Sunday, June 05, 2005

... Et veritas liberabit vos.

Be ye subject therefore to every human creature for God's sake: whether it be to the king as excelling; Or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of the good: For so is the will of God, that by doing well you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not as making liberty a cloak for malice, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
1 Peter 2:13-17
Free to be servants of God.

I became rather frustrated today when, in browsing the internet news sources, I came across this AP story about Texas Governor Rick Perry signing some pro-life and pro-family legislation at a parochial school, an action that provoked much protest. Particularly irksome was this picture of a woman whose sign claims that "Jesus was a liberal." This claim is not quite accurate, and thus an ineffective protest. My goal in this post is to demonstrate this point. I will not swim into the deep waters of whether Gov. Perry's actions represent an affront to the common understanding of the separation of Church and State. Rather, I will try to show that many people have a misperception about what it means to be 'liberal'; namely, that in order to be such one must be 'a Liberal.'

In a homily given on the occasion of his visit to the United Nations and the U.S. in 1995, at Camden Yards, Pope John Paul II said:
"Democracy cannot be sustained without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person and human community... Surely it is important for America that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each new generation. Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." (emphasis added)
Freedom, then, implies being inextricably bound by and dedicated to the preservation of certain values and principles. These allow one to freely think and operate within a type of framework, so that the individual may thrive without hindrance to the common good. In short, it's a macrocosm of the adage that tells us "high fences make good neighbors."

It is easy to understand that unrestrained personal freedom for every individual, in a world marred by sin, would bring about disorder and chaos - that, in order for a society to operate and flourish, it must have boundaries and rules. Without such regulatory devices, there could be no "liberty." The role of governing bodies is to establish which set of regulations best promotes the good of society and the protection and freedom of its members. But in doing so, politicians are simply seeking existant truths in order to codify them and conform their system of government to these truths. An example would be the testament to a person's "inalienable" rights given by our constitution. These truths, which established the border of the territory in which we are free to be "liberal", are revealed either naturally or supernaturally, and cannot be confounded or contradicted by the laws that men design. Instead, all men's laws must have these truths as their basis.

Jesus is not a Liberal, as the woman in the picture claims. For that matter, He's not a Conservative. Christ came to give men freedom from sin - freedom to choose the true and the good - freedom to be bound in service to God. This freedom enables men to serve and honor the State, to work toward peace and the common good. Christ modeled this type of freedom for us. If He was liberal, He was liberal in a unique sense of the word: the sense described above: that sense evident in a man who serves His servants, obeys the Law in the fullest sense, allows Himself to be bound and put to death for having commited no crime. It is not liberal in the sense of modern political views, where there is what our new Pope calls a "dictatorship of relativism" and tyranny of individualism descending on the western world.

"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Christ has blessed us with the freedom to seek Him in every action of our lives, even in our political activities and involvement in public life. It would be hasty for anyone to assign to any political party, or group, a monopoly on Christ's truth. If the reason for the woman in the picture waving that sign is that she thinks women have a right to put to death a child inside the womb, she is gravely mistaken, and has missed a chance to be truly liberal and free. Elsewhere in his homily, Pope John Paul II, speaking to his Bishops, gave the following charge: "We must guard the deposit of divine truth handed down to us in the Church, especially in view of the challenges posed by a materialistic culture and by a permissive mentality that reduces freedom to license." A glance at the bothersome picture of the woman sadly proclaiming a false conception of liberty should bring these words home to us, today. Our law greatly liberates us, but binds us with a responsibility to protect freedom as well. We do not have the luxury of not concerning ourselves with politics or public affairs. We must immerse ourselves in these matters, giving them deep and thoughtful consideration, heavily weighing any decisions in which we might be asked to take part. We must not settle back too comfortably into the title of Conservative or Liberal, but engage each situation as new opportunity to encounter and find Christ's truth. Our discovery may in each scenario coincide with either a Liberal's or a Convervative's established view. Perhaps it will coincide with no known position in the political arena. But we will have exercised our true freedom and come closer to the Truth from whence it comes.


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