Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Government protected freedom is only half the battle

A great article form First Things that discusses the two different forms of slavery we as humans experience: external and internal.

In the modern West, people generally think of slavery, captivity, and the need for liberation in Orwell’s sense, rather than Huxley’s. Our vision of freedom is primarily socio-political, with the greatest threat to human flourishing being the other, whether the Nazi, the slave-owner, or the autocrat. Oppression comes through pain, not pleasure; the essence of liberty is to be without external constraint. Humans are free if they are able to choose, to will their own future, to decide for themselves what they will do with their lives. By this definition, modern Westerners are all free, with the exception of prisoners and the incapacitated.
Many of the ancients saw things more like Huxley. In what could be called a more religious or philosophical vision of liberty, the greatest threat to human flourishing is the lack of wisdom, phronesis, or virtue. Whereas moderns understand freedom in terms of unconstrained individual choices, many ancients regarded the forces underlying individual choices—passions and desires which might in turn be foolish, selfish, or carnal, much like those depicted in Brave New World—as something from which people needed to be freed.

This is an important distinction to make, and one that has contributed to the demise of my respect for liberal politics. The modern consensus seems to be that if we only remove barriers to economic and social freedom (poverty, inequality, discrimination, etc.) that people will have all the tools they need to succeed. The reality is significantly different, and an exploration of every well-intended campaign from welfare to housing projects to affirmative action reveals that government efforts to level the playing field do not necessarily correspond to an improvement in the lives of those who directly benefit.

This is not to say that government assistance programs or the global fight for universal freedom are mistakes, but rather that they are insufficient. They are only the first step, and they are not effective unless they are accompanied by a strong network of moral authority, teaching of values, and religious freedom.
Yet if the human is to be seen as body and soul, physical and spiritual, object and subject, political and religious, then our vision of freedom needs to incorporate both modern and ancient perspectives as well. The fact that the state is best equipped to promote political freedom, which I take for granted, does not mean that it is the only sort of freedom there is.
In fact in many cases, a more lasting and complete success results when a religious organization implements an assistance program that is funded by the government. As  this  article in Philanthropy Magazine states: "Most likely, faith-based groups’ success is attributable to all these factors: clear moral teaching; personalized, loving, face-to-face assistance; dependable emotional support over the long haul and the sense of connectedness this engenders; and the experience of a personal relationship with a loving, listening, forgiving God that strengthens the individual’s confidence and infuses new hope." 

It is this reality that the HHS mandate is threatening. By limiting a faith-based organization's ability to partner with government to serve those in need, the government is in essence saying that the moral guidance religion provides is not only less important than the basic freedoms (or license) provided by the government, but that religion's moral teachings are actually in opposition to these freedoms and need to be regulated to assure our citizen's rights.

This could not be further from the truth, and represents a real danger not only to faith-based charities but to our society as a whole. There are NO examples in history where state-imposed morality has achieved a better society than a democratic system run by a citizenry that values religion. It is certainly the system that our founding fathers envisioned, in their wisdom. It is the system the USCCB is attempting to preserve with its efforts during this second Fortnight of Freedom to preserve the role of the Church in the political realm. It is the reason why the Church is standing up and speaking Truth despite attacks from all sides, despite the vilification and accusations of bigotry, bullying, and evil.
All of which means that, if we are representing Jesus properly, there will be times when our work looks very similar to that of a secular human rights organization, as we seek release for captives. But there will also be times, if we are representing Jesus properly, when we look utterly inexplicable to those same organizations for our incessant talk of freedom from sin, the flesh, and the self. Many today, like citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games and the Judeans in John 8, will look puzzled and tell us that they have no particular need of freedom, because they have never been enslaved to anyone. “But anyone who sins,” we will reply, “is a slave to sin. And if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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