Thursday, July 05, 2012

What is Freedom and Can We Keep it?

On this Independence Day I would like to reflect on the nature of freedom.  Freedom is a gift from Almighty God.  Thomas Jefferson said “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time."

What is the purpose of freedom? God gave us freedom so that we could choose to do what is right and good. We say human beings are made in the image and likeness of God precisely because we have the capacity to know and to love God.  God created us with an ability to choose good or evil.  Without freedom to choose wrongly, there could be no such thing as love because love involves a free choice. If we were forced to love God, it would not be love. God is not a master puppeteer who forces us to do what is right.  St. John Chrysostom said "God draws, but He draws the willing one."

God makes it clear to anyone who seeks the truth the way they should follow. He founded the Church to teach us. He gave the Ten Commandments to God on Mount Sinai and a discerning mind can know the natural law.  We can choose to reject God, but if we do it only brings us misery in the end. If we choose to reject God on earth, we can't expect to enter His Kingdom in heaven. If we choose the wrong course, it's impossible to determine the end of that choice. Some choices are irrevocable.

It is we who choose our destiny. We have one life. We can foolishly choose the path of rebellion against God, as did the fallen angels and be lost. To choose sin is to abuse the very reason God gave us freedom to begin with. Sinful choices bring misery upon us and others. Free will makes it possible for us to love, but the same free will makes us capable of moral evil. God could have chosen to create a world without evil, but it would also be world without love, since love always involves a free choice.

God will never force his love on us, though he continually offers it to us while we are alive and able to accept it. St. Augustine said "He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”   If we choose wisely to love him and serve him on earth and be happy with Him in heaven forever.

We are made in the image and likeness of God, but we need his grace to be able to live as we ought. We were born as sinners in need of salvation. The Savior is Jesus Christ.  Jesus said “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8, 31-32).  Jesus also said "Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (John 8, 34) By our choice for or against Jesus we decide whether we will be truly free.

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote: "[F]reedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the truth.

This is the disease which is destroying our culture today. Too many people have embraced moral relativism, and see good and evil as nothing more than their own subjective opinion apart from any truth outside and independent of themselves.  The view of human freedom as absolute autonomy apart from God and what is true and good is destroying social bonds that make a civil society possible. Instead of neighbors, we become individuals living side by side.

When freedom is abused the rights of others are trampled upon, even the most fundamental of all rights - the right to life.  The Declaration of Independence declared that certain rights were unalienable because they were natural rights from Our Creator. Government didn't bestow them upon us, nor do governments have the authority to take them away. They precede all civil governments. The purpose of civil government is to safeguard the natural rights we have from God, in order that we might fulfill or duties to God and our neighbor.

In his book,  A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765), John Adams said  "I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe."

The slogans "pro-choice" or "the right to choose" resonate with many Americans because it seems to be in harmony with the freedom Americans cherish. That is until you think about it more deeply, because it's an incomplete thought. Choice always has an object for that choice.  Those who use the slogan "the right to choose" don't like to finish the thought by saying what it is they're actually choosing. If they do, they'll use euphemisms to cover up the ugly reality of the choice. Innocuous phrases like "termination of pregnancy" are used to hide the violent nature of abortion and the humanity of the victim.

Choosing an abortion always involves a choice to kill another living human being, another person through an act of violence.  A child in the womb is not a potential human being, but a human being with great potential. The choice of abortion deprives the other person of all their other potential choices.

Pope John Paul II said "To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom…" 

While in some nations the law seems to support these "rights" Pope John Paul said that what you really have here is only the tragic caricature of legality.  It is hypocritical to speak about the dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted. In the name of justice the most unjust of discriminations is practiced. Pre-born children and other who are considered not useful are deprived of their right to life and dignity. This ultimately leads to the disintegration of the State

Shortly after Poland was freed from Communist domination in 1990, Pope John Paul II began to fight for the right to life of unborn babies in his beloved Poland. In his General Audience he addressed a prayer to Our Lady of Jasna Gora which said “I am here before you today with the key issue in the entire moral order…This right is the first and most basic one. The law which strikes at life in the mother’s womb carries with it the marks of the totalitarian system.  These words carry enormous weight since they come from a man who knew what it was like to live under a totalitarian system.

In the 19th Century, African-Americans were also dehumanized and deprived of their rights. People also defended "slavery rights" in the same way others defend "abortion rights" today. They would argue that if the abolitionists didn't want slaves, fine, but don't interfere with my right to choose to own a slave. The right to choose depends on what is being chosen. No one has a right own another human being, nor does anyone have a right to take the life of an innocent human being.

In the 1960's Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Declaration of Independence a promissory note for African-Americans that had yet to be fulfilled.  He praised the noble sentiments in the Declaration, but called America to live up to those principles and apply them to all Americans. Today the Declaration of Independence remains but a promissory note for children living and growing in their mothers wombs. May we work and pray for that day when that promise will be extended to them too.

Both the right to life and religious freedom are under attack in America today.  Since 1973 and the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, at least 53 million human lives have been taken by the violence of abortion. Now, even worse, there are those who would have those who find this abhorrent to be complicit in these crimes by forcing us to pay for them through our insurance companies.

The passage of the ObamaCare bill gave Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to interpret which drugs would and would not be covered under the law.  I guess that why then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi infamously said of ObamaCare "We have to pass the health care bill so that you can find out what is in it."

Sebelius has used the power granted to her to declare a broad range of "women's preventive services" must be covered by insurers, without any deductible or co-pay. That includes all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration including the so-called "morning-after pill" that would prevent the implantation of a human embryo and thus sometimes act as an abortifacient.

The only religious exemption that would be offered would be to those institutions which employ and primarily serve their own members. Catholic hospitals and other charitable organizations that serve everyone who comes to them without regard to religion would not be exempt. In fact, Jesus Himself would not be exempt under the HHS mandate.

Freedom is a principle that most Americans hold dear, yet, in many ways, that freedom is slipping away from us.  President Abraham Lincoln famously once predicted “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Religious freedom and other personal freedoms are under attack in America today in a way that is unprecedented in modern times. Freedom has flourished in America because of our Judeao-Christian heritage. The farther we depart from that heritage, the more danger there is that we will lose more of our freedoms.

In 1943, H.W. Prentis, Jr. described a recurring cycle of history. He said "The historical cycle seems to be: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to apathy; from apathy to dependency; and from dependency back to bondage once more."

I am still hopeful that it's not too late. There are still enough faith-filled Americans who love God and revere the principles which made our nation great. We need to recapture the spirit of the original patriots who depending upon Divine Providence, pledged to each other to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor that they, and we, could live in freedom.  If we do, I believe God will bless our nation once again with liberty and prosperity that we will be, as both John Winthrop and Ronald Reagan envisioned - a “shining city on a hill”.