Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Your religion is where your love is. - Henry David Thoreau
Real Freedom

In his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio, John Paul II wrote:

"Moreover, a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life? These are the questions which we find in the sacred writings of Israel, as also in the Veda and the Avesta; we find them in the writings of Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle. They are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. In fact, the answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives."

The way in which we answer the basic questions concerning the meaning of our existence affects the entire direction of our lives. The answers to these questions determine how we interact with the reality of our world. They affect every decision we make, every action of our daily lives. In the United States we are free to make those decisions according to the determination of our individual consciences. This freedom is founded in the Christian heritage of Western Civilization, which recognizes the dignity of the human person -- a creature created in the image and likeness of God. This is a profoundly Christian idea, as can be seen in the pages of Fides et Ratio.

At the heart of the Christian view of life is the idea that the human person is capable, and desirous, of knowing the truth about himself and the world around him. In the universal human pursuit of truth, the human person becomes more fully human through the exercise of human freedom.

Other cultures and religions answer these questions differently. They either deny that there is any answer to the deeper questions of our being, and view the human being as simply part of nature, little different from a stone or a fish, as in the case of Eastern mysticism. Or, in the case of Islam, they deny that the individual is free to answer these questions on his own. Both of these approaches to life are reactions against human freedom.

This is where most heresies fall into error, they are reactions against something or a negation of something. John Paul II writes in Fides et Ratio:

"Put differently, freedom is not realized in decisions made against God. For how could it be an exercise of true freedom to refuse to be open to the very reality which enables our self-realization? Men and women can accomplish no more important act in their lives than the act of faith; it is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth."

I think our Holy Father is saying here that freedom is not exercised as a decision against God, or really against anything, but is a decision for. Freedom is not a negative, it is a positive choice to follow the truth. Society today views freedom as license, freedom from restraint in any area of our lives. It is a denial of any absolute moral value or obligation on the part of the individual. This has lead to the virtual destruction of the family in the West, with rampant abortion, adultery, homosexuality, and drug use.

It has lead to another even more insidious failure -- an unwillingness to admit that there are truths worth struggling for. It views peace as the absence of conflict of any kind, and it views that absence as worth paying any price to obtain. The problem is that this is a seeking of a negation, a seeking not for a positive goal but a negative goal; in a sense it is seeking after nothing.