The further development of human consciousness within a Christian paradigm is entirely dependent upon on our understanding of freedom. Without a proper understanding of freedom, Christianity will lose the vision of what humanity is called to become. Conversely, Christianity may continue to sustain the vision, but our misinterpretations of freedom will continue to make us blind to it.
The development of Christian consciousness and divine-human destiny permeates the work of Nikolai Berdyaev. Berdyaev regards freedom as the foundation of all consciousness development within the Christian paradigm, and he understands the ultimate purpose of human freedom - which Berdyaev refers to specifically as "embodied freedom" - to be the answering of God's call through spirit.
Development in Christian consciousness depends upon and only occurs if individuals approach God through freedom. The divine-human destiny Berdyaev envisions cannot be coerced or forced; it must be freely chosen.
This centrality of freedom also defines the quality and progression of Christian consciousness, a quality Berdyaev comprehends primarily from the perspective of an individual's development and ability to relate to God and other people.
To illustrate this, Berdyaev outlines a four mode spectrum of spiritual freedom through which the development of Christian consciousness toward divine-human destiny can be understood. The four modes of this spectrum can be mapped out thus:
Slavery <- -> Heteronomy <- -> Autonomy <- -> Theandric Freedom
This mode is the lowest within the development of Christian consciousness. In fact, it is so low, it hardly qualifies as Christian consciousness at all. Spiritual consciousness at this level is dominated mostly by what William Arkle refers to as "false selves." Individuals in this mode of consciousness are enslaved by false selves because they fail to recognize or understand the reality of the divine self and the reality of God.
As a result, they are essentially rendered powerless against the forces of determination and objectification within the material, objectified world. Simply put, at this level people view themselves as nothing more than things in a world dominated by other things. Within this mode, consciousness is obsessed by egocentricity and it interacts almost exclusively within the confines of the material world. Slavery consciousness - which I have personally referred to as a state of servitus - is almost wholly preoccupied with external forces. The lives of individuals who possess this consciousness are largely ruled by forces external to themselves.
In a nutshell, slavery consciousness is akin to the dominant consciousness of the modern West - alienated, apathetic, atheistic, and materialistic. Though very little real freedom exists at this level of consciousness, the potential for freedom continues to exist, albeit faintly.
However, the development of this potential freedom depends almost entirely on the acceptance of the reality of God. Without the acceptance of divine reality, freedom is limited to "freedom from" at this level of consciousness. Slavery can only conceptualize "freedom from" as brief, intermittent episodes of freedom from physical necessity. "Freedom for" is barely conceivable; when it is considered, it is regarded as an unattainable abstraction. Hence, the possibilities of divine-human destiny are barely perceived, let alone acknowledged.
Heteronomy is the mode of consciousness in which individuals surrender freedom to an external authority, usually for the purpose of providing for the greater good. At this level of consciousness, freedom is not considered the highest value, and it is freely and willingly surrendered in exchange for other values that are perceived to be higher than freedom. In many ways, this level of Christian consciousness could represent the world of Christianity within the model of traditional churches.
On the positive side, this level of consciousness elevates and keeps people from falling into the level of slavery because it affirms the reality of God and, thus, affirms the reality of the divine within humanity. This establishes freedom, but this freedom is restricted to the reality of God as authority. This level of consciousness focuses primarily on law, ceremony, and obedience, but also allows the individual to freely create within prescribed, authorized forms. Heteronomy generally prevents feelings of alienation from God, but hinders an individual's ability to approach God in freedom outside the boundaries of officially sanctified authority.
On the negative side, this level of Christian consciousness often undervalues the importance of the divine self and views people primarily as servants to the authority of God. Original thinking is discouraged. Approaching God in freedom is discouraged in favor of submitting one's freedom to God.
Heteronomy holds that people are not free and should not be free beyond divine authority. Freedom beyond authority itself is suspect and denounced as nothing more than the potential for sin. God is primarily conceived of as an authority that must be obeyed. The individual can only relate to God via the authority of a church. Relating to God beyond the authority of a church is denounced as heresy.
Divine-human destiny within heteronomy consciousness is restricted to a relationship in which human freedom is largely submitted the supreme of authority of God via institutions that represent this supreme authority in the world. The role of the divine is to dictate; the role of humans is to obey. Heteronomy provides "freedom from" slavery, but limits "freedom for" to obedience to external divine authority.
Most traditional Christians regard the level of autonomy - which can also be described as existential liberty - as a negative form of Christian consciousness primarily because autonomy consciousness views the mode heteronomy consciousness as immoral and oppressive. In autonomy consciousness, individuals are able to act in self-determined ways and harness the power to reject external forms of authority.
Autonomy consciousness is best exemplified by the Enlightenment, which was able to shake off or remodel the traditional authority of churches and make its own way into the world. Nevertheless, this subsequent movement away from the traditional churches also works to potentially alienate autonomy consciousness from God.
Autonomy consciousness is almost exclusively about "freedom from"; whatever "freedom for" it contains is limited mostly to the individual. Whereas heteronomy consciousness overvalues God and undervalues the individual, autonomous consciousness contains the potential to overvalue the individual and undervalue God.
This results in a lack of a fully formed "freedom for" that eventually limits autonomous consciousness to the confines of individuality within the natural world. The human element in the divine-human relationship takes precedence and is elevated, while the divine element is demoted and relegated to the role of a distant, indifferent creator, as exemplified within the tenets of deism.
Without a properly defined "freedom for" grounded in the divine, autonomous consciousness sets about establishing "freedom for" within the confines of the natural world into which it has essentially locked itself. Notions of perfection and perfectibility via human reason results in the descent of explicitly religious and spiritual concerns and the ascent of "rational" worldly human endeavors such as science, law, government, nation-building, technology, and social engineering, which all eventually rise to become authorities in their own right.
However, the descent of religious and spiritual motivations eventually creates a vacuum in the divine-human relationship, a vacuum over which sin is able to exert greater influence. The increase of sin causes the explicitly defined "freedom froms" and tenuously defined "freedom fors" in autonomous consciousness to degenerate. Autonomous consciousness begins to lose its momentum and eventually regresses back to either a heteronomy or slavery mode of consciousness.
This is the innate metaphysical danger the heteronomy mode correctly diagnoses within the autonomous mode, but the only cure heteronomy can offer is a regression back toward the external authority of God within heteronomy consciousness. Because heteronomy regards autonomy as a wrong turn, it cannot perceive or refuses to perceive the positive opportunity autonomy provides.
Freed from the juridical and limiting view of freedom espoused by heteronomy consciousness, the state of autonomy consciousness sets up the potential for individuals to hear the genuine call of God; to catch a glimpse of the divine-human destiny nested within Christianity. But this potential requires that individuals at the autonomous level of consciousness willingly and freely turn back toward God and allow themselves to be illuminated by God's light while in the autonomous mode.
This freely chosen, autonomous turning back toward God transforms the divine-human relationship, creating the potential for an authentic "freedom for" motivated by a deep yearning to answer the call of God and create a divine-human union in the form of divine partnership or divine friendship. This yearning to answer the call of freedom sets the stage for manifestation of divine-human destiny and creates the necessary spiritual conditions to nurture the vision of what humanity is called upon to become.
The vision of what humanity is called upon to become manifests in theandric freedom, which Berdyaev describes as man's answer to the call of God, and God's answer to the call of man. Freed from all external objectification and determinism, this mode of consciousness establishes what autonomous consciousness could not - the reality of "freedom with." Theandric freedom transcends "freedom from" and "freedom for" by embracing the highest spiritual reality of "freedom with."
"Freedom with" is discovered and revealed in the experience of spiritual life. "Freedom with" describes a mode of consciousness in which the divine element within man is attuned to God and the human element in God is attuned to man, which leads to a state of free union in which man's vision of the world becomes God's vision of the world.
"Freedom with" does not entail being absorbed into God, as is the case in various oneness religions. Instead, it involves the realization of man in Christ and the realization of Christ in man.
First and foremost, "freedom with" is man's freely given answer to Christ's call for love. This freely given answer of love illuminates the personal and subjective reality of divinity. It establishes man as a being who is analogous to Christ and Christ as a being who is analogous to man. This understanding of being is then transferred to other people as well.
This analogous state of beings allows love to elevate humanity and divinity simultaneously, creating the conditions necessary for the joint agency of man and Christ. "Freedom with" empowers man to express his inner divinity via creativity and to become an active co-creator in God's creation, which is suddenly understood as a divine-human rather than an exclusively divine or exclusively human operation.
The first three modes of Berdyaev's conceptualization of freedom within the development of Christian consciousness roughly describe the development of Christian consciousness up to our modern world. Collectively, we are now in what I would call a post-autonomous consciousness that has largely slipped back to the level of slavery, skipping the level of heteronomy altogether on its way back. This is entirely due to our collective inability to utilize autonomous consciousness properly, both in the past and, in increasingly rare individual cases, in the present.
If we look at history, I believe we can easily make a case for a massive collective failure to harness the divine potential within autonomous consciousness. Though I am not a historian, I would estimate the potential to use autonomous consciousness to collectively become illuminated by God began at some time around 1700 and drew to a close roughly a century-and-a-half or, at most, two centuries later. When this opportunity ended, we missed our chance to collectively further the development of Christian consciousness toward the level of theandric freedom.
In other words, we succeeded in freeing Christian consciousness from the stasis of heteronomy, but failed to utilize the consciousness of autonomy to manifest the potential for "freedom with" - theandric freedom - the state of joint spiritual agency with other people and Christ that fulfills the divine human destiny contained within the development of Christian consciousness.
In terms of progression, we neglected (or willingly refused) to utilize the opportunity autonomy provided us and have been slipping back into the modes of heteronmy and slavery ever since.
I believe a big part of our collective failure within the autonomous mode was our inability to conceptualize "freedom with God" as freedom because we were unable or unwilling to understand God as something other than oppressive authority.
In other words, when we looked beyond the autonomous mode, we could imagine nothing higher than authority. Once we achieved autonomy, we became extremely wary of surrendering freedom to external authority. We misunderstood the divine nature of Christ, which resides not in external authority, but in personal, spiritual freedom.
What we failed to understand is that "freedom with" does not involve any surrendering of freedom. The perceived surrender of worldly freedom was regarded as enslavement rather then liberation. We did not understand, or chose not to understand that "freedom with" increases rather than decreases spiritual freedom.
Another possible explanation for the missed opportunity in the development of Christian consciousness may reside in our collective misunderstanding of the increased freedom Christ offers, which is a call to become Christ-like ourselves.
The call for joint agency was too daunting for our autonomous consciousness to grapple with, which resulted in the call largely going unanswered, and, subsequently a regression of consciousness back toward heteronomy or slavery in which the call of Christ via freedom is diminished or excluded altogether.*
It would be difficult to declare our current collective circumstances as being dominated any mode of Christian consciousness. At most meaningful levels of analysis, our collective mode of consciousness is essentially a post-Christian mode of consciousness.
Since the missed opportunity at collective theandric freedom, the development of Christian consciousness at the collective level has either stagnated or regressed. Most individuals have abandoned the paradigm of Christian consciousness completely and now reside firmly in the slavery mode of consciousness.
Others have managed to cling to some semblance of the Christian paradigm, but have lost all intuition of divine-human destiny and have largely abandoned the vision of what humanity is called to become. As a result, they have regressed and cling to the paradigm of Christian consciousness within the mode of heteronomy espoused by the external authority of churches, most of which have slipped into slavery consciousness themselves.
The few individuals who continue to maintain an autonomous mode are mostly outside Christian consciousness and are very quickly slipping back into slavery. The few individual Christians who remain in the autonomous mode also face the same danger and will also eventually either regress back in heteronomy or fall back into slavery.
The only way this spiritual regression can be prevented is by answering the call of Christ through freely given and freely received love, which, in turn, will create the conditions needed to nurture the possibility of theandric freedom.
Theandric freedom is virtually impossible at the collective level today, but it remains a viable possibility at the individual level. However, setting the stage for theandric freedom requires a thorough and intuitive spiritual understanding of what it means to be "free with God". Without this thorough and intuitive spiritual understanding, individuals will not embrace the freedom inherent within the joint operation or joint creation of man and Christ.
The further development of Christianity does not depend exclusively upon making "freedom from" and "freedom for" choices, but rather on choosing to be "free with" God.
Without this choice, the further development of Christianity will not progress and the true vision of what humanity has been called to become will not be realized.
* Dostoevsky outlines this masterfully in his Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, which I hope to make the subject of a future post in connection to Berdyaev's ideas about theandric freedom.
Note: This resource organizes the four modes of Berdyaev's concept of freedom in an effective manner; I found it immensely helpful for this post.