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Religious Freedom III: what are duties?

Thomas Kadmon, ICR

Photo courtesy of Aeon

The two vectors of freedom have been identified: freedom from as well as freedom to. We have seen that rights have to do with freedom from coercion - wider, external social coercion. The other part of the equation is duties, which have to do with freedom to follow the moral law.

Duties come from freely chosen adherence to the moral law.

One cannot compel duty, since by its nature it must be freely undertaken. It arises out of the desire or will to fulfil the requirements set by the Creator for us humans. The perverse misunderstanding that rights are permissions granted by society, leads to the view that duties consist in fulfilling the 'conditions for freedom' set by the powerful. The power elite act in concert, whether as a biomedical security state, a military-industrial complex, a fascist or communist totalitarian regime. To understand what fulfilling the power elite's 'conditions for freedom' is about, simply recall the way people were treated during the pandemic. They were coerced into getting vaccinated more than once in order to work, transact in the public square, go to pubs, restaurants etc. Some may find such a state of affairs acceptable, believing the authorities have their best interest at heart. Those who repudiate the trade off, reject the conditions as infringing basic rights, and impugn the authorities, must find a true authority and set of conditions underpinning freedom. Putting not their faith in 'princes', they turn to the Creator; and seek to fulfil his conditions, i.e. to follow the moral law.

Which moral law?

For the interfaith-minded, the question of which moral law may arise, as well as how to adjudicate between competing moral systems. For those situated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the moral law may involve the Ten Commandments and Jesus' epitomisation of the law: love God, and love thy neighbour as thyself. He also said 'love one another as I have loved you'. Consequently, following the moral law might boil down to loving like Jesus. Of course, people can argue what that looks like. Would Jesus be pro or anti 'gay love'? Other traditions have their moral law too. Is violence in Islam's DNA, or is it a religion of peace? Who wants to sort that one out? It is sometimes suggested that the Golden Rule could be a distillation of what's shared by all faith traditions: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Is it then okay to be a sadist and build a sado-masochistic society? Is it okay to be perverted or abusive and desire to receive the same treatment from others? Some think abortion is a basic right. Indeed, a number of Jewish organisations claimed that right as a fundamental value of their religion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade. Traditional Christian morality, however, denounces abortion as the killing of the unborn. Such extreme contradiction boggles the mind around freedom and morality.

One man's right defines another man's duty

If you have a right to life, I have a duty not to kill you. If you have a right to own property, I have a duty not to steal it. If you have a right to matrimonial union, I have a duty not to violate that by, fo example, introducing infidelity. If you have a right to worship God, I have a duty not to persecute you for it. If you have a right to free thought and speech in pursuit of truth, I have the duty not to 'cancel' or arbitrarily silence you without mounting a rational response; and I have the duty not to bear false witness against you. Drawing the key reflections together, we know that duty is freedom to follow the Creator's moral law. We also see that people would seem to have reciprocal rights and duties towards one another. Therefore, duty involves our relating both to God and our fellow man. Not surprisingly, Jesus' summing up of the moral law is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Loving God is giving witness that He is the source of our freedoms; no other source can replace it. Loving one's neighbour as oneself entails the reciprocal respect of rights and duties.


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