Jan. 5, 2014
“At its Greek root, “to believe” simply means “to give one’s heart to.” Thus, if we can determine what it is we give our heart to, then we will know what it is we believe.”
? Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith
Faith and freedom, how do these two terms relate? The question comes to mind as I’ve heard of late (just this morning at mass in fact) complaints about ‘assaults upon religious freedom’ involved in recent healthcare insurance law. Requiring individuals or even institutions and corporations to offer coverage for contraceptive methods of which they, as individuals or communities of conscience, disapprove is characterized by some as just such an assault. I know I don’t quite see it that way, I’ve argued that point here on this blog before, but I also realize no one elected me God. I don’t get decide the limits of another’s conscience.
What I believe and what others believe, even others of my own faith, I’d like to think they all orient toward the same important things ultimately —a better world to live in, then maybe a better one after that. I know for a fact we see different paths to these ends immediately before us. With all of our differences we manage to abide. We are asked to and we decide to. There’s meaning in that for me, that fact that we offer that congress, willingly.
Faith and freedom, it’s hard to actually figure out what comes first in me, whether in fact they are separate notions at all or somehow different facets of the same experience. Faith, what I believe in, has meaning personally in the sense that I have chosen to believe —to ‘give my heart’ as Kathleen Norris defines it—freely. The practice of my faith wouldn’t be faith at all if it’s every exercise and observance was compelled behavior, policed by authorities, in accord with social norms and pressures or even government dictate. Faith, for me, finds meaning in freedom.
This logic cuts in both directions when you go to argue the public policy. Just as there is danger in the employer who imposes his dogma to limit the choices his employees might make, there is freedom eroded when government seeks to limit the reach of conscience. One response would be not to offer law there at all. This would be freedom ideal —we’d only have to willfully ignore the lack of it involved in practice. I don’t think there is a pure and righteous position in the political debate. As such I think it’s a place for reasoned and respectful compromise.
As for those things we believe I think we should go on believing them. Maybe in the laws we write or do not write, most certainly in the chosen conduct of our lives, in the choices we make, each according to the dictates of their own conscience.