Category Archives: Politics

On Social Justice

Over the last couple of years, the protest movement has gathered so much steam that there seems to be an organized protest over nearly everything.  One California company has even gone as far as to offer their employees paid time off to participate in protests as a form of social justice.  The fact that these “social justice” protests result in destruction of property, violence and any number of offenses against justice shows that these protest movements are actually counter-productive at best.  They are based on a cart before the horse principle in which the participants and organizers (assuming at least some good will on their part) assume that once “just” social structures are in place, then the people will act justly.  Until this happens, they may need to “make a mess,” to borrow a phrase from the liberal manifesto Rules for Radicals to grab people’s attention, but that should eventually settle down.  But the cart of social justice can only be pulled by the horses of just individuals.  That the protestors are unjust while screaming for justice shows just how convoluted our thinking about justice has become and how necessary it is to develop a more complete understanding of justice.

Justice is the firm and habitual disposition to give to each person his or her rightful due.  Or, put more succinctly, justice is the habit of giving to each what is owed to them.  In short, to “owe” another person means that we are giving, or more accurately restoring, to them something that they already own.  Those more classically schooled will recognize in the “firm and habitual disposition” the definition of a virtue.  Justice is one of the four virtues (along with prudence, temperance and fortitude) on which all the other virtues depend.

The Interiority of Justice

It merits a reminder as well that because justice is a virtue, this means that it is primarily something interior to the person and not exterior.  Just as the person who habitually lies is a liar, so too the person who habitually acts justly is just.  The “environment” helps us to be more or less just, but it is the individual man who is just.  When a critical mass of individuals are just, a social justice follows.  Men without the virtue of justice, no matter how just the social structure, will always tend to destroy that structure.  That is precisely what we see in the protest movement—injustice committed in the name of justice.  While this might be a glaring example, the same can happen when the leaders are not just men either.

As the definition suggests, justice is meant to govern relationships and so to speak of “social justice” is a bit of a tautology.  This is why it remains a fuzzy concept for many of us and often just ends up being a mask for a political movement.  The Church has always viewed it as the cooperation of just men who form, maintain, or re-form social institutions that serve the common good.  Justice rules (i.e. social justice) a community when three fundamental structures of communal life are in proper order—individuals one to another (commutative), society to individuals (distributive) and individual to society (legal justice).  In his book on Justice, Josef Pieper has a helpful diagram to keep these straight.


The first form of justice is called commutative justice.  Commutative justice is usually what we think of when we speak of justice.  It governs the relationship between two people and assumes a certain level of equality between the two.  Being equals, they must equally bear the burden of any social exchange.  A person needs a pair of shoes from a cobbler and exchanges a just price, say $10, for the shoes.  Anything less than that then the buyer would be guilty of an offense against commutative justice.  Anything more and it would be the cobbler who violates commutative justice (As an aside, I will post on the Church’s teaching on just price, so for now just assume that $10 is a just price). It is also commutative justice governs the duty of restitution.   If a person steals from another, then they violate commutative justice and the guilty party must make some restitution to restore to the victim that which is owed.

Because many people think only in terms of commutative justice, many injustices occur because groups of men have obligations towards individuals.  In truth, while commutative justice is based on a principle of equality, men are not equal in all ways.  This is why the Church also speaks of distributive justice.  Distributive justice is not based on equality, but based on proportion, according to need, merit, circumstance, etc.  What properly belongs to man through distributive justice is a proportionate share in what is common to everyone, that is, to each man must be given a proportionate (not equal) share of the common good.

A classic example helps us to see how these first two forms of justice work.  Suppose there are two brothers, ages 2 and 16, and they approach their parents because they want candy.  There is only a single bag of M&Ms left and so the parents must divide the bag between the two.  Rather than counting the M&Ms and splitting them evenly, the parents give the 16 year old  2/3 of the bag and the 2 year old, 1/3.  They give unequal distribution because of their ages and amount of candy they should eat.  This is distributive justice.

Just as in the example the parents, who govern the good of the family, chose the allotment of M&Ms, it is the custodian of the common good in society then that determines the proper proportion.  For society as a whole this would be the State, or more properly understood, an individual that has the power to determine the allotment.  So, it is not the State that is just or unjust, but individuals holding power within the State that act justly or unjustly.  This simply reiterates the point about when the emphasis is on just structures and not just men, justice is almost never achieved.

Social Justice

Social justice is often equated with distributive justice because it is viewed mainly as a problem of distribution and the focus mainly remains on this dimension.  However, those who desire social justice ought to focus more on the relationship between the individual and society that St. Thomas calls legal justice. In short it is the individual, not focusing so much on his rights, but on his duties to society that creates social justice.  It is, to borrow from JFK’s famous speech, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  If each man were to focus on contributing to the common good and not just his own private goods then social justice would reign.

What all of this brings to the forefront is that the protest movements as they are practiced now are truly protesting against social justice.  In attempting to raise the awareness of injustices, they do harm to the common good.  Anyone who reads Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, can’t help but be struck by his thoughtful reflection upon what is just.  It was only because he had spent time thinking about justice that he was able to envision what it would look like.  He and his fellow co-founders of the Civil Rights Movement refused to counter injustice with more injustice.  Instead they kept their eyes focused on the common good (the focal point of his I Have a Dream speech) and how a more just society could be formed.  Destroying property, trampling on the good of the free speech of others, and destroying public order all creates less social justice not more, no matter how many days of paid leave they are given to protest.

Which Will You Have, Barabbas or Jesus?

As part of the celebration around Jewish Passover each year, one prisoner was granted amnesty each year.  During the Roman trial of Our Lord, Pilate in recognition of that tradition, put forward two candidates for the Passover Amnesty—Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth.  While Barabbas was a relatively obscure revolutionary in his day, there is perhaps no “minor” character in all the Gospels that plays a more pivotal role than he.  He is also significant because he incarnates some of the traps that Christians can fall into when it comes to Our Lord.

The Political Trap

The first trap is to view everything through a political filter.  Pontius Pilate was like many Americans in our own day, only able to see through a political lens.  Pope Benedict XVI points out in his book on Holy Week that Barabbas was an infamous rebel whom Pontius Pilate feared.  Once Pilate realized that Jesus was not only innocent, but was also politically harmless, he sought a political solution to the problem.  He thought the trial could be ended and he could still have favor with the Jews by offering Jesus as a candidate for the Passover amnesty.  He assumed that the people would choose the innocent Jesus rather than the dangerous Barabbas.  This is why we see him repeatedly lobbying for Jesus’ innocence.  The problem with this of course was once Our Lord was put forward as a candidate for amnesty, guilt was assumed and Our Lord already condemned.

Frank Sheed reported that Pilate already had three major conflicts with the Jews prior to the incident with Jesus.  Two of these had been settled within Judea itself, with Pilate winning one and having to yield to the Jews in the other.  The third conflict had been sent to the Emperor Tiberius himself.  Pilate sought to avoid an appeal to Caesar at all costs.  His patron in Rome, Sejanus, had recently been executed in Rome.  That is why he sought two loopholes in order to avoid making a decision; sending Jesus to Herod the Tetrarch and by making an appeal to the crowd.  When these both fail, he chooses the politically expedient solution without any regard to innocence and truth—“I am personally opposed, but…”

Freedom is first and foremost a theological reality, that is “an exceptional sign of the divine image in man” (Gaudium et Spes, 17) and not a political one.  Our Lord may have been in chains, but “no one takes My life, I lay it down of my own accord.”  He was the freest man who ever walked the face of the earth.  Barabbas may have shed his chains and Pilate may have thought himself master of all in Jerusalem but both were chained to the whim of the crowd.  They both remind us that we are only truly free in one sense—we are always free to do that which is good.  But each time we run with the herd, that capacity within us shrinks to the point where we forget we have it.  Eventually we wonder “what is Truth?” Sooner or later we eventually run out of room to compromise and must either unconditionally surrender our freedom or declare “non possumus.”

The Theological Trap

The second trap is theological in character.  The name Barabbas literally means “Son of the Father.”  Matthew in his Gospel calls him a “notorious prisoner” (Mt 27:16), which is probably an indication that he was a leader of a political uprising.  In this way, the people are presented with two very different messianic figures, both “Sons of the Father”, who are accused of the same offense—rebellion against Roman rule.  It is clear which one Pilate prefers.  He prefers the nonviolent one whose “kingdom is not of this world” rather than the violent Barabbas.  The crowd and the Jewish authorities however, want a different kind of Messiah.   They do not want one that works through love and truth but instead one who promises political power based upon violent revolt.  They do not want the one who picks up His cross, but the one who would crucify.

John refers to Barabbas as a “robber.”  This term (lēstēs in Greek) was often a term used to describe those who stirred up rebellion and is the same term that Jesus uses to contrast the behavior of the Good Shepherd.     It is clear that John has in mind a concrete example of the people choosing a false shepherd in choosing Barabbas.

That we should not set up for ourselves false shepherds seems obvious but there is a subtle way that we do this that is not always easy to catch.  I once went to a book signing where the author who writes historical fiction spoke about the Founding Fathers.  She talked about how she loved Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin growing up until she found out they owned slaves and grew to completely loathe them.  She then went on to say how she now thought Alexander Hamilton was the greatest of all the Founding Fathers because of his abolitionism.  I was struck how she was unwilling to overlook Jefferson and Franklin’s moral failings and see the good that they did, but overlooked Hamilton’s many moral failings.

The point is not that support of slavery is a minor or major moral failing, but that there is a tendency to demonize or canonize a person based on how their position gibes with our own (or usually the politically correct one).  Jefferson and Franklin had serious moral failings, support of slavery among them, but they also had good ones too, the fruit of which we are still drawing today. Hamilton’s character was such that he saw slavery as the evil that it is, but his other moral failings (including great pride leading directly to his death) should render us slow to praise him as the greatest of the American Founders. Similarly Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy combined to helpd the civil rights cause more than any two men in US history, but both were serial adulterers.  The point is that we already have a Messiah, and none of those men are Him.  The minute we try to set up fallen men as the Messiah, we feel we must defend them and justify any flaws. There will always be a gravity towards crowning the latest hero as the Messiah. However when Christ remains the Messiah, we can see how these men were instrumental (or not) in bringing other men into His Kingdom. Only there does true greatness lay.

The Peace Trap

Finally, Barabbas reminds us that peace only comes where there is justice.  Pilate knew very well that justice demanded that Jesus be released and that Barabbas remain imprisoned. But he feared an uprising, a loss of peace.  In the end, it was a band aid as Jerusalem would eventually be destroyed.  Barabbas reminds us that we cannot peace by making a lie into a system (Jeremiah 6:14).

Peace, St. Thomas says, is the tranquility of order.  This means peace can only come about when our lives and our society are properly ordered.  This is not about “social justice” of which there will be none until we have this proper ordering.  First and foremost it means giving God His due.  Any society that does not put God first is absolutely doomed to fail.  Do we really believe this?  Rather than trying to blame the secularists for this, why don’t we as Catholics take responsibility for this and stop trying to smuggle Catholicism into society. We are mostly cowards worrying about hurt feelings rather than burning souls (our own included—“woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”).

Barabbas or Jesus, which will you choose?

Tocqueville and the Bathroom Bill

Each time I pick up Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, I check the copyright date just to make sure it really was written in the 1830s.  He seems to capture the American psyche perfectly—even after almost 200 years and offers incredibly relevant insight into the political issues that plague us today.  I am reminded of this once again this week as the fallout from House Bill 2 in North Carolina continues.  This law sought to block an “anti-discrimination” ordinance in Charlotte that would have allowed people to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

Now certainly Tocqueville has nothing to say about public bathrooms, but what he does write about helps us to understand why there can be no true civil discourse, especially surrounding this issue.  When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he found that democratic principles animated nearly every aspect of American life. What struck him most was what he called the equality of conditions among the people. Perhaps most surprising to Americans today, he found that love of equality—not freedom—was “the ruling passion of men” in the U.S. Tocqueville feared that the more the principle of equality takes hold of a society, the more pressure there is to see everyone as essentially identical. When equality reigns, any form of discrimination is bad because it classifies the other as somehow different. To discriminate seems absolutely un-American.  To exacerbate the problem, in a democracy many beliefs gain unquestioned acceptance because the only intellectual authority is the opinion of the majority. To remove the threat of the tyranny of the majority, Tocqueville thought that one crucial check was the power of religion in forming morals.

Even the most ardent secularist has to admit that the principle underlying the American hatred of discrimination—that “all men are created equal”—is the fruit of what Jacques Maritain termed the “hidden work” of the Gospel on the secular conscience. Specifically, it rests upon the dignity of the human person. No other culture and no other religion taught this.  It is only in a Christian culture that such an understanding of the equality of mankind arises.  But this equality does not mean that people are equal in every way. People are very different with respect to their roles and their contributions to the common good.  Yet, divorced from its religious grounding, the equality of men runs amok.


Tocqueville also noticed that democracy and the love of equality affect the English language. In particular he found that Americans have a “passionate addiction” to generic terms because they condense many objects into a few words. Along these same lines, Americans often omit modifiers in order to avoid the hard work of scrutinizing ideas. An obvious example of this habit is the term “pro-choice,” which refers to someone in favor of performing a certain act without actually naming and, more important, scrutinizing what that act is.

Now returning to America’s obsessions with anti-discrimination, we must admit that man is a discriminating animal.  Through the use of his reason he is able to discriminate between what a thing is and what it is not. One could argue that to cease discriminating is to cease being human. To accuse someone of discrimination is to accuse them of being human—in that respect we are all guilty.  The fact that there are two bathrooms to begin with is because we discriminate between men and women and their toilet needs.  Public bathrooms are by their very nature discriminatory.

A moment’s reflection leads us to conclude that a key adjective is missing. It is not a question of discrimination, but whether the discrimination is just or unjust. By avoiding the use of the adjective just, Americans dodge the tough question of what constitutes just behavior.  And this leads to muddled thinking about a whole variety of practices.  Rather than looking at what is just we simply give in to the person who speaks the loudest (another democratic principle).  To cry “discrimination” is enough to get the ACLU involved, regardless of whether the discrimination is just or not.

In other words, any discussion about whether an action is discriminatory or not must be preceded by a discussion on justice. Broadly speaking, justice is defined as giving each man his due. Any act of justice flows from the realization that something is man’s due. In other words, a discussion of rights must come before a discussion of justice.

What does this have to do with the “Bathroom Law” as it has come to be known?  Tocqueville helps us to see our blind spots.  No one is immune to the cultural obsession with equality.  Leaving the specifics of the law to those more legally inclined than I and looking at the Charlotte ordinance it was meant to combat, we have to ask whether a transgender person has the right to use a public bathroom of their gender identity.  The problem again lies in the inability to make distinctions (i.e. discriminate).  “Transgender” is a catch-all term that includes people “whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”  In other words, it can be a person who is actively trying to change their sex (gender identity) or someone who expresses themselves as a different sex by cross-dressing and the like (gender expression).  Further complicating this is that their sexual orientation needs to be factored in.  Who exactly would be protected by such ordinances?  Does a man who dresses like a woman (gender expression), but has an attraction to women (sexual orientation) have a right to use a women’s bathroom?

Claims of “discrimination” blind us to the fact that no one can clearly articulate who the law really affects.  Without any clear distinctions, how can we even begin to examine whether the law justly discriminates or not?  These toilet torts will always be unjust because the parties that are affected are not known.  At the very least, the NC law did try to make a clear distinction by using the Birth Certificate (which can now be changed apparently).  In truth it really is the desire for anything goes.  All human beings use the bathroom, so therefore a human being may use any bathroom.

Abortion in the Hard Cases

Over the last few years, there has been a flurry of activity at the individual state level to declare personhood at conception.  In every case, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, the measures have been voted down.  One of the reasons why voters turned it down was that it would force women to carry to term unwanted pregnancies including those that became pregnant as a result of rape or incest.  This exception is often brought up as a reason for keeping abortion legal.  In fact many who consider themselves Pro-Life will often argue for provisions in laws that keep abortion legal in these cases.  Because this argument is put forth so often, it is instructive to evaluate the merit of the argument to determine whether abortion should be allowable in these, rare, but real cases when pregnancy occurs.

It is important to mention at the outset that those women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest are victims of the morally reprehensible actions of others.  There is no question as to whether they have suffered a great evil.  Our response must always be one of compassion.  Still, the question is whether as a result of the evil they have suffered, it gives moral justification to commit further evil by taking the life of the unborn child.  Furthermore, as was mentioned above, it is rare that someone becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest.  Some studies have shown that it occurs in as few as one in a thousand cases and accounts for approximately 2 percent of all abortions.  This is not to minimize the suffering and trauma associated with these cases but to put the frequency in context.  One case of rape or incest is too many.

One further clarification is necessary.  These so-called hard cases should not be relevant to the case for abortion on demand despite the fact that they are often invoked to defend that position.  Supporters of abortion on demand state that a woman has a right to have an abortion for any reason she prefers during the entire nine months of pregnancy and not just rape and incest.  Therefore to argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases is analogous to arguing for the elimination of all traffic laws from the fact that in rare emergencies one might need to violate them. This is important because laws are not made based upon exception.  Laws are meant to conform to normal behavior and nearly every law admits to exceptions.  Nevertheless as it shall be shown, these situations do not constitute valid exceptions to the absolute norm that abortion is always a grave evil.

Finally, it is important to mention as well that because a sexual assault like rape or incest is an act of aggression and cannot be ordered to the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act, “a woman who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault” (USCCB, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 36). This means that she can have recourse to any contraceptive measure provided it is not abortifacient in nature.

With these necessary clarifications in place we can begin to look at the justification that is often offered to defend abortion in these so-called hard cases.  There are a number of arguments put forth why abortion is morally justifiable which are summarized succinctly by Bioethicist Andrew Varga.

It is argued that in these tragic cases the great value of the mental health of a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest can best be safe-guarded by abortion. It is also said that a pregnancy caused by rape or incest is the result of a grave injustice and that the victim should not be obliged to carry the fetus to viability. This would keep reminding her for nine months of the violence committed against her and would just increase her mental anguish. It is reasoned that the value of the woman’s mental health is greater than the value of the fetus. In addition, it is maintained that the fetus is an aggressor against the woman’s integrity and personal life; it is only just and morally defensible to repel an aggressor even by killing him if that is the only way to defend personal and human values. It is concluded, then, that abortion is justified in these cases (The Main Issues in Bioethics, pp. 67-68).


The underlying principle at play here is that evil may never be done so that good may come about.  Any argument related to these hard cases would amount to a utilitarian ethic.  Certainly the trauma that is associated with being a victim of rape or incest may cause great mental and emotional distress.  The child in the womb may serve as a reminder to the mother of the trauma in which she has undergone.  Nevertheless this cannot justify the taking of the life of the child in the womb.


Each of these arguments begs the question that the child in the womb in fact is a person with an inherent dignity from the moment of conception.  Therefore it has a right to life that ought to be protected from the moment of conception.  The manner in which the child has been brought into being ought not to have any effect on its moral status.  The child may have been conceived as a result of a sexual assault or as a result of a loving union of husband and wife. The result of each of these methods is the same.  A new and complete human person has been brought into being with the full dignity of any human person.  Therefore because the children are the same regardless of the manner in which they were brought into being, the moral status ought to be identical.

Despite the fact that the child is the result of an act of aggression, the child himself is not the aggressor.  It is the perpetrator of the assault who is the aggressor. The unborn entity is just as much an innocent victim as its mother. Therefore, abortion cannot be justified on the basis that the unborn is an aggressor.

In arguing that abortion is justified because of the emotional and mental anguish that the child’s presence places on the mother also presents us with a slippery slope.  From this, one might extend the right to take the life of another person any time that they cause emotional and mental anguish upon the same principle.  For example, suppose a husband were to become disabled later in life and the disability would cause great emotional and mental stress on his wife as his caregiver.  Applying the same principle, the wife would be morally justified in taking the life of her husband.  Although this may seem absurd, it is simply an application of the same principle that a mother uses in justifying the killing of her child that was conceived as a result of a sexual assault.

In conclusion, it should go without saying that the pro-life advocate should not simply stop at protecting the life of the child in the womb.  Much help also needs to be given to the victim of the assault.  Stephen Krason in his book Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution reminds us that we all have an obligation “to make it as easy as possible for her to give up her baby for adoption, if she desires. Dealing with the woman pregnant from rape, then, can be an opportunity for us—both as individuals and society—to develop true understanding and charity. Is it not better to try to develop these virtues than to countenance an ethic of destruction as the solution?”

The Church and the Lodge

With all of the tenacity of Sherman’s March to the Sea, all traces of the Confederacy in the United States are being wiped out.  Flags are being removed from state capitol buildings, statues are being torn down and there has even been a call to rename the Dixie Classic Fair.  There is however one confederate monument that will survive the scorched earth policy.  In Judiciary Square in our nation’s capital sits a Statue of Albert Pike.  Pike is the only Confederate military officer or figure to be honored with a statue in Washington, D.C.  What makes this statue virtually untouchable? Mr. Pike was also the most influential Freemason of his time, if not in the history of the United States.  To remove the statue would be to raise the ire of the Masons, who prowl about like lions ready to devour our country.

President Roosevelt was an ardent Mason and one can easily surmise that he attempted some court-packing beginning in 1937.  Between him and President Truman (also a Mason) ten Masons were appointed between 1937-1949 (you can see a list of other famous Freemasons here).  What this led to was a mere figure of speech by Thomas Jefferson, namely “a wall of separation between Church and State,” becoming enshrined as law.  Prior to the 1947 Everson decision there is absolutely no precedent suggesting that the Constitution ought to be interpreted as espousing a “wall” separating Church and State.  Thanks to stare decisis (which holds that a principle of law is established by the one judicial decision) and Masonic domination of the Supreme Court from 1937-1971 that allowed this decision and many others traditional Judeo-Christian values were permanently removed.  This is why Pope Leo XII in his encyclical On Freemasonry cautioned that the Masons “ultimate purpose forces itself in view—namely, the utter overthrow of that whole religious and political order of the world that Christian teaching has produced.”  It is also one of the reasons why the Church has always forbade the Faithful to be members of the Masonic Lodge.

For a great number of Catholics the fact that they cannot both be Masons and a Catholic is a surprise, but it is the constant teaching of the Church.  In the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 2335), Catholics who enjoyed membership in a Masonic organization or any other similar group that plotted against the Church or civil authority incurred the penalty of excommunication.  Unfortunately this wording only led to confusion since there is no single governing body for Masons throughout the world and many lodges were not actively engaged in plotting against the Church and civil authority.  Pastorally many interpreted this to mean that they could join certain lodges.  Some even received ecclesial approval from their local bishop to do so.  When the 1983 code of Canon Law was promulgated it only added to the confusion by not mentioning Freemasonry at all, saying “[A] person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict” (CCL, 1374).  It seemed as if the prohibition against Freemasonry had been lifted.

In order to avoid any further confusion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) issued its Declaration on Masonic Associations, shortly after the release of the new Canon Law.  He removed any ambiguity by issuing a four-point declaration.  First he declared that Canon 1374 has the same essential import as old Canon 2334.  The fact that the term “Masonic sect” was not mentioned is irrelevant.  Second, the canonical penalties are in no way abrogated because the Church’s negative judgment against Masonry is based on the fact that their principles are irreconcilable with Church teaching.  The main problem is not that Masons conspire against the Church (this is secondary) but the content of its teachings (of which the conspiring is its fruit).

Third, Catholics who join are in grave sin and may not receive Communion.  Finally to avoid any confusion with individual priests and bishops saying it is okay, he said that no local authority has competence to derogate from these judgments.

It is easy to overlook just how irregular the third point is.  “[T]he faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.”  Normally the Church will speak of an action being objectively grave matter and leave the question of subjective guilt (e.g. “in a state of grave sin”) to the individual and his confessor.  However what he is saying is that this is so grievous an act and the teachings of the Craft so contrary to all that is Christian, that the person who joins a Lodge is immediately guilty of a grave offense.


If you were to ask most Masons, they would describe Freemasonry as a fraternal organization.  They would deny that it has any religious content or teaches a belief system.  Their only requirement is each member believe in God in order to join.  They would cite all of the great good they do in society, especially towards sick children (the Shriners are Masonic organization).  The general public also would be perplexed as to why if animated by a Post-Vatican II ecumenical spirit, the Church would persist in condemning such an organization.

To begin, it is disingenuous at best to say that Freemasonry is not a religion.  The letter “G” in its symbol stands for “Geometry” as the gateway to the “Grand Architect of the Universe” or “whatever your name for the Supreme Being is.” But this is not the only religious reference found in Freemasonry.  In fact many of its rites are perversions of the sacraments (i.e. “sacrileges).  They have a “baptismal” rite by which a father renews his promises and promises that the child will be under the protection of the lodge.  Likewise they mimic the Eucharist in a Holy Thursday “liturgy” in which they never mention Jesus by name and candles being snuffed out one by one (the last one representing Jesus) in a form of black mass.

The “Grand Commander,” Albert Pike wrote Morals and Dogma as a compilation of the teachings of Freemasonry that are necessary for the initiation to higher degrees of membership in the Lodge.  In many ways it serves as a “catechism” of freemasonry.  Pike himself says that the Craft is “[E]very Masonic Lodge is a temple of religion; and its teachings are instruction in religion” (p.213).  In a somewhat schizophrenic manner he earlier claimed that “Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it. The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries, are the work of men.  But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundation of all religions.” (p.161)

The point is that they avoid the claim to be a religion by portending to be the foundation of all religions upon which the man is to build his personal creed.  As foundation, it is of course superior to all others.  Some of the basic Freemason religious doctrines include that religion can hope to attract the masses only by deliberately teaching error, God deliberately leads most people away from the truth, Christ is not divine and Satan is not evil.

Pope Leo XIII labeled the masonic teachings under the religion of naturalism. Naturalism denies “any dogma of religion or truth which cannot be understood by human intelligence.” It is appealing to Christians because it uses Christian terminology.  There is no need for divine revelation because all can be known through human reason.  In fact even if there was divine revelation it could not be put into words much less into hard and fast dogma.  Masonry as a “religion of reason” is clearly antithetical to Catholicism as a revealed religion.  The symbol of the cornerstone is meant to convey that Masons have within them the “sure foundation of eternal life.”  This means they have no need for Christ or the Church.  In essence they have made an idol out of reason and set it up as their god.

Not only is Freemasonry a violation of the First Commandment, but it is also a violation of the Second as well.  As the member grows in the degrees of Freemasonry, he takes numerous oaths at each stage.  These oaths are gravely harmful because they call upon God to witness against Himself as He as revealed Himself through the Church or He is being called to witness to a farce (at best).  It is not so much the secret nature of these oaths (with the internet and some strategic googling it is hardly a secret anymore) but the oaths that is the problem.

One may be tempted to merely agree that Christians should not be Masons, but in and of themselves Masons are harmless.  Leo XIII reminds us that much of the work of the Masons remains veiled.  He cautions that although the City of God and the City of Man have been at all times at war with each other “although not always with equal ardor and assault…the partisans of evil seem to be combining together…led on or assisted by …Freemasons.”  In a prophetic manner, Leo XIII summarized their teachings as:

  • They attempt to teach a “civil” morality
  • They reject doctrine of Original Sin and fail to see man as more disposed to vice as to virtue
  • With respect to marriage it is a commercial contract that can be rightly revoked by the will of those who made it and the State has power over the matrimonial bond
  • Youth should not be taught religion but follow what they want when they come of age
  • They teach the heresy of indifferentism (the belief that all religions are the same)

Who could dispute that the Masonic influence is felt greatly today in this summary of American religious convictions?  In an age of Co-existence, the Church and the Lodge remain at irreconcilable odds.

At the Heart of Liberty

As Americans gather this weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July, one can’t help but be nostalgic for the Founder’s vision for our country.  Each year I go back and read the Declaration of Independence and reflect on the great gift God has given us in our country.  What becomes obvious in reading this founding document is that the overall theme is one of liberty.  Americans are called a “free people” that has been endowed with liberty by their Creator.  This liberty was understood as not, what Lord Acton would write a century later, “the power to do what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”  One has to wonder how the Founders would respond to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s most recent contention that the Bill of Rights guarantees “certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”  In other words, his belief is that freedom exists only for the sake of personal autonomy.  By equating freedom with autonomy there is a great danger that true freedom will be greatly compromised.

If freedom and autonomy are not the same thing, then how is freedom to be understood?  To answer this question we begin by looking at human nature itself, just as the Founders did in the Declaration of Independence.  They found it self-evident that man was created with the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  They thought man was made for a very particular end and that end was called “happiness.”  Although it was probably not in the sense that Jesus used it in the Beatitudes, but most assuredly they used happiness in the Aristotelian sense of a naturally virtuous life.  They listed the two rights only because they were indispensable means to the pursuit of happiness.

What made this self-evident to the Founders was that in looking at man, they knew he had the power both to reason and to will.  They also recognized that man’s will had two categories to it—the necessary and the free.  The necessary meant that no matter what, man must will the good in its universal aspect.  In other words, man cannot choose contrary to his own good.  He may be wrong as to what the good consists in, but universally man will always choose the good (i.e. happiness).  We are not free to choose our own end, it is written into our very nature.

The will is also free insofar as in this life we are not confronted with the universal good, but particular goods.  Our free will is given to us to choose the means by which we will achieve our fixed end.  In other words we have liberty in pursuing happiness and the Founders saw the role of government to protect and promote these “inalienable rights” by which man thrives.

Some may dispute the contention that we cannot choose contrary to our own good.  What about someone diving on a grenade to save his platoon?  One could argue that only someone who sees a good beyond this life that is obtained by selfless acts would do something like that.  Only someone who ultimately (even if they don’t explicitly say it) believes “he who loses his life will save it” would do that.  In fact even the person who commits suicide is acting a manner they think is beneficial to them.  They believe that what awaits them after their death is better than what they are enduring now.

Some of the confusion stems from equivocating on the terms surrounding freedom.  We tend to equate free will with freedom and freedom with liberty.  But these terms should remain distinct if we are to avoid falling into the pitfall that ensnared Justice Kennedy.  When we speak of free will, we are really referring to freedom of choice.  Freedom of choice is the mechanism by which we choose means to achieve our destiny.  This includes freedom from coercion so as not to be interfered with.  As we will see in a moment, this tends to be the current American understanding of liberty as well.

But liberty is something distinct.  It is freedom in its truest sense.  It is a conscious willing of the true end that fulfills our nature.  It is found only in the person who has completely mastered himself so he is not constrained by impulses from within (i.e. concupiscence) nor can he be coerced or forced from the outside to deviate from the good.  This is the truly free man.  It is the “liberty of the sons of God” (Romans 8:21) that St. Paul speaks of because he knows that only the man who is in Christ has liberty.  It also helps us understand how grace can never “force” us because it acts in cooperation with our liberty which is ordered to our true good.

The point is that Thomas Jefferson listed liberty among the inalienable rights not because he was looking for a catchy word but because he recognized this was the highest freedom in man.  He recognized only when man acted in liberty could he properly pursue his end or happiness.  He knew that when this liberty was not protected and promoted, both individual men and society would greatly suffer.  That is why they sought to be free from what they viewed as a tyranny when their liberty was threatened.

As proof of how far we have gotten from this understanding, read Justice Kennedy’s most famous quote from Planned Parenthood vs Casey in 1992, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”  If liberty truly means to determine one’s own concept of the meaning then freedom, liberty and autonomy are all the same thing.  These are not merely the ramblings of a single Supreme Court Justice, but instead a reflection of our culture as a whole.  Freedom of choice is a god in our culture.  It is an end rather than a means.  Personal freedom is the highest good and all things are subordinate to it.  This is nothing more than a recipe for slavery as we are blown to and fro by our whims and the incoherent ramblings of Supreme Court Justices.  Slowly but surely we are all becoming enslaved to personal freedom and in great need of a Declaration of Independence of our own.  On this Fourth of July, let liberty ring!