Freedom

Image Freedom.

This word that we hold dear. This ideal. This right. This concept that people throughout the centuries have fought and died for.

Freedom.

My last few posts have caused a bit of debate. In fact the last one caused a bit of a stir on social media.  Ironically, the criticism of the post and of Pope Francis only further prove the point. To make an economic concept a demi-god, to allow one’s ideology to become one’s “religion”, no matter how good or just that ideology may be, is to create an idol. This is, in part what Pope Francis was talking about in Evangelii Gaudium.  He was also warning against the danger of forgetting that the whole point of an economy is to benefit people.  It has to be about people. Not things. Not wealth. Not accumulation. People. A good friend of mine (who is smarter than me) summed it up quite nicely when he explained, “Without the governing influence of the Christian ideal, both socialism and capitalism value efficiency, profit, or the illusory workers paradise more than individual persons and the family. The individual human person is simply seen as a cog, a means to an end. This is the point that Pope Francis is trying to make. It is the same point that every Pope since Leo XIII has been trying to make to both the socialist and the capitalist. It is point Chesterton and Belloc tried to make.”

While I think this is an excellent summation, I recognize that there are still those who are not willing to concede the point, either from misunderstanding, stubbornness, or simply because they have never really thought about it before. So I want to address a particular criticism that I have heard: that which says Capitalism is necessary for freedom, and that freedom and capitalism must co-exist in order for a society to be truly free.  So let’s talk about freedom.

Here in America we hold our Freedom very dear. We know that brave men and women have died defending it. We ask ourselves if we would do the same. We learn our history and teach our children how American came to be. We hope that we are passing on the noble and brave ideals that our forefathers put into writing so eloquently in the 1770s. But what is Freedom?

It’s easy to see how we have linked an economic concept with the idea of freedom.  We even call it a “free market” economy.  Often times “free market” is synonymous with capitalism.  But we are limiting ourselves and our definition of freedom if we believe that it is dependent upon economics.  Those who defend this view will point to the fall of communism in Russia and say that it was due in large part to a triumph of capitalism over communism.  While I do not dispute the economic aspect of the fall of communism, there was a lot more behind it than Reagan, a red phone, and a push for a “free market;”  and any student of world history knows that something such as the fall of communism is a lot more complex than a simple economic equation. But that is a topic for another post. I want to talk about freedom.

The best definition of freedom I have come across is from Pope John Paul II.

Image

This sums it up so succinctly.  Freedom is not merely something bestowed by a government, or even by another person, and it is inextricably linked with faith. First and foremost it is a right. It is interior.  Secondarily it is external – having the right to do as I ought. There is a duality to Freedom.  It is personal – interior – am I enslaved to sin? Am I enslaved to an idea? Am I free to love God?  and it is exterior – communal – am I free to do as I ought? Can I worship God as He has commanded? Am I free to live my faith publicly? Am I able to serve my neighbor and raise my family as God has instructed?

To further understand freedom as it pertains to society, we again look to John Paul II:

$(KGrHqJ,!rQFGtufRblKBRzut5k!tQ~~60_35

“When Freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”

Once again we see Freedom as something at once internal and external. We also see that Freedom needs a purpose.  This is instructive. It means that Freedom is made for man, not man for Freedom.  It means that Freedom can be lost, that we can forfeit it. It also means it can be reclaimed.  On a personal level this is best illustrated by man’s relationship to sin.  Sin strips us of freedom.  It chains us – makes us slaves to ourselves and our base desires.  It is this slavery – this non-freedom – that compels men towards greed, towards accumulating power and wealth and profit as an end in itself. It is what propels us to use other people .   This utilitarianism is quite apparent in the Marxist model.  It is also present in a Free-Market that is devoid of the morals and “laws written in the hearts of men and women.”   So one can be living in a so called “free society” and yet not be free.   Conversely, one can also be living in what would be considered a society devoid of freedom (think North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela etc) and be free.  Interior Freedom is not dependent upon circumstances. It is dependent upon one’s relationship with God.  It is linked to Faith.  It is written in our hearts. If we are free to Love God – and truly it is only sin that can remove from us our ability to love God – then not even man, not even death can take from us our Freedom.  Freedom to Love – to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love even our enemies, to Love God above all else. This Freedom is not contingent upon our circumstances. It is not dependent up on a Government, a society or even other people. It is Freedom in its deepest sense.

But what of our first definition? “Freedom to do as we ought?” Isn’t this more of a public form of freedom? Well, on the surface it certainly seems that way, and we will address it in a moment, but if we ask ourselves “What is it that I ought to do?”  we will again arrive at the same answer: I must love God above all else, I must love my neighbor and love my enemy. I must love.” That is what I ought to do. It is why we were created; to know, love and serve God in this life so we may worship and adore Him for all eternity in the next.   Again, this knowing, loving, and serving Him is not contingent upon our external circumstances, but rather on our interior state.

Now, when it comes to an American concept of freedom you can usually assume that it is the external, societal freedom that is being spoken of.  Here we can also rely on both definitions given to us by Pope John Paul II.  According to him, a society would be defined as free if the individuals in that society were able to do as they ought. Not at they want, but as they ought.  This is where we usually see a discussion of the difference between freedom and licence. A free society is not a society that allows its citizens to do whatever they want, whenever they want.  Our more libertarian friends sometimes have a difficult time with this definition. That is because they are thinking in terms of licence, not of freedom.  Remember that Freedom, when not tied in with the laws of conscience, when it has no purpose, “turns against society.”  This is anarchy. It is not freedom.  This is why we have laws. Laws, according to the Catholic understanding of them, are necessary to maintain and protect freedom. They are not meant to detract from it.  When a law is created from one’s conscience and is bound to the natural and moral laws, that law promotes freedom. It allows for the individuals of a society to “do as they ought.”   Think of the Ten Commandments – the Law of Moses. These laws ensured freedom to the Israelites.  They created an atmosphere and a societal framework in which Israel could flourish – and do as they ought; namely, Obey and Worship the I Am. God.  When any of those laws were broken (or are broken today) because someone took the licence to break them, what follows is not freedom, but a breakdown of freedom and a harming of the society.

The Natural and Moral laws written on our hearts cannot be separated from real freedom.  These laws of nature provide a framework in which we can “do as we ought.”  It is when laws begin to ignore the natural order and the morality that is stamped on our hearts that we see freedom being eroded.  When laws cease to be about ensuring that a society may do as it ought , that  society is no longer a free society.  We can see this in any number of examples: mandating that individuals pay for certain items that they may not want limits their ability to do as they ought.  Even if they “ought” to buy these things for their own good, the act of ordering them to do so and taking away their ability to decide to do as they ought limits their freedom.  Forcing people to do good (ie: spreading the wealth around) takes away a person’s ability to do as he or she ought (give to the poor). This is not freedom.  You cannot legislate freedom and a Government cannot bestow it.  The most a government can do is create an atmosphere that is conducive to freedom – a societal framework that allows individuals to do as they ought, and that respects the moral and natural laws that are written in the hearts of men and women.

Now one more time we need to mention what it is that I ought to do.  If we are to look at this through the paradigm of Catholicism than I already answered the question above: what I ought to do is seek to know, love and serve God, and to love my neighbor as myself.  We discussed what this looked like personally within the understanding of personal freedom, but what about publicly?  How does one “do as one ought” within the framework of society?  Simply put, Freedom in this context would constitute free exercise of religion. The ability to publicly live and express one’s Faith.  If the purpose of Freedom is to do as one ought, and if what one ought to do is know, love, and serve God, and love neighbor, then it stands to reason that within our definition of a free society, individuals must be accorded the opportunity to practice this “doing as they ought” with respect to their neighbors and fellow members of society.  This is the external definition of Freedom.  This is where we can easily see if a society is free or not.

Taken in this context, one could logically conclude that the economy of the society would flow from the ability or inability of its members to do as they ought, not determine their ability for them.  The economics of a society are the result of the freedom or non-freedom of a society, not the determining factor.  To take it a step further, I would argue that the more free (internally) individuals there are within a society, the more likely the the society is to be free (externally), and the economy of that society would at once be the product of and conducive to freedom – placing the human person and his or her dignity (and therefore his or her ability to do as they ought) as the object of that economy’s success.

Now take a look at the converse. I will even go so far as to suggest thinking of America in this example.  The more individuals enslaved to themselves and their base desires (internally) within a society, the more that society will limit the (external) freedom of its members – limiting or prohibiting them from doing as they ought in the public square – the more that economy will focus on wealth, power, greed, etc as its object, thereby reducing the human person as a means to an end, further limiting the (external) freedom of the individuals.

You see, I don’t need to name economic systems in this example. Whether they are communist, capitalist, Marxist, Utopian, trickle-down, distributist, anarchist, mercantile, Keynesian, feudal….etc is primarily irrelevant to our discussion of Freedom.  Of course you can look at our above examples and make some educated deductions as to which economic systems would best flow from a Free Society, but I shall leave that for you to deduce on your own. Besides, you already know what I think on that subject anyway!

Share

Advertisements

Fox News vs Pope Francis

national-prayer-day-cropped-proto-custom_2First it was The New York Times. Then it was MSNBC.  Next it was the HuffPo, Mother Jones, Time Magazine, Life Magazine… All to be expected. But then it was Rush Limbaugh. Now its Fox News.  Yes, its gang up on Pope Francis time and Catholics everywhere…. do what exactly?

The first bunch I expect. Heck, if the New York times didn’t misrepresent Pope Francis I’d be nervous. But Rush? Fox News? Et tu, Brute? Rush Limbaugh’s astounding ignorance I addressed here.  Enjoy.  But I have been stewing about the article posted on Fox News’ website this week.  I was actually going to go line by line and refute (and possibly mock) everything that was said.  But then Mark Shea wrote a brilliant piece here and saved me the trouble. (and he is a published writer with, ya know, an instant audience. Its all good, I say my Litany of Humility… )

Mr. Shea got me thinking though, after my initial relief, “Whew! Now I don’t need to go line by line,”  I started to really think and I realized, that this is EXACTLY to be expected, and, ironically, its EXACTLY what Pope Francis was talking about.  Let me elaborate.

The latest bru-haha with Pope Francis that has the likes of Rush and Fox all stirred up revolves around the Document Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). Particularly his alleged “condemnation of capitalism.”  Now, before we go further lets clear that up – Pope Francis did not outright condemn capitalism. He condemned the idolatry of money and rightly pointed out that idolatry of money and greed can be found within every economic system – including capitalism.  Now does that sound scandalous? No more scandalous than “Man cannot serve two masters, God and mammon.”  Nevertheless, Pope Francis is now being attacked by those who, while not necessarily the first to come to his defense, would at least normally give him the benefit of the doubt.

Why?

Before I answer that, I want to share an excerpt from the article by Mark Shea (bold emphasis mine):

And sure enough, it is the strategy of FOX who–swimming in money and able to pick from a vast pool of real talent ranging from Fr. Robert Sirico on the Right, to Fr. Robert Barron in the center, or John Allen, Jr. on the Left (all of whom have sufficient credentials to offer something like a serious analysis and critique of Francis’ thought)–instead tapped a young video game reviewer named Adam Shaw to pen the hit piece. Why? Because hit pieces need no qualifications beyond “I was raised Catholic and I can tell you…” The unthinking platitudes, shallow analysis and mendacity can flow, unencumbered by the thought process when your sole goal is to poison the well.  Then all you need do is make sure Drudge links it (as he dutifully has) and the conservative Catholics FOX seeks to poison against Francis are sent the clear message that this is not some Outsider attacking the Church, this is a True Catholic defending the Church from our dangerous new pope.

Now, why in the world would Fox News act so nefariously as to want to “Poison the well” of conservative Catholics? And furthermore, what in the world do we do about it?

In order to answer that we have to understand two very fundamental realities at play here: reality one – This is America. Reality two – America is not a Catholic country.noirish500_MG_7624

Americans (at least those with voices loud enough to be heard above, or at least amidst, the media noise) tend to see everything in political terms, ideologies and monikers. Liberals and Conservatives.  Democrats and Republicans.  Left and Right. Socialists and Capitalists, Communists and Patriots… The problem is, “Catholic” doesn’t squarely fit into any of those.  Catholicism isn’t an ideology. Its a religion. Its a faith. It is who you are, not what you are.  In America this is a problem.  Its also grounds for a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust.  “Christianity” in America has never included Catholicism.  (This leads us to our second point, and makes it necessary for me to mention that Catholicism IS a Christian religion. It is “Christocentric” meaning, centered on Jesus Christ; however for the purpose of this post it is necessary for me to differentiate between Catholicism and the other Christian denominations in the US).  In fact, Catholics in America were originally societal outcasts, being relegated to living only in Maryland, harshly persecuted, unable to find employment and subjected to extreme prejudice, and almost always at odds with American politics.  American Christianity, however – starting with the Puritans, Quakers and early Episcopalians and Lutherans  and developing into an evangelical, Baptist, and mainline Protestant conglomeration grew up largely along side the American political system.  This morphing of Christianity and politics has created an uniquely American Christian experience where the majority of Evangelical Christians and several Christian Denominations practically identify Capitalism, patriotism, and national pride as important parts of their “religious identity.”

Herein, my friends, lies what is at the root of this latest “conservative” attack on Pope Francis, and by default, the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis, in presenting the Truth (much the same as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II did) and has stated that capitalism is not the be-all end-all of economics.  In fact, he was so brazen as to actually say that unfettered capitalism can become a breeding ground for materialism and greed and that this is unhealthy for a society, because an economic system not focused on people – real people – is an economic system that will end up harming them.  Now, for your average non-Catholic “bitter clinger” this is heresy! Capitalism and its defense have become such a part of mainstream Christian conservative culture that many are unable to separate it from their religious and political identities.  So here we have Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh and the like experiencing a knee – jerk reaction to what is, and always has been a Catholic economic philosophy.  The difference is that the “Left, Liberal” factions in America have been doing their utmost to claim Pope Francis as one of their own and twist his words to suit their needs.  This tactic may have been working up until they couldn’t ignore his no-nonsense words on abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage.  They tried mightily to co-opt the new Pope to suit their liberal agenda when it came to sexual morals (which in their narrow world view, is all a Pope is really supposed to talk about).  But then Pope Francis did the unthinkable! He kept talking! And about a lot more than just moral issues confined to the bedroom! The left, still bent on trying desperately to make him out to be “on their side” kept reporting.  So now we have a left-leaning media trying to figure out why a Pope would talk about the economy and doing so while interpreting it all through their “American” paradigm, which we have already established, is a political one. This of course gets the right-leaning media all fired up. While correctly reporting how Pope Francis is – like his predecessors – holding fast to the teachings of the Church on sexual ethics, the right -leaning media starts having conniptions when they start reporting on his foray into economic theory. The problem is that Pope Francis is an “anomaly.”  He isn’t fitting into a box! He doesn’t fit the mold of either ideology!  The left could not successfully label him as a liberal, and the right is now terrified of him because he didn’t simply tout the glories of Capitalism. To those on both ends of the political ideological spectrum this is unthinkable, and since they can’t fit him squarely into their own small, ideological box, well, then he must be the enemy! So here we are, with the Left beating their chests and ranting over how he is a patriarchal, woman-hating man after all (but at least he understands the plight of the poor), and the Right grabbing their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and snarking about how he “must” be a Marxist because he isn’t a die-hard Capitalist – which clearly means he isn’t a real Christian either and MUST be secretly supporting Obama (but at least he hasn’t backed down on abortion and gay marriage).

Truly, my friends, it’s laughable.

It’s hilarious.

It’s CATHOLIC.

Pope Francis is doing exactly what Christ did all those years ago. He is shaking things up. He is challenging us. He is speaking the Truth, unencumbered by ideology or politics. He is speaking in love, about love, and for love of Christ. He is Shepherding his Church.  He is walking the very walk he is calling the Church to. And the talking heads have no idea what to do about it. And that scares them.

Fear is a powerful motivator.  Fear is what motivated the hearts of those who placed Jesus on the Cross, and what martyred the early Christians.  Fear is what causes otherwise sane and conscientious people to lash out.  Its what makes Rush Limbaugh yell “Marxist” and Fox news try to alienate Conservative Catholics.

It’s time to pray and it’s time to be bold, because, my friends if you want to follow Christ, if you want to seek His Truth, well you aren’t going to fit into a box either.  Pope Francis is calling us to something much more radical than ideology. He is reminding us that all things – be they economics, sexual morals, or world hunger – MUST be centered first on Christ, and second, they must be at the service to the human person and his dignity.  When anything – economics included – ceases to be about the dignity of the person and instead becomes focused on the acquisition of wealth or things, or prestige, or power etc. for its own sake, than it is no longer good for society – or for the human person.  This philosophy, which is at the heart of Catholic social and economic teaching, isn’t going to mesh well with any American political party. It is going to challenge both the right and the left’s perceptions of reality. It’s going to be considered a threat by the mainline Protestants and Evangelicals who have adopted a political ideology as part of their faith.

Be Not Afraid. 

You were born for this. You are part of the Church Militant! We have a Shepherd in Pope Francis who is sharing the Gospel in a way that is touching lives, opening hearts, and turning the status quo on its head. Be ready to have his back! Be ready to share the faith! Be ready to be a part of this New Evangelization and not only defend your faith, but invite others to come experience it!  Truth is attractive, my friends! The media, and those in it would have us believe that the Truth is divisive. We know better.  “The Truth will set you free.”  Lets us join our Holy Father in proclaiming it. IMG_1538

 

****A note to my dear non-Catholic friends who may be a tad miffed at me.****

If you know me, then you know I do not judge.  This post is in no way a judgement on the character or depth of the faith of any one of you.  Rather, it is an observation of an unique American reality – the coupling of faith and politics that is part of our American culture.  In other parts of the world this same sort of cultural phenomenon can be found – Poland for example and some of the old European nations have a vast cultural experience that intertwines an old world Catholicism into the fabric of their political systems. Granted they are becoming more and more secular, but the fact remains that many nations have built cultures upon a religious identity and have over time combined religious and political thought into an ideology.  So please do not take my observations as disrespect or indifference. That, as you can see, is not how they are intended.

On another note, if you feel so inclined to learn more about Catholicism, I leave you with this thought from Ven. Fulton Sheen, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

Catholic means “Universal” – our doors are always open!

(Sorry, couldn’t help it.)