Freedom can abolish itself. Freedom can weary of itself when it has become empty.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 50
Reflection – Ratzinger warns here of the danger of establishing a morality by consensus. You may be familiar with this approach to moral ‘thinking’. Namely, whatever the opinion poll says is right, is right! Same sex marriage is trending up in the polls; abortion is trending down. So the one is increasingly moral; the other is increasingly immoral.
Morality by consensus: whatever we all agree on, are at least a plurality agree upon, is right. The trouble here is that we can agree on monstrous evils. We can agree to deprive the unborn of the right to life, or Jews, or gypsies, or homosexuals. We can agree to give the state power to arrest people and hold them indefinitely without charge at the whim of those in power. President Barack Obama just signed a law allowing himself to do just that.
‘Freedom can abolish itself.’ The majority can decide just about anything. Human history is filled with example upon example of ‘the majority’ enslaving, raping, murdering, and choosing to live in conditions of profound tyranny and exploitation.
For what? For the sake of security? To make life a little bit simpler, a little easier (freedom is a burden to be borne, you know)? To get rid of undesired elements in the population? Whatever it is, ‘freedom can weary of itself when it has become empty.’
What do we need to do? We need to attain a vision of freedom that is precisely not empty. We need to rediscover, or discover for the first time, what freedom is for, what its point is, what the good of it is. Freedom is for something—it is not just a vacuous ticket to do whatever you please. Sooner or later, it will please us to legislate our freedom away. Sooner, I think.
Freedom is for love. Freedom is for truth. Freedom is for pursuing the deep meaning, the deep goodness, the transcendent value of human life. Otherwise, it is of little to no value. If I use my freedom merely to watch silly TV shows and buy stuff I don’t need, I will quickly trade it away when it becomes burdensome.Sobering thoughts, sobering words. But such are the times we live in.