Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Free to be?
Even in somewhat orthodox churches, the elephant in the room that dare not be acknowledged is that we defer to the autonomy of self over just about everything else in life. Our children are being schooled in this philosophy in nearly every aspect of public education, the media has painted this as the most important cause for us and for our society, and our culture parades it as the ultimate goal of our lives and the shape of our pursuit of happiness. It would be foolish to suggest that even in orthodox Christian congregations the folks in the pews are somehow immune from the influence or temptation of this pernicious lie. Survey after survey suggests that the world is doing a better job of peddling the illusion of the autonomous self than the church is doing of speaking of submission to Christ, family, and neighbor.
What modern man has come to define as freedom is a life without restrictions, duties, or obligation except to the self. So the university's job is to provide an atmosphere in which the student is free from encountering anything that might offend their autonomous self or challenge this idea of freedom. The ultimate goal of the sexual revolution is sex without procreation, without commitment, without judgment, without obligation, even without definition (the gender of the moment), and without the surrender of any of the autonomous self in the process. Abortion is where this is confronted but it is not the big issue. Women to men to children to youth to feminist to GLBTQ, personal autonomy must rule over all things. The end result of this is not community but isolation, not connection but individuality, and the personal space of the screen in your hand has become the domain in which this freedom is lived out most of all.
Christianity is not fighting against abortion but against a false and misleading dream of freedom which is, in reality, our greatest prison. It was this idea that hid behind Eve's hand reaching for the fruit and Adam's willingness to join in the first sin and it was this that showed itself when they saw each other for the people they had become. Perhaps it was near enough to God so that they still cared about their conscience enough to run and hide and deflect the blame when God came calling. Today, it seems, we live under no such illusions that personal autonomy needs to be hidden or that we might be embarrassed about the idea of personal freedom which presumes we are gods.
What Christianity has become is the tepid water of a baptism which has only the power to affirm what comes to that water, absolution which declares the sinner just because there is no such thing as sin, a Eucharist in which we eat what we think it is and drink what we want it to be, and a Bible which has only the vaguest direction for our lives except to tell us God wants us to be happy, to enjoy and indulge our desires, and to be free to deal with the consequences however we feel is right at the moment. This is the shadow that threatens to engulf Christian preaching and teaching and against which we must stand resolute. God has spoken. We repeat back to Him what He has said. The Spirit is at work in the speaking. In baptism the walking dead are killed once for all so that they may be made completely new in Christ. In confession we speak of the daily battle with the old Adam still in us and the Christ who is also in us so that guilt and sin may not imprison us still. In the Sacrament of the Altar we come not only to eat and drink but to discern and appreciate the foretaste of the heavenly and eternal feast. For this battle, worship and catechesis are not less important but centrally so, for without them we are too easily surrendered to the idea that what God wants is what we want, that is, for the full enjoyment of our personal freedom so that we think, say, and do as we please.