What do you think when you hear the word “freedom?”
The average person might consider several ideas. One might be that you are “free” to choose what you do, day in and day out. Another thought may be the concept of America, a country commonly considered as the standard bearer of freedom in the world. Or perhaps your idea of freedom leads you to think about the Bill of Rights and all the protections that it has for American citizens.
One thing you probably didn’t think about was virtue — the idea that if you seek to be the most virtuous person that you can be, you will truly be free.
I study at a very conservative, Catholic university in Ohio called Franciscan University of Steubenville. While conservative students at the University of California, Berkeley are constant targets of discrimination and suffer through liberal bias from their professors, I have been protected from that.
One might think that a college with such a conservative bent among the students and faculty would result in an echo chamber and an indoctrination similar to that which occurs on other college campuses across the country, but I believe this could not be further from the truth. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in my two and a half years at Franciscan is the ability to think critically, and as a result, understand what true freedom means.
The truly free person is the individual who seeks out excellence and virtue in everything he or she does. In the mission that I currently work to fulfill as a student, the goal is to excel at my studies. If I do not excel because I choose not to apply myself to the best of my ability, I become a slave to my failure. There is nothing freeing about self-inflicted failure, and it will weigh on me until I make up for it.
In a beautifully written essay, "A Better Concept of Freedom," author George Weigel provides this explanation of freedom in excellence.
“Freedom is the capacity to choose wisely and to act well as a matter of habit—or, to use the old-fashioned term, as an outgrowth of virtue. Freedom is the means by which, exercising both our reason and our will, we act on the natural longing for truth, for goodness, and for happiness that is built into us as human beings.”
Now Weigel didn’t come up with this idea. It originated from one of the greatest philosophical minds in history, Thomas Aquinas, who believed that freedom was “the great organizing principle of the moral life.”
According to Weigel, the natural extension of this perspective is that “since the very possibility of a moral life (the capacity to think and choose) is what distinguishes the human person from the rest of the natural world, freedom is the great organizing principle of a life lived in a truly human way.”
The common phrase “the truth will set you free” perhaps illustrates this the most. How many times have you heard that? In my own experience, it was quite a bit, and that’s because it’s fundamentally true.
The life choices that one makes, especially early in their adult life, can make or break the lifelong goal of attaining truth, goodness, and happiness. If an individual does not seek to be the best in the eyes of society, and in the eyes of God, they will never achieve true freedom and will forever be enslaved to their failures and their moments of indifference. While they had the free will to choose what was right, they will forever be enslaved to their poor choices and the negative consequences that accompany them.
Throughout history, the individuals that have been truly successful and happy are the ones who sought to be the best people that they could be in all facets of life. But now, we live in a time where culture says it’s okay to constantly make excuses as to why we can’t do something or why we require certain accommodations before we do the right thing. This is nonsense; as we know, “the truth will set you free.”
I may be biased, but I believe that the education that I am receiving at my small, faithfully Catholic university is perhaps more applicable to a successful life, both professionally and in the home, than a degree from Harvard or Yale or most anywhere else.
Jeremiah Poff (@JJ_Poff) is a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville where he studies Journalism and Human Life Studies. He is fluent in Spanish and he also writes for The College Fix.