Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Faith and Freedom

"I don’t really understand people who want an authoritarian religion but a free state," begins Arturo Vasquez, rephrasing, "Or rather, why do some value freedom so much in the political realm but abhor it in the religious realm?" — Notes for a busy week. The same question has been put to me. Some of the worthies quoted on this blog's sidebar provided answers better than I could ever hope to offer:

"But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice and madness, without tuition or restraint," said Anglican philosopher Edmund Burke. "Order is not pressure which is imposed on society from without, but an equilibrium which is set up from within," said Nietzschean philosopher José Ortega y Gasset.

That is, authoritarian religion provides a society with the widsom, virtue, tuition, restraint, and equilibrium needed for liberty to survive. Mr. Vasquez continues:
    Personally, I think it would be a good idea to have an laissez-faire attitude towards religion but an authoritarian attitude towards politics. Wouldn’t that make more sense on some level? It certainly would make things interesting. Life on the ground in traditional Catholic regimes wasn’t exactly like that, but it was something like: “you may believe whatever you want as long as you sign on half-heartedly to our dogmas and empty rituals, but if you cross our police force…”
Putting aside the suggestion of "an authoritarian attitude towards politics," life as he describes it in "traditional Catholic regimes" does not seem so shocking. There have always been those whose conscience allows them to do little more than "sign on half-heartedly to our dogmas and empty rituals," and they should be left alone, but that has little to do with modern America.

Coming to mind are the comments in his post-election round-up comments from another worthy (who has not yet earned a place on this blog's sidebar), John Zmirak — A Thumb in Leviathan's Eye: "As Catholics living in secular America – and not in some benevolent, pro-clerical Catholic monarchy, or a de facto Catholic state like De Valera's Ireland – we should recognize what our Church and our families need from the government: to be left alone."

This perhaps best explains why "some value freedom so much in the political realm but abhor it in the religious realm." Also, this attitude might be particularly Anglo-Saxon, a product of history, as the first clause of Magna Carta which guaranteed "that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired." That is, freedom in the political realm, i.e., checks on State power, guaranteed the Church's liberty to be authoritarian.

Finally, Mr. Vasquez concludes, "I have long ago considered 'human rights' to be a superstition founded neither in religion nor sane philosophy." Another sidebar worthy, Transcendentalist turned Catholic philosopher Orestes Augustus Brownson, would understand: "We have heard enough of liberty and the rights of man; it is high time to hear something of the duties of men and the rights of authority."

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.