416–it’s the number on the mile-marker salvaged from the abandoned railroad bed behind the property adjacent to mine. Not long ago, I was informed by my wife, Deone, that 4-16 is the birth date of this month’s Voice of Freedom – Pope Benedict XVI. Just over three weeks ago, the marker went up in the yard at the west entrance to our home. Why am I sharing this?
Although we are not Catholic, Deone is a devotee of this elderly man; she thinks Benedict XVI who is in his sixth year as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church–is the most brilliant man on the planet! (She has read ALOT of his work). Consequently, I feel like I HAVE READ ALOT OF HIS WORK!
But last week she gave me an article written by George Weigel about the trip the Pope made to England last September (did YOU know that was the first official visit of a Pope to England since the Protestant Reformation almost 500 years ago – I didn’t- but now you do too!)
The article is entitled, “The Future of Western Democratic Society” and frankly, it stopped me in my tracks. All I could think was, “This Benedict guy has something to say”. As I thought about the issues he addressed- his concern about the secularization of Europe and the outcomes which historical evidence could predict- I realized that he was putting words to how I was feeling about the dynamics of Western Civilization and their relationship to what is going on in our country.
And the timing is perfect. I am in the process of announcing the formation of a non-profit organization called Freedom Roots. The mission of this initiative is simple – to cultivate the grass roots for the cause of liberty. Benedict’s discussion of the “three dimensions which constitute Western democracy” resonates with this mission and provides fodder for an image to help me communicate my objectives.
If I picture these three dimensions as roots supporting a large tree with a taproot going even deeper for connection with the truth, I can attempt to define the challenges facing free society and move toward practical actions and strategies to protect it. Ultimately that is what Freedom Roots is all about – my attempt to move toward a greater degree of involvement in the political process in order to be a part of the restoration of America to her roots.
I “met” George Weigel last winter – once again via my wife. As I transferred her, my son Austin, a couple of backpacks and a few cases of burritos into the van of a good friend at 6:30 in the morning (it was February and the wind chill was -45 degrees), I remember thinking, “I hope this Weigel is worth it.” They were headed 700 miles west to Wyoming Catholic college to visit our friend’s daughter who is a student there, to meet George Weigel and hear him speak.
George Weigel is probably best known as an author and Catholic theologian; his latest work is the second volume in the biography of the late predecessor to Pope Benedict, Blessed John Paul II. He has written extensively on the subject of religion in the public square and is a senior fellow at the National Ethics and Policy Council in Washington DC. With all the research on the impact of John Paul II on the demise of Communism at the end of the last century, he brings a trained eye and important perspective to the analysis of Benedict’s work as well.
The article was actually a follow-up to one written last September shortly before Benedict traveled to England. One of his objectives was to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron and present his views on the problems Europe is facing in regards to its future. What Weigel presents about Benedict and his message to Europe applies to us across the Atlantic in America; we have a President intent on patterning our future on what Europe does—and we can see where that leads!
It became clear as I read that this Pope (formerly Josef Ratzinger) is a European world – class intellect with a decidedly conservative bent! Here was someone who had actually grown up in Nazi Germany, served (albeit reluctantly) for a short time in the German army and eventually made his way into the clerical life. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these things -along with the ability to articulate his thoughts clearly – that make him a voice to listen to if not a force to be reckoned with.
The three dimensions or “roots” of freedom in Benedict’s mind can be summarized in what seems like me as a “tale of three cities.” Weigel labels these dimensions Jerusalem, Rome and Athens and lays them out as the three basic building blocks of Western Civilization: Judeo-Christian religion, Greek thought and reason and Roman jurisprudence (the Rule of Law). Simply stated it is like the three “R’s” – Religion, Rationality, and Rule of Law.
He also refers to these three entities as “legs which support” which conjures up the image of the three-legged stool. Of course the implication from this analogy is that if any one of the three becomes weak or “wobbly”, the support or foundation is threatened and the whole system is endangered.
Citing examples from post WWI Germany, Pope Benedict makes a compelling argument for why sheer reason without the moral underpinnings of Christianity or Judaism created a vacuum in the Weimar Republic which resulted in a dictatorship (this alone made me want to shut down the office for a day and read the entire historical background on Hitler’s rise to power). He gives a chilling account of how Max Weber’s theory as presented in “The Spirit of Capitalism” did not have the necessary components to stand against National Socialism and the Nazi’s lust for power.
From there he shifts to argue that religion breaks down when reason is ignored. As he points to early Christianity, he takes a quick tour of Church history and presents the eventual rise of monasticism and the age of the Scholastics as precursors to the Renaissance. As a rebirth of Greek influence on the ancient world was awakening the hearts of those in the academic world, a new day was dawning for the West.
And it was about freedom. The Protestant Reformation rocked the European continent as the whole idea of freedom from oppression was brought to bear in the wake of the works of Luther and Calvin. The printed word enabled the message to travel quickly. As the Catholic Church responded in the Counter – Reformation, a clearer representation of the role of the Church in the world and its relationship to the State emerged. Regardless of one’s perspective, the world was changing as individuals began to stand against tyranny of any kind and the foundations were strengthened for the rebirth of democracy in the West – eventually of course in America itself.
Certainly this is but a cursory overview of the thought and message of this great man who is speaking out with a voice of freedom which distinctly states, “freedom is inextricably linked with truth.” When Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008 he had much to say to the people of this country. He spoke not only of the incredible privileges we enjoy as Americans, but he called each of us to defend our liberty in order to preserve it for the benefit of the rest of the world. In essence, he exhorted the citizens of the Western world not to “hide our light under a bushel basket”- but to let it shine!
Like I said at the beginning, I stood up and took notice. To me, it helps to have the philosophy and thought behind the actions I take. His thoughts certainly brought more depth and meaning to the things I want to do, but my action plan is still essentially the same. As I develop Freedom Roots, I hope to incorporate the ideas which represent the American experiment in self-government and liberty via these root systems.
It is why I read and why I listen (though sometimes reluctantly) to my wife as she feels compelled to share everything SHE’S reading with me. Every once in awhile I hear a voice worth listening to – Pope Benedict the XVI is certainly one of those Voices of Freedom.
President and Founder of Freedom Roots