Defining Freedom


Even though I am Canadian, I have been following the HHS mandate and the Catholic response happening in the United States with great interest.  One of the most interesting things I have learned thus far, is how important it is just to be educated on the topic of freedom in general.

I teach social studies and we cover freedom in great detail throughout the year, from the English Civil War, to the French and American Revolutions.  The fight for freedom is a core principal of our curriculum, and one that I should be contemplating more often.  For instance, from reading the discussion on the HHS mandate, the very definition of freedom is being debated.  I had never really looked at the differences between the secular world and the Church on this issue.  I wrongly assumed that the concept of freedom was simple and uncomplicated.

“To have a right to do a thing, is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

– GK Chesterton

Firstly, the secular world sees freedom primarily in terms of self-determination and being able to do what one wants to be happy, with the only limitation being to not obstruct someone from making their own choices.  The secular version of freedom, however, is often separated from the moral law and what the Creator (the orchestrator of human rights) says is true and good.  So often the secular world confuses freedom with license and this is not good for our society and freedom in general, as Blessed John Paul II so eloquently put it:

“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.”

– Blessed Pope John Paul II

When we dismiss the Creator, we assume the role of the “Creator” and create our own moral code, our own version of what is true and good. When we become the orchestrator of our own moral code, then we “should” have no business judging someone else’s code of ethics.  But, rarely do we see people minding their own business.  If you truly believe something than it is hard to be silent when the people around you are doing the very thing you strongly oppose.  This is where we begin to see the problem with society’s secular view of freedom and relativism in general.  Truth and morality cannot be relative, it doesn’t make logical sense, and only leaves a bewildered society in its wake.

On the other hand, the Church’s definition of freedom is that our fundamental freedoms are inscribed in our hearts by our Creator. The Creator is in charge of what is good and true and His Truth is revealed through, not only the Church, that Christ founded, but through the Natural Law, that the Creator inscribed on all human hearts regardless of faith.

Freedom, according the Church, is when we are always able to choose what is good and true.  This is why the HHS mandate is so serious for Catholics.  Catholics believe that abortion and contraception are evil, and the government forcing Catholics to go against what they sincerely believe to be good and true, is a severe violation of their freedom.

What I don’t understand is, if the secular vision of freedom protects people’s choices to do what they want, why do they not tolerate all choices, especially those held by a collective group, such as the Catholic Church? It is not like the Church is forcing anyone to be Catholic, they aren’t forcing anyone to work for Catholic institutions, or go to Catholic Universities either.

More and more I am seeing the power in being educated in our faith and how education is a means to change hearts. Let us all strive to enlighten ourselves, and invoke the aid of the Holy Spirit, to help those around us too understand as well.

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6 Responses to Defining Freedom

  1. Good thoughts. There is also the American understanding of freedom, which is freedom from government interference. This is at the heart of the HHS Mandate controversy; the freedom of religious institutions to act on their faith as well as teach it without government interference.

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  2. Matt says:

    Great post! Here’s another relevant quote from Pope John Paul II: ‎”Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

    And another profound article explaining why the secular vision of freedom has been progressively squeezing religion out of the public square: http://www.anamnesisjournal.com/issues/2-web-essays/54-r-j-snell

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