can never be anything other than a freedom expressed in the right way of living in common – freedom in justice. Otherwise it becomes a lie and leads to slavery.
Reflection – Freedom has become one of those words, hasn’t it? You know what I mean, words that everyone throws around (freely!), that rank high on the scale of values and goods, and yet are rarely discussed. What does it mean to be free? What is necessary for freedom to flourish? What is the good of freedom?
Ratzinger, a thoroughly modern theologian living in the era when questions around freedom, authority, and law have been not just abstract intellectual questions, but matters of life and death for much of the world, has written a lot about this.
In this very short passage which is part of a longer analysis in a very fine little book (I hate to keep shilling books aggressively on this site, but this one really is a winner, and well worth the modest price!), he points out the insufficiency of the common modern idea of freedom.
This is the idea that freedom means simply that I do what I want and you do what you want, and he does what he wants and… we’re all free! Except we’re not.
What if what I want to do is publicly state that what he and his same-sex partner want to do is wrong? I am likely to end up with a human rights complaint, years of costly, burdensome legal processes and perhaps a quasi-judicial verdict that will order me to change my opinions, as happened to Steven Boisson in
. What if what she wants to do is peacefully pray outside an abortion clinic and talk to the women going in about other options? She will end up in jail, as has happened to Linda Gibbons. Alberta
What if the freedom of advertisers is expressed in plastering sexually suggestive and even explicit billboards and posters all over every major city in
North America (yeah, what if…)? Then the freedom of men and women striving to live chastely is severely hampered by the ceaseless bombardment of temptation, not to mention the freedom of parents living in those cities to raise their children with a sense of modesty and purity.
The truth is, individualistic freedom is an illusion. Every action I ever take affects the lives of every person around me. We are all constantly becoming less free or more free—freedom being defined here strictly as freedom to grow and develop into the fullness of our human potential. Either my actions are contributing to this growth in my immediate neighbors, or it is hampering it. Either my neighbors’ actions are fostering my growth into freedom or they are not.
This is where Ratzinger is going when he argues that only a freedom in the service of justice is truly free. A freedom that is selfish, that cares nothing for those around me, actually limits freedom. An entire society committed to the goal of totally selfish self-expression is moving steadily away from any true freedom, as each atomic individual grabs and grasps for whatever they want, tearing at the fabric of relationships in the process.Ironically, it is the choice to willingly limit one’s own freedom for the sake of justice, for the sake of the good of the other, that builds a free society for all, and allows each of us to grow to our fullest potential. Like an athlete or dancer submitting to hard training to perfect their skills, sometimes we have to submit to the discipline of sacrifice and obedience to perfect the quest for human fulfillment, a fulfillment I believe will only be found in the life of love of God and neighbor, of worship and service.