Friday, November 30, 2007


It is not enough to be free...

I originally received this in an e-mail message in October of '04. Given the approaching primaries and election and the ever increasing hostility to religion in the public sphere as seen in the recent rise of the "new atheists" - Dawkins, Harris and their ilk - I thought this was worth dusting off:

Our motivation in beginning the work of the Acton Institute almost 15 years ago was to make a concerted, intelligent and faithful effort to promote and secure what we have repeatedly called 'the free and virtuous society.' It is my conviction that both these elements are necessary if we want society to be worthy of human dignity.

The element of freedom is critical because the human person is created with a destiny beyond this world, which requires his liberty to seek and pursue. It seems to me to follow logically then that interventions of a political nature must be limited, not merely for reasons of efficiency - that things would work better - but also, and more importantly, for reasons of morality. Man must be free to pursue his destiny because that is what he was created for. Religious freedom, as well as the freedom of enterprise, logically flow from this idea. We call for the minimization of taxes, regulations and other forms of control, at the same time as we call for the freedom of expression and assembly and the like, even when, at times, we do not agree with those expressions.

This is where virtue comes in.

It is not enough for people to be free; the more profound question is: What ought I do with my freedom? In many ways, religion, faith, commitment to God and lives of integrity and virtue, help in the construction of a society that promotes generosity, moral accountability, stability and peace. For these reasons, it is astounding to me that in the course of the political discussion over the past few months, and especially in the last few days, numerous intellectuals, editorial writers and journalists insist on identifying the integration of faith, character, values and morality with theocracy.

There appears to be a literal panic in some quarters that if religion influences the social and political decisions that Americans make in the coming days, the values of tolerance and pluralism (rightly understood), will disappear. I believe the opposite is the case and that in order to protect so free and prosperous a society, a clear moral vision and commitment is an essential part of the political debate. In a land where liberty is prized, only the intolerant would forbid the expression of this clear moral vision.

I know enough about politics (though I am not a member of any political party) to know that you cannot bring the kingdom of God to earth by means of it; and as valuable as democracy is as a process, a majority vote cannot determine the truth of a thing.

So my rule of thumb in evaluating platforms, policies and candidates is: Will this promote liberty (which is the highest political end of man)? And will it protect human life, especially when vulnerable? This leaves lots of room for prudence, of course, and Lord knows, plenty of room for debate.

One of the greatest models of how to live the tension of being in the world yet not of it, was Thomas More, the great English statesman. In his life, writings and martyrdom we see a man who witnessed to the "inalienable dignity of man's conscience" while remaining faithful to legitimate authority and political institutions. It was he who said that "man cannot be separated from God, nor can the affairs of state be separated from morality..."

Rev. Robert Sirico

President & Co-founder

The mission of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.

Copyright (c) 2004 Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and LibertyActon Institute * 161 Ottawa N.W., Suite 301 * Grand Rapids, MI 49503Telephone: 616/454-3080 * Facsimile: 616/454-9454

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