Friday, February 3, 2012

On Absolute Freedom

I would like to give you today a very short reflection on the idea of "absolute freedom" in the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor, written by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The encyclical is based on philosophy of truth, which in today's society has become distorted into something it is not.

Veritatis Splendor #32 states: "Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values." What exactly, then, is this notion of absolute freedom, and what are its consequences?

First, it must be stated that properly speaking, freedom is directed towards truth. St. Anselm, in his work On Free Will, writes that God, being most perfect, and being truth itself, is most free of all things, created and uncreated. Freedom is not merely the capacity to sin or not sin; it must go beyond this because sin is not possible in God. If sin was possible in God, it would create a duplicity in God because of the simplicity of God (cf. Summa Theologica prima pars question three for a detailed explanation of this: Get it here). Therefore, if we wanted to say that God sinned, or that God is sinful, we would have to go so far as to say that "God is sin," which would be completely contrary to everything according to reason and revelation. God is free, and because of his sinless state, He is most free.

Anselm teaches that sin diminishes the will's capacity for free will, and so as man, we are most affected because of our inclination to sin. However, Anselm says something even more: man himself, depending on his sinfulness, can have a limitation of freedom. He would argue that those who are more free are those who are able to choose the good instead of the evil. In other words, we are talking about holy people. Those who have limited freedom are sinners (which we all are eventually, especially the writer of this article), so the more free we are, the more we have accepted God's grace and risen above the mundance and truly embraced freedom!

How different is Anselm's idea of freedom and free will from modernism's idea of freedom and free will! A modernist would say that as long as you are free to do something, then you should do it. They may even go so far as to say that you "ought" to do it. As long as you are free, then you can choose to do whatever you want, even if it is a sin.

Thinking about this mentality in light of the Veritatis Splendor quote above, we can see that perhaps the writing of John Paul II were prophetic in modern day. For many, freedom has become an absolute, whereas for thousands of years, truth was the absolute. When freedom becomes the absolute, then nothing else can be absolute (two absolutes are unreasonable: you can't have two absolute gods because the definition of God means that one is all powerful). Something that is absolute must contain all else, so then Absolute Truth and Absolute Freedom cannot exist side-by-side. If freedom is indeed the absolute, then we must look to "truth" as something that participates in freedom, and that truth exists solely for the seeking of freedom, instead of freedom in seeking truth. So the modernist idea of freedom has flipped on its head freedom, and as a result, truth.

In the modernist idea of freedom, it must also be said that truth must necessarily become subjective. One idea of absolute freedom will look different from another because "we are just free," and freedom is not really a criteria for determining whether or not we ought to do something. The only criteria is that if "we are free to do it, we can do it." As a result, morality, values and the determination of good and evil would rest in the notion of freedom, instead of freedom resting in truth. Veritatis Splendor says that as a result of this absolute freedom, "Human freedom would... be able to 'create values' and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom" (#35). Instead of being free to have values based in truth, we have values based on freedom and an absolute, and an "end," since those who fall into absolute freedom would that you do anything ultimately because they are free to do it.

Now, you might say, "if you believe in absolute freedom, can you not still make good choices?" Yes, but a person who looks to freedom as an absolute will also be partaking in ultimately a subjective or relativistic idea of morality, and someone like this would have to be OK with someone else taking positions completely different from you, because they are free (again, not based in truth, but in freedom). For example, "Jack" might be completely against abortion, but "Jill" might be OK with it. In both examples, they might view morality as whatever is most freeing for them, and as a result, "Jack" must necessarily say that it is OK for "Jill" to be in favor of abortion. One can take this analogy even further: "Jack" says that abortion is murder, but "Jill" says that it is not murder. Because "Jack" and "Jill" are not basing their ideas on objective truth, we would have to then say that their truth becomes subjective based on how each one views how freeing their positions are. If their position brings them more freedom than another position, then they must take the former position. Ultimately, absolute freedom falls flat in trying to actually make a truth claim that is universal: "Jack" might say "there is truth," while Jill may say "there is no truth," which one is sure Jill will say truthfully.

As a result of this, can we really say that absolute freedom exists, especially if there is no standard on which to base it? Freedom, if viewed absolutely, would ultimately fall apart because absolute freedom means that we have freedom to sin or not sin. Where would that then leave God, as it is not in the nature of God to sin? Absolute truth, on the other hand, does not need the dialectic seen with absolute freedom (to sin or not sin); absolute truth does not require us to say that absolute truth is the ability to tell the truth or not tell the truth, or any other kind of dialectic. Because of this lack of dialectic, we can say that God is truth, and that leaves no duplicity in him.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas- A much needed Feast Day

Dear friends,

Tomorrow is the Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas, a saint who still plays a prominent role in the Church today. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 to a prominent family on the Italian Peninsula, and embraced his vocation to be a Dominican Mendicant, to the disappointment of his family, who wanted him to be a Benedictine.

Why is Thomas important in modern day society? Thomas was one who blended together the God given gifts of Faith and Reason. 800+ years later, Pope John Paul II will remind the world that "Faith and Reason are like two wings of a dove which rise to the contemplation of truth" (Fides et Ratio 1).

In a world where often times either Faith or Reason are jettisoned for what enlightened people, or fideists would call "absolutism" (albeit in a false sense of the word), Thomas Aquinas was one who adequately blended the two. What is this "absolutism" to which I refer? When a fideist (and by this, I mean a person who jettisons reason and relies exclusively on their idea of revelation as the only source of knowledge of God) makes a claim, it can lay too much a burden on one particular source of revelation. For example, if this exclusive source was the Bible, the question must be asked: who wrote the Bible, from where did it come, and what is the proper interpretation? These questions aren't, for the most part, answered in Scripture, so if Scripture alone was a source of Revelation, the argument can quickly fall apart. If Scripture was the only source of truth that one follows, what about its existence itself which is not talked about in scripture? Someone else can say that their religious book was divinely revealed, and then it is a battle of two different sources that both claim to be the absolute truth. This can quickly reduce Scripture into a subjective, relativist understanding, especially if another book makes opposite claims than the Bible. It follows then that there has to be a use of logic and reason when it comes to Faith, for without it, Faith has no grounding.

Sometimes the claim one makes can be seemingly contradicted within the same source (especially in the Bible where things can seemingly contradict if read in a strictly literal interpretation instead of reading Scripture according to the intention of the writer [human and divine]). Reason in many ways can help sort out seeming contradictions and other troubles of Scripture (the hard teachings). Reason is a gift from God that, in spite of what same may believe, is not totally corrupt or depraved; rather, it is a still essential truth for seeking Truth in all things.

In Thomas' magnam opus the "Summa Theologica," Thomas sufficiently used reason to inform the Faith about which he is teaching. In many of the arguments found today in the moral realm of life, reason is needed in a real and urgent way. Without reason, our Faith is not really grounded in anything; luckily, our Faith is reasonable!

We have so much to owe to Thomas and others in our history who saw the importance of reason and philosophy and employed it to teach things new as Fideists do, but rather as Christians who are grounded in "Truth." In light of Thomas, let us use reason in our arguments and discussion with those who insist on taking the lives of the less fortunate, for this truth ultimately points all things to Christ, who is the "Truth" (John 14:6) Himself.

May you remain close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. God bless.

Physical Disability Doesn’t Stop Local Soccer Player Christian Metzler from Excelling at Sport

The following video is a short story of a former student of mine at Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School, where I teach. It is a great video, and it is very inspiring. Please watch!

Physical Disability Doesn’t Stop Local Soccer Player Christian Metzler from Excelling at Sport:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Great video from the March for Life

The following is a great video from the March for Life put together from The Bad Catholic Blog. Enjoy!

Let's do this

After having neglected this blog for about 15 months, one must ask, "why do I keep coming back, promising to write more, when in reality I am much too busy to actually do this blog?" I think the answer to this question is important: because I am not a quitter, and I refuse to go down without a fight.

Having said that, since the last time I had a post, my wife and I had to endure burying our first child who died in childbirth, only to be blessed six months later with the conception of our second child. Her name is Grace, and she is currently cooing away in her swing a few feet away. She will be nine weeks old on Monday! Also in that time period I finished a Master's Degree, started a new job (teaching full time), and moving to another state. Phew! I guess I can use the excuse that I have been busy.

Now that I have got that out in the open, this blog will be focusing on the things it has always focused on: the prevalence of the culture of death and how it is destroying our society from within, and how the culture of life is truly the culture of love.

Blogs like this (but not really mine) are important, especially now that Big media is in the pocket of Planned Parenthood and other culture of death establishments.

I will make it a resolution to write often on this blog.