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freedomI have become increasingly cynical about my fellow Americans’ praise of freedom. “Freedom,” it seems to me, has become a meaningless jingoistic slogan that is used to excuse most anything. “Our boys died defending our freedom!” they cry as yet another flag-draped coffin is unloaded from the plane. Did that boy die defending our freedom? Really? Exactly which of our freedoms were threatened by turmoil in Afghanistan or Iraq? Which foreign dictator threatened to attack us or invade our country and deny us our freedoms?

The mindless shibboleth of “freedom” has also been used by leftist ideologues to condone every variation of vulgarity and every possibility of perversion. Pornography must never be censored because of freedom of expression, and every sexual choice must be tolerated in the name of “freedom.” No one is allowed to be dismayed, much less disapproving or condemnatory of anyone else’s actions or choices. As long as the action does not seem to harm anyone explicitly, everything must be tolerated in the name of “freedom.”

Increasingly, what Americans mean by “freedom” is complete license, and this complete license is rooted in relativism. We do not believe restrictive rules are necessary because we do not believe restrictive rules are possible, and we do not believe restrictive rules are possible because we do not believe in revealed and binding Truth; and we do not believe in revealed Truth because we do not believe in the One who is Truth itself. Relativism is another name for atheism.

It doesn’t take much thought to see that this sort of relativistic freedom eventually leads to bondage. Here’s how it works: When a society allows anything to be done in the name of freedom, boundaries break, borders are destroyed, and moral and societal anarchy soon prevails. When lawlessness breaks out in the form of political corruption, economic theft on a grand scale, unemployment, family breakdown, and individual despair, the final result is violence: violence in the home, violence in the workplace, violence in the streets.

When violence and true anarchy threaten, ordinary people cry out for security. “Enough is enough! We want security in the streets! We want law and order and we will elect any strong man who promises to get things done, bring law and order and establish the rule of law once more!” The problem is, we elect the leaders we deserve, and a corrupt, godless, and lawless society cannot produce a just, chaste, noble, and honorable leader.

The strong man may well bring law and order. Mussolini famously made the trains run on time, and Hitler brought widespread employment to his people. Strong men do get things done. They do restore law and order, and they do so with a national security force, detention centers, kangaroo courts, propaganda, and police. Lots of police.

The anarchy was not caused by freedom, but by false freedom. False freedom is the idea that everyone may do what they like. True freedom, in the Christian tradition, is the freedom for the human will to be engaged with the power of grace in order for the human person (or by extension the human society) to achieve his full potential. Freedom is the essentially the gift of human free will which chooses to submit to a greater order of truth in order to become the greatest and most complete human being possible.

Such devotion and discipline requires hard work and self-sacrifice. It is the work of a moment and the work of a lifetime. We see it in the freedom of the well-honed athlete competing in the games. We see it in the accomplished musician playing an exquisite piece of music. We see it in the artistic masterpiece that is the result of a lifetime of study, work, discipline, and dedication. When we see any example of genuine human accomplishment, we see both the action and the result of true freedom.

This freedom is seen in its highest form in the human beings the Catholic Church calls “saints.” In a saint we see a human being fully alive, and as St. Irenaeus so famously said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

Paradoxically, it is false freedom that leads to bondage, while it is the humble service of God and neighbor that brings what the Anglican prayer book calls “perfect freedom.”

So Let us Pray the Collect for Peace:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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3 replies to this post
  1. One of the best essays on both complex problem definition and the solution path I’ve read in awhile! Thanks for your critical thinking and clarity of thought!!

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