Yes, the Lord came to set us free. Freedom is at the heart of the Christian message. Christianity is not a religion constraining our freedom, as many think it is. This religion is about liberation; liberation from sin and ungodliness, Liberation from all which detaches us from God and one another.
But notice that it is not simply a freedom from certain constraints but an ought built in human nature, a burning interior desire to fulfill what is our destiny. Freedom is a calling to realize in ourselves what is true about us, a calling to actualize in us all what is true, good, and beautiful. The Lord came to set us free! In the Book of the Romans St. Paul tells us that some become slaves to sin when they act in ways they know are evil. Thus, freedom is not simply 'doing my thing' but rather a call to live as according to a right order.
Edmund Burke was right when he described such freedom, 'The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order, that not only exist along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them.' Freedom is to do what we must.There is then a clear link between freedom and duty, between liberty and virtue. Religion and education are then essential to a truly free society as they mold the moral ecology of a community.
How sad that our utilitarian and secularist society defines freedom along the lines of appetite-satisfaction. Philosopher David Hume would be proud of modern developments as he believed that '[r]eason is an ought to be the slave of the passions and may never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.' John Steward Mills also obliged, 'Liberty consists in doing what one desires.'
The language of morality has been substituted by the language of rights; as if freedom is doing my thing moral norms and social mores are, of necessity, oppressive. The only value that modernity seems to accept is that of 'authenticity' regardless of what is the content of our choices. Interestingly, such radical individualism in the moral sphere is linked with a rabid collectivist impulse in the social sphere. The emphasis on the human person as the locus of moral action has been substituted by an emphasis on group entitlement and collective prerrogative.
A neo-Marxist understanding of social processes tell us that all must be understood with recourse to the concept of power. There lies the luring of socialism as it asserts the need to reorder power with the state, often hidden under the term of 'society', as the primary agent for the reshaping. This luring affects the language of those always pitting the rich against the poor. I think Pope John Paul II understood this error when he stated:
'The fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good and evil.'
A morality of encounter shifts toward that of class struggle, antagonism and what I call, 'the politics of despair', an inordinate emphasis on oppression and collective victimization. Many decades ago Alexis de Tocqueville spoke of the perils of such ideas, "Democratic peoples always like equality but there are times when their passion turns to delirium...cIt is no use pointing out that freedom is slipping from their grasp while they look the other way; they are blind, or rather they can see but one thing to covet in the whole world."
How are we to counter the combination of radical individualism in morality with collectivism in economics? We must assert our strong commitment to the priority of the human person and our belief in an ethical moral order we do not create but only discover. First of all, stand for all that is true and good, do it with firm conviction but gentle gesture. Love your neighbor so much that they will see Christ in you; earn the right to be heard! Go ahead and assert your freedom in striving for what is good; remember your neighbor in need by freely choosing to be generous. Be there with the one who suffers, side by side him. Remember the struggling poor, reject the indolent. Shun the musings of those using pity to exert influence and who prefer collectivized confiscatory powers hiding as compassion over free exchange and true encounter. Let's strive to live both the good life and the life that is good.
The American people are a good and generous people and those who have great wealth among us are a sign of greatness not oppression. Let's remember the gift that America is to the world. We do not help the poor by attacking the rich. In rejecting both greed and envy we will create a society based on ordered liberty and Christian love. Our task is to oppose what theologian Thomas Dubay calls the dogmas of materialism, 'the primacy of pleasure, the invalidity of metaphysics, the relativity of morality, the denial of freedom.'
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