Sunday, July 06, 2014

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Freedom From Authority

~~  "I fight authority, authority always wins."  --John Mellencamp  ~~

Are you now or have you ever been a rebel?  Come on, admit it.  It is the rare human who has not heard the siren song of rebellion.  Some folks take authority as a dirty word and they recoil from it... just because.  Rebellion is as old as... original sin.  Wait- it is original sin!  That makes rebellion a very bad thing, right?  Yes and no.  As with most anything, it is all in the context.

Personal or national rebellion for a good and righteous cause (e.g., that thing those guys did 238 years and two days ago) is virtuous and should be admired.  When a situation has been thoroughly considered from all angles and there truly is no choice left but to break away, then so it must be.  The hard question is, of course, whether I have really thought through exactly why I am rebelling?

The proof of the necessity of rebellion will not be fully seen until it is over with and the "new" way has settled in.  Sadly, with few exceptions in history, revolutions and rebellions (personal or national) usually just replace one brand of injustice, and one set of problems, with another.  This is because rebellion for its own sake is a useless and usually destructive thing (although it's so cool!); often breaking relationships, people, and things that should not be broken.

A good example from about 100 years ago would be the Bolshevik Revolution. In a nutshell: the Czars had ruled for centuries and there eventually developed unhappiness and unrest.  Seizing the opportunity presented by World War I, the revolutionaries toppled the imperial government and the people danced for joy as the country rushed into uncharted (but exciting!) territory.  The next several decades would bring mass starvation, poverty, war, and dozens of millions of Russians brutally "purged" in Stalin's ruthless genocide against his own people.  In comparison, the authority of the Czars seemed quite benign.

~~  "Revolutions are not conducted from below by the people, but from above, 
in the name of the people, by an aspiring elite."   --Roger Scruton  ~~

How about a generic example of a personal rebellion:  You are a young adult.  Trouble has been brewing with your parents for some time-- ever since they began insisting that you work harder on  your studies.  Finally, after yet another lecture from your uber-annoying father, you leave home in a huff.  You throw yourself into the world and embrace the rush of "freedom."

Before long, though, you start to realize that you hate the stupid jobs you have and the stupid people in charge of you at those jobs.  As you age a bit, strange thoughts begin to invade your mind... maybe your Dad wasn't such a putz, after all... and it sure was nice to be there for Mom's dinners.  The rush of the rebellion now looks like the hard and cold coals left over from last night's bonfire.

~~  "True maturity consists in the process of slowly coming home again, coming to see that the thing we grew away from is what we truly are."  --Roger Scruton  ~~

A big part of the authority problem is that familiarity often breeds contempt.  Mark Twain said that an expert is someone from out of town, and Jesus Christ Himself was thrown out of His hometown (ironically) for saying "no prophet is accepted in his hometown".  It's bad enough to have to submit to authority that makes you do stuff you think you don't want to do... and it's worse when the authoritarian is someone  you know very well.

Is it paradoxical to say that the only way to experience real freedom is to have restraint?  I don't think so.  If you think of "freedom" only in the abstract, then you are not being intellectually honest.  In public street traffic, the lack of restraint (traffic laws/regulations) leads to chaos, death, and destruction.  In governments, the lack of restraint (laws) leads to a condition known as anarchy; and no one is free in that system- only endangered.  In personal matters, the lack of restraint (morals) leads to all sorts of things which are antithetical to freedom; e.g., societal/family dissolution, sickness, poverty, etc.

There was a time in America when the overriding attitude was "even though I can, I should not."  Now that has been replaced with "I can so I will"-- exercising a given "freedom" simply for the sake of it and without regard for its consequences; and to hell with anyone who tries to make me tow the line. G.K. Chesterton said it better than anyone “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”
 It is in vogue now to demand acceptance of behavior that would have been unthinkable only a generation ago; and society is so much the poorer for it.

~~  "When many people individually get what they want, the result may be something that they collectively dislike."  --Roger Scruton  ~~

Rebellion against governmental authority and parental authority has certainly been widespread in human history; but those are just small versions of the real rebellions: those waged against the highest of all authorities.  As we discussed above, Man's fall in Eden began a regular series of rebel activity against Almighty God.  In fact, the entire history of mankind can be summed up as a never-ending quest to avoid doing the right thing.  Whatever purpose is given for it, the bottom line is that many people, using their own personal feelings as a guide, feel that God's authority is not a good fit for them.

Pushing away from His authority has become like a badge of honor today-- with the ostensible message being that freedom is attained this way.  Many people attack the Church and the Scriptures (very sad to say that many of these people are Catholics) with the same tired, old litany of ignorant declarations: "a bunch of old men trying to tell me what to do;" "don't force your values on me;" "what gives you the right to tell me how I should live?"

It is beyond irony that this sustained rebellion, always in the name of "freedom," is actually a struggle against true freedom.

~~  "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.'” 
--Catechism of the Catholic Church, para # 1733  ~~

** Check the left sidebar of this web site for in-depth essays on the nature of the "slavery of sin." **

A personal example I can offer is how free I feel since quitting smoking ten years ago.  At the time, I was "free" to do as I wished; and one way I believed that I exercised that freedom was by smoking whenever I wanted to.  I can tell you now: that was NOT freedom.  That cigarette was a demon controlling me-- and when he called, I answered.  I was a slave to it, plain and simple, and now I am not.  This is the truth for all vices and sins: they can feel like freedom, but they are the polar opposite.

Similarly, even though many "feel" that biblical truth takes away their freedom, the reverse is true.  For those who believe in Christianity and profess to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their savior, freedom really is as simple as doing what He says.  Always.  There is no paradox here-- if you believe, then it is just as He said:  “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).  The truth in God's teaching does not limit our freedom... it fortifies and upgrades it.  The only caveat is that you have to take it as He intends, and not as you would like it to be.

For Catholics, it is a matter of our faith that we do not take only what we like from the rules and discard the rest (this is known as "cafeteria Catholicism").  The mighty saints Peter and Paul (and the other Apostles)  built and structured our Church, passing down their authority through the unbroken and successive chain of popes and bishops.  The result has been two thousand years of consistency and fidelity to the Gospel of Christ.  Although many of the men "in charge" have fallen into sin (some of them very, very badly), the Church itself has withstood-- just as Jesus promised here when He established the Church and made Peter the first pope.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of  our Church is the subject of "infallibility."  A willfully ignorant media culture has portrayed this as a Church teaching that the pope is perfect, and whatever the Church or the pope says is infallibly correct and that's that (even some Catholics think this).  It is, of course, not the truth-- not even close.

Infallibility is a rarely invoked gift of the Holy Spirit and is only "official" when the pope (and also the bishops united with the pope) announces that he is speaking "ex cathedra" (literally "from the chair" of apostolic and divine authority) in defining a doctrine.  This process is superintended by the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot be in error.  Again, it is a rare occurrence applying only to matters of faith and morals and does not apply to a pope or bishop(s) speaking or opining in general.

~~  "The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible only in very rare situations, as we know."  
--Pope Benedict XVI  ~~

The reason it is vitally important for all Catholics to really understand this concept is because of the obvious damage that comes from misconstruing it.  If I thought that Catholics believed that popes cannot sin and are always 100 percent correct in whatever they did or said, then I would not be a Catholic because that proposition is patently absurd.  This is, however, exactly what many Catholics and perhaps most non-Catholics think that we believe.  I am reminded (again and again) of Fulton Sheen's famous assertion that only those who do not understand the Church can hate her.

So, again, if you believe in Jesus Christ and proclaim to follow His word, then you must follow all of His word.  If you are a Catholic, then that will include following the infallible teachings of the Church.  Why?  Because Jesus himself promised the apostles and their successors the bishops, the magisterium of the Church: "He who hears you hears me" (Luke 10:16), and "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

Since we believe that Jesus established the Church and gave the Apostles and their successors the authority to run it, we are now free to conduct our lives as He wants us to.  Stated as a personal logical syllogism:
Major premise:  Catholics must follow all of the infallible teachings and doctrines of the Church.
Minor premise:  I am a Catholic.
Conclusion:    I must follow all of the infallible teachings and doctrines of the Church.

~~  "Clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches."  --Saint Thomas Aquinas  ~~

Think of it this way: Peter and the other Apostles were basically a bunch of bumbling cowards who kept tripping up over and over.  In other words, they were very much flawed human beings.  (I personally believe that God chose Peter precisely because he was so flawed; to teach all of us that greatness awaits if we lay aside our so-called freedom and walk on His path.)  It was only when they left the "freedom" of their old lives and accepted Jesus' authority and the gift of the Holy Spirit that they became truly free.  The result is clear: a Church that has withstood thousands of years and thousands of attempts to bring it down.

Because I have taken my own path of rebellion and seen firsthand how wrong I was (maybe we are all a bit like Saint Thomas, the doubter), I have come to look at it as a simple matter of rationality.  If the Church, forged and inspired by Jesus and thousands of years of deep thought and prayer, teaches me what I should and should not do, I have to pay attention to that.  If I want to be truly free, I have to master my passions and, as Aquinas taught, the way to do that is to perfect my moral virtue... in other words: live God's way.

~~  “Happiness is secured through virtue; it is a good attained by man's own will.”  
--Saint Thomas Aquinas  ~~

Finally, let's look at St Paul's letter to Titus (chapter 3).  The Apostle instructs Titus on how the Church and society should operate:

"Remind them to be under the control of magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise."  (Verse 1.)

Hmmm... sounds like we're supposed to submit to "good" authority.

"They are to slander no one, to be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone." (Verse 2.)

Hmmm... play nice in the sandbox; even if we don't want to.

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another."  (Verse 3.)

Hmmm... stating that he has been there, done that, and knows it is the bad road.

"But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, 
not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy,
he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life."  (Verses 4-7.)

Hmmm... so following His way leads to Grace and eternal life.  That's even better than following traffic laws leading to safe driving.  Ultimately, following competent and just authority in most any endeavor will not only NOT take away my freedom; it will make me more free to engage in proper and correct behavior that will, in the long run, be the best thing for me.  Crazy...

My final conclusion is that I've figured out the missing word in the title of this essay: "Receiving Freedom From Authority."

God bless!


Friday, July 04, 2014

Freedom Is Not Free

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..."

Those were fighting words... the words that started it all.  People had enough tyranny and decided it was time to end it.  That spirit has carried on in America ever since.  One young American Marine at the battle of Khe Sanh summed it up as well, if not better, than anyone ever has.

"...I spotted a reporter and asked him if he would please mind getting a message back to the world for me. He asked 'What is it?' I told him and he looked shocked and asked if I would mind writing that down. I said “Sure” and wrote it on a C-Ration case. That message is:

'For those that will fight for it...FREEDOM...has a flavor the protected shall never know.'" --Lance Corporal Edwin L. "Tim" Craft

HERE is his story.

If you don't know of this battle... you should.  Here is a starting point:   Khe Sanh

We owe it to those Marines-- and to all of those who have shed their blood and fought with distinction to preserve this nation-- to  honor their sacrifices.  We have to stay vigilant and keep this precious gift of freedom-- protecting it "from all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Our Founders signed their death warrants by putting their names on that paper.  Would you do that today?

"...And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

 Have you ever read it all?  READ IT AGAIN!



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