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: