Freedom Comes With Responsibility: We Must Work For The Common Good

Freedom Comes With Responsibility: We Must Work For The Common Good September 2, 2021

Ron Mader: Wordcloud based upon Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress Emphasizing the Common Good / flickr

Freedom comes with responsibility. Those who try to deny their responsibility to society will lose their freedom, one way or another. For they will find they will have to face the consequences of their actions. Society provides freedom so long as people work together and promote the common good, and with it, basic human rights. Society is formed to preserve those rights, of which we find freedom (relative, not absolute) is one.  When people put their personal, private interest over the common good, society falls apart; when society is dismantled, there will be no protection for human rights, which means, their basic freedoms will no longer be guaranteed.  Those who want to protect liberty know that liberty promotes the freedom for people to follow goods which do not hinder or harm society as a whole.

The common good must be protected if freedom is to be protected. This is why so many of those who pit themselves against the common good and speak of it in the guise of freedom end up being tyrants when given the chance. They are not concerned with the common good. All they are concerned about is the ability to fulfill all their desires, whether or not others suffer as a result of their actions. Tyrants act out in this fashion. They are the ultimate libertines, having no one to stop them when their desires hurt the common good. Sadly, freedom is now discussed, not in regards its association with human rights and the common good, but as the absolute good in and of itself which regulates everything else as evil if it fights against one’s ability to act as they wish in any circumstance. Thus, for many, the promotion of the common good by the government is seen as the worst kind of evil (often labelled as socialism or communism, even though it is neither), and this can explain what we have seen happening during the COVID19 pandemic, as people who are told to fulfill their obligation to society and help promote the safety of all do all they can to do the reverse of this and cause as much harm as is possible (which is many of them have been seen attacking those wearing mask, forcefully ripping them off or coughing on them).

We see this ideology taking over faith communities. At many churches, people are no longer wearing masks, even when they are coughing throughout the liturgical service. Do they not realize the pandemic is ongoing, and that their coughing itself could be a sign they  could be  infected with COVID? Shouldn’t they be concerned about their neighbor? Yes, they should, but if they are told that, they will resist doing what they should do, showing that they ignore Jesus, who they claim to love, because Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love. Their indifference to their neighbor comes from the way they embrace their faith; it is all about themselves and what they can get from God without any consideration of what God expects from them in return. Oh, they will put on a show of piety and do things which do not interfere with their way of life, with their ordinary desires. but if they are challenged, as they have been during the pandemic, they will show their true spirit and how far they are from what the faith teaches them to be like.

The pandemic has revealed the true spirit of modern Western society, and with it, the true spirit of so-many so-called Christians. They show they are more concerned with their own private pleasures, and the freedom to engage all their inordinate desires, than they are for the good of their neighbor, and therefore, the common good. If they are expected to change their ways for the sake of their neighbor, they show they are not willing to do so as long as they are not forced to do so. If they are forced, some will comply, but others will fight back. It is clear, so many do not want to fulfill their obligation to society. That is why mandates have been necessary. They would not have been necessary if everyone fulfilled their obligations without them. The state, which works for the common good, must put those mandates in place so as to protect the interests of society as a whole. If and when this happens, people complain that their freedom has been taken away from them, the fact is, they are the ones who lost their own freedom as they did not engage the obligation which comes with such freedom. When they continue to resist and fight against the common good, society, society has the obligation to protect itself and deal with them in accordance to their imprudence, similar to the way society protects itself from others who hurt and maim others (such as murderers) who could and would also claim freedom as their justification.

COVID19, therefore, has shown us one of the major problems of modern society. People are selfish. They will not embrace the common good when they find it inconvenient to do so. They will fight any attempts to make them do so, even if the attempts are for their own good. Government is important. Lawmakers must be concerned with the public good so that society can be sustained. It is only in this fashion that even the private good of everyone can also be best preserved. Society must work to make sure everyone, and not just a few, receives the benefits of society. People must be brought to understand the importance of the common good and how their own personal good is best protected by the preservation of the common good. Lawmakers and politicians, thus, have an important task to deal with in the aftermath of the pandemic, as they find themselves governing a society which has lost sense of the common good. Pope Francis, therefore, in speaking to Catholics involved in secular society, pointed out the need for them to work for and promote the common good, noting that the pandemic should have demonstrated to them why this is necessary:

As a result, your work as lawmakers and political leaders is more important than ever. Charged with serving the common good, you are now being challenged to direct your efforts to the integral renewal of your communities and of society as a whole. This entails more than simply combatting the virus or seeking to return to the status quo prior to the pandemic; that would be a setback. No, it demands confronting the deeper causes that the crisis has laid bare and aggravated: poverty, social inequality, widespread unemployment, and the lack of access to education. Brothers and sisters, we never emerge from a crisis the same: we will emerge either better or worse. Moreover, we do not emerge from a crisis by ourselves: we must either emerge together or we will not be able to emerge from it at all.[1]

Inequalities in society which existed before the pandemic have helped make the pandemic worse, in part, because they reinforced the notion that the common good does not matter. The breakdown of civilization is due in large measure our acceptance that freedom has no obligations on us. We have been led to believe we should not put a stop to malign interests who would work to subvert and overthrow the common good for the sake of their own private whims. However, no society has ever accepted such a notion of freedom, as all societies have laws. While it is true, not all positive laws are good, and so not all positive laws should be accepted or enforced, the reason why this is so is because laws should also work for and promote the common good. What is shown to break down and destroy the common good is unacceptable, whether it is from bad laws (which then need to be struck down and removed) or from bad citizen who think they should be free to full their every whim, even if it means that others will be needlessly harmed for the sake of their whim, must be stopped so that the common good can once again be reestablished. Thus, massive wealth inequality, when it leads to people needlessly suffering without food, shelter, clothing, or basic health care, is unacceptable. This is where the Catholic principle of the preferential option for  the poor and needy comes into play, for it is about restorative justice so that the common good can indeed be common, and the basic needs of everyone is met in common by society. Individualistic lifestyles, as they are about the promotion of the private good over the public good, must be put in check, and so, as Pope Francis also said, we must put into places processes which will reverse the damage done by individualism:

What path of justice must be followed so that social inequalities can be overcome and human dignity, so often trampled upon, can be restored? Individualistic lifestyles are complicit in generating poverty, and often saddle the poor with responsibility for their condition. Yet poverty is not the result of fate; it is the result of selfishness. It is critical, therefore, to generate development processes in which the abilities of all are valued, so that complementarity of skills and diversity of roles can lead to a common resource of mutual participation. There are many forms of poverty among the “rich” that might be relieved by the wealth of the “poor”, if only they could meet and get to know each other! None are so poor that they cannot give something of themselves in mutual exchange. The poor cannot be only those who receive; they must be put in a position to give, because they know well how to respond with generosity. How many examples of sharing are before our eyes! The poor often teach us about solidarity and sharing. True, they may be people who lack some things, often many things, including the bare necessities, yet they do not lack everything, for they retain the dignity of God’s children that nothing and no one can take away from them.[2]

It must be understood that people, once they are poor, find it difficult to get out of poverty, especially if society embraces the rich at the expense of the poor. Thus, we must truly look at the system, and not the poor themselves, if we want to understand poverty and find out what is to blame for it, and once we do so, we should be motivated to work for change, to once again, act for the common good:

If the poor are marginalized, as if they were to blame for their condition, then the very concept of democracy is jeopardized and every social policy will prove bankrupt. With great humility, we should confess that we are often incompetent when it comes to the poor. We talk about them in the abstract; we stop at statistics and we think we can move people’s hearts by filming a documentary.  Poverty, on the contrary, should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a life of fulfilment according to the abilities of each person. It is an illusion, which we should reject, to think that freedom comes about and grows through the possession of money. Serving the poor effectively moves us into action and makes it possible to find the most suitable ways of raising and promoting this part of humanity that all too often is anonymous and voiceless, but which has imprinted on it the face of the Saviour who asks for our help. [3]

The poor have been greatly hurt by the pandemic. The problem was not the lockdowns and social distancing protocols, which were necessary due to the nature of COVID19, but the failure of society to have a proper social safety net in place, and with it, the means to protect the poor when natural disasters threaten the community. More could have been and should have been done to protect and aid the community. That it was not done does not mean there should have been no lockdowns, because, things would have been much worse and far more deadly for the poor if lockdowns were not put in place. Nonetheless, the fact that they suffer in either situation shows how and why our society must change. Technology provides us the means for that change. It can and provide for the common good. The problem is technology, right now, is left to market forces alone, and so those who possess the technologies use them for their own private good. We must rectify that so that the wealth produced by technology becomes shared by all. We can use our technological advances to provide all that is necessary to establish the foundation for basic income for everyone; indeed, technology provides us the means by which we can be sure everyone’s basic needs are met. Thus, Pope Francis rightfully stated that another challenge which lies before us is the challenge of technology, realizing that society must use it for the common good, taking it away from the private interests which use it for their own private gain at the expense of others:

In our age particularly, one of the greatest challenges confronting us is is the administration of technology for the common good. The wonders of modern science and technology have increased our quality of life. “It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities that they continue to open up before us, for science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity” (Laudato Si’, 102). At the same time, left to themselves and to market forces alone, without suitable guidelines provided by legislative assemblies and public authorities guided by a sense of social responsibility, these innovations can end up becoming a threat to the dignity of the human person. [4]

The basic problem which lies before us is, therefore, shown not only in the way the pandemic has been engaged, but in the way technology before and during the pandemic has been used and abused. The common good has been ignored. People have been encouraged to be selfish and to act contrary to the good all they wish. But that can and must end. The good must be protected, whether it is the common or private good, and the way this is done is through the promotion of the common good so that in and through it, the private good is also raised. Selfishness and indifference must give way to love and justice, if we want a future for us, not only as a society, but as a species. COVID19 is only a harbinger of what is to come if we do not get our act together, if we do not begin to work for the promotion of the common good, taking care to repair all the harm which we have done to the earth and to each other. Looking to the way hospitals have become full with COVID patients should show us what happens when we think things through selfishly. It will only get worse, not better, if we don’t change our ways. But if we do, then, even if we will not have a perfect society, we will have a better one which is interested in the common good, so that the imperfections will be understood as problems instead of the goods many think them to be today.

[1] Pope Francis, “Address to the Participants in the Meeting Promoted by the International Catholic Legislators Network” (8-27-2021).

[2] Pope Francis, “Message for the Fifth World Day of the Poor” (11-14-2021). ¶6.

[3] Pope Francis, “Message for the Fifth World Day of the Poor,” ¶7.

[4] Pope Francis, “Address to the Participants in the Meeting Promoted by the International Catholic Legislators Network.”


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