Pope Francis – named Person of the Year by Time Magazine and gay rights magazine, The Advocate – is a hero to some because they think he’s abandoning Catholic doctrine to modernize an “outdated and oppressive” Church. In reality, the Pope is underscoring true Church teaching, and given our country’s rapid slide into actual oppression by an ever-expanding and godless government, maybe we could learn something from what the Church has to teach.
At its core, the Church founded by Christ expresses the dignity of every human being, from conception to natural death. This God-given dignity is so profound that inherent in it is our freedom to love God by choice, not force. It doesn’t get less oppressive than that.
The Church teaches also that, while God’s law is supreme, government is a necessary function that we’re duty bound to obey, provided it doesn’t endanger God’s law, in which morality itself is based. Christ in fact commands us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” But key to this is the Church’s emphasis that our intrinsic rights to life, liberty and happiness – including our rights of conscience -- come from God, not man, and that government is the servant, not the master, of its citizens.
Acknowledging this, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights…the rights of conscience we never submitted.” Indeed, government can protect these rights – as our Constitution does – but it cannot play master by taking away the rights it didn’t create in the first place.
Yet this is largely what our current government is doing. The HHS mandate, for example, along with recent court decisions that force private Christian business owners to provide services for same-sex “weddings”, and government’s recent attempt to prohibit Catholic Mass for active military members, all aim to separate people from their morals, rebranding them as servants not of God, but of the State.
Government could also learn something from the Church about our duty to the poor. The Gospel instructs us to use our God-given talents not only to provide for ourselves, but to help others. Christ commands us to give generously to those in need, and the Church emphasizes through the principle of subsidiarity that our help to the poor should come first and foremost from us individually and in smaller groups, not delegated to big government alone. By its own wisdom, this teaching establishes a safeguard of limited government and personal freedom. Rejecting it accomplishes the opposite.
Of course, any compassionate society should have certain public safety nets to help the truly down and out, but our country has become a mammoth welfare state. In the 50 years since the War on Poverty was declared, we’ve spent $20 trillion and record numbers are now dependent on government. Still, last month President Obama announced wishes to expand welfare even more.
In the name of helping the poor, these failed policies encourage ever more people to abandon their God-given means of productivity in favor of public assistance, whether by need or by choice. Regarding the latter, it’s a simple truth that the more government gives, the less citizens need do for themselves, and the less inclined they become to do so.
Does this make any of us free? No. By complacently allowing government practices that squash the dignity of self-sufficiency, we invite government’s oppression over us. A society dependent on government is enslaved to it, and little by little, God-given freedoms are replaced with government-imposed edicts. The 40,000 new state and approximately 70,000 federal regulations approved last year alone is a testimony to that.
Ironically, those who most loudly protest the Church today do so on the grounds that their freedoms are somehow stifled by her, not by government. Because government is permissive of things like abortion and other evils that the Church asks us to reject, she is seen as the oppressor, despite that no one is forced to comply with her.
But to this mindset, the freedom to do what we want takes priority over doing what’s good for us, especially concerning our eternal salvation. And how can this so-called freedom be ensured? By marginalizing the Church and ridding society of God so we may live unencumbered by anything that might make us feel uncomfortable about the choices we make.
What we get in place of God, though, is a government that wants to be our god -- one that will gladly strip us of our rights to pursue what’s good for us morally, and impose its will on us instead. In fact, to achieve this power, removing God is essential (a fundamental tenet of Communism, by the way) because unbridled power of the State is incompatible with the true teachings of God.
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