By Tom Quiner
[My ‘conversation’ with the late, great Archbishop Fulton Sheen on the subject of freedom continues.]
QUINER: Archbishop Sheen, yesterday you gave us three definitions of freedom. In another era, people would shrug their shoulders when their actions were less than admirable and say, “the devil made me do it.” Today, they don’t blame the devil, they’ll blame the culture, or their upbringing, or some other exterior force. Are they wrong?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: In order to escape the implications of freedom (namely, its involvement in responsibility), there are those who would deny individual freedom either communally (as do the Communists) or biologically (as do some Freudians). Any civilization that denies free will is, generally, a civilization that is already disgusted with the choices of its freedom, because it has brought unhappiness upon itself.
QUINER: Sir, this country has changed profoundly in the three-and-a-half decades since you died. Unhappiness seems to abound, perhaps nurtured, as you suggest, by the choices of our freedoms. As a conservative, I have been concerned by the unhealthy influence academia has had on our youth in this regard.
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: Those who make the theoretical denial of free will are those who, in practice, confuse freedom by identifying it with license. One will never find a professor who denies freedom of the will who does not also have something in his life for which he wishes to shake off responsibility. He disowns the evil by disowning that which made evil possible, namely, free will.
QUINER: Give us an example.
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: On the golf course, such deniers of freedom blame the golf clubs but never themselves. The excuse is like the perennial one of the little boy who broke the vase: “Someone pushed me.” That is, he was forced. When he grows up, he becomes a professor, but instead of saying: “I was pushed,” he says: “The concatenation of social, economic, and environmental factors, so weighted down with the collective psychic heritage of our animal and evolutionary origin, produced in me what psychologists called a compulsive Id.” These same professors who deny freedom of the will are the ones who sign their names to petitions to free Communists in the name of freedom, after they have already abused the privilege of American freedom.
QUINER: You’ve talked about the unhappiness freedom can cause us. Is there a happy upside to freedom?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: The beauty of this universe is that practically all gifts are conditioned by freedom. There is no law that a young man should give the gift of a ring to the young lady to whom he is engaged. The one word in the English language that proves the close connection between gifts and freedom is “thanks.” As Chesterton said: “If man were not free, he could never say, ‘Thank you for the mustard’.”
QUINER: Thank-you, Archbishop Sheen, for the gift of your insights. If I may, I’d like to pursue this subject with you a little more tomorrow, which is Divine Mercy Sunday.
[Check back for more ‘conversations’ with Archbishop Fulton Sheen as Quiner’s Diner features another excerpt from his book, “The World’s First Love.”]