Are You a Free Spirit?

A question for you to dwell upon tonight: are you a free spirit? Nietzsche argued that the greatest human beings were free spirits—those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human (all too human), creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful. Does this sound like the type of person you strive to be?

People often tell me that they desire freedom from the constraints of organized religion or from puritanical moral systems, which they believe bring about oppression and unnecessary limitations upon mankind. Some perceive that religion imposes overwhelming intellectual limitations—that is, they believe that religion stunts their intellectual growth or somehow disengages their rational faculties. They want the freedom to believe whatever they deem to be true. Others perceive that religion brings about suffocating ethical limitations—they want sexual liberation, they want to lie and cheat and steal from time to time without feeling guilty about it.

Perhaps the most common form of freedom that people speak about is the freedom to make meaning. Have you ever heard someone say, “life is what you make of it” or “my life has meaning because I make it meaningful”? Statements like these illustrate the type of freedom that I’m referring to. It’s the idea that we have the freedom to make meaning for our lives apart from any standard or universal meaning which applies to everyone. We see this in art as well. There’s no longer a standard for what qualifies as art—art is simply an expression of someone’s inner feelings or emotions. Thus, anything can be art. A jar of urine is art if you feel that it is and attribute to it some form of meaning. There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art. There is a desire for freedom—an unlimited freedom to express whatever one wants however one wants to express it (whether that be through urine in a jar or oil on canvas). There is also a tremendous resistance to the idea that beauty is objective—that something can truly be said to be beautiful. We want the freedom to make that determination for ourselves.

I wonder, however, if Nietzsche’s free spirit is truly free? I wonder if those of us who strive for this type of freedom are actually placing ourselves into bondage? What if, in our desire to be free spirits, we have actually enslaved ourselves to one of the most tyrannical and destructive dictators of all? The dictator to which I refer is of course self love. By self love I do not mean having a healthy self image (something we all should have); rather, I mean the placing of our pleasures and our needs as the very end of (i.e. the purpose of) our existence. When we direct our lives in accordance with our unbridled passions; when we make decisions solely based upon what is beneficial to our own wellbeing or to what brings us the most pleasure or satisfaction–this is self love. Self love is all about fulfilling any sexual urge or fantasy we might have, expressing ourselves in any way we want (without recourse to the good, the noble, or the beautiful), and about living life to feed the ego. The free spirit, in her desire to break free from values, from universals, from absolutes, ends up in bondage to her own arbitrary emotions; to her own ego. Rather than being a rational human being, the free spirit is more akin to a horse following a carrot on a stick—wherever the carrot goes the horse goes.

A free spirit, enslaved to self love, ultimately brings bondage and enslavement to others as well. In the eyes of the free spirit, people become simply a means to an end—objects to be used for personal gain. This happens whether the free spirit is aware of it or not. For example, you begin to think–perhaps only in your subconscious–of your girlfriend as a sex object; of course she is a person, but in practice she is nothing but a means to satiating whatever sexual desires you might have. She, in turn, is obligated to fulfill your sexual desires no matter how uncomfortable or dirty it might make her feel if she wants to keep you. You degrade her (maybe you don’t even think of it this way); you reduce her to a mere tool for masturbation and whether you realize it or not, she has become your slave. But, perhaps, she has enslaved you too. Perhaps she knows–even subconsciously–she can get something she wants out of you (money, power, respect, companionship . . .) if she gives you the sex that you want? In this case, you are ultimately her slave–not unlike the lab rat that won’t stop pressing the button which gives it sexual stimulation (to the exclusion of the button which dispenses food) and, in the end, dies of starvation.

St. Paul spoke of this type of self love in his second letter to Timothy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self,       lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:1-4)

This type of self love, which is the root of all sin, leaves us in bondage. We become slaves to sin–slaves to our unbridled passions, slaves to our ego, and slaves to each other. The freedom that we so long for turns out to be nothing but an illusion.

Freedom, true freedom, can only come through Christ. Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the pain and suffering and oppression we bring into the world, but offers us an escape from the tyranny of self love. Jesus gives us the freedom to love what is truly beautiful and truly good–the Creator and sustainer of life Himself; and to love others who have been made in His image. This, in fact, is the essence of Christianity: to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

The follower of Christ, imaging God Himself, makes love the end or, the purpose, of his existence. By love I do not mean some fluffy sentimentality or warm sensation that one experiences in his stomach. I mean the act of sacrifice–of self giving. St. John said: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Later he states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). God is love, not in some abstract way, but his very nature is love. Within the blessed Trinity we see the existence of three persons, joined together by nature and eternally pouring out themselves, sharing themselves, submitting themselves to each other. We see true love. In the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we see this love, this self-giving, spilling out into creation–we see the Divine Logos humbling Himself, giving of Himself, even unto death. We see true love.

The true free spirit is the one who embraces this love, who breaks free from the chains of self love and into the liberating arms of self-giving. So, the question remains: are you a free spirit?


4 thoughts on “Are You a Free Spirit?

  1. Thank you for a post that inspires minds to begin racing and world views to be meticulously critiqued. This is a true work of art. I apologize in advance for the long response! Some of your statements got me a little fired up and I had to respond! 🙂

    —those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human, creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful.

    I imagine first century culture thought of Jesus in this light. Wouldn’t you agree? The implications of this philosophy are ultimately tied to the mainstream philosophy of the culture in which is is applied, and the position of the user in relation to that philosophy, making it entirely subjective to an individual’s world view.

    I get what you’re saying here, but I’m afraid are painting too broad a stroke. By your deduction, everyone is enslaved by something, to the effect that Jesus becomes a slave master to some individuals. Is God a slave master to some? Yes. Is that what God wants? No. Jesus’s words refute that (John 8:31-32)

    I do not agree a “free-spirit” equates to extreme narcissism, American culture accomplishes that. Applying Neitzsche’s definition of a free spirit in modern American culture, I am absolutely free spirited!

    Pertaining to your example of the boyfriend and girlfriend enslaving each other, that example is not evidence of our twisted view of sexuality, it is the result of our twisted view of marriage. What if parents encouraged their children to marry early, with a clear definition of marriage as a permanent, self-sacrificing institution rather than a fairy tale, self fulfilling arrangement? The “boyfriend/girlfriend” then become “husband/wife” and the issues you speak of vanish. Viewing marriage as a permanent meshing of two lives dedicated to serving each other is quite counter-cultural but exactly the Biblical example, isn’t it? Viewing marriage Biblically in modern culture is free spirited.

    Your third paragraph struck a very personal chord with me. Particularly this statement: “There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art.” Absolutely there is. Not only is this a positive resistance, I will lead the charge. Art is any created entity that demands an emotional response from its audience. It is the very catalyst by which God speaks! To limit art is to limit God!

    The piece you reference as “urine in a jar”, I assume you are speaking of ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano? Do you realize you and he are preaching the same message? Serrano observed his fellow believers straying from Jesus’s teaching and example of freely serving others, trading that for enslavement to either legalistic religion or anarchist anti-religion and created ‘Piss Christ’ to address this spiritual corruption. The photo of a crucifix submerged in a jar of his urine is not an advertisement for rejecting religion. It is instead a Christian crying out to his brothers and sisters, “What have WE done?! Our Christ has been reduced to no more valuable than this jar of urine!”. The reaction to this piece should be one of revival, redirecting our focus to Christ and cleaning out the garbage we’ve added to Christianity by own own religious agenda.

    I agree with Neitzsche, a free spirit lives unbounded by popular culture and social norms.
    I agree with you, the level of narcissism in today’s culture makes people slaves to themselves.
    I agree with Serrano, practicing self-confining, Holy Spirit-quenching religion and giving it a “Christian” label devalues Jesus to the equivalent of human waste. We need a spiritual reawakening to break the chains of corrupt religious dogma.

    I am a free spirit.

    1. Hey Dave, thank you for the feedback! I really enjoyed reading your comment and I was particularly excited to discover that you are an artist. As far as your interpretation of Neitzsche goes, I invite you to take a closer look at what he is advocating. Neitzsche is not simply speaking about going against the grain of popular cultural and social norms–he is advocating a total rejection of all accepted values (this includes both moral values and aesthetic values). A free spirit, in his mind, creates his own values and is not enslaved to anyone’s system of thought–in this sense he is free to look down upon the rest of mankind and to influence it through his will to power. He despised Christians for exhibiting what he termed a “herd mentality” because they held to absolute truth, objective morality, and championed humility. He also viewed Christianity as being weak because it advocated self-giving and sacrifice for the lowly and weak. His entire philosophy, in many ways, is the exact opposite of Christianity; that is, rather than focusing on love as the act of self-giving, his worldview is predicated on the type of self love that I speak about in my article.

      So, I agree with you that Jesus’ life and ministry challenged the preconceived notions of many living in first century Palestine, but I reject the notion that Jesus was a free spirit in the sense that Neitzsche advocated (and I hope you do too 🙂 Jesus was controversial because his entire life exhibited the self-giving love of the Trinity: He submitted Himself completely to the will of the Father, he joined himself to His creation and became a mere man, he served the lowly and the weak, he healed the sick, he washed his disciples feet, he died on the cross for the very people who placed him there. Naturally, this type of self-giving love goes against the grain of popular culture and social norms–but this is precisely because the world system is built upon self-love and not self-giving.

      As far as my comments about art go, I can understand why they struck a personal chord with you and why they might seem a bit overblown at first glance. However, let me just point out that you yourself provide a definition for art (and, thus, a limitation) directly after condemning the idea that art should be defined. You state that, “Art is any created entity that demands an emotional response from its audience. It is the very catalyst by which God speaks.” This definition, like all definitions, states something important about the very essence of or nature of art. I think this is a very positive thing–otherwise the term art would have no objective meaning. In point of fact, I rather like your definition of art :-).

      I didn’t intend to cast such a negative light on Serrano’s work–but I can see now that the way I worded things certainly cast his work in a poor light. In the future I will use a different example to get the point across.

      Dave, I really appreciate both your complements and your criticism. I hope that I’ve interacted with your comment well and I ask that you forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted you at all. Blessings!

      1. Thank you for the insight on Neitzsche, J. My familiarity with his philosophies only reach as far as his famous assertion concerning the death of god. I applied the quote in your post in the context of this blog and past posts, assuming nothing of Neitzsche’s motivations behind the words.

        Considering that, here’s a question to consider, are quotes such as this subjective to the context in which they are presented or are they locked into the motivations of the original author? I believe it can, but I believe it brings with is a level of danger, just consider how Biblical text can be twisted when referenced out of context!

        That is the beauty of my “definition” of art. While is is technically a definition, inherently setting limitations, it is completely subjective to the individual, making the possibility for something to be considered ‘art’ completely unlimited.

        Neitzsche’s personal beliefs and philosophies are contrary to Jesus (or any major religious deity, for that matter!), you are quite correct there. If we remove Neitzsche from the equation, can it change the meaning of the quote?

        Thank you again, for the post and conversation. I’m not arguing a specific point here, I just thought this might be an interesting question to explore! 🙂

      2. My pleasure Dave! 🙂 I think you’ve brought up a great question. Literature, like reality, has both an objective side and a subjective aspect. There is only one external reality but numerous observers of this one external reality. While reality is objective–and, hence, there are absolute truths–each one of us experiences these truths as unique individuals. In other words, each of us has our own unique subjective experience of reality. Likewise, there is an objective meaning or intention to be found in any piece of literature. However, each of us comes to a text as an individual and has a unique subjective experience of the writing. Now, it is extremely important to consider the context of any text–considering the work as a whole and any relevant historical or cultural information–so as to come to the most accurate interpretation possible. We should strive to understand what an author is attempting to communicate and remain faithful to this. That being said, we each have a unique experience when confronted with the words of others–for example, different images might come into your head when you read the book of Job than when I do. Often, we read something someone has written and it brings something else to our minds, aside from what the author might have originally intended. Or, perhaps, there are layers of meaning to something someone has written; that is, there is a certain level of complexity and multiplicity of thought. In any event, I think it’s okay to utilize and engage our subjective experience of any text; however, I think it’s always important to distinguish between our thoughts and the thoughts of the author. To use the example of Nietzsche, I think it’s good to make a distinction between what Nietzsche intended by his words and any reinterpretations we bring to the table . . . okay, I think I’ve rambled on for quite enough. 🙂

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