Friday, July 4, 2014

Thoughts on True and False Freedom on Independence Day, 2014

The Catholic view of Freedom holds that freedom allows us to do what we ought to do. The modern American concept of freedom is the idea that we can do whatever we want. These views of freedom are obviously contradictory because doing what we want and doing what we ought often run into conflict.

There's also the problem that the freedom to do what one wants tends to contradict itself. If I am free to do what I want, am I free to own slaves? Most people would be horrified at the thought. (if you're thinking That's a good idea! then do yourself a favor and keep quiet). The freedom to own a slave removes freedom from the person who is a slave.

The person who claims the freedom to do what one wants takes offense with the challenge that there are limits to what one can do. But the person who says there are limits points out that there are things it is never right to do. I'm not free to rape or murder or enslave, and most people would agree that no person should ever have such "freedom."

Yet, it's funny that the proponent of the "freedom to do as I want" school of thought tend to view any restrictions to do what they want as having someone "imposing their views." But the fact remains that the person who demands the freedom to do something immoral denies the freedom of the person who thinks it is immoral to act.

There's a really stupid slogan that has made the rounds on Facebook, the internet in general, and the bumper stickers. It reads, "If you're against abortion, don't have one." It's really stupid because the concept allows you to justify anything:

  • If you're against murder, don't murder anyone.
  • If you're against rape, don't rape anyone.
  • If you're against stealing, don't steal.
  • If you're against discrimination, don't discriminate.
  • If you're against slavery, don't own a slave.
  • If you're against torture, don't torture anyone.

These all sound ridiculous, and with good reason. In all these cases, it is recognized that the thing opposed is seen as something that no person should do. The person who actually believed one of these would be viewed with horror. But the person who would use such an argument is making the assertion that there is nothing wrong with the existence of a behavior. Opposition to the behavior is portrayed as a preference. If you don't like the behavior, and demand nobody be allowed to do it, the accusation is, "You're forcing your views on us!"

No. Opposing murder, rape, theft, discrimination and slavery all stem from the belief that all these actions are wrong, and nobody should do them. If we accept the idea of "If you're against abortion, don't have one," the others follow logically . . . the individual's preferences are supreme and the other person's rights can be sacrificed.

But once we recognize that a person is not free to murder, rape, steal from, discriminate against, or enslave another person, we recognize that there are limits to individual freedoms when it comes to actions that are always wrong. So we know that the freedom to do what you want is false. The problem is we tend to make exceptions for ourselves. If I want to do something, I should be able to do it without any repercussions . . . I should have the freedom from consequences of my actions.

But nature itself shows that is false. Yes I can probably be drunk 24 hours a day, but that freedom comes with a cost to my physical and mental health. Yes, I can probably have sex indiscriminately, but that freedom comes with the cost of the chance of pregnancy or the chance of venereal diseases. People want to avoid those consequences and demand that means be provided to avoid such consequences—at no cost to themselves. Of course that means at the expense of others. As the old saying goes, There's no such thing as a free lunch. If the person demands the means to avoid consequences without having to pay for it, that person is demanding that other people pay for it (such as, the taxpayers).



Keep out of my bedroom . . . but leave your wallet!

Of course, that is where people who claim the freedom to do as they ought rightly object. Because Catholics believe that some things are always wrong (the term is Intrinsic evil) and may never be done, they cannot cooperate with such acts, even when lawmakers unjustly approve of them. For example, if a government should be taking part in a genocide and passed a law that all citizens must turn in members of the targeted ethnic group, we would recognize our obligation to not take part. People in the government could try to force us, but they would have no right to do so.

OK, the genocide example is an extreme one—it's meant to be. It's meant to demonstrate the principle in a way that most people would recognize. But we have obligations to live as God commands, and we believe these obligations are reasonable and are actually beneficial. Going against these obligations is harmful spiritually to be sure, but going against them are also harmful physically and mentally as well . . . we're going against the way we're hardwired to be.

If you believe that your freedom to do as you want trumps the freedoms of others who believe it is wrong to act this way, that is the same mindset of the person who believed he had the right to own slaves. While you're decrying people "pushing their views on you," it's actually you who are pushing your views on those who think it is wrong.

That's the problem with America today. People want the freedom from consequences when they claim the freedom to do what they want. They insist others provide what they need to avoid consequences, even if those others believe it is wrong to enable their behavior.

The Supreme Court recently defended the right to do as we ought—with the result that people who want freedom from consequences are outraged that we don't have to do what we believe is evil. That outrage is alarming. It indicates they are actually contemptuous of true freedom and actually want their privileges to trump the true rights of others.

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