Tara Westover in her award winning memoir Educated outlines her journey out of a harrowing childhood in the mountains of Idaho. Now 35, she first set foot in a classroom at age 17 and had her Cambridge University PhD 10 years later! A formidable intellect.
The overweening power of a bipolar deeply religious father distorted her understanding of most things and most people – including herself. His concepts of truth were used to dehumanize her and others outside his self-selected bubble.
At Cambridge she learnt of Isaiah Berlins “double liberty”. Negative liberty when an individual is not physically prevented from acting. Positive liberty being the rule of the self by the self; ability to take control of one’s own mind, to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, addictions, superstitions and other forms of self-coercion. Westover knew no liberty either positive or negative!
As unlock happens we are gaining some liberties. Negative liberty is expanding. What of our positive liberty? Is this only the rule of the self by the self?
Jesus talked of freedom. He said “you are my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. John 8:31-32. How different is this from Westover’s fathers tyrannical “rule”?
Very. Because we choose. Choose freely to follow a truth that we are made in the image of God, loved by Jesus who died for us, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This truth takes us out of our cage of fear and insecurity and sets us free to be.
Westover describes the process of counselling that mysteriously helped her deal with the past. ‘There was something nourishing in setting aside time each week in the act of admitting that I needed something I could not provide for myself.’ Likewise with us. We will not achieve freedom until we ask a gracious God for help to be free from our past, however constraining, to enjoy the life really worth living.