There is a constant struggle in every man’s heart between what he does and what he knows he should do. Freud and the Apostle Paul wrote about this conflict in the following famous passages:
Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles to master its economic task of bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it; and we can understand how it is that so often we cannot suppress a cry: ‘Life is not easy!’ If the ego is obliged to admit its weakness, it breaks out in anxiety – realistic anxiety regarding the external world, moral anxiety regarding the super-ego and neurotic anxiety regarding the strength of the passions in the id.1
Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?2
Arch-atheist and Christian saint agree about at least two things: A war rages within every human and the conflict sometimes makes us very miserable indeed.
The existence of this conflict presents a very difficult (indeed insurmountable) conundrum for materialists, who insist that a person consists of his physical body and nothing else. But if that is true, how can there be a conflict? How can the body be at war with itself? Doesn’t a war require two opposing sides? Freud can describe the conflict, but he can’t even begin to account for its existence given his metaphysical commitments.
Christianity has no such problem. As Paul taught in the wider context of the passage quoted above, all men have an immaterial spirit (which he sometimes called the “heart”), and the essential requirements of morality “are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”3
Freud’s metaphysics rendered him blind to the cause of the war that raged in his own breast. And since he was blind to the reason the war raged, he was powerless to offer any effective solution to the war. Not so for Paul. He understood the underlying cause of the conflict that raged within, and he also understood how he could be free. God has provided a way out through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which allowed Paul to answer his own question.
Q. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
A. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”4
Which brings me back to the question posed in the title to this post. Are we free? It turns out the answer is neither “yes” nor “no,” but “if you are not you can be.” We can be free but not all of us are. Some people are slaves to their fallen nature. But it need not be so. There is a path from slavery into freedom, but no one is ever forced to walk down that path. It must be chosen.
1“LECTURE XXXI: The Dissection of the Psychical Personality” Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho Analysis. The Standard Edition. 1933. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton, 1965, 97-98.
2The Apostle Paul, Romans 7:21-24.