Religious Liberty vs. Religious Toleration

"It is here necessary to distinguish between religious liberty and religious toleration. Religious liberty is that doctrine which asserts that each man has the right to profess and practice that religion which to him seems fit, according to the dictates of his conscience. Religious toleration is that doctrine which asserts that a civil society may morally tolerate within its walls, when a sufficient reason warrants it, the 'evil' that some of its citizens profess and practice false [i.e., non-catholic] religions. A sufficient reason for the toleration of so great an evil would be the avoidance of a greater evil, of which an example would be civil war. The very term 'toleration' implies 'evil', and we are therefore not speaking about a right to profess the false religion, since all right is founded in God. It is inconceivable that God would grant someone the right to be wrong: the right, for example, to say that His Immaculate Mother is a harlot, or that Christ is an adulterer. The Church has always recognized the prudence of toleration in certain circumstances, and the situation of the United States is certainly one of those circumstances. Pope Leo XIII teaches: Although the Church pronounces the judgment that different worships cannot stand on the same footing of equality with the true religion, yet she does not therefore condemn those rulers who, in view of procuring a great good or of avoiding evil, tolerate in practice the coexistence of different worships."

Spread out over a vast territory and encompassing myriad religions, the government of the United States may prudently tolerate many religions. But religious toleration does not dispense a government from the obligation to profess the one true Faith, and to recognize Christ as the one true God and the Roman Catholic Church as His one true Church.

In this lies the key error of the liberty-cultists: they extol not the prudence of religious toleration in order to avoid a civil war, but rather they extol the very indifference of the government to religion altogether, as if this indifference were one of the great virtues of the Constitution. They extol the right of each man to open his mouth and say whatever he pleases, to write [or make a film about] whatever he pleases, to believe and practice whatever religion he pleases. This, according to the liberty-cultist, is the right ordering of society. Under the monarchies, when the Catholic Church was recognized as the one true religion, human beings were "oppressed."

Liberty as an End in Itself

As I said earlier, the Catholic Church was never a foe of liberty, but to the contrary, was a staunch defender of the doctrine of free will against many nay-sayers. Nor did it ever favor tyrants or oppressive regimes. A pope even admonished St. Louis, King of France, in the height of the "oppressive" Middle Ages, against being too severe in the punishment of blasphemers.

Where the Church and the liberty-cultists disagree is in this: the Church teaches that human liberty is a 'means to an end', whereas the liberty-cultists see, human liberty as an 'end in itself'.

The Church teaches that liberty or human free will is a faculty of which the purpose is to choose the good means to a pre-determined end. The end is already set for us: the universal good, which is none other than God. The means to that end is the observance of the law of God: the eternal law, the natural law, the Ten Commandments, the laws of Christ, the moral law, the laws of the Church. It is the function of our free wills, as intended by God, to freely elect to obey these laws so that we attain the end that is set for us. When I say "freely elect," I do not mean that it is optional for us to choose to obey them or not. I mean that we are meant to follow them by free election of them, and not by mere mechanics or instinct, as other creatures follow the laws set down by God. God has so ordained it, since He is more glorified by a creature's love of Him rather than by a mere mechanical or instinctive obedience to his law, as in the case of rocks and animals.

It is therefore a defect of liberty that we are capable of failing to choose the correct means to our end. Liberty cannot be defined, then, as the ability to choose between good and evil, for if that were its definition, we would have to say that God is not free, since He cannot choose evil.

The liberty-cultists have an altogether different view of liberty.

They have substituted human liberty for God. The end of man, for them, is to be free. It does not matter what he is doing, as long as he's doing it freely, and without constraint.

"Freedom of choice" is the greatest quality of human beings, springing from his very dignity as a human person, and must be safeguarded at all costs. Freedom therefore becomes no longer a faculty of choosing a means to an end, but becomes the end itself.

If we substitute the word "eating" for "freedom," we will see how absurd this notion is. The ability to eat and digest is a faculty of nourishment for human beings. Our eating is morally good if it is ordered to a good end; morally bad if ordered to a bad end. If we eat good food in moderation, then the exercise of our faculty of eating participates in the goodness of the end, which is the health of the body. If, on the other hand, we are eating something bad for us, or something good in excess, then our eating becomes morally evil, since it participates in that evil end. But imagine if someone said, "It doesn't matter what you're eating or how much you're eating, what is good is that you are eating."

In the absurdity of this example can be seen the absurdity of liberalism: man's free choice is the highest good; what he chooses to do is secondary. What is paramount is that he is freely choosing to do what he is doing. mason10.htm

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