If we wish to have freedom, we must recognize the importance of objective truth for freedom. Without this recognition, there is no way to distinguish wrong from right, healthy from unhealthy or freedom from slavery. When something is “every thing”, in reality it becomes “no thing” (note this also relates to the pantheistic view of God, where “everything” is God)
Consider the following examples:
The drug addict is “free” because he likes to use drugs.
The hoarder is “free” because he enjoys filling his house with junk.
The woman who gets regularly physically abused by her husband is “free” because she loves him & wants to be with him.
Obviously, none of these examples denote true freedom. They all point to disordered behaviors, such as addiction, compulsion and codependence. But who is to say that this is not freedom, if freedom becomes merely subjective? We must recognize that truth is objective and that there are some things which are objectively wrong and unhealthy.
We must also recognize the objective truth of human nature and purpose. Our spiritual nature & free will demands we observe these moral truths and act accordingly.
“Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary.” (Catechism, 1734)
The following excerpts from the Catechism illustrate the importance of moral conscience:
“Freedom makes man a moral subject…” (Catechism, 1749)
“A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.” (Catechism, 1800)
“Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.” (Catechism, 1796)
“…Everyone must avail himself of the means to form his conscience.” (Catechism, 1798)
“The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.” (Catechism, 1784)
“It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
Return to your conscience, question it…. Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness.” (Catechism, 1779)
Jiminy Cricket also agreed with the Catechism, in singing “… And always let your conscience be your guide.”
Conscience is not merely an emotion, an opinion, what society says, what a priest says or even what the Church says. One must always obey his conscience. Not authority, media, society, economics, practicality, etc. We must also carefully form and inform our conscience, employing inward reflection, self-examination and introspection Adhering to one’s conscience is a responsibility of, as well as a path to, freedom.
For further illustration of the importance of obeying one’s conscience, see our article: The Milgram Experiment.
The Catechism informs us about virtue:
“…The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.” (Catechism, 1804)
“Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good.” (Catechism, 1833)
“The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.” (Catechism, 1839)
“The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. They can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.” (Catechism, 1834)
Prudence is knowing the appropriate time and measure in which to do things and understanding what the particular circumstance morally calls for. Justice is not pre-judging or being partial to one group or another, but acting according to the objective truth of the person & situation. Fortitude allows us to take on the world, if need be, in the light of our objective moral duty. And temperance is essentially moderation.
“The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.” (Catechism, 1808)
As vice makes it ever-harder to do good, virtue makes it ever-easier to do good. Like a strong muscle, virtue comes from the willful, regular exercise of one’s moral conscience. It is difficult not to develop either vice nor virtue. One either regularly exercises one’s freedom to do good, leading to virtue, or does not, leading to a fall into vice. The development of strong, mature virtues denotes a higher degree of freedom.
What does Freedom look like?
Those who are free are not enslaved by their passions. They are not egotistical or self-centered. They fight for the glory of truth & goodness, not themselves. They tend to pray, meditate & practice spiritual exercises routinely. And they fight temptation & develop virtue.
Those who are free seek & follow objective truth, not social trends. They care about truth more than they care about the status quo. They turn inward to contemplate, but outward towards objective truth and our fellow human beings.
They care about fellow human beings more than they care about living a comfortable life. How many people do you know who care more about helping others than being comfortable? People flock to the “prosperity gospel” that says just pray and you shall have all the comforts and success you want in your life. And yet all but one of the apostles were executed. But they all died free. And this is true freedom, not the popular “prosperity gospel”.
One can be spiritually free, yet be physically imprisoned. One can attain and have freedom even under oppressive rule. Many are physically free, but spiritually enslaved by sin and vice. The only actions that matter are those we make freely.
Freedom is the right & responsibility of every human being. But it does not necessarily lead us towards material comforts and wealth. It often leads us away from these, as these are great temptations and often become idols that we erroneously live for.
Freedom & Society
Though the path to freedom is an individual and person one, culture, society and law can help or hinder individuals’ discovery and path towards freedom. This is why we recognize that we are “our brother’s keeper” and why what we do matters. We are responsible for how we affect others with what we do and express and how we live.
We are responsible for helping those who cannot help themselves. The life of a free person is a testament to truth, virtue and humanity. What is the living testimony of those around us?
Though free people are often seen as “rebels” because they don’t follow the crowd, rebels aren’t necessarily free people. They can be just as enslaved by their own subjective desires.
For Catholics, perfect freedom is found in God. Others do not explicitly recognize God as the source, but are nonetheless moving in that direction. Those who truly follow and form their moral conscience are moving towards freedom.
Though perfection does not exist in this world, what matters is the direction in which we are traveling. By recognizing objective truth and morality, our human nature and purpose, by forming and carefully informing our conscience and obeying it and developing virtue we begin to attain true freedom.