Thomas Griffin 7/2/21 (For Crisis Magazine)
Independence Day evokes a positive spirit among Americans. We view ourselves as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” So much of our nation’s foundation springs from goodness, courage, and virtue. The freedom once fought for by the courageous men of the Revolution, however, is radically different from the doctrine of unhindered liberty that is preached in 21st century America. In order to preserve our union, we must be rooted in the true notion of liberty or we will be returned to our pre-Revolution days of tyranny.
Aquinas explained that freedom is the ability to choose the good. C.S. Lewis wrote that courage is “the form of every virtue at its testing point.” The temptation to prescribe unhindered liberty (being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as it makes you happy and you don’t hurt anyone in the process) is a fallacy because it creates cowards out of human beings.
Big government, along with the rampant addictions to screen time, social media, and streaming platforms, has crafted a nation that is too often indifferent and frequently ignorant of how freedoms are stripped away from its citizens. The masses ascribe their allegiance to a mission statement alike to the following words: “All we desire is the comfort and security of having the capacity to do what we want and the ability to be ‘safe’ during the process.”
If we are living a life of ease and we feel safe while we are doing it, then all must be well. What a low bar to set for creatures created in God’s image and likeness. St. Augustine explained the temptation to settle for worldly pursuits in his masterpiece The City of God. He remarked:
“Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God. “
Unhindered liberty is only concerned with the “love of self” that Augustine warns against. The American project stood in opposition to this because it was wrapped up in sacrifice for others and devotion to a cause greater than oneself. No Continental soldier ever went into battle with the slogan, “Me First,” and no patriot desired to fight tyranny because it was easy or comfortable.
God’s glory sets captives free and proclaims to a passing world that unlimited choice does not bring fulfillment, happiness, or love to fruition. Choice without borders also leads to a nation that cringes at truth. Instead of living in the reality of things as they are, we are often swallowed up by the tendency to choose a side and berate the opposition as unredeemable. The fight against the reign of relativism and the false sense of freedom can only be won with eternity in mind.
We are on a pilgrimage toward eternal life, but while we are on earth we are called to engage in society and sanctify the world. Doing so means we have to be knowledgeable concerning what goes on in politics and government. True wisdom highlights the fact that “religion moderates democracy because it appeals to an authority higher than democracy itself,” as Alexis de Tocqueville said.
The ship of the United States must always be steered by faith or it will either lose its way or sink entirely. This is the case for any government, but it is specifically true for a democratic republic. Even Thomas Jefferson exclaimed: “No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can it be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I, as chief magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
While Jefferson meets the bare minimum of “giving religion his example,” his admittance of its importance is pivotal. There is absolutely no reason to treat your neighbor well or sacrifice for the common good if there is no overarching principle undergirding the citizenry. Courage and truth can only spring from sources outside of oneself that push a man or woman to surrender to the good of others out of love.
John Adams once noted that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Morality is critical for the success of our union. When stated as such, this appears to be self-evident. However, there are forces and philosophies within the country that are stripping any sense of moral truth from existing.
The United States has shifted throughout the centuries from a place where religious freedom and service to God and country were paramount to a nation that often promotes positions that are only advantageous to elitist groups and post-Christian idealogues. Our Founding Fathers are calling us away from this morphed and dangerous view of our beautiful country that is the effect of rejecting God and making humanity an idol.
The loss of God results in the worship of self, and the liturgy of unhindered liberty is reaping dangerous effects. We must be cautious to not offer incense at any altar besides that of the living God. For this reason, James Madison warned that worshipping God “is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe.”
In order to restore the values that built America, our nation must run toward God and away from selfishness. Sacrificial love is the model given to us by Christ, and it has encompassed the fabric of what built our country. Let us be truly free to be courageous and live in the truth of who we were made to be. Then independence will reign supreme.
Thomas Griffin teaches at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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