Skip to comments.A 4th of July Meditation on the Paradox that Freedom can only exist within limits
Posted on 07/04/2014 3:41:45 AM PDT by markomalley
On the Fourth of July in the United States of America we celebrate freedom. In particular we celebrate freedom from tyranny, freedom from government that is not representative, and freedom from unchecked power and unaccountable sovereigns.
Yet as Christians, we cannot overlook that there are ways of understanding freedom today that are distorted, exaggerated, and detached from a proper biblical, Christian, or Natural Law context. Many modern concepts of freedom treat it as somewhat of an abstraction.
Yes, many speak of freedom in the abstract and have a hard time nailing down the details. So lets talk about some of the details.
Most people like to think of freedom as pretty absolute, as in, No one is going to tell me what to do. But in the end freedom is not an abstraction and is not absolute; it cannot be. As limited and contingent beings, we exercise our freedom only within limits, and within a prescribed context. Pretending that our freedom is absolute leads to anarchy. And anarchy leads to the collapse of freedom into chaos and the tyranny of individual wills locked in power struggles.
One of the great paradoxes of freedom is that it really cannot be had unless we limit it. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy wherein no one is really free to act. Consider the following:
So the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience freedom by accepting constraints to our freedom. Without constraints and limits, we are actually hindered from acting freely.
This is a very important first step in rescuing the concept of freedom from the abstract and experiencing it in the real world. Absolute freedom is not freedom at all. Since we are limited and contingent beings, we can only exercise and experience our freedom within limits.
This is also an important lesson to our modern world. For too many today push the concept of freedom beyond reasonable bounds. They insist on their right to act, but without accepting the reasonable constraints that make true freedom possible. Many today demand acceptance of increasingly bad and disruptive behavior.
But in rejecting proper boundaries, we usually see not an increase of freedom but a decrease of it for all of us. Thus our culture becomes increasingly litigious as burdensome laws are passed by a nanny-state seeking to regulate every small aspect of our lives. Among the sources of growing and intrusive law is that some refuse to limit their bad behavior; some refuse to live up to commitments they have made; some abandon self-control; some insist on living outside safe and proper norms. Many insist that the solution to protecting them from others who abuse their freedom is more laws. And many are successful in getting increasingly restrictive laws passed.
Again, the lesson is clear: without some limits, freedom is not possible. And when reasonable limits are cast aside, the paradoxical result is not more freedom, but far less of it. Freedom is not absolute. Absolute freedom is not freedom at all; it is the tyranny of chaos and the eventual erosion of freedom.
Alexis De Tocqueville said, Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. In America today, we are seeing the erosion of all three in reverse order. Those who want to establish freedom in the abstract will only see that freedom erode.
Jesus and Freedom This leads us to understanding what Jesus means when he says, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).
There are many people today who excoriate the Church and the Scriptures as a limit to their freedom. And sadly, quite a number of these are Catholics. To such as these, the Church is trying to tell them what to do. Christians are trying to impose their values on the rest of us. Now of course the Church cannot really force anyone to do much of anything.
Yes, many claim that the announcement of biblical truth threatens their freedom. But Jesus says just the opposite: it is the truth that sets us free. Now the truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If A is true then not A is false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it in order to enjoy its freeing power. And the paradoxical result is that the propositions of the truth of Gods teaching do not limit our freedom, they enhance it.
Image As we have seen, absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is chaos wherein no one can really move. Every ancient city had walls. But these were not so much prison walls as defending walls. True, one had to limit oneself and stay within the walls to enjoy their protection. But within the walls there was great freedom, for one was not constantly fighting off enemies, or distracted with fearful vigilance. People were freed for other pursuits, but only within the walls.
Those who claim that the truth of the Gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside Gods truth shows itself to be far less free than it seems.
The so-called freedom of the modern world (apart from the truth of the Gospel) is far from evident. These bondages also extend to the members of the Church, to the extent that we do not seriously embrace the truth of the Gospel and base our lives upon it. The Catechism says rather plainly,
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin. (CCC # 1733)
In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead only to hindered freedom and outright slavery.
Ponder freedom on this 4th of July. Ponder its paradoxes; accept its limits. For freedom is glorious. But because we are limited and contingent beings, so is our freedom. Ponder finally this paradoxical truth: the highest freedom is the capacity to obey God.
This video is one of my favorites. It shows a Jibberish interview. It illustrates how we are free to communicate only within the constraints of grammar and the rules of language.
Msgr Pope ping
We would not be free to drive if there were no traffic laws. The ensuing chaos would making driving quite impossible, not to mention dangerous. The freedom to drive, to come and go, depends on us limiting our freedom and cooperating through obedience to agreed-upon norms. Only within the limited freedom of traffic laws and agreed-upon norms can we really experience the freedom to drive, or to come and go. (See photo upper right.)
Stopped reading here with the confusion between freedoms and abiliities... Laws are made to protect freedoms, not to limit them. I drive against the norm, the laws and i cause accidents that i am responsible for, with or without licensing.
Translation: The truth about “free will”.
True freedom is when you have the right to choose your own actions, knowing full well the consequences of those actions, and the unfettered by government, church or any other outside entity.
We never surrender our freedom. We choose to follow laws because
1) we collectively put those laws in place and therefore choose to honor them
2) we understand the consequences of not obeying the laws and consider the consequences of obedience less stressful than those of non-compliance.
If government has any power over us, it is because we gave it to them. We choose our representatives, and they make the laws on our behalf. (That is how it is supposed to be anyway.)
The government doesn't tell us what to do. We freely choose to follow its laws. If the laws are unjust, we have the right to change them, or rebel (and face the consequences of rebellion, which in some cases might be the best thing to do).
As for the religious aspect:
God allows us to make our own decisions and holds us responsible for the consequences of those decisions.
The church has an obligation to inform us of the consequences of obeying, or not obeying God's laws, but it has no right to tell us what to do or to punish us (short of excommunication from its circle of influence).
If there are any "boundaries" on our freedom, they are self-imposed. Neither the church nor the government has any power over me. I choose to follow God's laws because I trust Him and know that He has my best interests in mind. I choose follow society's laws, knowing that I have a part in creating them, changing them, and if necessary, in association with my compatriots, challenging them.
I’ve always been proud of the four way stop in this country. Sadly, many communities are replacing it with round a bouts which I loathe.
The four way stop is never executed well with no one seeming to know that if two cars arrive at the same time, the car to the right goes first... There is always. Waving and confusion. Atleast in the round about, it is survival of the fittest.
Where I live, everyone knows how to navigate the four way stop. It’s very civilized. If people have to make eye contact and wave, what’s the harm in that? In a round a bout, the towns usually plant lots of stuff in the middle and the visibility is poor. No one knows how to yield and no one can make eye contact. I would like to see stats on accidents in both contexts.
Blah, blah blah........
Clearly, this guy is FAR on the side of “LIMITS” and not too hot on this here “freedom” thingy.
I often use the traffic analogy when explaining my views on ideals vs. reality when it comes to the Church, Government, etc.
Imagine a small town with one traffic light at its only 4-way intersection. If you are a local bigwig or a friend of the cop, you can run the light with impunity, but if you're on the cop's sh!t list or from out of town, you're going to get pulled over and ticketed regardless of how closely you observe the law.
Just because the human element involved is at best imperfect, and at worst corrupt, does not in any way invalidate the notion that traffic lights at intersections are a good idea. Similarly, while humans administering the Church and those holding political office may be likewise imperfect or corrupt, this does not invalidate the higher ideals and concepts with which they've been entrusted.
The basis of our freedoms come from our Judeo-Christian religious/moral heritage and the Magna Carta of England. Msgr Pope is correct that “total freedom is anarchy.” One of the signers of the Constitution stated that without the basics of Christian morality the enduring of our nation as a free republic it would continue and without those foundations it would descend into tyranny.
the left composed of communists and progressives have seized control of the country by decrying the “limitingness of Judeo-Christian morality” in the true freedom of “anything goes” thus setting up for their political tyranny and the nanny state to put in laws where once morality governed our individual actions.
It is also a lesson of the need to balance “freedom” with “responsibility”.
And anarchy leads to the collapse of freedom into chaos and the tyranny of individual wills locked in power struggles.
Anarchy is thought of in so many terms that it would be impossible for any one to agree on it, but I believe it comes from the phrase ( with out a ruler ).
The Government of this nation was set up on those principles, it was set up as a nation governed by the people, not a ruler.
The people were not satisfied, they wanted a ruler because the pride of a ruler will urge him to do their will even though it is against the law which the nation is governed by.
After every thing is in shambles then the ruler as did Hitler will show what they really are.
"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." - Thomas Jefferson
Alexis De Tocqueville said, Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.
Neither de Tocqueville, John Adams, nor anyone else of note who expressed this idea ever claimed that government could create morality or faith. The logical conclusion of the quotation is that if we want liberty we have to, among other things, encourage the revival of morality and faith through churches, voluntary associations, and individuals - NOT that we should use government to punish immoral or faith-less acts.