Yesterday’s blog entry, entitled “The Enemy of Our Freedom Is Our Illusion of Freedom,” got so long I decided to wait until today to add further comments. If you’ve not done so already, you might want to read it first.
As reviewer Sophia Rosenfeld (in The Nation, accessed online through aldaily.com 11 Jun 2014) discussed the spate of books on choice and America’s toxic obsession with keeping multiple options open, she noted that only one of the more recent books touched on the idea of virtue. One of the books she reviewed (The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits.
By Kent Greenfield) says that, among other factors, the personal qualities of empathy and humility act as counters to our society’s rush to drown itself in over-choice.
It is a sad sign of how far our culture has strayed from its roots, both Greco-Roman and Hebrew, that few writers in any field today think personal character has any impact on behavior. This causes a blindness which will keep us careening through the obstacles of a society in the turmoil of transformation. And the blindness means that we will make it through the process of change and emerge with a coherent and humane culture only by sheer luck or – as I believe – by the grace of God.
A quarter of a century ago, Stephen Covey noted in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that “success” writing was almost always centered on the development of personal character until after WW I, when appearance and technique began to occupy people’s attention. Since WW II, character has almost completely disappeared from the radar scope of journalists and writers.
One of the awful dimensions of the change in our way of thinking is that the very idea of freedom has been transformed. We tend to think of freedom meaning “without restraint,” rather than as opportunity to do the right thing. We have in mind a “freedom from” without a corresponding “freedom to.” The former is a state of irresponsibility, which by no coincidence has been a major theme in our culture since the fad of recovering repressed memories some twenty years ago. The victim-mentality is itself a form of mental and spiritual disease but has come to be considered one of our basic rights. Those who, while proud of their good qualities, blame others for their problems and flaws, are irresponsible and therefore very childish.
But, some might say, isn’t empowering people to make their own choices the best way to foster a sense of responsibility? Well, the theory may be fine but reality today is so exceedingly complex that enacting the theory is almost impossible. I’m still chuckling all these years later about an ad campaign for Levis which emphasized the two or three styles available and concluded with the line, Be an individual. It is bizarre that someone would try to sell millions of a product with the line Be an individual. That’s exactly what the Levi company didn’t want. They – and a thousand companies like them – want people to feel independent while in fact behaving like sheep.
It is not a well society when a company can make many millions of dollars profit simply by telling people what everyone knows is a bald faced lie.
There are in fact very few meaningful choices we can make in our society but there is one that changes everything: Rather than being enslaved to the fads of the world, we can entrust our lives to God. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, made clean through and through, and given an eternal perspective which frees us to be the persons our Creator intends us to be.
Notice: That may not be the same thing as saying God frees us to be the persons we want to be. More on this tomorrow.