“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.” Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei p. 54
Liberty, equality, brotherhood. That was the formula of the French Revolution. And though these words never appear explicitly in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, they are an implicit part of American Heritage. On July 4th, the United States celebrated the belief that equality and freedom undergird the fraternity of our
great Republic. On July 5th, Pope Francis published the above text. It is something of a buzz kill to say the least.
I don’t know if the timing was intentional, coincidental or just providential. Perhaps it was a strange amalgam of all three. Nonetheless, it has worked a revolution in my own thought. Is it true to say that equality and liberty, while good, are not good enough? Is it good politics, much less good theology, to suggest that a free and democratic society can still fall short of brotherhood? Forget all those criticisms about atheists looking for God and girls having their feet washed: this is the kind of statement that should launch Pope Francis into the heart of controversy! It is fortunate thing that he hid it away in an encyclical, since, to my knowledge, no member of the media has every actually read one in it’s entirety. Had Francis tweeted the statement “Freedom ≠ brotherhood. #faith,” I’m certain that the press would have had a ﬁeld day with it.
Yet, I will leave off speculating about the press here. The American press has not enough gall to start a revolution these days, and starting a revolution is precisely what I am interested in doing. Allow me to explain: our country is supposed to derive its greatness from freedom and equality. The Pope says that these principles are not enough. He invokes faith as the fundamental principle. I do not think that he is suggesting that freedom is useless and that we need to return to an theocracy. I do not even think that what he is saying runs counter to the Constitution (though it does possibly overstate what that document merely hinted at). After all, the brotherhood-by-equality ideal is no where mentioned in the explicit legislation of our founding fathers. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are mentioned, and they are mentioned on the ﬁrst lines of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech ensures faith in others. Freedom of religion ensures faith in God. What Pope Francis is saying, far from raining on our parades and ﬁreworks, is that brotherhood must be founded on something greater than freedom. He was looking to set our sights on things higher than even equality. I believe that the revolution he was attempting to inspire looks more like 32AD than 1776.
The faith of the founding fathers went unspoken in much (though not all) of their explicit legislation. Perhaps it is time to amend that. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the vague social scruples of enlightenment era politicians and codify what they merely hinted at.
Or perhaps not.
I am no lawyer or politician. I admit that I do not know the best way to translate this theology into social change. All I can say is that it must be translated into social change soon or any semeblence of “brotherhood” that exists in this nation will begin to be torn at the seams. For too long, our country has justiﬁed acts of violence, racism and injustice by reserving too much power to the “local and individual liberty.” Freedom is good, but an absolute freedom that aborts children and lynches minorities in the name of “personal freedoms” has been the stigma of our nation’s history.
I, for one, believe that it is time to move away from an interpretation of the Constitution focused purely on freedom and equality. There must be explicit acknowledgement of the Creator on which are founded these unalienable rights. Until there is, we will remain under the thumb of a very civilized and bureaucratic mob rule.