Freedom and Personal Responsibility

August 9, 2021

Relying on religion means relying on someone else's judgments about what is true, just, and moral. I was raised with this reliance, and I accepted the authority of sacred texts and relied on professional clergy as experts in spiritual matters. As I grew older and studied the scriptures I reached the conclusion that my acceptance and reliance had been misplaced, and I began to search for more reliable authorities. I examined a great number of claims by people who had discovered the true path to happiness, serenity, or justice. These approaches all required me to accept someone else's authority or guidance, and they usually required money at some point. Like a bee sipping nectar, I tried many sources, but nothing I sampled tasted of truth, and I had no hive to call home, so I learned to trust my own judgment.
Life does not stop and wait for us. We must keep up and handle everything that comes our way whether we are ready or not, whether we have found all the answers we seek or not. We live in societies and families and relationships, so we usually have help and support along the way. But some things we must deal with on our own. And although I voluntarily accepted many authorities over the years – in the military, in many communities, and within the family – I never again recognized any religious source as authoritative. I remained free to make my own choices. Fortunately, I live where I can exercise personal freedom as long as my choices do not interfere with another person's liberty. We hold certain truths to be self-evident, and liberty is among these.
Like so many things in life, however, freedom is not free. We must balance personal freedom with personal responsibility. We cannot legitimately have one without the other. Some time ago I read an article by a lady who decided to live without money and walk across the country on a spiritual journey. She shared her many discoveries, and the story was intended to be inspirational. But one thing kept nagging at me as she wrote of dumpster diving and living off the charity of others. Her freedom to go where her feet took her and to live without money required that others take responsibility for her needs. She worked in exchange for some things, but she mostly relied on handouts. In my opinion, her spiritual journey lacked the balance that might have allowed it to serve as an example for others to emulate, so I personally did not find her experience inspirational.
I have reached the conclusion that justice exists in the world because we make it exist. Truth is where we find it, and truth is always backed up by evidence or personal experience. And suffering exists everywhere, except in those places where we prevent it or alleviate it. We all need a purpose in life, and I believe we exist for a reason. But if we do not recognize the authority of others to tell us what our purpose might be, we must find or define our own purpose.
I cannot define for you your purpose in life. I believe you must find and fulfill your own purpose. I can only suggest that it would make the world a better place if you could help bring justice to a place where justice does not currently exist, and all of us can find fulfillment by alleviating suffering anywhere we find it. We are continuously changing the world by changing our small part of it. There are many places where justice did not exist, but now it does. And there is justice there now because people cared to make it happen. We have made enormous strides in alleviating suffering, but so much suffering still exists. Justice and suffering are our responsibility. As long as we believe it is some other being's responsibility to bring justice to the world or to reduce suffering, we are living on borrowed freedom.
And when the day comes that we, as a species, learn that we are responsible for our own salvation, we will have taken a revolutionary, and an evolutionary, step forward. And for those who believe there is a higher power, and if that power understands the concept of justice, that power will recognize that we have started to mature, and we have begun to fulfill our purpose in life.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

3 comments on “Freedom and Personal Responsibility”

  1. This sentence "We are continuously changing the world by changing our small part of it." stood out for me for two reasons. 1. If we do nothing (ie allow injustice in our small part of the world to go unchecked) we change the world just as much if we did something, and
    2) we don't need to feel that a small contribution is meaningless. For many reasons that may be all we can offer, but lots of small contributions add up (admittedly this is an extension of your ideas but hopefully one that is not totally out of whack).

  2. Great article! I love how Chuck mentions "so I learned to trust my own judgment" as that is how I feel. I also resonated with Chucks comment " I remained free to make my own choices" as this is just so vital for us to get our heads around!

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