A priest friend and I are reading through Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ posthumously-published work, American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile, and it’s been an enjoyable read thus far, even in the places where I disagree with the author.
For the purposes of this post, I wanted to share a citation which I found very intriguing regarding the impact on art of modernity’s flight from anything which might be remotely conceived of as limitation.
“Conservatism–as a philosophical, cultural, and political project–does in fact have boundaries, and those have been set by the cluster of ideas offered by such giants as Burke, Lincoln, Chesterton, Lewis, Hayek, Chambers, Friedman, Kirk, Weaver, Gilder, Buckley, and Reagan. There are, of course, disagreements among these thinkers and their followers, but there is an identifiable stream of thought. It informs our understanding of human nature, families, civil society, just government, and markets.
“What contemporary conservatism has lost–especially in its Hannitized and Coulterized manifestations of superficial ranting–is the connection to a paternity that is necessary so that its intellectual DNA may be passed on to its progeny.
I am not, contrary to how it may seem at times, a leftist. I used to consider myself one some time ago, and I suppose on certain issues, such as foreign policy and immigration, I still am.
But the left’s moral logic, especially with regard to sexual issues, never appealed to me, much for the same reason most forms of libertarian economics don’t – it looks, smells, and often is extremely self-centered, and I wish I could say that without offending good-hearted libertarians who aren’t actually selfish at all.
There is a certain obessesion at times with double-standards and hypocrisy. In the debates over contraception and abortion, for example, these are the arguments I would hear over and over:
I’ve noticed some of the com-boxers talking about morality and obligation recently, and I think it deserves a closer look.
There are many atheists, agnostics, deists, pantheists, etc. who reject the idea of a God that creates moral standards, and then judges us according to those standards because to them the idea is simply reprehensible, incompatible with the moral wisdom humanity has supposedly attained since the Enlightenment.
Christopher Hitchens and others have compared God to Stalin and Hitler, a mad and petty dictator who demands complete and unconditional obedience and worship on pain of eternal suffering. Such a monstrous tyranny is incompatible with any sensible notion of good. Even if God did exist, one gets the idea that these folks would consider it the highest moral duty to follow in Satan’s footsteps and declare, “I shall not serve”.
Historically the Catholic Church has had, or has been perceived to have, a rocky relationship with “freedom” in the sense that the term has come to be used in a political and cultural sense since the Enlightenment.
Freedom in the modern sense is often taken to mean, “I’m free to do whatever I want without anyone telling me what to do.” The Church, on the other hand, generally takes freedom to mean, “Freedom to do that which is good.” The Church sees sin as enslaving and as reducing one’s capacity to choose freely in the future, and as such even where acting contrary to the good is in no way forbidden, doing wrong is not seen by the Church as exercising “freedom”.
So the in the moral sense, the Church does not hold “freedom” in the sense of simply doing whatever you want to be a good. Rather, the Church holds doing the good to be the good, and freedom to be the means of achieving that.
I speak above in the moral sense. However, let us look now at the political question of freedom.