Intellectual Freedom

Last semester, I took a religion class entitled “Introduction to Basic Themes and Theology”.  On the one hand, I was angry that my college required me to take this class for a number of reasons.  One, I was a biology major and failed to see the connection between a religion class and the knowledge I would need for a future career in medicine.  Secondly, even though I had recently, in a long journey of self-reflection, decided to become a believer in God, I still harbored this very negative perception of religion and dreaded the idea of listening to a college professor expound the virtues of Christian theology.  On the other hand, I have always prided myself on having an open mind, always receptive to fresh perspectives and new ideas, and this was a chance to gain new perspective.  In a previous post, entitled “A Framework for Education”, I put forth a model for an educational system with the ultimate goal of creating a mutually supportive society.  Branching outwardly from this goal were four objectives I defined as skill sets, understandings, and abilities which our educational system will have to develop in its students in order so that this goal can be achieved.  One of those objectives was self-awareness.  I defined self-awareness as the ability to identify one’s passions and dreams and recognize how they have been influenced by cultural and political norms.  I went further on to say, “To be truly self-aware one must not only know what one passionate and convicted about, but also how outside influences have shaped those convictions.  Criticism of one’s self is essential to being truly objective and therefore not being subservient to the cultural and political environment in which you live.”

Now suffice it to say I would not be repeating all this, if I didn’t think it was absolutely critical to my next point.  In today’s world it is unbelievably easy…almost too easy to be turned off by religion.  You have the battle between evolutionism and creationism which many believe is a battle between Christian doctrine and scientific theory, you have the rise of Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, you have the battle between pro life and pro choice advocates on abortion, you have the widespread belief that religion infringes so drastically upon personal freedom, you have Pat Robertson attributing the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to a pact sworn to the Devil by the Haitian people, you have the Christian Right arguing for the introduction of Creationism into the public school curriculum, you have Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and North Africa, you have Boko Haram in Nigeria, you have theocratic societies in the Middle East who believe their religion tells them that women can’t drive cars and that Israel needs to be wiped off the face of the earth……ok I’m done…but trust me there’s more.

Now it’s so easy, almost too easy to say to myself”Oh religion is telling me to blindly believe in a God that I can’t see with my own two eyes, religion is telling me to fly planes into buildings and kill scores of people in the name of God, religion is trying to tell me that Jews are the scourge of this earth, religion is trying to tell me that even though I have suffered the horror of rape and never wanted this baby I can’t have an abortion, religion is trying to tell me that the earth was created in a thousand years when science proves to me it took much longer….and these are the many reasons why I hate religion”.

Now hearkening back to the importance of self-awareness, I pose a question, “Am I not being wholly and totally subservient to the cultural and political environment in which I live if I automatically denounce religion as irrational, controlling, and destructive after say watching the events of September 11, after reading that Boko Haram blew up another police station in Nigeria,  listening to Pat Robertson make the outrageous claim that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for America’s abortion policy?”

What I have come to realize is that we are immersed in a culture of fear, doubt, and power.  There are too many people out there who all they want is power and influence over you.  They want influence over your thoughts and your ideologies.  They want to tell you who to hate and who to love.  They want to tell you how the world works and what is right and what is wrong.  They want to instill blind fear in you.  They all have an agenda and they want you blindly buy in to what they’re selling.  They rather lie than tell you the truth.  They want you to join in their cause whatever it may be, pitting one side against another.  They have no morals and no scruples.  They call Barrack Obama a socialist.  They fly planes into buildings in the name of Allah.  They refuse to compromise on anything.  They sit in our Congress.  They reside on our major news networks.  They are our presidential candidates  They use buzz words and phrases to get you to stand up and cheer.  They tell you what you want to hear.  They play to your prejudices.  They instill in you prejudices.  They tell you why to hate the other side.  They give you no room for clarity.  They give you no room for free thought.  They sit behind their bully pulpits whether it be on the radio or on television and spew hatred.  Hatred for the right, hatred for the left, hatred of religion, religious backed hatred.

Well I’m so tired of it.  I’m so tired of people who have nothing better to do but to take something so good, so fundamentally and inherently good and distort it for money, power, and influence.  I’m so tired of people who have nothing better to do but play politics and blame the other side instead of working together to solve problems.  I’m so tired of people who rather foster conflict than community.  And the only place where I find any explanation for these things, any logical explanation for why these things happen and how we could move away from this type of world and towards a more peaceful, just, intellectually free, and communal society….is Catholic Social thought.  Its not Republican.  Its not Democrat.  Its not extremist.  Its not socialist.  Its not Communist.  Its not atheist.  Its not agnostic.  Its not ideologically stifling.  Its not establishment.  Its not anti-establishment.  Its not anarchist.  Its not pro big government.  Its not anti big government……………Its just human.  The only thing that Catholic Social thought is subservient to is the cause to further human dignity and making the world a better environment for all human beings to flourish…..not the state, or the party, or the government, or the rich people, or the interest groups, or any backwards, hatred spreading ideology

Here are several passages from the 1971 encyclical Octagesima Adveniens which relate to this issue:

Ideologies and Human Liberty

26. Therefore the Christian who wishes to live his faith in a political activity which he thinks of as service cannot without contradicting himself adhere to ideological systems which radically or substantially go against his faith and his concept of man. He cannot adhere to the Marxist ideology, to its atheistic materialism, to its dialectic of violence and to the way it absorbs individual freedom in the collectivity, at the same time denying all transcendence to man and his personal and collective history; nor can be adhere to the liberal ideology which believes it exalts individual freedom by with drawing it from every limitation, by stimulating it through exclusive seeking of interest and power, and by considering social solidarities as more or less automatic consequences of individual initiatives, not as an aim and a major criterion of the value of the social organization.

27. Is there need to stress the possible ambiguity of every social ideology? Sometimes it leads political or social activity to be simply the application of an abstract, purely theoretical idea; at other times it is thought which becomes a mere instrument at the service of activity as a simple means of a strategy.

In both cases is it not man that risks finding himself alienated? The Christian faith is above and is sometimes opposed to the ideologies, in that it recognizes God, who is transcendent and the Creator, and who, through all the levels of creation, calls on man as endowed with responsibility and freedom.

28. There would also be the danger of giving adherence to an ideology which does not rest on a true and organic doctrine, to take refuge in it as a final and sufficient explanation of everything, and thus to build a new idol, accepting, at times without being aware of doing so, its totalitarian and coercive character. And people imagine they find in it a justification for their activity, even violent activity, and an adequate response to a generous desire to serve. The desire remains but it allows itself to be consumed by an ideology which, even if it suggests certain paths to man’s liberation, ends up by making him a slave.

When I read this, I think of the current race for the Republican nomination.  I think of the United States Congress, its 9% approval rating and its lack of bipartisan ability due to ideological enslavement.  I think of everything that is wrong with our political system.  Another quote from the same document, “

25. Political activity – need one remark that we are dealing primarily with an activity, not an ideology? – should be the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which springs from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions. It is not for the State or even for political parties, which would be closed unto themselves, to try to impose an ideology by means that would lead to a dictatorship over minds, the worst kind of all. It is for cultural and religious groupings, in the freedom of acceptance which they presume, to develop in the social body, disinterestedly and in their own ways, those ultimate convictions on the nature, origin and end of man and society. .

Let me ask you.  What is the nature of political activity in this country?  Just look at our current race for the Republican nomination.  Is this race mostly an attempt to gain “dictatorship over minds”or is it “the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which springs from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions?

You tell me….


I write to dialogue. So please, let's engage each other in some dialogue.

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