Liberty vs. Responsibility

When I started my first job out of graduate school, I remember thinking that I had finally arrived at adulthood. I had a great job, a healthy salary, and no more classes. I recall at the time, realizing that I could now do almost anything I wanted because I was no longer a poor grad student. If I wanted to go skiing, eat a box of Oreos, go out to a bar to listen to a band, or eat at a nice restaurant, I had the means to satisfy my desires. Sure, I had a few bills to pay and a few responsibilities, but they were pretty minor compared to my new found liberties.

Werriam-Webster defines liberty as “1. the state or condition of people who are able to act and speak freely. 2. the power to do or choose what you want to.” Here in the United States, as in much of the world, we value liberty. But liberty, without concern for others, is selfishness, which is not exactly a virtue. Eventually, my carefree lifestyle took on responsibilities by virtue of marriage, fatherhood, and buying a house. I now had to consider the needs of others alongside my own wants and needs and I learned to balance liberty with responsibility.

Likewise, as a responsible citizen, I now consider more than my family’s immediate pleasure, more than our wants and needs. We consider how our actions affect the common good and our common home, the earth. And as good Christians, we also consider how our actions and inactions affect the poor, the young, and those who will stand to inherit the earth from us.

While we may believe that no one, including “the government” should be able to restrict our liberties, our burning of fossil fuels, our consumption of food, water, and goods, our dumping of waste, or even our decision not to wear a mask in public during a pandemic, the reality is that all of these things adversely affect others and the common home we share with all of creation and those who will come after us. 

It’s long past time to debate the science of climate change. The science is in and it is abundantly clear that we can no longer continue to exercise our freedoms without any sense of responsibility. 

In May of 2015, Pope Francis stated “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.” The time to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is now. The time to elect leaders who will put the promises of COP 26 into action is now. In October of 2021, Pope Francis and dozens of religious leaders signed the Joint Appeal which stated “Now is the time for urgent, radical and responsible action.”

Working together, we can help take care of our common home. 
Paul Litwin

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