Anything You Want
“True freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want, but the ability to do what you ought.” - Pope John Paul II
The other day I was watching a Blue’s Clues video with my little brother. In the video all those queer little characters were getting ready for a big music show—the “You Can Be Anything You Want To Be Show” in fact. It grated on me the wrong way from the beginning, but when, at the end, they started singing the song: “I can be anything that I want to be . . . I can do anything that I want to do”, I was officially roused. Since then, I’ve seen a Richard Scarry’s movie that promoted the same thing—the idea that you can be anything you want to be. And this isn’t the first time I’ve come upon this. Now, you might say they’re just harmless little kids’ videos—and I’d agree that, at first sight, they certainly appear that way; a little annoying perhaps, but harmless. And yet, you have to wonder.
I’m not saying there’s any danger in encouraging children to think about their particular likes and talents, and contemplate what careers they might like to pursue. The danger comes in with the “anything you want” part of the phrase. Take out the “anything” even—the “you want” is the core. The danger comes in here. Once you arrive at “you can be anything you want to be”, the line between that and “you can do anything you want to do” is so fine that it’s almost indiscernible. And that idea (you can do anything you want to do) is life-threatening—in every possible sense of the word.
We live in a culture that promotes this life-threatening idea vigorously. Slogans such as: “Look out for number one”, “listen to your heart”, “you only live once”, “if it feels good, do it”, “we can’t impose our morality”, “we must be tolerant”, “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy”, and similar hooey is so thick around us we can’t help but breathe it in. Hollywood’s whole ‘religion’ (if one could call it that, and dare to connect those two words) is “follow your dreams.” And—tragic as it is—I’m apt to believe that nothing, here in America, has such an effect on us, is so completely able to sway our opinions and our behavior, is so in control of our culture as Hollywood and the entertainment world.
I observe that if there’s one thing all those great men and women of history learned about evil, it was that evil is both sly and relentless. It has to be, or it would never make it. (You’d think we’d learn from them. But that’s another thing I observe—we contemporary humans do a very poor job of learning from history.) Well, evil’s got one over on us, then, because it hasn’t changed. It’s still sly and it’s still relentless. It comes in masked as happiness, as courage, as creativity, as broad-mindedness, as tolerance. It’s so sly it manages to make us forget that tolerance of evil is an evil in itself, that broad-mindedness is only commendable if it corresponds with prudence, that creativity is not higher than the moral tradition, that courage is only truly courageous when we’re pursuing right, that happiness is immaterial. Slowly, little by little, the boundaries are stretched, the line is inched out, the rules are relaxed; exceptions are allowed, and soon the exceptions become the rule. And we forget that “difficult cases are opportunities for us to exercise heroic compassion, not to subvert the moral law” (Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, “Beginning Apologetics 5, How to Answer Tough Moral Questions”).
Ah, yes. The moral law. Do we even know what it is, anymore? No. We’ve forgotten. And it wasn’t too difficult, because we didn’t want to remember. We didn’t want to remember that God is the Supreme Judge of what is right and wrong. We continue to pretend we can make man this final judge—but we will only continue to fall into our own pits. And while we’re falling, time is wasted, consciences are blunted, minds are confused, lives are lost. Will our children, who grew up watching Blue’s Clues and gradually believing themselves invincible, carry on in this same degenerate way? Will our children move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and think nothing of it? Will our children find it all too easy to do away with the new life God sends them to protect and cherish? Will our children help to turn marriage into a twisted political agenda and defame the sacredness of this ancient, beautiful, God-given state? And, supposing we reprimand them, maybe they will they answer back—“Yeah, well, I can do anything I want to do…” “I’m following my dreams, Mom…” “That’s all very well and good for you, but you can’t impose your personal convictions on me. I’m my own master. I’m going to listen to my own heart.” And maybe you’ll remember that one video, or that one song they used to play all the time on the radio, or that one book you had—about happiness and following your dreams . . .
Will our world never get the message that St. Francis was teaching way back in the 1200s? That happiness—real happiness—can’t be found in doing whatever we want to. We are meant to live in accord with the will of God, and we won’t ever be content until we’ve found our place, our purpose in time, the role God created us to fill—until we follow that. God is all-good, and God alone. God is the ultimate authority. Man rebels. But rebellion against the Creator of the Universe is as brainless as it is ineffective. So centuries roll by, and man wastes his time dancing on castles in the sand.
Well, I’m asking you to think on it. Dare to be silent a moment, and to look inside yourself. Dare to form an opinion. Dare to waken your conscience and listen to it, God’s voice within you. Dare to admit that God is God, and man is a product of God’s loving mercy.
I’ll end with a quote from a forward, by Janet E. Smith, in my apologetics book. It’s a challenge, what it says about Christians—a challenge to live up to this:
“Christians are not afraid of sacrifice and suffering. They will deny themselves much to care for the poor; they will risk persecution to defend the innocent; they will endure mockery for loving their enemies. Catholic teaching on tough moral questions sometimes requires heroism: sticking with a difficult marriage can be heroic, remaining chaste both within and outside of marriage can be heroic, enduring a lingering burdensome illness can be heroic.”
Admitting to a higher authority can be heroic, too. Our children need heroes; our churches need heroes; our country needs heroes. The world needs heroes. Let’s not let them down.