Law and Freedom: Be Free, Be Happy: Just Do It!
How People of the World See Law and Freedom
Most people think of law as a limit or restriction to their freedoms. The more laws you have in your life, the less free you are. In this common view, freedom means self-rule or self-autonomy. We want to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. No one can tell us we’re wrong. We’ve heard people say, “As long as you're not hurting anyone else, go for it”. We also have a hedonistic twist on this type of freedom, “If it feels good, do it, just do it”. The end or goal of this kind of freedom is happiness, living ‘the good life’.
What happens, usually, is that after temporary excitement or pleasure, the happiness wears off and one becomes more desperate to be free. The tendency is to develop unhealthy attachments and dependence on things, money, pleasure, power, or prestige. A type of alarm is triggered when these things fail to satisfy. Before you know, it the person is scrambling to get more and more of the object of their desire. This results in addiction and enslavement. Ironically, all the person wanted in the first place was to be free to not follow any rules that would hold them back or deprive them of their selfish pleasures.
How Catholics See Law
As Catholics, we have a 180 degree opposite viewpoint on the topic of both freedom and law. We see law as a safeguard of true freedom. When we know laws and rules, we become more free (not less) to operate in society. Knowledge of laws illuminates our dark world full of lies and insanity.
We have to clarify what we mean by laws. There are civil, man-made laws and then there are revealed, God-made laws. Most people live their lives by only thinking about civil law or the rules of any organization to which they belong, such as their family, school or work place. A more macro-minded approach would begin by recognizing the Eternal Law, which hovers over everything.
The Eternal Law is God’s will which stems from his mind and his word, which we call the Logos. Eternal Law is spoken into our world as a guide and as a way for God to communicate without speaking to humans directly. From that Eternal Law we get laws of nature such as laws we study in science class, gravity, photosynthesis, genetic codes etc..
Many people confuse laws of nature with Natural Law. Natural law is the unseen moral law that is built into humans who have reason and free will. It is the common sense understanding of right and wrong. It is closely tied to our conscience. When we are alerted that we have violated the natural law, we feel a sense of guilt or shame.
We also have revealed law in both the Old and New Testament. The first five books of the Bible are called the Law (the Torah) by observant Jews. They contain the Ten Commandments and hundreds of other laws regulating everything in the life of the ancient Hebrews. The main law giver was Moses. It is sometomes referred as the Mosaic Law.
In the New Testament, the law giver is Jesus who teaches with his own authority and who fulfills the Old Testament law. Jesus did not cancel the Ten Commandments, he actually elevated them to become about love and service. He gave us the Beatitudes as a prescription for happiness and the Law of Love which requires us to love God and love our neighbor. Because he is God, everything Jesus said and did has the weight of law. Every teaching or doctrine he gave is law. This is called the Deposit of Faith. This kind of law, doctrine and dogma, is more about knowledge of truth as a light which helps us to be free from spiritual error and darkness of sin.
Jesus also gave the Church the authority to be law givers as well as official interpreters of the law. When he gave Peter the Keys of the KIngdom in Matthew ch 16, he said, “Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. Later he said to the twelve apostles, “Whoever listens to you, listens to me”.
The keys are a sign of the governing authority of the Church. That’s why for example, they are featured on the flag for the Vatican. Ecclesial law comes to us in the form of precepts, doctrine, dogma, canon law and church documents that regulate the sacraments as well as the life and structure of the Church. All of these laws are an extension of Eternal Law, God’s will spoken into our lives.
As Catholics then, we have both civil law and all the types of law that are given to us in our Catholic Faith. When civil law is aligned to Eternal Law or is at least neutral to it, then those are considered good laws. When they contradict Eternal Law, laws of nature or natural law then they are bad laws. Other civil laws may contradict or fail to respect revealed law. We cannot follow laws that violate our conscience and should peacefully resist.
How Catholics See Freedom
For Catholics freedom is not about self-autonomy, it is about selfless service. It doesn’t seek temporary happiness through pleasure, power, prestige or possessions. Rather it seeks detachment from the world as a type of spiritual liberation. We desire freedom from sin and freedom from the effects of sin on our lives. The goal of freedom becomes perfection. We ask ourselves, “Am I free to do God’s will? Am I free to be a saint?”
The more we know the law of God and his Church and the more we align our life to it, the more free and happy we will be. We will be free to become sanctified and reach our God-given potential.
We practice virtue as if it were a skill that can unlock more opportunities in life. For example, if we have the knowledge and the skill to fly a plane, we will be more free than someone who rejects the laws of flight. It also takes many hours of practice to fly. For most people, that is an affront to self autonomy. That’s not what they want to do with their time, therefore for the sake of freedom they end up less free. Instead of being free to fly they have to walk to their destination. The three pillars of a Catholic concept of freedom are 1. Knowledge of the law. 2. Development of Virtue as a skill. 3. Detachment from the world.
If you want to be happy long term, study God’s laws and obey his doctrine, practice virtue by doing good deeds and finally, detach from anything that could become an unhealthy addiction. Do these three things. Be Happy! Just Do it!