, Christ has won and risen. We are the light of the world, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Kingdom of God is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it all leavened. Our hope is in God who became flesh and as He ascednded He has left His body here. As we look up to Him we have all reasons under heaven to be encouraged and zealous to perservere and move forward.


1A. Kołakowska, Wojny kultur i inne wojny, Warszawa 2015, p. 11. She also writes exstensively about the sources of this ideology, starting with Rousseau and Enlightement.

2J. Pratt ed., Abraham Kuyper. A Centennial reader, Carlisle 1998, p. 24.


4 Murray w: Strange Dearth of Europe.

5M.A. Peeters writes: „Dla nowej kultury nie ma znaczenia, że interpretacje zmieniają się, przekształcają, poszerzają, zanikają, przeczą sobie. Ważne jest prawo wyboru.” W: M.A. Peeters, Gender – światowa norma polityczna i kulturowa, Warszawa 2013, 41.

6 B. Wieczorek, Homoseksualizm. Przegląd światowych analiz i badań. Przyczyny, obawy, terapia, aspekty społeczne, Warszawa 2018.

7 More: see A. Wieczorek, op. cit., 542 ff.

8 it is a very broad subject. the best introduction here is P. Jenkins, Tne next Christendom. The coming of Global Christianity; K. Karski, Dążenia ekumeniczne we współczesnym świecie, Warszawa 1986.

9M.A. Peeters, op.cit., p. 41.

10 More: A. Wieczorek, op. cit., 730ff.

11I borrowed this concept from Timothy Keller – I have heard it on a lecture in Cracow, 31 October 2018.

12Credo. Symbol Wspólnej wiary, W. Paprocki, W. Hryniewicz, K. Karski, Warszawa 2009.

13 My notes from her lecture during XI Zjazd Gnieznienski, Gniezno, 2018.


15History of Freedom, Grand Rapids 1993, pp 23-25.

16Such cases are monitored eg. by Ordo Iuris Intitute. See .

17J. Reimer, Missio Politica. The Mission of Church and Politics, Carlisle 2017, pp. 48-49.


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