Have you ever heard someone say the following: "I don't care what other people think." Of course you have! Nearly every American claims to be a rugged individualist who is indifferent to the opinions of others. Their belief in personal autonomy frees them from those limits imposed by custom and even the regard of others—or so they say.
The truth is that our culture is not comprised of self-reliant cowboys. Instead, it is a "herd of independent minds" slavishly trying to keep up with the latest trends and fads and fashions—terrified of being out-of-step and passé.
That truth was identified hundreds of years ago by the seventeenth-century theologian François Fénelon.
Fénelon's work Christian Perfection is the subject of Ken Boa's latest teaching in his "Great Books Audio CD" series. As I have said many times on "BreakPoint," Boa's insights make the truly great books of Western Christendom accessible to modern Christians. And his teaching on Fénelon's Christian Perfection is no exception.
Christian Perfection is a collection of Fénelon's spiritual correspondence. He wrote to many people from all stations of life: from French nobility to ordinary people.
The subject of this correspondence was what, in Fénelon's estimation, "men stand most in need of . . . the knowledge of God." By "knowledge," Fénelon did not mean that which they knew "by dint of reading," although that was important.
As Boa points out, Fénelon meant the kind of "knowledge" that produced "a well-ordered life," "virtue," and "uprightness of heart" that are "as far above temporal goods as the heavens are above the earth."
Fénelon dedicated his life to gaining this knowledge of God for himself and for others. One of those "others" was the 7-year-old Duke of Burgundy, grandson of King Louis XIV. Under Fénelon's tutelage, the young Duke was transformed from a "holy terror," destined to become a tyrant, into a young man of virtue and Christian devotion. Indeed, if the Duke had lived long enough to become king, it might have changed the entire course of Western history.
During his lifetime, Fénelon knew what it was like to exercise great influence and have important friends. He also knew what it was like to be stripped of his influence and have those same friends abandon him. Shortly after being consecrated an Archbishop, he was sentenced to internal exile.
He was able to overcome the loss of everything because he was, in the words of those who knew him, "dead to vanity." Instead, Fénelon focused on receiving "from moment to moment whatever it pleases God to give us."
You see, for Fénelon, the path to true freedom was the "cultivation of a will that wants, without reservation, everything that [God] wants"—what Fénelon called a "simple will."
Only those possessing a "simple will" can truly not care what others think of them—not because they are anti-social, but because their "self-esteem" is not rooted in the fleeting regard of others, but in their confidence in God's providence. They know that they are who and what God intends for them to be.
This, and not what today we call personal autonomy, is where true freedom is found—no matter what our neighbors think.
From BreakPoint®, March 25, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship