Now the Lord is spirit and where the spirt of the lord is, there is freedom.
—2 Corinthians 3:17
It seems as if the most important “rights” issue of our times is freedom of choice. Whether it be politics, sexuality, consumerism, abortion, euthanasia or gender identification, we appear to be addicted to having unlimited choice. Correspondingly, there is a rampant individualism that maintains the world is “all about me” and my unalienable right to have anything I desire. Every time I read a news story about some new right of “choice,” I shake my head and wonder, “where did this kind of thinking come from?”
Freedom of consumerism
The popular notion of free choice supposes that
- first, we must have the freedom to make a given choice,
- second, our culture will provide a multitude of choice options.
Here’s a benign example: the variety of food choices seen at a supermarket. We take it for granted that we have the right to have a cornucopia of food choices. Yet, historically this is not a freedom of choice that has been available to most people. I recall going to a market in a small town in Poland during the Cold War and seeing empty shelves or a shelf with just one kind of canned beans. Mankind has survived for centuries with limited options for choice of foods.
Freedom of sexual choice
In my lifetime I have seen an expansion of freedom of choice not only for foods, but also in more important situations. The sexual revolution initiated in the 1960s was based on freedom of choice for unlimited sexual partners and birth control methods. “No fault divorce’ added to the variety of options by making it easier to divorce and remarry as often as one wants. The Roe versus Wade 1973 decision legalizing abortion helped abortion to gain widespread acceptance. The gradual acceptance and promotion of all kinds of sexual relationships, including homosexual ones, has culminated in the legalization of same-sex marriages. Given the way freedom of choice expands for a given issue, other kinds of marriage options (to animals, polygamy etc.) would appear to be on the horizon.
Freedom to choose our being and nature
The gender identity issue is the next step in the sexual revolution expressed as freedom of choice. The notion that one can self-identify one’s gender based on some emotional whim or thought has pushed freedom of choice to a freedom to be irrational. Add to that is the research that is being done to make “designer babies”, mixed species (human and animal), mixed human and machine (transhumanism) and the only conclusion that can be made is the world has gone mad. It is madness in the name of freedom of choice and individuality.
In searching articles and books in attempt to understand what has and is happening, two authors that I have found most helpful are Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia (Strangers in a Strange Land) and Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option). They provide some useful insights into the phenomenon our culture is experiencing.
Cultural change and a new view of human nature
These books show that there has been a gradual cultural change over the last several centuries, a change that has led to a new view of the human person and human nature. The western culture that emerged through the Middle Ages was, until recent times, a social/communal and family oriented society with a worldview anchored in the Judeo-Christian notion of a transcendent God, a worldview that justifies morality, beliefs and rights. There was a strong sense of interpersonal and intergenerational duty, indebtedness and obligations.
The so-called “modern” worldview has gradually changed that outlook. Whether labeled as progressivism, liberalism or relative secularism/humanism, this modern worldview asserts the importance of unbridled freedom for the individual to be autonomous. Developments in science and technology have been used to degrade the transcendent vision of God and mankind’s relationship to Him. This new worldview maintains that humans can create the world in their own image and for their own benefit. A new kind of human being is defined, one who believes that science and technology can give us everything we want. With that worldview, personal fulfillment and the throw-away culture express freedom of choice to the fullest.
Many say that worldviews are gray with no “right or wrong” system of ethics. However, we have to draw black and white lines to see more clearly what is happening if we hope to address the issues facing us. The extreme freedom of choice scenarios fostered in our culture are only extensions of a worldview that negates the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic. It is a contrast between the view that God created man and the view that man is his own god and creates him/herself, as shown in all the particular beliefs below:
- God created man—Man is his own god
- God created the world—The world is an accident
- God created life and man—Life and man is the result of random variation
- Life has meaning and purpose—Life has no meaning except survival
- There is a sacredness and value to life—Human life is only of value based on utility
- Man has freedom of choice to follow God’s Plan—Man has freedom to define him/herself as he/she sees fit
- History of the world is salvation/covenant with God—History of the world is evolution and the march of technology
- There is no higher authority than God and the Natural Law—There is no higher authority than man
- Man interprets the Natural Law of God—Man makes the law
- Serving our fellow man is part of our responsibility to God— Serve our fellow man only if it helps our own well being
- Man does not reach full potential if God’s plan is not followed—man does not reach full potential if technology is not adequate
- Our potential is limited by our sin—Our potential is limited only by what we think it should be
For you were called to freedom, brethren only do not use your freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants to one another.