Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Freedom Through Natural Law

 

While one bishop (the pope) offered a sadly forgettable speech before Congress, another bishop hit one out of the park at the World Meeting of Families.

Though I believe Christians of all sorts would appreciate Bishop Robert Barron’s full speech, this bit about acquiring freedom through adherence to natural law should be accessible to non-Christian Ricochet members as well. This is what is meant by the famous claim, “the truth will set you free.”

The US Constitution was founded on assumptions of natural law. The purpose of limited, local government is not to absolve citizens of the need for an ordered society, but to protect a just order from interference. The Constitution assumes a preponderance of non-legal customs which reflect objective truths about the nature of humanity.

Freedom is found in virtue. “It is the shaping of desire to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.” Virtue is found in truth.

The Constitution is an unsupportable dream without general agreement among citizens regarding truth — including truth about “the good” — and common customs well beyond the purview of politicians and judges. Multiculturalism and relativism are greater threats to American freedom than the legal monstrosities that arise in their wake.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As cultural norms fade, laws are passed to take their place.

    If you think about it, laws are really for a handful of bad actors. Take jaywalking. Those are laws passed to stop people from darting in and out of traffic. If people would not do that, we do not need the laws.

    • #1
    • September 25, 2015, at 3:17 AM PDT
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  2. Smilin' Jack Member

    Thank you so much! Wonderful, inspiring speech!

    • #2
    • September 25, 2015, at 4:31 AM PDT
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  3. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Bishop Robert Baron. Wow. I am still getting used to that.

    • #3
    • September 25, 2015, at 5:57 AM PDT
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  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan, that is a point being made again and again at the World Meeting of Families. Society begins with family. It is where we learn nearly everything that enables us to be good citizens and good neighbors. As family norms break down, politics follows.

    • #4
    • September 25, 2015, at 6:06 AM PDT
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  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron Miller:Bryan, that is a point being made again and again at the World Meeting of Families. Society begins with family. It is where we learn nearly everything that enables us to be good citizens and good neighbors. As family norms break down, politics follows.

    That is so true. I see that every day with the clients we serve.

    There is not one social problem in this nation that would not get better if we reduced the rate of divorce and illegitimacy.

    • #5
    • September 25, 2015, at 6:39 AM PDT
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  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wonderful! The culmination of many years of Bishop Barron’s study, thought, and media productions. I recognize themes drawn from his Catholicism series and his Priest, Prophet, and King study.

    What he says in this speech affirms and encourages my faith. The Church’s extravagant (moral) demands are equaled by the extravagant pouring out of Divine Mercy. Freedom of indifference versus freedom for excellence. I’ll be carrying these ideas the rest of my life.

    Thanks for posting, Aaron.

    • #6
    • September 25, 2015, at 7:25 AM PDT
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  7. Sabrdance Member

    The point is not just religious, either. It undergirds both Hobbes and Locke, and by extension Montesquieu. We are free to do anything that does not contradict the Natural Law. We are not free to be irrational, alienate ourselves from our natural rights, or break the laws of physics. Doing so is often instantly fatal, or at minimum eliminates our freedom in the same breath.

    A well ordered liberty, built over centuries of tradition, debate, and deliberation, is intended to prevent us from abandoning freedom. Hence why children are given so little liberty by their parents until they have demonstrated they are no longer irrational.

    It is only with Rousseau, and later Mill, that anyone conceives of the idea that liberty is somehow a restraint on freedom, and that people should be free to do anything they want on the grounds that it is self-correcting. It is true -people who think they can fly are often violently and painfully self-corrected. But as Rousseau’s French Revolution demonstrated, the abandonment of liberty for pure freedom leads rapidly back into dictatorship.

    Hobbes could have told him that.

    • #7
    • September 25, 2015, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  8. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron Miller:[…..]The Constitution is an unsupportable dream without general agreement among citizens regarding truth — including truth about “the good” — and common customs well beyond the purview of politicians and judges. Multiculturalism and relativism are greater threats to American freedom than the legal monstrosities that arise in their wake.

    Then again, there were great divergences between the regional populations even at the time of the founding. New Yorker vs Georgian; city dweller vs farmer; Quaker vs Baptist; slavers vs abolitionists; northerner vs southerner; Dutch vs English vs French.

    The great innovation is federalism and subsidiarity. Even these multiple cultures can come together in common interest but only if they also have the space to pursue their own happiness according to their own laws.

    • #8
    • September 25, 2015, at 7:39 AM PDT
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  9. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The trouble with the formulation that there is truth when it comes to virtue is that there are competing claims and no objective arbiter or tests. In light of this, what choice do we have?

    One choice is to view freedom in the first way he describes, primarily in terms of individual self determination. Another choice is to embrace the second view of freedom. I like the second way, but how do we do it in a way that doesn’t impose or oppress or end up diminishing human flourishing and prosperity? Limited self government built around federalism and subsidiarity, where we are all free to form and maintain communities where we are free to pursue that virtue, not only or even primarily through civil law but also viewing law as legitimate and useful.

    • #9
    • September 25, 2015, at 7:46 AM PDT
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  10. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

    So much wisdom condensed into that lyric. The whole poem/song really. It has the order right too. In the first stanza we ask God for grace and we extol brotherhood. In the second stanza we recognize that liberty is not unleavened freedom of action, that we must indeed confirm our souls in self control and our liberty in the law. In the third stanza we reap the benefits of God’s grace, brotherhood, and self control and we see how the success that follows strengthens the basis for that success.

    • #10
    • September 25, 2015, at 7:59 AM PDT
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  11. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kind of sounds like Burke:

    Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights.

    • #11
    • September 25, 2015, at 8:21 AM PDT
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  12. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ed G.: Then again, there were great divergences between the regional populations even at the time of the founding. New Yorker vs Georgian; city dweller vs farmer; Quaker vs Baptist; slavers vs abolitionists; northerner vs southerner; Dutch vs English vs French.

    The great innovation is federalism and subsidiarity. Even these multiple cultures can come together in common interest but only if they also have the space to pursue their own happiness according to their own laws.

    Yes, subsidiarity is important. But even then, when the American states were much more culturally distinct from one another, they shared fundamental perceptions which are being scattered today.

    Marriage is a clear example. Thought the differences between marriage laws in various states were considered substantial at the time, they were not insurmountable. Recent disparities are insurmountable. Asking the citizens of a culturally orthodox state to recognize a foreign marriage defined by different standards of “common law” is not equivalent to expecting recognition of “marriage” between two gay men.

    What enabled the United States of America to be a single nation, rather than an alliance of separate nations (as was approximated by the failed Articles of Confederation experiment) was a basic level of cultural homogeneity. As Western nations are united by common values, even more so were the American colonies united by basic perceptions and interests.

    • #12
    • September 25, 2015, at 8:40 AM PDT
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  13. Typical Anomaly Inactive

    Aaron–

    Thanks so much. I’ve appreciated much of what you have posted. I loved the Bishop’s message because it applied to a non-Catholic (me) in spades and because it was based on Scripture it applies, as you mentioned, to non believers. The golf analogy was terrific. The laws reflected in the golf pro’s guidance worked because they were based in objective reality. Guidance based on how someone feels feeds vanity but ignores (or misunderstands) the essential forces at play.

    Thanks for content I can happily pass along to others.

    But as for “The truth will set you free,” a famous claim?? While it shows up on libraries and university structures, it is powerful because it is objectively true in the sense it was originally spoken. Many untrue claims become famous (just think about Roe v. Wade).

    • #13
    • September 25, 2015, at 8:43 AM PDT
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  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A common challenge in many areas of philosophy is to analyze aspects of a thing without forgetting that they are inseparable.

    For example, we often discuss the body and mind separately, yet research proves that each regularly and unavoidably affects the other. They are two aspects of one entity, but it can be difficult to consider them simultaneously.

    In Christianity, we tend to speak of love and law as distinct concepts. But (natural) law is an aspect of love; as is mercy. It is the shape of love, the way of love. And, because we are created to love, it is the way of fulfillment and social harmony.

    It’s like the geologic composition and geographic position of a mountain. Those are the “laws” of that mountain. If the composition was chalk instead of granite, or the location was Massachusetts instead of Colorado, then we would not be identifying the same mountain. That would be like calling blue “yellow”. Earth would not be Earth if it was not part of the Milky Way. That is part of Earth’s history and identity.

    God is love. Love’s definition is dependent upon His nature and upon our nature as His creations. So it is not possible to love without His law. Natural law is the means of peace, justice, and prosperity.

    We will indeed struggle to agree on right perception of natural law. But it exists to be discovered, not invented; just like the laws of physics or law of biology.

    • #14
    • September 25, 2015, at 9:01 AM PDT
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  15. Biden Pure Demagogue Coolidge
    Biden Pure Demagogue Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In his latest pieces, moreover, Gill has not only the same penchant for misunderstanding Locke, but for misunderstanding me as well. Throughout, Gill is confused about the basis of my quarrel of Locke, whom I criticize not for wishing to base government on natural law (as Gill continually asserts), but rather on “purely secular arguments [and] the consideration of purely this-worldly motives.” This is not natural law, at least not as classically understood. It is mere worldly self-interest, a limitation of government’s concerns to man’s purely temporal needs and desires. It is true that at the end of my article, in a direct response to Gill, I do discuss difficulties that might arise in considering natural law as the sole foundation of government. But that is not the basis of my critique, and I say many times that Locke’s error is his limitation of the legitimate concerns of government to merely external and this-worldly matters.

    Thomas Storck contra John Locke.

    • #15
    • September 25, 2015, at 9:39 AM PDT
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  16. Jim Beck Member

    Morning Aaron and Sabrdance,

    If we use the golf analogy, we have many folks who think that the freedom to use the swing you want to is the most important and foundational aspect of an ethical system, even if (back to the analogy)an individualistic swing does not drive the ball as far or are as accurately. Is this gulf in basic philosophy unbridgeable?

    • #16
    • September 25, 2015, at 9:40 AM PDT
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  17. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s also worth noting that natural law/virtue allows for the possibility of imperfect actions and systems which function basically but do not function best, nor even well. So the fact that a behavior does not fail completely does not mean it is a suitable alternative to the natural demand.

    Aristotle would say a knife is virtuous if it cuts well. It is designed for that purpose. It can be used for other purposes. But it does not meet those goals as well, and such misuse can damage it. You can sometimes use a knife like a screwdriver or a hammer, but it is not as effective at either role and such use will probably blunt the blade or ruin the handle. The more the knife is used without regard to the role discerned by the nature of its design, the more it will be damaged… and possibly be made incapable of satisfying its intended purpose.

    Likewise, societies have tried many forms of government, many varieties of civil laws, and many kinds of non-legal incentives to encourage social peace and prosperity. Some clearly work better than others. Some might provide security or affluence yet frustrate other pursuits of human beings.

    Likewise, some individual habits do not necessarily make a person unhappy and yet deprive that person of certain needs or opportunities.

    Does the immutable nature of human beings include designation of roles? Do we have inherited or designed individual natures, in addition to a common human nature?

    • #17
    • September 25, 2015, at 9:50 AM PDT
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  18. Typical Anomaly Inactive

    Aaron Miller: We will indeed struggle to agree on right perception of natural law. But it exists to be discovered, not invented; just like the laws of physics or law of biology.

    Wow, there’s a mouthful. If you think about that from the POV of a non-believing physicist or biologist, their training tells them that often the facts are so inscrutable they must make an educated guess, called a theory, then test the theory. When it comes down to it, did Einstein’s theory of relativity have global impact on humanity because it turned everyone’s attention to the creator of the light whose speed is essential to the well-known formulation E=mc2 ? No, it had immediate impact because we turned the observer into a rock star and wove a narrative of human powers. Albert only claimed to have identified what the universe did. But we seem to have credited him with the invention of it.

    That is the divide we keep seeing between us: The people of faith who hold that the first cause in the universe was from a creator and the people who hold that the first cause was mindless and random. Praise for the theory of relativity (the connection of space and time) belongs to the power that put it there. Natural law names that party. Those who reject natural law see their random-based worldview reinforced and the case for a creator weakened. Culture war ensues.

    • #18
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:04 AM PDT
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  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jim Beck: If we use the golf analogy, we have many folks who think that the freedom to use the swing you want to is the most important and foundational aspect of an ethical system, even if (back to the analogy) an individualistic swing does not drive the ball as far or are as accurately. Is this gulf in basic philosophy unbridgeable?

    You anticipated where I was going.

    Another way of considering it: How do you convince people content with mediocrity to aspire to excellence?

    I think Bishop Barron offered one answer. You accompany calls to perfection with mercy. It’s a difficult challenge to teach people to hate losing, let alone to hate failing short of their highest aspirations, and yet not be discouraged by failure.

    In recent decades, our society attempted to eliminate discouragement by lavishing praise for minimal achievements, applauding effort without care of results, and downplaying the value of victory. Everyone is a special snowflake. Everyone can be a hero.

    Like all corruption, this attracted people because it contains bits of truth and beauty. Every person is indeed uniquely loved. Everyone is capable of admirable sacrifice. But, of course, we don’t all have the same opportunities or aptitudes. Again, we have roles to fulfill. We are not entirely self-determined.

    Anyway, true standards of excellence mixed with mercy is obviously just one need among many for waking people from apathy and isolation. Translating principles into concrete habits ain’t easy either.

    • #19
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:11 AM PDT
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  20. Owen Findy Member

    Jim Beck: Is this gulf in basic philosophy unbridgeable?

    You missed a perfectly good pun, here.

    • #20
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:12 AM PDT
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  21. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eric Mawhinney: That is the divide we keep seeing between us: The people of faith who hold that the first cause in the universe was from a creator and the people who hold that the first cause was mindless and random.

    Though as a Christian I would obviously prefer everyone agreed on how natural law is established, I think Christians, atheists, Hindus, and whatnot can generally harmonize as cultural and political allies if we can agree on the natural laws themselves.

    • #21
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:18 AM PDT
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  22. Pelayo Inactive

    Aaron,

    Thank you for sharing this video clip. It has been a difficult week to call myself a Catholic given the highly misguided comments from Pope Francis about Climate Change (among other things). Listening to Bishop Barron has lifted my spirit and reminded me of what is good in Catholicism.

    I will be sharing this with my wife and a few friends.

    God Bless You.

    • #22
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:22 AM PDT
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  23. Typical Anomaly Inactive

    Aaron Miller: Does the immutable nature of human beings include designation of roles? Do we have inherited or designed individual natures, in addition to a common human nature?

    Do you have a “Stir Hornets’ Nest” key on your keyboard? You bring up the stickiest topics with such ease and aplomb.

    I don’t know how natural law describes the immutable nature of mankind, but it seems to me there’s not much immutable. Roles, for me belong in a general category. For example, we aren’t immutably created to have children, to fill the role of parent. many, many do not by choice or circumstance. Must we have a designed individual nature or can we support a generic nature with an unusual mix of individual capacities and a circumstances?

    What does natural law say on this?

    • #23
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:44 AM PDT
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  24. Typical Anomaly Inactive

    Aaron Miller:

    Eric Mawhinney: That is the divide we keep seeing between us: The people of faith who hold that the first cause in the universe was from a creator and the people who hold that the first cause was mindless and random.

    Though as a Christian I would obviously prefer everyone agreed on how natural law is established, I think Christians, atheists, Hindus, and whatnot can generally harmonize as cultural and political allies if we can agree on the natural laws themselves.

    Yes we can harmonize, but we live in 21st Century North America. Since the culture at large, the educational structures and the general Western ethos don’t like laws, much less agree on what they ought to be, getting agreement is no small task.

    Ideologies are much more the rage in these religious times, we just don’t see them as religion (despite the amount faith asked of the adherents). So, possible to harmonize? Sure. Likely? Don’t think so.

    • #24
    • September 25, 2015, at 10:58 AM PDT
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  25. Marley's Ghost Member

    And all God’s people said, “Amen!” Great post! Just an incredible encapsulation of the mission of the Church. Where was this message when I was a young Catholic! Many thanks for this post Aaron!

    • #25
    • September 25, 2015, at 12:04 PM PDT
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  26. Jim Beck Member

    Evening Owen,

    Request for a Mulligan. So there are those who think that golf is an activity with aspects of merit, golf provides exercise (really?), social fun, a business platform, an opportunity to refine skills and coordination; and there those who are wise, kind, virtue loving humans who think that golf is a good walk ruined. So it is clear that this golf can’t be bridged.

    Evening Aaron,

    When the Bishop observes that we judge the behavior of humans different from the behavior of all other animals, I think he highlights a philosophic fork. How does man come to define some behaviors as virtuous? Or more basic, why does man choose one type of behavior over another. I lean toward the idea that morality is rather like language in that we have the hardware which is preloaded with a rough outline of grammar and we acquire the specific language from our environment. Similarly concerning morals, we are hardwired to appreciate fairness, loyalty, teamwork. When this human hardwiring is paired with a culture which is effective at internalizing a sense of purpose and teamwork, then this culture’s members will find behavior which supports and enhances this culture natural and effortless. So I think for the most part, folks are not choosing virtuous behavior not as a conscious choice but as a habit. How do you see it?

    • #26
    • September 25, 2015, at 4:32 PM PDT
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  27. danys Thatcher
    danys Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron,

    Thank you for posting the video. Having taken many golf lessons, the analogy works for me.

    My kitty found the keynote cativating & ignored the mouse.

    IMG_0907 small

    • #27
    • September 25, 2015, at 4:51 PM PDT
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  28. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jim Beck: How does man come to define some behaviors as virtuous? [….] When this human hardwiring is paired with a culture which is effective at internalizing a sense of purpose and teamwork, then this culture’s members will find behavior which supports and enhances this culture natural and effortless. So I think for the most part, folks are not choosing virtuous behavior not as a conscious choice but as a habit. How do you see it?

    As you say, most people don’t dig too deeply into cultural assumptions and simply get on with life. “Whatever works.” The modern West defies that natural tendency somewhat because we are bombarded by so much knowledge of foreign customs and are encouraged from an early age to choose from among them. This of course puts some people in the absurd situation of adhering to customs which arose in response to circumstances with are irrelevant to local needs.

    The danger of subconsciously adapting to a moral environment is that it is possible to prefer normalized corruption. Suppose your neighbors litter and dislike you for not littering. If you litter also, they like you; you are bothered by ugliness but not by harassment. If you refuse to litter, you are denied social harmony but gain harmony with your conscience. Our nature needs both. Happiness is determined in part by expectations. Settle for corruption and you might become blind to it.

    Secular anthropologists note that incest with immediate family is taboo everywhere. There are instinctual morals. [….]

    • #28
    • September 25, 2015, at 6:22 PM PDT
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  29. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member