Originally published on July 4th, 2016.
As we celebrate our freedom and independence as a nation this July 4th, it is important to reflect on the idea of freedom. Freedom today has too often become confused with license – the right to do whatever we feel like doing with no accountability or responsibility. Right and wrong are often defined by majority rule, or, in many cases, by the minority rule of vocal special interest groups. Even the concept of reality is no longer concrete but defined by feelings and wishes. The result has not been true freedom, but rather a society in ever deepening bondage – to pornography, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol, sex, money, food, fashion, and status. As personal bondage increases, enslavement first to ever-changing cultural norms and ultimately the State will surely follow.
As personal bondage increases, enslavement first to ever-changing cultural norms and ultimately the State will surely follow.
The health of any nation is inexorably connected to the emotional and spiritual health of its citizens. Respecting and protecting true freedom is essential to healthy emotional, spiritual, and even political functioning. Hence we need to understand the nature of the human person as created by God, in order to understand our current morass, and how to effectively oppose it.
The essence of God’s relationship with us is His profound reverence for our freedom. He never forces us to love Him or to do right. The mark of any truly healthy relationship, corporation, or nation is the same – reverence for the freedom of each individual person in matters of conscience, relationship, religion, and self-governance. A reading of the Constitution shows the genius of our Founding Fathers and their understanding of human nature.
Emotionally Healthy People Leads to a Healthy Nation
God created human beings with emotions and reason. Our emotions are naturally inclined to move us toward all that’s good, beautiful, and true and away from what’s not. Reason, through an educated and well-formed conscience, is meant to guide our emotions and their expression. But in this age of reason divorced from conscience, we invert that order and pursue what the world puts forth as valuable but that can never truly satisfy our hearts.
What is actually good these days? Sadly, we’ve gone so far as to even redefine our vocabulary. Remember Michael Jackson using the word bad many years ago? It meant good. It became popular. We’re reaping the fruits of morality turned upside down in America. Small roots can grow large and poisonous trees…and have.
As Catholics we have Holy Mother Church to guide us in our moral lives and decisions. We’re blessed with a Catechism with answers to practically every moral question we can ask…and not just answers, but truly thoughtful explanations of the why behind the rules. And yet, many baptized Catholics have fallen into the same bondage as the rest of society. Why?
I believe at the heart of our problems is an emotionally stunted and wounded society -a society starving for true love and affirmation.
I mentioned earlier that reason needs an educated and well-formed conscience to do its job effectively. A lack of adequate catechesis these last few decades and the influence of an unrelenting secular media have been strong factors in creating generations of people who simply don’t know or understand right and wrong. Our sound-bite society appeals to our emotions, moving us quickly away from reason as it rushes to the next catch phrase or pet cause before much thought is given to the last one. Evidence piles into mountains that the way of the world just isn’t working, and yet we continue to march onward.
I believe at the heart of our problems is an emotionally stunted and wounded society -a society starving for true love and affirmation, betrayed by an ethic that pulled mothers out of the home and reduced fathers to mere sperm donors with no rights before birth and minimal financial obligation afterwards. In order for society to be free, the human person must be free, both emotionally and spiritually, but wounds often get in the way of that freedom. Fear and loneliness are powerful allies that can militate against true liberty. These provide fertile ground for the enemy of our souls to sow confusion and false values to make us feel better- temporarily- until we’re caught in his traps.
Reasons to Hope
The situation is not hopeless, however. After 26 years in the therapist’s chair, I’ve seen a lot of chains broken. Healing does happen. Jesus is no less active delivering us from the wiles and snares of the devil now than he was 2000 years ago. The human person is created good with a natural striving for peace and happiness. As St. Augustine astutely observed, “Even as man falls into the arms of a prostitute, he’s searching for God.”
What are you looking for? What is your heart’s deepest desire? Are you getting closer to where you want to go or with each year do you drift farther, reducing your dream to a smaller and smaller dot in the distance? You need to listen for that still, small voice in your heart – in your emotions. That’s where God speaks. It’s not solely an endeavor of the intellect. It takes listening. It takes quiet –two things hard to achieve in this modern era of perpetual electronic connection. Your feelings are powerful allies if you learn how to get in touch with them and harness them.
Catholic therapists who are not only well versed in psychology but have a firm understanding of both this anthropology of the human person and Church teachings on morality offer great hope for personal transformation and can contribute greatly toward the healing of a wounded society in search of meaning and peace.