On the Fourth of July, in the United States of America we celebrate freedom. In particular we celebrate freedom from tyranny, and a government that is not representative; freedom from unchecked power and unaccountable sovereigns.

Distorted and faithless notions - Yet, as Christians we cannot overlook that there are ways of understanding freedom today that are distorted, exaggerated and detached from a proper context. Many modern concepts of freedom treat freedom as something that faith limits, not enhances.

Alexis De Tocqueville said Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. In America today we are seeing the erosion of all three in reverse order.

Those who want to eliminate faith remove the ultimate basis of morality. For if God, and what he has set forth in Natural Law, and the Scriptures be not the basis of or law and freedom, then we are and there is no real basis to determine right and wrong, it is all just opinion and power struggle. We are our own absolute rulers, answerable to no one. This is dangerous.

And just as it is a bad idea for the inmates to run the jail, so absolute self-governance turns to tyranny. We tend to turn on each other and engage in deadly power struggles.

Welcome to the secular setting wherein freedom is eroded because power struggles have replaced the recognition of a higher law that binds us all. Welcome to the tyranny of relativism, and the bondage and litigiousness of unbelief.

Among the sources of growing and intrusive law is that some refuse to limit their bad behavior, some refuse to live up to commitments they have made, some abandon self control, some insist on living outside safe and proper norms. Many insist that the solution to protect them from others who abuse their freedom, is more laws. And many are successful in getting increasingly restrictive laws passed.

Yes, without a commonly held morality and a salutary fear that we will answer one day to God, bad behavior multiplies and freedom erodes into lots of tedious laws. In this climate, an increasingly powerful and intrusive State seeks to keep a lid on the immoral behavior resulting from the faithless notion that I will never answer to anyone.

Hence, those who seek to eliminate faith for the sake of “freedom” get only tyranny. Even unbelievers ought to be grateful that most people have a vigorous sense that they must answer one day to God. But without God, those in power, and those who act wickedly, think they will never have to answer to anyone and their sociopathic behavior gets more severe and tyrannical.

Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less than free than it claims:

  • Addictions and compulsions in our society abound.
  • Neuroses, and high levels of stress are major components of modern living.
  • The breakdown of the family and the seeming inability of increasing numbers to establish and keep lasting commitments is quite significant.
  • A kind of obsession with sex is evident and the widespread sadness of STDs, AIDs, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers) and abortion are its results.
  • Addiction to wealth and greed (the insatiable desire for more) enslave many in a kind of financial bondage wherein they cannot really afford the lifestyle their passions demand, and they are unsatisfied and in deep debt.

The so-called “freedom” of the modern world, (apart from the truth of the Gospel), is far from evident. The Catechism says rather plainly:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC # 1733)

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for freedom apart from faith lead only to hindered freedom and outright slavery and tyranny.

Ponder freedom on this 4th of July. Ponder its paradoxes, accept its limits. For freedom is glorious. But because we are limited and contingent beings, so is our freedom. Ponder finally this paradoxical truth: The highest freedom is the capacity to obey God.

Note that in the video this song about Freedom, often sung in reference to various political and social struggles, roots the freedom in Jesus. Some seculars eliminate the 2nd verse today, but they thus undermine the basis for freedom. For if there be no Lord to whom we point as the basis of justice, Those who cry for freedom are simply being arbitrary in their notion. Without God and the justice he puts in our hearts, why should the desires of the oppressed have any more merit than the wishes of the oppressor? It is a mere matter of opinion, for there is no outside source for morality or justice. Unbelievers cannot really point to any basis other than popular opinion or raw power to usher in their view. Their notion of freedom without faith ends only in the tyranny of power struggle.

Enjoy the video, especially the second verse:

25 Responses

  1. TeaPot562 says:

    Msgr. Pope: Your point about the need for firm shared religious belief across most of the people being necessary for freedom to endure is valid.
    At least one of the Founding Fathers of the USA expressed that belief. In the absence of widespread belief in a Supreme Being and some sort of Final Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46, for example), nothing stops those with power from abusing those without. Many novels illustrate this deterioration – Lord of the Flies being an example of a youth camp that rots out in this manner.
    Passing laws against theft or embezzlement doesn’t stop these crimes from happening; the typical embezzler thinks that he (or she) has figured out some way of gaming the system so s/he won’t get caught.
    We pray for Jesus to have mercy on our nation; so many crimes committed by those thinking they won’t have to answer for their sins.
    Thank you for this article.
    TeaPot562

    • Hal Cooper says:

      The typical embezzler is a Christian, who is thankful the laws favor bad behavior by those in power, and is able to justify his behavior by the get out of jail free card that Christianity provides him/her. Embezzlement has always occurred, even in completely religious societies.

      • John Campbell says:

        “The typical embezzler is a Christian…”

        And your evidence for this claim would be…?

      • Faustina says:

        I pray that this old canard, ie that all Christians aren’t perfect so none of them can say anything about morality or even that Christianity can’t be true, will be seen for the logical absurdity that it is. Not to mention how unjust it is

        • Mark says:

          Hal, I would say the embezzler was not a Christian except in the use of the name, because a Christian would know that one does not get a monopoly card “get out of jail free card”. A Christian knows that God is reality, not a pretend game, and to be Christian and be able to possibly have Mercy for the embezzlement , a Christian knows they must fall onto their knees in true repentance of their sins because a reality(God), unlike a man made game, can see into the Heart of man and know his truth.

          So I say to you Hal, if this is your belief, that you are wrong and must turn to the truth in God and give praise for his sacrificing his only son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, for all of our sins. Until you can come to this truth you shall suffer death and give up eternal life, fore you are on the Broad path and I pray you find the Narrow gate and the Narrow path that is hard to find.

          I might suggest Psalm 115: 4-8

  2. Rob Ferguson says:

    Awesome, awesome, awesome! This is one of the most clear-headed reflections on freedom I have ever read. To explain our current situation in the world as Catholics is difficult because there are so many mistaken ideas of “rights” versus morality and responsibility. There is no freedom without Jesus Christ and though this will one day be recognized by all with immortal souls (that’s you) Catholics need to return to living in such a way that would indicate their belief in the fact that it is truly better to lose one’s life for the sake of Jesus Christ than to have all the worlds goods. “For to me, to live IS CHRIST and to die is gain.” ~St. Paul

  3. markrite says:

    This is an exceedingly simple yet brilliant post. For without Judeo-Christian faith, i.e., the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, we’re utterly lost. And we’ve certainly seen the examples of this truth played out in the world for at least the past hundred years. The most obvious examples, Nazism in Germany, Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, Fascism in Italy, are all well-documented phenomenons WITHIN the last hundred years. Now here in America, we can see the outlines of a super-fascist government becoming more discernable with each passing year since Barack H. Obama schlepped his way into the presidency in 2008. The common denominator in ALL 4 CASES? All are examples of totalitarian socialism emerging to SUPPRESS the freedom of the people, and doing so primarily through LOSS OF TRANSCENDENTAL FAITH. And in the last case, that of the United States, we’re rapidly seeing the construction and implementation of the nuts and bolts of socialist theory and practice in order to impose TOP DOWN GOVERNMENT on “we the people.” This couldn’t happen if most people had resisted the urge to go down the road of “lip service” to Judeo-Christianity; unfortunately for the rest of us, too many had not. But the Fat Lady hasn’t sung yet. We’ve still got some time. GOD BLESS ALL, MARKRITE .

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    Excellent, thoughtful posting. I have just started reading a recently published book with a very similar theme: “Worshipping The State-How Liberalism Became our State Religion.” by Benjamin Wiker (Regnery Publishing, Inc.) Dr. Wiker is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
    I am finding the book an excellent, informative read.

  5. Rouxfus says:

    If men will not be governed by God, they will be ruled by tyrants.
    [William Penn, proprietor of Pennsylvania colony]

  6. Mr. Patton says:

    ‚ÄúReligious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights.” – Thomas Jefferson

    • Steve M says:

      Interesting comment. I can kind of see of loose connection to the post. I am very comfortable that Jefferson was a Diest and saw the importance of common values and morality in the creation of a just society. Do you really think he would have supported a view that there is no behavior that would undermind society and cause the destruction of that society? If the Church could force others to act in a specific way then this comment is spot on. The point of the post (which you missed) is that a just and vibrant society must have a common set of values and an unpining of some ethic outside self-interest. People of faith and people without faith also somehow form their political views. Surprisingly people of faith form theirs from their faith. So when I act in the public square I act on my principles. Some behaviors are really just bad. Do you not agree that there exist soem behaviors that people should be prevented from doing for the common good. Can we agree that murder and rape are bad and people should be punished for these behaviors? If there are no rule or boundaries there is anarchy. All I can arrive at is you either wish to prevent me from the expression of my values in the politcal arena becuase you don’t like them since they come from my faith or you support anarchy.

      • Mr. Patton says:

        Steve M, the quote that I bear light on this site is a gentile reminder that secularist are trying to paint some of the faithful Catholics as un-American by some of their behavior that is ever becoming under increased scrutiny in the legal and political arena.

    • TomD says:

      Jefferson was an early supporter of the French Revolution, and the freedom from religious institutions that it promised. He later changed his mind. Our civil rights are, ultimately, a product of our faith, not undermined by it.

      As the French Revolution so ably showed, “. . . those who seek to eliminate faith for the sake of ‘freedom’ get only tyranny.”

    • Sgt. Michael says:

      “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”
      – Patrick Henry

  7. RichardGTC . says:

    I read that younger people, people who don’t have to the health risks of older people, under Obamacare will have to pay the same amount as older people for healthcare, that is double or triple the amount that they previously would have had to pay. So, younger people will be free to engage in same-sex ‘unions’, but they won’t be free to purchase a house.

  8. justin says:

    Wrong, without the Catholic faith we are utterly lost, for only the Catholic faith can equip us with the grace and the guidance to live rightly here and to get to or heavenly homeland. it’s not just a smorgasbord transcedental faith in whatever false god someone happens to believe in that gives one true freedom here and hereafter buy the Holy Trinity…Father…Son….and Holy Ghost..a God only Roman Catholics worship rightly.

  9. Larry Peterson says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope: You have no idea how much I love your writings. The Holy Spirit is with you and I am blessed to have found your blog. Keep them coming. God bless you. Larry Peterson

  10. John C. Hodge says:

    America was founded in great extent as a rejection of the abuse of faith. That is, in Europe, monarchies long claimed legitimacy because they were anointed as nobility by heaven. Thus to disagree with royal decrees was not just an affront to the crown, but a sin before heaven. Instead, based in religious morality, Americans created and distinguished ethics as a different thing. We the People created our laws, written in our own hand, even if based in religious morality. This meant that we could also change our laws without affront to heaven, hopefully still keeping them within moral parameters.

    Since religious morality varies considerably between faiths, Americans are distrustful of politicians who just trumpet their morality, because it is ill-defined. However, if he is ethical, they obeys the written law, something that we can support. If they are truly moral as well, that is a bonus.

    But ethics is just a baseline. The bare minimum of tolerable leadership, which is how the public views the vast majority of politicians. For them to also be moral, means that they are a candidate the public wants to go far.

    In the final analysis, faith is not in a dichotomy with freedom. Because like ethics, freedom descends from morality.

  11. Joe Oliverio says:

    Monsignor Pope, I also want to extend my deepest gratitude for your daily blog. I recently ran across it when I was looking for information on sloth. I have been reading your blog ever since and I find your writings very informative and thought provoking. I also enjoy reading the comments by others on the site. God bless you in your evangelization of the faith!

  12. Jaim says:

    Monsignor Pope,

    Our Lord has provided to you such an amazing gift for writing, and I thank God for you! You have such a gift for breaking down the most complex profundities and making them succinct, contemporary and faith inspiring. I am so blessed that the Lord has led me to your blog!

    God bless you Father,

  13. […] Distorted and faithless notions – Yet, as Christians we cannot overlook that there are ways of understanding freedom today that are distorted, exaggerated and detached from a proper context. Many modern concepts of freedom treat freedom as something that faith limits, not enhances.…more […]

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