This week, our country observes Independence Day. Personally, at this point in our history I believe it would be more helpful to call it “Time to Learn What True Freedom Is Day.” For numerous reasons, I do not see this suggestion taking off any time soon. Nevertheless, I will share here from an article written by Jeffrey S. Arrowood, as found on his adult catechetical website, fromtheabbey.com.
Simply defined, freedom is the function of the will that empowers rational beings (humans, angels, etc.) to choose their actions. Freedom allows us to:
- Act contrary to our instincts, emotions and desires
- Control our emotions and desires
- Choose among various potential goods
- Choose between physical and spiritual good
- Choose who we want to become
There is a strong movement in our culture to leave the definition of freedom there — to see freedom as the ability (and right) to choose to do whatever we want. Living this definition of freedom at first seems fun and easy. We can do what we want and nobody else has the right to tell us our choice is right or wrong. After all, only we truly know what is truly good for us. As fun as it seems, though, in the end this definition of freedom is not livable. What happens when the choices that I want to make for myself interferes with the choices you make for yourself? What happens when we think something such as taking drugs is good for us when it objectively ruins our lives? What happens when someone chooses a path that harms other people? The band-aid solution often used to answer these questions is to define freedom as “the ability to do whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.”
There is a deeper problem with this simple definition of freedom. While it contains truth in it, it is not a complete definition. Human reason (and therefore natural law) requires more rigor in defining important concepts such as freedom. One of the most important questions to ask ourselves when we are trying to define something is, “What is the thing’s purpose?”
So, what role does freedom play in human nature? What is its purpose? Well, it makes sense that if we are going to choose among possible goods, the goal would be to choose those goods that meet the other goals of natural law – making us more human, choosing and protecting authentic human goodness, being true to our physical and spiritual nature, and enriching human society. For human freedom to fulfill its purpose, we need to have not only the ability to choose, but the ability to choose what can do the greatest good for us as human beings. Put simply, true human freedom is the ability to choose the best possible good.
Friends, bringing up this topic at the Fourth of July picnic could lead to one of several reactions: “Yeah, I think I’ll have me another helping of baked beans!” or it could launch a “fireworks” display (setting someone off on a rant) or it could generate some excellent dialogue among disciples. Our ancestors risked much for freedom. How much are we willing to risk?
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