Freedom in Danger- Bishop Fulton Sheen

This entry is part 14 of 18 in the series The Crisis in Christendom

Address Delivered on April 4, 1943 

Today we shall speak about a grave danger facing the world— not America alone. That danger is the threatened loss of something which is on the tongue of everyone, namely, freedom.

 A proof that we are in danger of losing it, is that everyone is talking about it. If you suddenly came into a country where everyone was talking about the health of the lungs, you would immediately conclude that a disastrous microbe was rampant. In the last war everyone spoke about "making the world safe for democracy," and yet the world became so unsafe for democracy, that within twenty-one years democracy had to stumble into another war to preserve itself.
   Now, we ought to be worried about freedom, simply because everyone is talking about it! Slaves talk most about freedom; the oppressed talk most about justice; the hungry talk most about food.
    We are all agreed that the external threat to our freedom and the freedom of the world comes from the totalitarian states. There is no need to develop this thesis.
 They are Satan’s vicegerents of tyranny, the anti-Christ’s advance agents of adversity.
 But our point is that the gravest threat to freedom comes from within; I do not mean within America alone, I mean within the hearts and souls of men throughout the world.
   While the world is attempting to preserve freedom in the political order, it is surrendering it in those deeper realms upon which the political reposes.
   Picture a group of men on a roof-top proclaiming in song and story the glories of architecture, while below saboteurs have already knocked out half the foundations of the house— and you have the picture of modern freedom. Politicians in the upper stories are glorifying freedom while false philosophy in education, and so-called Liberal Christianity, have knocked away its supports.
    Firstly, freedom is denied in education today. This may sound bizarre to some educators who have been shouting catch-words about freedom for decades. But I submit they are talking about license—not freedom. They are concerned with freedom from something; not freedom for something; they are interested only in freedom without law rather than freedom within the law. And the proof? Do not many educators today assume that evil and sin are due to ignorance, and that if we educate, we will remove evil? Do not others assume that evil is due to bad environment, bad teeth, or bad glands, and that an increase of material wealth will obliterate evil? Can they not see that these assumptions destroy freedom; for if evil is the result of ignorance, and not the result of a perverse use of freedom, then Hitler is an ignoramus, but he is not a villian? Can they not see that education without a proper philosophy of life can be made the servant of evil, as well as of good? Have they not the vision to see that if evil and sin are to be attributed solely to external circumstances, then man is not free to do wrong? Then wrong is in our environment, but not in us. Is it not inconsistent to praise a free man for choosing what is right, and at the same time, when he does wrong, to deny that he is free?
 That kind of education which denies guilt and sin is destroying freedom in our schools, while our soldiers are fighting for it on the battle fronts of the world.
 Modern religion has also denied freedom. Oh, do not misunderstand! I know it preaches freedom. But here we are searching hearts, not lips. Modern religion denies freedom because it denies hell. In a recent survey of ministers it was discovered that seventy-three percent did not believe in hell.
   If there is no hell, why should there be a heaven? If there is no wrong, and hence no sin for which men ought to be punished, why should there be a heaven where they should be rewarded for their virtues? If there are statues erected to our patriots, why should there not be prisons for our traitors? Whom do they think God is— a kind of grandmother who laughs off the wrong-doing of His children, as if there were no scales of Justice, and He were not the God of Righteousness?
 This sugary, pale ersatz of Christianity has set at naught the very words of the Christ Whom they preach— the Christ Who on more than a dozen occasions said there was a hell. Hell is the eternal guarantee of human freedom. If God were to destroy hell, at that moment He would destroy human freedom. So long as there is a hell, we know that He so respects human freedom that He will not by Force or Power destroy even that free will which rises up against Him with an everlasting "I will not serve."
 Satan is thus destroying our freedom at the very moment he has let us believe that we are most free. He did so by the very same temptations which failed when he tempted Christ on the mountain at the beginning of His public life.
   Satan tried to tempt Our Lord from His Gospel of Love by offering three substitutes. In the first temptation, instead of winning souls through love, Satan suggested that Christ buy them with bread, inasmuch as men are hungry.
   In the second temptation, Satan suggested that Christ win them by manifesting great Power over nature, such as throwing Himself from a temple tower unhurt.
    In the third temptation, Satan   suggested winning souls through   politics. He unfurled before the mind’s eye of the Savior all the kingdoms and empires and nations of the world, and in a frightening boast, as if to imply all were his, said: "All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me" (Matthew 4:9).
     Our Lord refused to surrender    freedom. If souls would not love Him without the bribery of bread, without the exhibitionism of Power, and without selling himself to Caesar, He would still not force them. Freedom would endure through an eternal heaven and an eternal hell.
   Satan is now back again in the world, and oh, how he is succeeding in destroying freedom. Souls are today selling themselves out for that bread which today they call security; for that power which   is now called Science and Progress,   while others, in over a fifth of the   world’s surface, have bartered their   freedom for dictators and tyrants.
    Dostoievsky, that great Russian   writer of the last century, was right when in a great flash of genius he warned that the denial of sin and hell in education and religion would end in a world Socialism where men would surrender   freedom for a false security. He pictured anti-Christ returning to the world and speaking to Christ, thus: "Dost thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger?
   And men will come crawling to our feet, saying to us: ‘Give us bread! Take our freedom.’
   I wonder if those days are not already here;  Finally, in place of free men,    the anti-Christ pictures the new Socialistic State in which he and his followers will organize every-thing after convincing people there is no sin— there is only hunger.
 And Dostoievsky again pictures anti-Christ speaking to Christ: "They will tremble impotently before our wrath, their minds will grow fearful, they will be quick to shed tears like women and children, but they will be just as ready at a sign from us to pass to laughter and rejoicing, to happy mirth and childish song. Yes, we shall set them to work, but in their leisure hours we shall make their life like songs and innocent dance. Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin. We shall tell them that every sin will be expiated, if it is done with our permission, that we allow them to sin because we love them, and the punishment for these sins we take upon ourselves. And we shall take it upon ourselves, and they will adore us as their saviour who have taken on themselves their sins before God. And they will have no secrets from us. We shall allow or forbid them to live with their wives and mistresses, to have or not to have children— according to whether they have been obedient or disobedient— and they will submit to us gladly and cheerfully. The most painful secrets of their conscience, all, all they will bring to us, and we shall have an answer for all. And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. What I say to Thee, 0 Christ, will come to pass, and our dominion will be built up. I repeat, tomorrow Thou shalt see that obedient flock who at a sign from me will hasten to heap up the hot cinders about the pile on which I shall burn Thee for coming to hinder us. For if any one has ever deserved our fires, it is Thou. Tomorrow I shall burn Thee. Dixi."
 This frightening spectacle is already taking place on a large part of the earth’s surface. By denying responsibility to God, men have surrendered their freedom to Satan. Such is the inevitable outcome of the world unless we pray. Pray we must, lest we succumb to the challenge the world hurled at the Cross: "Come down and we will believe." They were willing to admit that they would believe if He would only show His Power by stepping down from His gibbet! Poor fools! Did they not see that they were asking Him to force them to believe, which would have been the end of freedom? They were free to believe that He was the Son of God, as the thief did, so long as He did not come down to smite them!
 They had freedom so long as He left their faith in their own hands and not in His. His refusal to come down was the guarantee of freedom. The nails which pierced Him were the stars of the flag of freedom; the bruises of His body battered by free men, were the stripes of that flag. His blood was its red; His flesh its blue and its white.
   So long as Our Lord hangs on His Cross, man is free! The moment He comes down in Power, man is His slave, and He is man’s dictator. But come down He will not! Freedom will never be destroyed— not even in hell, for even there He leaves man the eternal choice of his rebellious will.
   So He did not come down! If He came down He would have made Nazism, Fascism, and Communism before their time. The coming down is the death of love. If He came down, He never would have saved us! It is human to come down. It is divine to hang there!