Friday, June 29, 2012

Freedom is Not Free

Freedom entails the ability of the conscience to perceive the fundamental value of humanity, a value that concerns every individual.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 48

Reflection – Well we have one of those nifty one-liners here, virtually tweet-like in its succinctness (132 characters, to be precise), which says more than many a vast volume of verbiage could voice. (Alliteration is fun!)

It is a huge theme of Ratzinger’s that freedom, so crucial, so necessary to the human project, does not stand alone as its own thing, independent and secure. Freedom exists in a matrix of values and truths without which it cannot survive.

Freedom simply as ‘I will do as I please,’ is doomed to failure. Either some other person will come along and in their freedom rob, rape, or kill me, doing as they please and leaving me a wreck or a corpse, or I myself will get subsumed into the collectivist thinking of the herd, where ‘what I please’ to do just happens to line up precisely with the messages and agendae of Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Freedom has to be held secure by something else. And many people get this. ‘Freedom is not free!’ is a battle cry in some quarters, although (sadly) what is often meant by that is that we have to invade other countries and torture the people living in them so that we can continue to be brainwashed by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Ahem. Sorry. My inner hippy radical speaking there. S’true, though!

Ratzinger is (as usual!) right on the money when he says that freedom is held secure by the perception of the fundamental value of humanity, and its application to the individual. If I do not treat you as the inestimable being of value that you are, if you do not treat, or at least attempt to treat, each person you meet as if they are a V.I.P., literally, to look on everyone as a ‘thou’ and not as an ‘it’, then your freedom and mine are on very shaky grounds.

Why is this? Well, the Pope and I have written extensively about this over the past year. Clicking on the ‘freedom’ tag at the bottom of this post will give you a fair bit to chew on with the subject. It’s really a matter of knowing what freedom is for, which is really tied to the question of what human life is for. What is it all about, anyhow?

When we reduce the human person to something less than human, when we objectify, use, discard, destroy people according to some calculus of value or other, we lose what freedom is for. Freedom is for loving, for communion, for a joyous entry into the community of man, the human family, an entry and a communion that here and now is marked by struggle and anguish, but nonetheless is the essence of human life and flourishing.

To descend to a sort of law of the jungle, an approach to humanity marked by calculation and use, makes communion possible. If I use you, I cannot be in communion with you. If I cannot be in communion with you, I am no longer free. Life is reduced to a bare level of use and abuse, and ultimately I am enslaved by my desires, by the pressures of the marketplace, and by the pressures of the mass media and its group-think.

In other words, respect for life is the bare minimum requirement of a free society. So… is Canada a free society? Is America? Is Europe?

The struggle for the right to life is at the very core of restoring, rebuilding, and securing the freedom of our nations, and our claim to be humane and civil societies.


  1. Warning! New to blogging! One of the difficulties with having this discussion is that, for some, there is no "ability of the conscience to perceive..." I would hazard a guess that a lot of pretty average people would say they are all for a loving communion of humanity. And they would say they don't treat others like objects or "it". That they are really nice to others. And to a very large extent this is probably true. They dont have difficulty with abortion in many cases or choice of any kind in the sexual realm It seems like real compassion that leads them to support euthanasia, assosted suicide etc So where do we start the conversation absent the concepts and the language of gift and self sacrifice.

    1. “Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”
      ― Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear

      Father Denis,
      Forgive me, I know- she is Buddahist- but she is amazing.

      She talks about God as compassion- and conscience-

    2. @Anonymous - well, no one ever said it would be easy! :) The challenge of dialogue is extraordinary right now, and I think we just need to keep talking and talking and talking (and listening and listening and listening). Really, this is why I think the most dangerous and deadly thing of all is the movement to suppress any dissident voices as hate speech. If conversation is shut down before it begins, we are truly sunk.

    3. Catherine - I love Buddhists! There's no 'but' about it. And yes, Aung San Suu Kyi is amazing indeed.


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