04. Freedom

            The ideal of many people today is a state or society with unlimited freedom but no laws. In the preceding chapters we have tried to show that a lawless society is an absurdity and cannot work.
            This social idea is a reflection of the idea many contemporaries have of individual man himself. Man is free, they insist; man has the right to be perfectly free, and this right should be subject to no restraint or law. Any serene consideration of man shows that this view of him is also false. Man is indeed meant to be free, but not without law.
            Man has the right to be free, and this is a natural right. Yet, since rights derive from nature and are dependent on nature, the right to be free can only be exercised in accordance with his nature. If he tries to assert a right to be free against his human nature, he may destroy himself. Man's freedom, therefore, is conditioned by laws: the laws of his nature. Man is not free to get in the way of an express train - and survive as man. His nature cannot stand it.
            If man does not know his own nature - what sort of being he is - and does not respect it, he may forfeit his human rights: the fundamental right to be human, the even more fundamental right to be alive. The man who thinks he should be free to take unlimited drink or drugs, is wrong; his error may prove fatal.
            But the laws that derive from man's nature and so condition his freedom are not just physical and external, or merely corporeal. They are also - and more importantly - internal and spiritual. And it is to that internal area of freedom that particular attention needs to be directed.
            We have seen that social freedom rests on law, on the legal recognition and defence of human rights, and on the effective presence of justice in the relations between the various persons and powers that make up society. Only in this way will each one receive his due and at the same time make his contribution to the good of the social whole. There is a certain analogy in how individual freedom also depends on law.
            Each individual man is a sort of mini-society. He is a composite being made up of body and spirit. He has different organs, powers, tendencies, passions and instincts. His life and his freedom depend -on the proper ordering of these various powers and tendencies. If they are rightly ordered - to one another and to higher values - man can grow in true freedom. If there is lawlessness instead of right order, man's life can be laid desolate.
            No one would say that an alcoholic or a drug-addict is a free man. He has lost his freedom because one appetite or craving within him is not subject to a norm or measure of"justice" or rightness; it is taking more than its due and is dominating and exploiting his other powers, enslaving them to its rule and destroying the "common good" of the man as a whole. One simply does not know man if one ignores the fact that he has within himself a series of tendencies that can frustrate or even destroy him unless they are properly ordered: greed, anger, lust, fear, irresponsibility, escapism.
            Modern man tends to be acutely conscious of what he sees as -threats to his freedom coming from outside, particularly from the -injustices of other men. But he is remarkably unconscious of the fact that his freedom is also threatened by interior forces: the undue dominance of any one of his tendencies, its "taking over" the government of his life. Nevertheless, a basic truth about freedom is that the worst threat to it comes from inside. Man's freedom is won or lost from within. Even in external conditions of anarchy, exploitation and subjection, a man can be or become interiorly free. Many have become free in concentration camps. It is also true, however, that many have become slaves in the free world. Even if he is living in conditions of justice and peace and prosperity, man can become a slave on the inside. He can permit or create his own interior slavery. Let us try to consider some of the dynamics - the laws - of man's interior freedom or slavery[1].
Ruling one's self
            There must be law and government within man if his interior life is not to be sheer anarchy. The big question for each of us is, "Who or what is going to rule in my life?" We may quickly answer: I. I am going to govern myself'. We answer well; but we have not yet given a full answer.
            The fact is that every man is being constantly solicited by a number of internal forces each contending to be the force running his life. He must choose which will have authority in the process of shaping his personal existence. In man's internal political system, his "I" is truly the electorate; but he has to cast his vote among the different candidates running for governing office: longing for truth, hunger for goodness ...; but also vanity, lust, greed, desire for power or popularity or possessions... His bodily passions, in particular, which are meant to be junior ministers in his cabinet, are not content to hold such lower portfolios; they want to be policy makers, prime ministers.
            Let us consider some of the possibilities that present themselves here. Suppose that a man chooses to place himself under the rule of greed or lust, so letting some lower part of his being take over the government of his whole life. Is a man free in such a situation? No; rather he has freely chosen a rule of slavery. His higher self, his spirit, is enslaved to his bodily passions: the "law of his members" (cf. Rom 7:23). This is selfishness and senselessness run wild. It is anything but self-government.
            Of course a man may acknowledge that this is indeed a rule of slavery, that under such government he is quickly losing his real freedom; and he may react. He may, with an effort, subject his passions to the government of his mind and will. This undoubtedly marks a step upwards. But even this form of rule offers diverse possibilities.
            He may bring about this rule in a defective way - when he wants his self (even his "spiritual" self) to be the centre and end of his life, and the measure and source of all his values. Then he is under a worse government still that enslaves him to his pride.
            In such a case he may be keenly aware of that lower area (the law of his members) where he has proved himself master. But he resolutely turns his attention away from the higher area (the law of God), where he is not prepared to serve. Since he wants to be a law to himself{ since he wants his own self to be supreme, he refuses to look above self He, just as Adam and Eve, plays at being "like gods" (Gen 3:5). And so he remains: large and independent in his own esteem, but actually dwarfed and imprisoned by his inability to look up to anything higher than himself.
            A man can govern his life in a proper way only when he centers his mind and will firmly on God. Then he frees himself from the pride of making his own mind (or prejudices) the measure of the truth of things, and his own will (or preferences) the measure of their goodness.
            Once he looks up to truth and goodness as divine attributes, he has discovered the law of his being; and of his freedom and fulfillment. He, alone in visible creation, is made capax Dei, capable of the possession of God. Man's fulfillment and freedom do not consist in his being lord and god of creation (what a pitiful god each man would be, and how life would then become a pathetic rivalry between pathetic gods), but in his capacity to know and love and possess the infinite Truth and Goodness of an infinite God.
            It is only under the rule of the higher faculties that man can find liberation. But he must remember that his higher faculties are not autonomous; they are not a law to themselves. They do not create their own law; they are under a higher law still. The law of man's mind is truth. The law of his will is goodness.
            The mind, then, is meant to be governed by the law of truth; the will, by the law of goodness. If they are, man will be made free. You will know truth and truth will make you free (cf. Jn 8:32). You will love goodness, and goodness will make you free.
Breaking the law of the will and the mind
            The recognition of freedom lies with the mind; the grasping of it, with the will. The truth will make me free - if I choose to accept it. But I may know the truth (or be in a position to know it), and choose not to accept it. Then I am not made free. I make myself unfree.
            The law of willing is that I choose God. But I can break that law; I can choose evil (evil that some "part" of me - greed, ambition, self-esteem - is attracted to as "good").
            If I choose what is bad - so breaking the law of the will - I can retain the awareness that I have chosen badly; or I can then further choose to think (to try to think) that what is bad is good; i.e. I can choose to think falsehood - so breaking the law of the mind.
            Just as one can choose to speak falsely, on the outside, and so deceive others, one can choose to think falsely, on the inside, and so deceive one's self.
            Suppose a man has just collected his monthly wage packet, and is on his way home. He passes by a gambling joint, hesitates - being a bit given to gambling ... - but goes in and loses it all. When he comes out, he can decide to go home and tell his wife the truth - "I had a moment's weakness and I lost it all" - and take the consequences. Or he may choose to "justify" what he has done, with an eye to steamrolling the consequences: "Why shouldn't I do what I like with my money? She won't like it? Well, let her learn to mind her own business!"
            Willing to "justify" what lacks justification lies at the heart of what we term rationalization - the process by which a person chooses to dwell on one side of a case to the exclusion of the other, seeking out "reasons", however superficial and specious, which lend some color of support to a particular mode of conduct, while deliberately ignoring the deeper and substantial arguments which tell decisively against it.
            If I choose to think falsely, to rationalize, I am violating the law of the mind. The law of the mind is that I think not what I choose to, but what I - independently of all feelings, prejudices and preferences - see to be true.
            In such cases the freedom of the mind is hampered by the attitude of the will. If a man lets himself be unduly attached to a way of thinking or acting, he may as a result simply will that his mind should not dwell on (and therefore should not "see") the reasons why that mode of thought or action is wrong. It is not that the reasons are not there, or are not evident. The man chooses not to see them.
            For instance, that some people do not see that contraception or abortion is wrong, often has its explanation here. At the start they may simply lack the will - the desire - to see it. In the end, they often will not to see it. Their thinking is not free; it is ruled not by the truth but by their will - which in turn is not free, for it is ruled not by the choice of goodness but by the choice of convenience. Such people may otherwise be highly intelligent persons. But in these matters, insofar as it is their will and not the truth that rules their minds, they have lost their freedom to think intelligently. Where intelligent thinking would make unwelcome demands on their pride or their moral conduct, they rationalize but do not think rationally.
            No man, then, possesses true freedom of thought if attachments or prejudices prevent his mind from exercising its proper function and drawing conclusions that are evident in themselves. The broadest illustration of this is offered by that phrase of the Psalmist, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God" (Ps 14:1).
            Is Scripture being fair to atheists? After all, there are quite a number of atheists around who seem to be rather clever people. Yet the Bible says that the atheist is a fool. Why? Because it is not his mind that leads him to say there is no God. It is his "heart", i.e. his feelings, his preferences, his prejudices.
            The human mind that is in good working order and is used properly, will never say there is no God. On the contrary, the mind that is in proper order leads naturally and directly to the conclusion: there is a God. That is why those who say "there is no God" are not using their minds properly. In this matter of God's existence, they would seem not to be using it at all. They are "thinking" with their heart which is not a proper organ of thought. That is why atheists, however clever they may be in other areas, are fools in this capital point. They say there is no God, but it is not through thinking that they have come to this "conclusion", but through lack of thought.
Freedom is for choosing
            Only fuzzy thinking can regard law and freedom as mutually opposed. Some people claim to see opposition because, they say, law binds whereas freedom leaves one free.... But freedom also binds. If it does not, it is good for nothing and there is no point in having it.
            Freedom that is not prepared to bind itself is useless. Freedom is for choosing; and in choosing one thing, I necessarily exclude other things. If I am afraid to bind myself to my choice, it is because I lack sticking power (I am a poor chooser), or because I see nothing worth sticking to (the choices before me are poor). In either case my freedom, my power to choose, is next to worthless.
            The better the object of choice, the more it is worth choosing, and the more one's choice is worth sticking to. To choose God and to stick to one's choice is the best possible use of freedom. To bind oneself to God is the freest of acts and the one that most sets a man free.
            Even on the human plane this is evident. To choose marriage is to choose a good thing: a great thing, if it is a true marriage that is chosen. But to choose a true marriage is to bind oneself indissolubly for life to one person. To choose a dissolvable marriage is not to choose marriage at all. To be afraid to bind oneself to love, is to be afraid of love, to be afraid one has not found true love, or that one is not capable of true love.
            We could illustrate the point in a slightly different way. To be free to marry is to be free to bind oneself. If a person feels incapable of binding himself, then he is not free to marry. He may say "I do" at a marriage ceremony. But if he really means "I do not" - to the idea of accepting a permanent commitment - he is not choosing true marriage or the happiness true marriage chosen can bring. He is choosing no more than a limited short-term sexual liaison; and that can never bring happiness.
            A basic law of freedom is: worthwhile choices should be stuck to. A person is not free if he lacks sticking power, if he is not master enough of self to keep going when the going, though worthwhile, is difficult. His changing - his going back on his choices - is a proof not so much of freedom as of weakness.
Freedom, law and restraint
            For some people, freedom means the absence of restraint, and law the presence of restraint. And so they conclude that law and freedom are in opposition.
            To place the essence of freedom in the absence of limitation or restraint is to fall into a false idea of freedom, at least as applied to man in his present condition. Freedom must be seen in function of nature, and man's nature is constitutionally subject to many limitations. To want the freedom not to be subject to these limitations - e.g. the freedom not to be obliged to eat or breathe - is to want the freedom not to be man. On the matter of law and restraint, we can simply repeat what we said in Chapter Two: Yes, in a certain sense law always involves a restraint: the necessary restraint in order precisely to preserve freedom for myself and for others.
            In relation to myself, law seeks to restrain me from actions that go against my nature, that can frustrate me and take away my freedom to be a man, to follow a truly human way of development.
            In relation to others, law seeks to restrain me from actions that imply a violation of their fundamental freedom to develop their human life.
            The freedom of each one of us is indeed meant to be conditioned or restrained by the freedom of others. A true freedom-lover sees this, and is prepared - voluntarily prepared - to restrict himself Out of regard for others; i.e. to freely limit his own freedom where this is necessary so as to enable others freely and legitimately to exercise theirs. The person who loves his own freedom but not that of others, is not a true lover of freedom; he does not truly love freedom as such.
            Freedom is not the freedom to do what one likes; it is the freedom to do good. This statement, which might provoke an instinctive objection on the part of many persons, nevertheless states an evident truth.
            Does freedom mean freedom to steal cheat, exploit, rape, murder - even if this is what one likes to do? Man indeed does well to claim freedom as a right. But the freedom to which he is entitled is the rightful freedom to do good, not the wrongful freedom to do evil.
            He has the power, but not the right, to use his freedom to do wrong. He is able, but not entitled, to do wrong. "The people of our time often cherish freedom improperly, as if it gave them leave to do anything they like, even when it is evil" (GS 17).
            Freedom and rights and obligations are inter-connected. A truly free man is not only free to exercise his rights. He is also free to fulfil his obligations. And he fulfills them. Freedom and responsibility, freedom and duty, freedom and fulfillment, are inseparable.
Stopping people from going wrong?
            No one has the right to do wrong. Further, no one has the right to go wrong - even if it is just internally or unconsciously. He has the power to go wrong, but not the right.
            If he has no right to go wrong, does this mean we can stop him? Can we stop a crazed or drunken man from throwing himself out of a fifth-floor window? We can certainly try. Can we then try to stop a man from committing spiritual or moral suicide, for instance through engaging in reading - or thinking - that can undermine and destroy his faith or moral life?
            Here the answer has to be more nuanced. It is clear we cannot exercise physical coercion on a person's conscience. We certainly hive no right (and in fact we have no way) to physically stop a person going wrong in his personal ideas. Conscience cannot be coerced. But we have every right and duty to try to morally stop a person from going wrong; i.e. to try to convince a person of the wrongness of his choices, and to get him to see what is right and persuade him to follow it.
            If a person going wrong in his ideas is also wronging others, then we have to take the matter a stage further. Once a man with wrong ideas begins to propagandize them, then he is no longer moving in the purely personal area of conscience (where he is answerable to God alone); he has stepped out into the social area and his actions become subject to the laws regulating the common good of society.
            Therefore if a person with wrong ideas and values begins to spread them to others - if; for instance, he begins to push drugs, distribute pornography, preach racial discrimination, advocate class hatred or social violence - then those in authority have a duty' to restrain him from spreading those ideas.
            A man who gathers together a young audience and preaches to them the attraction and liberation of drug-taking or pornography or promiscuous sex can and should be restrained from such wrong-doing. Wrong-thinking remains a power though not a right; it can never be physically impeded from outside. Wrong-doing is not a right and should always be physically prevented.
            Vatican II in its Declaration on Religious Liberty, teaches that there is a right to immunity from coercion even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it". It continues, "The exercise of this right cannot be interfered with" - but adds the all-important proviso - as long as the just requirements of public order are observed"[2].
            The requirement of public order are of course determined by the Natural Law and, within ecclesial society, by positive church law. if they are not respected, then a person's freedom to disseminate his ideas can and should be restricted.
Obeying freely
            Since there is no physical force compelling us to obey the law of Christ or the law of the Church, it is clear that if we do obey, we obey freely. Yet many Christians give the impression of obeying the law reluctantly, with a sense of constraint, with little or no sense of freedom.
            Must a law - or the call to obey a raw - always take away our sense of freedom? Or is it possible to obey with a full sense of freedom? Of course it is! One obeys with the fullest sense of freedom if one chooses freely and personally to obey, if one obeys willingly, above nil if one obeys out of love.
            Love: that is the big motive we need to put behind our obedience. [ave is what makes our obedience hilly free. For the person who wants to follow Christ, the law is never a burden. It becomes a burden only insofar as one fails to discern the call of Christ in the law, or is not keen to follow the call of Christ. Therefore, if the law some time seems burdensome, it may not be the law so much as our keenness to follow Christ that needs amending.
            "if you love Me, you will keep my commandments" Un 14:15). That is why I want to obey you, and your Church, Lord; not primarily because I see the reasonableness of what is commanded (though that reasonableness is often so evident). No; primarily because I want to love you, and to show my love. And also because lent convinced that your commandments come from love and set me free. "Having sought your precepts, I shall walk in all freedom.... I run the way of your commandments since you have set me free" ~s 119, 45, 32).
The immaturity of obedience?
            Some people maintain that it is unreasonable, or a sign of immaturity and even irresponsibility, to obey if one does not see the reasons behind the indications or commands given.
            It would certainly be unreasonable, it would in fact be wrong, to obey a law that one does see to be mistaken and clearly contrary to God's will. But suppose this is not the case. Suppose it is a matter not of seeing the law to be wrong, but simply of not seeing it to be right. In such a case - where one does not understand the reasons behind the laws or the superior's commands - can it be reasonable to obey it? If we follow the analysis just given - of how love can inspire obedience - the answer once again is Yes. It is reasonable to obey a law the reasons for which one does not see, provided one has reason to trust the judgment or authority of the one giving the law.
            It is reasonable for a child to obey the indications of his father, even without understanding the reasons for them; it is a sign of love. It is reasonable for a research student aiding a Nobel Prize physicist to carry out the professor's indications even if he does not see the reasons for them; it is a sign of trust. It is reasonable for a soldier to obey the legitimate orders of his commanding officer without understanding the reasons for them. It is a sign of maturity and responsibility. The child that does not obey because it does not understand, does not love. The soldier that does not obey because he does not understand, is neither mature nor responsible. So it is reasonable for a Christian to accept Christ's word when He tells us that God is Three in One. We do not understand the Blessed Trinity, but we have reason to trust Christ's word. The re-n, ultimately, is love. So again it is reasonable to accept not only the Church's moral or dogmatic teaching, but also her disciplinary laws or the indications of our legitimate superiors,
            Whether we understand the reasons behind them or not. We have reason to believe that Christ is behind them, and we want to show our love for Christ. Our reason for obeying is love. There is nothing wiser than love. Obedience is the free choice of love.
            Blind, unthinking obedience - where a person obeys like a robot - would be a sign of immaturity. That is not the obedience asked of people in Christ's Church. Christians are not robots. They are intelligent free beings who use their intelligence to reflect on their faith and conclude that Christ wishes them to see his will behind Church authority; and who exercise their freedom so as to obey that authority out of love for him.
* * *
            "Laws are not necessary if we practice love". This is one of those nice-sounding phrases one hears at times. It sounds nice, but it is quite false. One might as well say, "Signposts are not necessary if we love to travel". If we want to get somewhere (and especially if we want to get to Someone), signposts are necessary.
            What is not necessary if we have love, is coercion. But laws are necessary; laws that signpost the way love wants to go. We express it more precisely still if we say: laws are signposts placed there by God's Love, pointing out the way his Love wants us to follow; and the way our love wants to follow so as to come to Him.
[1] If we are going to take a look inside man, we need to establish some distinctions about the way he functions interiorly. Some people today question these distinctions. They say that man is one being, one person, and it makes no sense to speak of, say, his mind or his will or his feelings, as if they were really distinct from him. One is not saying that they are distinct from him, in suggesting that they are distinguishable among themselves; and that the complexity of man's interior operations cannot be understood unless they are distinguished. While it is true that in each one of us there is only one person, one "I" who acts, nevertheless we can and should see that personal activity is expressed in clearly distinguishable modes. To think is not the same as to feel, to know is not the same as to love, to be hungry or tired is not the same as to be angry or selfish. Unless we bear these distinctions in mind we can never understand the process by which man can win, or lose, his interior freedom.
[2] DH 2; the proviso about the requirements of public order is repeated throughout the subsequent paragraphs of the Declaration.