Monday, June 15, 2015

Reframing Fathers and Fortnights

As a society, we celebrate what we value, and we protect what we celebrate.

This week commences with both our national observance of Father's Day and with the kick off of the 2015 Fortnight for Freedom, whose theme is "Freedom to Bear Witness."  Whether or not we will continue to protect and celebrate these social values remains to be seen, of course.  But the coinciding of our traditional celebration of fathers and our recently rediscovered appreciation of religious freedom invites us to consider how we might look at each with fresh eyes.

Why Fathers Matter

If there were times in human history when the role of fathers was overplayed, it is safe to say that we are in an epoch where the pendulum has swung to the other extreme.  Brought on in large part by the failures of fathers themselves, of course, there are some people who would probably like to dispense with this annual theme day.  Given all of the pain and suffering caused by bad fathers, some might even claim that a fatherless world would be more civilized.

Of course, sociological evidence points to the contrary: Despite the often heroic efforts of mothers and grandmothers, when fathers abandon their families, the children suffer.  They are more vulnerable to predators of all sorts; they are more susceptible to "high risk" behaviors.

So, what positive differences can and should fathers make?  Fathers should stand ready to protect the physical and emotional well-being of their children.  They should provide appropriate opportunities for "going forth" into the world, while always offering a safe-haven and refuge for the children when they return.

They should stand ready to help their children learn both their true identity and their ultimate destiny. Fathers should help their children resist the temptations of the day--be it a view of freedom uprooted from reality, a pagan perspective on the human body, or the "idolatry of money" identified by Pope Francis.

Unlike dead-beat dads who generate new life only to abandon it, real fathers should love their children with a healthy indifference--that is, with an openness to the mystery of who the child will become, without a need to control or manipulate him or her.
Why Religious Freedom Matters

Although some fanatics may justify their evil deeds in the name of religion, authentic religious sensibilities lead people to seek to do good and avoid evil.  Religious liberty encourages knowing and living the truth.  Religious believers make the world a more beautiful place by inspiring art and song, as well as service of others.  They speak to the profound spiritual dimension of the human person, and they provide the moral fabric without which a democracy cannot stand.

Authentic respect for religious liberty also protects the human person from the varieties of fascism which lurk just below the surface of a supposedly enlightened atheistic humanism.  After all, when there are no self-evident truths, personal rights are granted and rescinded by those in power.  The carnage of the 20th century speaks to the destruction of secular states run amok.

So, if we head down a path of restricting the exercise of religion to the mere ability to worship, we will strip society of a much-needed alternative to the prevailing secularism.  These resources help address the issue of religious freedom from a few different perspectives:
In sum, if our society stops protecting and celebrating the free exercise of religion and the rights of individuals to follow their religiously informed consciences, then we must ask whether freedom itself will remain free.  To protect and celebrate this "first" freedom will be to value and promote authentic freedom everywhere.