Freedom has become a loaded buzz word not only in the Church but also in politics, and especially in the dialogue between the two realms. In the secular sense, freedom has become nearly synonymous with choice, and we have lost the necessary distinction between the two.
So, can you have a choice without actually having freedom?
Pretend I have a daughter (I have not yet been blessed with children) and every night I say, “Abigail, you have a choice. You can go to bed now or in 10 minutes.” Is she really “free”? She has choice, but she has no control over the ultimate outcome. This shows that choice is not always the same thing as freedom.
So what is freedom? Rather, first we must ask… what is it not? Freedom is not the ability to choose what ever we want. In fact, this ability sometimes actually restricts our freedom. The most obvious way in which this secular notion of freedom is the example of addiction. When you choose something addicting it actually begins to control and enslave your future decisions, meaning you become less free in options because you can’t even conceive of choosing something else. This is what the Church (especially the early church and Paul) is talking about when it uses the language and imagery of sin as slavery. Addiction, sin, and vice keep us from choosing what actually makes us happy.
Thus, this is what the Church teaches is freedom–the ability to do the good, or in other words, the ability to choose that which makes us truly happy unimpeded by the shackles of sin. This is perfected when we can choose this quickly, easily, and joyfully… When we make it a good habit. A virtue. Therefore, true freedom is exemplified in the cardinal virtues, when one consistently chooses what is prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. If freedom is supposed to make one happy, than virtue is the way to be free. This is why the “truth will set you free“, it allows us to see the good, and thus choose it in virtue.
In my last post I talked of feminism. As pointed out by a reader, one of the major flaws in that post was that I didn’t give feminism credit for allowing women to “choose”. After considering this post, it becomes clear that feminism is good in so far as it gives freedom to women to become more fully feminine, but not all the choices women are given are good or enable them to be free. Abortion, birth control, and an over-obsession with succeeding in the work force, all could prevent a woman from choosing what is actually best for her and her family. And, before you cry bigot on me, these are all poor choices men can make as well.
One more note: I’ve recently been struggling with this issue of religious freedom…Is it a conservative agenda? What do they mean by religious freedom? Is it really in danger in America? I don’t think myself informed enough to authoritatively speak, but in the context of this discussion it would seem that, while Christian freedom is not in danger in the context of private worship, insofar as liberalism and secularism keeps the Christian from being able to choose the moral life, religious freedom is indeed in jeopardy.