Whatever the nature of my politics, it should be clear that I am by no means a theological liberal. I acknowledge that in order to develop a high level of spiritual maturity, it is necessary to restrain one's open-ended freedom in order to submit to one kind or another of spiritual discipline, just as it is necessary for a musician to submit to the discipline of his or her instrument. You can noodle away on your fiddle, or you can find a teacher and really work at it. It's the same with any kind of spiritual development; most people are noodlers, and it comes down to a fundamental resistance to submit to a basic discipline. But the goal of restricting one's freedom in the short run has the longer term goal to be trained to become more free. The highly trained, disciplined musician is freer because he can play things that are impossible for the noodler. The goal of submitting to a discipline is to obtain a higher level of freedom and capability--not endless submission.
Now the problem facing any spiritual aspirant in our western consumer culture is that most of the religion that seems to be flourishing today has very little to do with developing spiritual freedom. There are people everywhere who are spiritually starving and all they can find is spiritual junk food, which has an unwholesome, addictive effect. And when the junk food offered identifies itself as Christian, it gives Christianity a bad name.
I don't know for sure what the pope, Joseph Ratzinger, would say about the goal of Christian practice being a deeper level of freedom. I suspect he would agree in theory--his early writings show he understands and has embraced the concept, but his persistent attempts to suppress Liberation Theology in Brazil in the 80s shows he was never very sympathetic to the idea people putting the theory into practice. He would probably argue that the goal of true spiritual freedom is rarely realized, and that too many people who think they are exercising real freedom are in fact deluded and more than likely really in the grip of compulsion, aka, sin. The road is narrow and the path steep toward the attainment of genuine freedom, he might say, and, Liberation Theology is not what it advertises itself to be. Maybe.
But maybe true spiritual freedom is so rarely realized because the authorities are too fearful of people getting it wrong than hopeful that they'll get it right. It's the old Grand Inquisitor scenario envisioned by Dotooyevski's Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov. This idea that the clergy has to keep those in its care in a childlike dependent state to keep them safe from harsh truths that they could not bear to know or cope with. Leave the politics to the grownups who sacrifice themselves to deal with the world's ugly truths so that you children might remain innocent
So the question I would put to him then would be this: Is it really desirable that people should just be well-behaved children? Or is that as much a form of unfreedom as the compulsiveness of, say, the sexual libertine? Is it significantly better to be a prig than it is to be a debauchee. Is it better to be a Pharisee than a tax collector? Is it better to be the older son or the prodigal, younger son? It's not good to be either, but if you had to be one or the other, which would it be?
I'm pretty sure he'd say it's better to be the former in these pairs--the prig. It's safer, less messy. And as a parent I understand where he's coming from. Much less to worry about if your kid (or your priests and nuns) is well-behaved and repressed, if he's a member of the party of the Superego rather than of the party of the Id.
This kind of moral conformism is the bias of the cultural right and leads to spiritual passivity and a defensive, fortress mentality. The Jesus of the Gospels was completely the opposite; if any thing he came to subvert such fortresses of the mind. But the strength of the fortress correlates with the intensity of the fear, and the intensity of the fear correlates with the intensity of violence needed to suppress the threat. And the threat they fear is true, genuine freedom.
I think there are times in everyone's life when he or she must make a sacrifice of his or her freedom, but such a sacrifice has value only if it is freely chosen. Being well behaved little children is not the goal of Obedience. Obedience in the spiritual sense is rather the submission of the will to the logic of grace. And while certainly we have a duty in the parenting of our children to challenge their natural narcissism--they must learn self-restraint and to master their compulsivity--our more important duty to them is to nourish their freedom, and the development of their conscience. Because in the long run having a well-developed conscience is the only thing that matters. It is the cognitive capacity they must develop if they are to discern the movement of grace in their lives or distinguish truth from illusion.
There's a reason why Jesus got a much warmer reception among those in the party of the Id who had morally scandalous reputations than the morally righteous who were the party of the Superego--the former were less smugly sure of themselves, more vulnerable, more open to the surprising and the new possibility. They were, for sure, in a state of unfreedom, but they were not locked up tight the way the Pharisees were in their whited sepulchers. The unrighteous were disposed toward freedom and recognized true liberation when it came to them. They had a capacity for discernment that the Pharisees did not. The Pharisees had highly developed superegos, but profoundly underdeveloped consciences. Conscience is one of those use-it-or-lose it kind of things. Better to use it and be occasionally wrong than not to use it at all.
We are all of us in our different ways in states of unfreedom. It's a given. It's what Christians mean when they talk about original sin. But in the final analysis it doesn't matter what the particular form our unfreedom takes. The more important issue is how well disposed we are to be free. Will we greet the Liberator if he should come to us, or shall we turn away from him in fear? Pharisees and Inquisitors want nothing to do with Him.