North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Free to be a Hero

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When Ordinary is Extraordinary

I’m a man of steel. I can accomplish superhuman feats. I’m a heterosexual, monogamous, faithful man who has been married for over five years. And get this: I still want to be married! I’d rather spend time with my wife and children than time in bars with drunkards and strippers! This is the stuff that legends are made of!

OK, back to reality. There are plenty of reasons why no sane person would consider me a superhero, especially those who know me best. But in our modern culture, I’ve accomplished a goal that is seldom realized. When I celebrate my ten-year anniversary, I’ll indeed be beating the odds. And if, like my father, I can go through middle age without getting divorced, I’ll truly be staring culture right in the face and spitting in its eye.

I admit it; I am also a radical. I don’t think people are like turnips or pumpkins who are doomed to become what they are based solely on the nutrients and soil they find themselves in. I don’t think calls for abstinence are futile because people “can’t help it.” I think the “got your rubbers?” culture is conformist and defeatist. I reject it, and embrace my freedom instead.

Freedom and the Law

The article I linked to from Tipperography, my disagreement with Jay Currie, and other clashes that I have had with the libertarians bloggers I read and discuss has had me pondering the relationship between freedom, religion and the law.

First thought: Is there an earlier suggestion of the separation of church and state than Christs’ saying, “Give what is Ceasar’s to Caesar, and what is God’s to God”? This is a limitation on the state, suggesting that there are things it cannot hope to deal with. It also suggests to me that the church has its limits as well, and must also defer to God on many things. As an example, I suggest Papal Infallibility, which is very narrowly defined. In comparison, the Vatican bureaucracy’s views on Iraq are merely interesting, and not compelling.

Second thought: There are indeed things that are wrong (sinful), whose business is not a matter of the law. Libertarians give the impression that they think they are the only ones who recognize that. Christians have an old example to draw on, and that is Jesus forbidding the stoning of the adulterous woman. There is no question that she had sinned, but it was not for man to deal with. It was between her and God. I would put some aspects of the drug culture in this category.

So-called Catholic politicians often try to put abortion in this private category but they are in error. In adultery one party is grieved, not killed. Murder is more final and therefore more serious. Furthermore, if we are to be free, we are compelled to protect the weak from the predations of the strong. How can the weak be free if the strong do not respect them? Are we not all strong at some things and weak in others? When we stand up for the weak we stand up for ourselves.

Finally, the notion that we do not know if the early stage baby is human and therefore under the protection of God’s law is so much hocus pocus. Show me the dividing line. Can’t do it? A theory without a proof is nothing more than a theory. And the burden is on the pro choice crowd because everyone (even them) agrees: it’s human at point X. Starting from that point of agreement, I want to know how and when it stops holding true.

Liberals think we are so free that we are doomed to conform to our material nature. That’s not free, and neither is the nanny state that arises from their thinking. Liberals want to be the gardener and see us as the hapless crop. Libertarians go too far in the other direction, and would peel back the law to the point where we claw at one another in an anarchic state. They stop short of physical violence, but that is an odd and narrow definition of violence. Indifference is a form of violence too, as is score keeping that is too rigid.

Both solutions – roughly: the state is the only law, and man is the only law, are exaggerations resulting from an overly optimistic view of human nature. What I’m trying to suggest is that freedom is not our natural state, it is something we create when we act in accordance with our nature in the long term. We have to give a little bit, to get a whole lot more. We see this in the family, where we must give without keeping score, and where specialized roles mean we can’t treat each other exactly the same and call it fair.

The law of the land is a crude instrument and cannot be expected to compel all of us in this direction. It needs to be in accordance with the Natural Law, and thus in accordance with human nature. That means in must take into account being unable compel enforcement, and being unable to account for all variables in the legislation it creates. Fines and jail time don’t compel the mind or the heart to change; if they do anything, they teach respect for the strong.

Local, small scale law is described at Catholic, in a look at the principle of subsidiarity:

The solution to all this [the U.N., the world court, etc.] is the Catholic Church’s first social teaching: the principle of subsidiarity. This principle states simply that each task in any commonwealth should be handled at the lowest level possible and that, conversely, there must be a compelling reason to remove authority in any matter from a more local to a less local jurisdiction.

The principle of subsidiarity is based on a strong awareness of the dignity of each human person, and the appropriateness of each person acting through his own natural communities to order the affairs common to the group. Human dignity is preserved and honored when this ordering of life is decided and implemented as much as possible by the same people whose lives are being ordered. As long as matters can be handled in a reasonably effective manner locally, imperfections at this level are far preferable to the unavoidable drawbacks of moving things to a higher and inherently less accountable level.

Chief among the drawbacks of locating authority at a great distance is loss of freedom. In fact, it is not too much to say that, in the absence of subsidiarity, the Western ideology of personal liberty is completely hollow. The size, scale and bureaucratic character of our organizational forms result in far more public control of personal life than in many previous cultures which emphasized personal liberty less while valuing natural local institutions more

The Law has a small and specialized role but it is not nothing. It sets a floor for our behavior, and that floor sets us free: free to contemplate the ceiling and free to reach for it. Religion helps us to keep the state in check through an understanding of our nature; and it also suggests to us how we can best rule ourselves, lest others do it for us.


Libertarians and the religious seem at times to be an odd pair, who combine solely for political gain, but they have much to learn from one another. The religious can become obsessive about using the state to reach the ceiling, and the libertarians can neglect to left their eyes from the floor.


Written by Curt

December 19, 2004 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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