Self-Determination vs. Freedom

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you and I have noticed a great deal of complaining lately about mandates of masks and vaccines and how such mandates are seen by some as threats to our freedom.

At the start, let’s be clear: I will not be writing about whether mandates are good or bad. Rather, my focus is on a faulty definition of the concept of freedom. I know I’ve been on this topic before, but it merits more time.

If we look at freedom purely as self-determination, then by definition individuals are given power to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, good and bad. They would have the option to disregard any civil or church law they judged to be interfering with their personal desires. Should someone else choose to abide by that rule, that’s their business. You do your thing and I’ll do mine. Live and let live.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see problems with this idea of freedom. If self-determination ruled the land and personal desires ran unchecked, there could be no charges brought against the rapist, the racist or the terrorist. The drunk driver would have no fear of being pulled over. The weak would be at the mercy of the strong.

Do you see what’s missing? There is no reference to the need for submission to a higher power, be it divine or worldly.

A just and orderly society would simply be impossible to maintain under this version of freedom. You and I need to realize that life isn’t all about us. We don’t always need to get what we want.

So much, I believe, of what is wrong with society can be linked in part to this selfish idea of freedom. And sure, sometimes it can be unintentional.

In just one example, it would seem entirely normal for a parent to tell a child, “You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up.” Wouldn’t a better approach be to encourage the child to pray about his/her future plans, and invite God’s guidance? The change of mindset is important.

Thank God, a better idea of freedom exists. Following is a definition from a video presentation by Catholic Bishop Robert Barron:

Freedom is “the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible, then effortless.”

Yes, there is much to unpack with that statement, more than can be done with this essay. But the work is necessary.

If we are going to change hearts– and I believe we can, with God’s help– addressing a fundamental concept like freedom is essential. Let’s pray about it and gather again next time. God bless.

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