"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Thursday, June 13, 2013

If You Have Everything, You Have Nothing

"What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?." - Mark 8:36

We hear a lot these days about freedom - freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom of religion, etc., etc. In the United States we're so used to the concept of freedom, or at least the term, that most of us rarely ever take the time to sit down and ponder the implications of freedom. I think most of us generally have a good impression of freedom, as it usually means we get to do more of the things we like. As kids growing up we sought freedom from our parents and every other sort of societal "pressure"; in reality adolescent freedom only give us an increasing level of power over our own decisions. Yet often times the implications of those decisions are not quite so savory.

While much can be said about freedom and liberty, I want to reflect upon something which is not brought up much: the necessary limits to freedom.

If there is one thing that can unite Americans, it is the desire for freedom. Not unexpectedly, this unification quickly disappears once we discuss the particular areas in which we should have freedom - some want freedom to have as many guns as they want; some want the freedom to murder the unborn child in their womb; some want the "freedom" of universal healthcare - but at least on an abstract level we all agree: freedom is good. Generally speaking, I don't argue this point because freedom really is good. I very much love and appreciate it. God gave us free will to choose to either love Him or not, to follow His ways or reject them and follow ourselves.

Now, I hear a lot of folks talk about "freedom" as if it is their highest ideal. To be intellectually honest, I know most of these people whom I hear speak this way probably don't see it as such, but their rhetoric sometimes undermines my innocent assumption. However, I know some folks really do see freedom as the highest form of human perfection, and the best ideal for which society, government, and individuals can strive for. This is the "liberal" in the truest sense of the word. Strangely or ironically, it is people from the "right" side of the aisle who more often than not tend to wear the desire for freedom so freely on their sleeve. As I said above: I too enjoy freedom and vouch for its merits, but I also know that it cannot be nor should it be the highest ideal to which can aim.

First and foremost I am interested in truth. I desire truth above all things. As a Catholic (and an unabashed one at that), I find truth in the teachings of the Church, because that is the only source of truth (this in and of itself could be a whole book... oh wait, it already is!). Freedom is a great channel, a vehicle for discovering truth. Surely, we can have truth force-fed to us, but think back to your childhood. Those green beans mom made you eat don't taste any different now, but I bet you enjoy them a lot more than you did as a seven year-old.

Freedom in-and-of itself cannot be the ultimate source of truth, because freedom can lead to error. As has been posed many times before, the question "Should you have the freedom to murder someone in cold blood?" has only one possible true answer. (*Side note: the new movie coming out "The Purge" seems to address this very issue, and boy, it looks spooky.) This and other possible logical extensions of freedom prove why there must exist something beyond mere freedom to which we can all endeavor. I need not belabor this point.

As I see it, the problem with freedom, like the title suggests, is that having everything necessarily means having nothing. Think about it. Think hard. If we have everything, a.k.a., total freedom to do anything we wish, really we have nothing, because everyone else has the very same freedom, which in practical terms means that if another person wants to kill you, by golly, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to (of course physical strength and power come into play, but let's leave that alone for now). Likewise, if everyone said "I should have the freedom to marry whomever I wish" well, in effect there would be absolutely no marriage at all because your partner could leave for someone else on a mere fanciful whim of emotion. Or worse yet, some other suave "courtier" could swoop in and declare themselves married to your partner simply because he had the freedom to do so. You can easily see where this is heading.

With all this said, I have to say again that I love freedom. I can imagine greater countries than the United States, but there could be hardly a greater nation in reality. Hopefully what I have written here shows just how problematic unrestricted freedom can be. I know it may sound like a stretch, but we're seeing some of the stretching already occurring. (and I must say here that at the same time freedom in some areas is literally killing us, freedom is also under attack in other areas. This is how Satan operates.) It is time we as a nation looked hard at what our freedom is costing us, and find again a balance between freedom and sound morality based in natural law. Indeed, there are many worthy virtues from which to choose our basic principles, such as justice and charity. Truly, if we all just lived as Christ lived, we wouldn't need to have this discussion in the first place.

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