Whether you voted for or against him as the governor of California, or you’ve enjoyed his action packed movies such as Terminator, Conan, or one of my favorites Kindergarten Cop, or you are a bodybuilding fan which goes to the root of his immigration here to the U.S.A, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an international star. No matter where you know him from he probably has the highest regard in the fitness industry, which gave him his stepstool to stardom. But, two weeks ago the Governator said some things in an interview and on his Instagram that has people in the fitness industry, and other areas, very upset with him and withdrawing their support of anything with his name on it and ripping his posters off their gym walls.
On August 11th, the Terminator himself made an Instagram post using a portion of an interview he was in on CNN calling people to work together to curb the tide of COVID. He calls people to accept that it exists, to wash their hands, social distance, and wear masks. But, there’s one line in there that has rubbed some nerves raw. It has to do with something that we’re all about in this country, FREEDOM.
Here’s the portion of his rant that has Arnold posters being ripped off gym walls:
“There is a virus here. It kills people and the only way we prevent it is: get vaccinated, wear masks, do social distancing, washing your hands all the time, and not just to think about, ‘Well my freedom is being kind of disturbed here.’ No, screw your freedom, because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities. You can not just say ‘I have the right to X, Y, and Z’ when you affect other people.”
It’s what Arnold said about freedom that I want to focus on. William Wallace may have screamed “FREEDOM!” in London but it is central to the ethos of our country. But, the problem we come upon, as I’ve learned so many times in ministry, is that we can’t always define the words we’re using. In ministry and just our normal talk as Christians we use words like blessed, holy, grace, goodness, truth, etc but when you ask someone to define it they struggle. So how do we define freedom?
When it comes to the word/idea freedom there are usually two definitions I’ve encountered. 1. “Freedom means I can do whatever I want.” 2. “Freedom means I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t bother or harm anyone else.” I’ve heard these from the middle school and high school teens I’ve worked with all the way to full grown adults. And it seems like these definitions are what prevail with many people who are put off by what Arnold said.
Businesses and personalities in the fitness world are responding by saying things like:
“And just like that we will not be attending any Arnold classic events.”
“Saying ‘Screw your freedom’ doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.”
“It’s with a heavy heart and some genuine sadness that our company has decided to discontinue any and all support for the Arnold Classic and the other Arnold related events around the world.”
“Freedom is important. Today is a very sad day for me as I had to take down the poster of Arnold on the wall of my gym. I have had a poster of him in my gym since I started training. He has the freedom to say whatever he wants and that’s part of being an American citizen but him saying ‘Screw your freedom’ did not sit well with me and therefore it was time for his poster to come down from my gym wall.”
I have yet to see anyone who has a problem with what Arnold said addressing the whole statement. They are just worried about the “screw your freedom part.” No one has addressed him talking about how with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities. I think that is the context to understand him in.
So, first: Is it just me or does that sound like the famous Spider Man line, “With great power comes great responsibility”? Second: As Catholics we need to know what our Church teaches about what freedom is and then live that out as Americans.
What’s great about the Church is that we put almost everything down in writing. And sometimes those things get turned into things called books. (I’m sorry is that passive aggressive.) We have the bible, God’s word. We have the catechism, which compiles the teachings and beliefs of the church along with footnotes containing quotes from councils, saints, doctors & fathers of the church, and other writings. The answers are out there. What I would like to utilize for this thought process is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Yup, that’s a thing!
Freedom comes from God and is guided by his law:
135. Man can turn to good only I freedom, which God has given to him as one of the highest signs of his image…Man rightly appreciates freedom and strives for it passionately: rightly does he desire and must form and guide, by his own free initiative, his personal and social life accepting personal responsibility for it.
136. But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law.
137. The proper exercise of personal freedom requires specific conditions of an economic, social, political, and cultural order that “are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship and rebels against divine truth.”
138. Freedom in fact does not have “it’s absolute and unconditional origin…in itself, but in the life within which it is situated and which represents for it, at on and the same time, both a limitation and a possibility. Human freedom belongs to us as creatures; it is a freedom which is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly. When the contrary is the case, freedom dies, destroying man and society.
Man is a social being:
149. The human person is essentially a social being because God, who created humanity, willed it so.
150. The social nature of human beings does not automatically lead to communion among persons, to the gift of self. Because of pride and selfishness, man discovers in himself the seeds of asocial behavior, impulses leading him to close himself within his own individuality and to dominate his neighbor. Every society worth of the name can be sure that it stands in the truth when all of its members, thanks to the ability ot know what is good, are able to pursue it for themselves and for others. It is out of love for on’es own good and for that of others that people come together in stable groups with the purpose of attaining a common good.
The common good:
164. The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity, and equality of all people…the common good does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each subject of a social entity. Belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains “common,” because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future.
167. The common good therefore involves all members of society, no one is exempt from cooperating, according to each one’s possibilities, in attaining it and developing it.
Freedom as a value of social life: Here’s the juice!
199. Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person. “Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the images of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to exercise freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person.” The meaning of freedom must not be restricted…and reducing it to the arbitrary and uncontrolled exercise of one’s own personal autonomy. ”…freedom only truly exists where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another.”
200. The fullness of freedom consists in the capacity to be in possession of oneself in view of the genuine good, within the context of the universal common good.
It’s ok to step away for a few minutes, go outside and take a breath of fresh air.
Ok, now that you’re back, I hope it’s clear that the church respects our own individual freedom. But the church always calls the individual back to a group, a society, a community where we have responsibility for ourselves and for others. In fact in paragraph 135 the Compendium says “In this way man generates himself, he is father of his own being, he constructs the social order.” And yes, we have the freedom to choose our own good and ignore our responsibility for our fellow man.
The goal of this post is not to promote any legislation or mandate, but to present the idea that we are our brother’s keeper. And with the information we are given we then have the freedom to choose how to prosper as individuals, families, and a society.
To close here are some scripture verses that talk about our freedom which I hope you see calls us into communion with each other, as well as a couple quotes from JPII that I believe summarizes what we’ve been discussing.
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1
“For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” – Galatians 5:13
“Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.” 1 Peter 2:16-17
“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” - St. John Paull II
“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such and attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.” – St. John Paul II, XVI World Day of Peace, 1981
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