Friday, April 13, 2018

Freedom as Embracing Suffering We Could Otherwise Easily Avoid

In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) noted that, from the earliest days of civilization in our fabled land of Olympia, we humans have always devoted ourselves to false gods. In ancient times, we worshiped what he calls the “parochial community” exemplified, in the 5th century BC, by Athens. Later, when even the best municipal states—like Athens—failed to deliver on their promises of enhancing life and preventing death, we humans switched our devotion to the “oecumenical” or imperial community. Rome remains our best ancient example of this. Eventually, even Rome proved to be unworthy of our adoration.

While agreeing with Toynbee that we humans have continuously worshiped false gods from ancient times through today, we differ in our identification of them. Rather than referring to states, whether municipal or imperial, as our gods like Toynbee does, we have identified the objects of our devotion as the six conventional yet false gods of Olympianity.

Historically, all municipal and imperial states, even such exemplars as Athens and Rome, end up demanding destruction and death to a far greater degree than providing creativity and life. Toynbee noted that, interestingly enough, this failure of states “opens the way for the rejection of the worship of human power in all its forms; and this disillusionment with discredited human idols opens the way, further, for a change of heart through a change of attitude towards Suffering” (78).

We have noted that there are two paths which we may take as individuals and communities. The path of the Olympian gods, by far the most popular path yesterday and today, is the path of power. The path of power is based on falsehood, expresses itself through indifference toward the suffering of others, and ends in death. While many find the pursuit of this path satisfying for a time, eventually the time comes when, as Michael Sheehy once put it (Is Ireland Dying?, 1968), “cultural decay progresses to the point as to shock even the complacent.”

When that time comes, says Toynbee, the “converted soul…adopts, instead, the opposite attitude of accepting suffering for oneself and trying to turn one’s own suffering to positive account by acting, at the cost of suffering, on one’s feelings of Pity and Love for one’s fellow-creatures” (78).

This brings us to the second of two paths: freedom. If the Olympian gods would bully, bribe, and deceive us into serving them on the path of power, Jesus Christ daily invites and enables us to join him as friends on the path of freedom. With him on that path, he shares with us all truth, love, and vitality and shares these with others through us.

Toynbee rightly points out that, if we wish to avoid suffering, power is the path to take. If love, however, is our goal, that lies on the path of freedom—the freedom to embrace suffering we could otherwise easily avoid.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.