NEW YORK CITY--Society faces a choice between true human dignity and a false concept of freedom culminating in the “culture of death,” New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan explains in his new eBook.
This inhumane culture springs from “deeply rooted social, philosophical and ethical tendencies that, unfortunately, often find their expression in our laws and in our attitudes toward others,” the cardinal writes in True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty, released June 19. Published by Random House Digital, True Freedom is available for 99 cents.
“To this culture of death,” he writes, “the Church boldly and joyfully promotes the culture of life.”
In a work of just over 5,000 words, Cardinal Dolan develops Blessed John Paul II's understanding of the natural law, whose God-given principles are known through reason and confirmed by faith. They are the source of the Church's teaching on subjects such as human life and religious freedom.
Cardinal Dolan's eBook aims to propose these principles anew to a culture suffering what the late Pope called an “eclipse of the sense of God and of man.”
“In only the past few years,” the New York archbishop states, the U.S. has experienced “rampant disregard” for religious faith and human dignity, as shown in the approval of embryonic research, the torture of prisoners, disregard for the definition of marriage and the federal contraception mandate.
“We can see that there is a loss here of a sense of truth and objective moral norms, rules of conduct that apply always to everyone, everywhere,” the cardinal observes.
In place of the natural law, society has begun to substitute “pragmatism, utilitarianism and consumerism,” all of which have no higher goal than the satisfaction of individuals' personal preferences.
These ideologies, Cardinal Dolan explains, have tragic consequences, especially when applied to issues of human life and moral conscience.
In his own Archdiocese of New York, 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion. “And any effort to curtail this unfettered access to abortion,” the cardinal notes, “is turned back by a culture that places a greater value on 'what I want,' 'when I want,' 'because I want' than it does on life itself.”
Moral conscience, meanwhile, is also threatened by a governing philosophy that makes no distinction between deeply held principles and passing desires.
Cardinal Dolan cites Pope Benedict XVI's famous 2005 warning against a “dictatorship of relativism … whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” He also highlights an address delivered by the Pope to German lawmakers in 2011.
In that speech, the Pope spoke of a “dramatic shift” away from laws rooted in moral principles. In their place stands a “positivist conception of nature” that treats moral beliefs as nothing more than subjective, private preferences.
Citing the Pope's words to the German parliament, the New York archbishop notes that the separation of law from morality “fails to recognize the full breadth of human nature, and in fact both 'diminishes man' and 'threatens his humanity.'”
The real issue in all of these controversies, Cardinal Dolan suggests, is the competition between two visions of freedom: one rooted in human dignity and the natural law, the other arising from efforts to treat morality as subjective and religion as irrelevant.
Quoting Pope Leo XIII, the cardinal teaches that authentic freedom is “that freedom which most truly safeguards the dignity of the human person. It is stronger than any violence or injustice. Such is the freedom which has always been desired by the Church and which she holds most dear.”
The eBook contains a set of questions addressed to the country at large, as a cultural and political “examination of conscience.”
“Is genuine freedom,” Cardinal Dolan asks, “the license to do what we ought or the ability to do whatever we want? … Is law tethered to objective truth, or is it ruled by a 'dictatorship of relativism'?”
“Should laws be tailored to suit changing wants, demands or recently discovered 'rights'?” the cardinal asks. “Or should wants, demands and novel rights be tempered by law to uphold the sacredness of life, the common good and the objective moral law?”
As the country face these questions, the issue of religious liberty becomes especially urgent.
“Churches and people of faith -- not exclusively Catholics and their bishops, although I would hope that we play a leading role – understand the inherent dignity of the human person and serve as a safeguard against attacks on that dignity,” the cardinal points out.
“If we allow the human person to become a thing, and a human life to become a commodity that can be valued more or less depending on circumstance, political ideology or current whims,” he warns, “then we have embarked on a perilous path.”