Cardinal Timothy Dolan
It’s easy to take religious freedom for granted. It’s enshrined in our Constitution and praised by the Church, and most of us have grown up without questioning it. However when this liberty is threatened, when it’s not respected as a fundamental right, we’re forced to pull back and ask a basic question: why do people deserve religious liberty?
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gives his answer in a new eBook released today. True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Freedom (Image Books, 37 pages, eBook) shows how respect for human dignity—the dignity of all humans, regardless of their beliefs—undergirds the right to religious liberty. Quoting Pope Leo XIII, he begins by saying:
“True freedom… is that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church, and which she holds most dear.”
Dolan spends most of the book linking religious freedom with dignity. He uses several pages to reflect on Pope John Paul II’s magnificent encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), which holds the natural moral law and intrinsic dignity as the twin pillars of the culture of life. Dolan shows how, like the walls of a house, when these two principles are ignored the whole project collapses–including the right to religious liberty:
“In only the last few years we’ve experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country with the approval of embryonic stem cell research; legal justification for the torture of prisoners; the provision of tax dollars to abortion providers; the HHS mandates; and, most recently, a redefinition of marriage by many of our leading political figures.
We can see that there is a loss of a sense of truth here, and objective moral norms–rules of conduct that apply always, to everyone, everywhere–and an ‘eclipse of a sense of God and of man’.”
In Dolan’s view, three ideologies–a “trinity of culprits”–are primarily to blame for this ‘eclipse,’ each standing athwart to the culture of life. There’s pragmatism, which ties man’s value to his output and efficiency; utilitarianism, which equates value with usefulness; and consumerism, which determines value by one’s ability to fill a need or satisfy an urge. All three systems share a common flaw, namely the preference of “having” and “doing” over “being.” This mistake not only fuels the culture of death; it’s also behind today’s modern assaults on religious liberty.
But what’s the response? How can we diffuse these threats and reclaim the primacy of dignity? Dolan answers by channeling John Paul in calling for “a positive, hopeful culture of life [rather] than wringing (our) hands over the culture of death.” It’s this culture of life, rooted in objective dignity, that will lift religious liberty back to its privileged position and lead to a flourishing society:
“By appealing to the necessary link between freedom and truth and by stressing our relationship with the God who has endowed us with both, The Gospel of Life offers us a pathway to building not just good laws, but a free and virtuous culture as well.”
True Freedom debuts at a perfect time, just two days before the national ‘Fortnight for Freedom.’ It’s also cheap ($0.99), smart, and punchy, much like Archbishop Charles Chaput’s recent eBook. And at just 37 pages you can knock it out in one sitting. It’s importance, timeliness, and cheap prices makes True Freedom a must-read for all Catholics in America.