The Concept of Freedom

Artist’s Conception of Eve making a critical life choice

The two dominant political parties in the United States of America, the Republican and Democratic parties, keep pushing reproductive rights in front of the public eye. It is the lever and the fulcrum that keeps the nation pried into two miserable, dysfunctional halves, an “either/or”1Kierkegaard, Søren, Howard V. Hong, Edna H. Hong, and Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or. Kierkegaard’s Writings 3–4. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1987. that we seemingly cannot go beyond. It is the lever and the fulcrum that keeps money pouring into re-election campaign coffers.

At some point somebody, for some reason2Wallenbrock, Emma. “Inside the Handbook on Abortion.” Slate, June 8, 2022. framed an idea of reproductive rights as the seemingly mutually exclusive either/or pair of pro-life / pro-choice. It is a false dichotomy as is evidenced by a parable from the book of Genesis, the so-called the “fall of man”. (A scribe could have dubbed it—perhaps more accurately—the “rise of man”.)

The story of Eve’s fateful first bite of the apple is the locus classicus in Scripture—given to us as in concrete poetic imagery—of the concept of free-will. It’s a dubious incident of free choice at best. How is it not a set-up if the Supreme being furnishes the first couple’s new apartment with a tree and not just any old tree, but the “Tree of Knowledge”? Inevitably the garden of Eden became—as any Penthouse suite, cruel for its lack of imperfections, would eventually become—incredibly boring. It got to a point where Eve had played all the Mahjong she was ever going to play. She had garden fever. Nagged by the threat of hanging out confined for all time with a sulky Adam, what could she do? What was left for her but to bite into that apple and feel life rupture in the crunch of the apple as the juices flowed down her gullet and over her lips. Despite all of the siren-song inevitableness of it, Scripture makes it clear: it was Eve’s choice.

So, we have to get this right. Scripture is pro-choice.

But in so choosing, Eve chose to be a mother; ergo, she chose life. So, Scripture is pro-life. Scripture presents this—as Kierkegaard would delight in—as a paradox, an either/or to which there is no way past.

For that matter, did Abraham really have a choice either? The voice of God spoke to him in private, not before an audience. Abraham did not share his confrontation with God in a stump speech on a campaign trail. It was an intimate conversation, pillow talk, the kind you don’t blab about. And it was about sacrifice. As Eve sacrificed the Garden of Eden, a perfect home ready to grace the cover of any edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine, Abraham was prepared to make literally the Supreme sacrifice, his patronage, his legacy, his son, the course of history.

Under those conditions it doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a choice. But Scripture makes it clear: it was Abraham’s choice.

Eve disobeyed the Lord. John Milton called it the “first disobedience.” Abraham obeyed His Master. In the strict chronology of Genesis, Eve’s indiscretion led to Abraham’s ability to obey (not to mention his conception). Both were driven by inscrutable impulses not readily subject to analysis or critique, not subject to judgement, both with unimaginable verve and daring.

God wants to receive our love. Yet He/She cannot mandate it. We have to love God of our own free will. We have to have the latitude to sin, to screw-up, recover our senses and come to Him/Her of our own accord, in our own time, purely as an act of desire and will. Otherwise, it is phony and fake religion.

The phony dichotomy of pro-choice / pro-life creates an unholy amount of suffering, political skullduggery, and crocodile tears. It is a perpetual source of government inaction when palpable lives, of persons subject to the U.S. census, are compromised by uneven distributions of food and healthcare. It is at the center of a frightening lack of compassion for real lives (e.g., women, people of color, Samaritans, prisoners, housekeepers, bootblacks) for theoretical lives (e.g., unborn children).

Religion is an inward thing, I’m quite sure. Faith is a nocturnal creature that shrinks from the braying light. Maybe a better question to ask our political candidates before we go to the polling station is “Where is their sacrifice?” But an even better question is to ask ourselves in an out-of-the-way place, a quiet corner, far from the madding crowd3John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961, “Where is my sacrifice?”.