By Tom Quiner
QUINER: Archbishop Sheen, as the cause for your canonization moves forward, I’d like to chat with you for a few minutes about freedom.
I’m sure you’re busy. Just because you now dwell in heaven doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs. I’d like for you to help us understand the nature of freedom. It seems that there are a lot of definitions of freedom flying around these days.
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: There are three definitions of freedom: two of them are false, and one is true.
The first false definition is “Freedom is the right to do whatever I please.” This is the liberal doctrine of freedom, which reduces freedom to a physical, rather than to a moral, power.
Of course we are free to do whatever we please: for example, we can turn a machine gun on our neighbor’s chickens, or drive an automobile on the sidewalk, or stuff a neighbor’s mattress with used razor blades — but ought we to do these things? This kind of freedom, in which everyone is allowed to seek his own benefit, produces confusion.
There is no liberalism of this particular kind without a world of conflicting egotisms, where no one is willing to submerge himself for the common good.
QUINER: Sounds like a mess. In this day and age, we can’t even agree on what is the common good. What is the second definition of freedom?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: In order to overcome this confusion of everyone’s doing whatever he pleases, there arose the second false definition of freedom, namely, “Freedom is the right to do whatever you must.”
This is totalitarian freedom, which was developed in order to destroy individual freedom for the sake of society.
Engels, who with Marx wrote the Philosophy of Communism, said: “A stone is free to fall because it must obey the law of gravitation.” So man is free in Communist society because he must obey the law of the dictator.
QUINER: Doesn’t sound like true freedom to me. So what is the proper definition for freedom?
ARCHBISHOP SHEEN: The true concept of freedom is “Freedom is the right to do whatever we ought,” and ought implies goal, purpose, morality, and the law of God.
True freedom is within the law, not outside it. I am free to draw a triangle, if I give it three sides, but not, in a stroke of broad-mindedness, fifty-seven sides. I am free to fly on condition that I obey the law of aeronautics.
In the spiritual realm, I am also most free when I obey the law of God.
QUINER: I see that St. Peter is beckoning you, Archbishop. I’d like to continue this conversation again, perhaps tomorrow. Oh wait, you’re not confined by time anymore. I am, would Saturday morning work for you?
[Check back for more conversations with Archbishop Fulton Sheen as Quiner’s Diner features another excerpt from his book, “The World’s First Love.”]