July 4th, the day of American independence, inspires thoughts of freedom. Political freedom, but also its place in our way of life, shaped around the personal freedom to choose our state in life, where and how we live, and to engage in the “pursuit of happiness.” Freedom stands at the heart of the American project.
Freedom, however, is not an end in itself. It is a means for pursuing the good, by making free and conscious choices, but it does not constitute the good in and of itself. Many of the American Founders recognized this and pointed to the need for help in achieving the true good in freedom.
The strongest example of this can be found in President Washington’s Farewell Address, where he laid out morality and religion as essential pillars of human happiness, which are necessary for the health of the Republic:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
For the preservation of true freedom in our country, we, the citizens, must find true freedom in God, who enables us to live a free and moral life. Our country exists to support this kind of freedom, and, without it, the very foundations of the Republic crumble.
We see this happening right in front of us. We have lost any sense of the purpose of our freedom. We run after novelty and think we can use freedom to redesign who we are and create meaning for our lives.
Our celebration of the 4th of July should call us to rediscover the purpose of freedom and to recover it in our lives. By living as strong Christian men, we can bolster our families, the Church, and our country.
Dr. Staudt serves as Director of Content for Exodus and as an Instructor for the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is the author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today (Angelico Press). He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Ave Maria University and B.A. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He and wife, Anne, have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.