Writings on Christianity

Selfishness: The Illusion of Freedom

babylon is dead

This week I’m preaching on Phil 2:3-4. The passage has really got me thinking about the notion of selfishness and selfish ambitions.  We live in a culture which drinks up the belief that pursuing self interest at any cost will result in our greatest happiness and most vibrant liberty.  The most hienous evil is when another hinders our freedom to do whatever we want and imposes their views (moral, political, ideological) upon us.  This freedom is seductive: What could be better than living the way I want to live for my own pleasure and happiness?  However, this self-absorption is only an ‘illusion of freedom.’  We are chained to our lusts, twisted desires, and products that the marketing ‘gods’ tell us we need.

The British artist Benjamin Blower is right to call this the “illusion of freedom.”  We think we’re free, but in reality, we’re really just slaves.

Here’s his song “The Illusion of Freedom” which can be found on his free EP ‘Babylon is Dead.’ and the lyrics which inspired it:

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The Illusion of Freedom
The Self! The Self! The Self!

“The Self! The Self! The Self!” we said. And if this is not what freedom is, then what else could freedom ever be? Being able to do what I want, when I want to do it. Being able to have what I want, when I want to have it. So long as I can afford it.

And endless choices. A flat screen TV with endless channels. A supermarket with endless products. An infinity of availability surrounding the self. Freedom is an infinity of amusements and diversions. Freedom is an infinity of conveniences. And freedom from inconvenience is freedom from evil. Food without washing up. Travel without time. Sex without relationships. Children without responsibility or sacrifice.

…And justice for self! When one person’s gain is another’s loss… When one person’s pleasure is another’s heartbreak… When one group prevail and another are down and out… When nations go to war, and when other nations fight back… We say “freedom!”

We used to talk about it as if it were an absolute value. A transcendent virtue to live up to. A Platonic form. A universal human right. Everlasting wisdom. The eternity in our Grandparents’ eyes. The beat that our hearts still dance to. But if that is so, then whatever this is that we now call freedom has to be something else.

The glory of every age was there in its values. The highest value of our day was individual freedom, and the god of our day was the individual. “The Self! The Self! The Self!” we said. We thought that we were free because we could do whatever we wanted to, so long as we had enough money to do it. Our notion of freedom was defined by the agency of the self.

What happened to freedom that it became the same thing as self-interest? What happened to self-interest that it ascended to the lofty heights of freedom?

Self-interest, used to be like an erection in a public place. A private appetite. That member which we all knew we had, but were embarrassed to mention. That which we publicly denounced in others, and which we privately wept over in ourselves. And so we lied to ourselves twice over. First, under the previous order, was denial. And then afterwards came the brazen and shameless diabolical vanity. Our forefathers denied their self-interest. We justified it.


The spin doctors pored over it and shouted: “FREEDOM!”
The advertisers re-branded it: “FREEDOM!”
The wizards danced around it singing: “FREEDOM!”
The politicians voted on it: “FREEDOM!”
The weather girls smiled and predicted it: “FREEDOM!”
The priests and the clergy blessed it: “FREEDOM!”
And with sleight of hand the illusionist did his little trick and it was done: self-interest – the illusion of freedom

Economies, industries and advertisers, instituted it as the bedrock of society, to encourage more discretionary spending, and they said, greater ingenuity in the spirit of men. Governments, religions, and other powers followed suit and we were coerced to all their interests. It became our philosophy, our praxis, our religion, our ideology, the central premise of our educational system, our political system and our social structures. It watched over us as we came and as we went. It united rich and poor, black and white, man and woman. And it destroyed the names of those who would not adhere.

The illusion was complete, and if we thought it was an illusion we played along anyway. We liked it. It went along with what we wanted so we went along with it. The truth is, we could hardly imagine any other way of thinking about freedom anymore. If there was something crooked about the illusion we had no idea what the actual thing could be. And we didn’t talk about it. For us the dream was enough. It justified itself: the dream of a masterless freedom.”-Benjamin Blower found here.

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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