RE ATAR Unit 4: the concept of freedom from a religious perspective

The concept of freedom from a religious perspective

Within each religion, as well as across all religions, there is complexity and diversity. In general terms, a religion is a system of beliefs and practices that guides how people live. Each religion offers particular insights and understandings about life. These find expression in a variety of religious beliefs, teachings and practices. Followers of each religion also come together to express aspects of their religion through worship, celebrations, rituals, and by observing special events and seasons. (Religion and LIfe ATAR Year 12 syllabus)



There are many ways people in society perceive freedom. A popular contemporary and secular view of freedom is hedonistic individualism. Hedonistic individualism promotes the unrestrained right to pursue happiness in any way the individual desires as long as they do not impinge on someone else’s pursuit of happiness. This understanding of freedom as a freedom from restraint, laws or authority in order to be free to do or choose whatever the individual desires or want. This form of individualism and self-determination is often characterised by a rejection of objective truth, authority or criteria, but holds the individual as the ultimate end. Thus freedom is understood as absolute autonomy. 

The free exercise of the will to determine one’s own morality, to decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or repugnant is expressed in relativism of beliefs and morality in behaviour. For the individualist, happiness is pleasure seeking and the meaning and purpose of life to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (Ecclesiastics 8:15; Isaiah 22:13)The contemporary idiom of YOLO or ‘just do it’ exemplifies this cultural trend.  

This, of course, has not always been the case. Should everyone be allowed unrestraint freedom to do anything they want to? Should society have no authority or laws? Is the individual or government the arbiter of right and wrong? Is there a higher law  which all people should abide by?  

This brings us to some philosophical questions: What is freedom? Can we truly be free? Is there a purpose for freedom? Are some choices better than others? Are we supposed to do something special with our freedom? These questions, immediately conjure up sentiments of meaning, purpose and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, freedom is closely interrelated to these ideas, which tells us that freedom is a spiritual concept. 

Religious View of Freedom

The proper use of freedom is a central concept in all religions. The Catholic understanding on freedom has profoundly shaped Western Civilisation by providing a true compass to guide people’s choices in their personal lives as well as for governments to make laws regarding what is good for society. By promoting the right use of personal freedom, the Church guides people’s choices towards its proper fulfilment in God and others. The Catholic teachings on natural law and human flourishing freed has also shaped governmental laws to promote freedom in society that is oriented towards the ‘good’ so that all people may have a chance to find a fulfilling vocation as well as finding a way to live a life of service and love. Although there are many secular views arguing against the place of religion in public life, many people still appreciate the role of religion as a voice of natural law morality amidst the chaos of political power plays and relativism.

Encyclicals on Freedom

Leo Xlll June 20 1888

The Catholic perspective of freedom is developed from two sources: Natural Law and Revelation.

Natural Law appeals to human intelligence or basic common sense, a sense that there is an objective right and wrong which is found deep in the conscience of all human beings. Conscience is one of the human realities of universal human experience on which the Catholic Church bases her social teachings. Our conscience allows us to discern the patterns of good and evil and thus decode the Natural Law. The Church believes that Natural Law is given by God and thus the natural sources of social and moral reflection on the nature of reality and humanity, must be included in a proper interpretation of what is true. Another source of knowledge is from Revelation.  


Revelation, for Catholics, is the source of knowledge about God and humanitythat comes to us directly from God himself when He took on human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. Revelation cannot contradict Natural Law since both come from the same God, therefore, what is revealed should correspond with what we already know instinctively from natural law. According to both, we are able to come to know the nature of God and human nature – who we are, why are we made and what are we doing here. From this foundation, we can understand what freedom is and what is it for.