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Have It Your Way: Autonomy Taken to Postmodern Extremes

Have It Your Way: Autonomy Taken to Postmodern Extremes

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program. | (Photo: Courtesy of Carmen LaBerge)

If you've been listening to cultural commentators, campus activists, and those championing the right of individuals to define their own gender identity, eliminate unwanted children, and any number of other self-defined preferences, then you've heard the word autonomy. And even if you haven't heard the word, you've certainly heard loud advocates of the ideology. Autonomy includes the ideals of self-governance, personal decision-making, and even independence. And those are good! But like any good, when abused and forced to carry burdens beyond its own moral weight, autonomy has become an idol and the individual American self is its god.

Autonomy is the desire to be self-defined, self-directed, self-governed and unbound by any outside forces (family, education, community) that would limit the full expression of the self in whatever way and by whatever means the self chooses to live (or die). It is a worldview that is distinctively self-centered, self-interested, and self-promoting. And it's on the rise in America. On the right, autonomy breeds isolationism, racism, nationalism, and religious arrogance. On the left it breeds confusion and chaos related to identity, sex, marriage, children, work, justice and power.

Autonomy, much like chocolate, is to be enjoyed in the limits of temperance. A certain level of autonomy is necessary to function as mature people who together produce a working democracy. It is right and good for children to grow up, individuate, and live independently, semi-autonomous from their parents. But when taken to post-modern extremes, autonomy produces individuals who have come to believe that the world literally revolves around them. Their identity, wants, preferences, choices, and self-expression is the standard to which all others must bow. This, of course, makes no logical sense and creates the very impossibility of shared values or common life, but to the person who has become the god of their own selfie-culture, logic is an irrelevant social construct designed to limit their freedom. And the autonomous self will not have that!

The lies autonomy tells include:

  • "No one, but you, has the right to tell you who you are, whom to love, how to behave, what to believe, nor how to live."
  • "The external 'they' may have assigned you an arbitrary sex at birth, but they can't dictate that you're a male or female. You are whatever you feel you are, right now, and your identity, sexual expression, and presentation to others can be as fluid as those feelings. 'They' must adapt to the all-important you."
  • "You do not have to conform to some archaic cultural norm of sexual expression. You are free to engage in whatever acts whenever, wherever and with whomever you feel drawn."
  • "You can choose whether or not to have children and you can have them when you want, with whom you want, made to order. You don't have to have any of them you conceive but don't want and don't worry, they're not people in the same way that you're a person. They're not a person until you want them to be considered so."
  • "You are not obligated to take responsibility for the consequences of your ideas nor behavior. You are free to speak your mind and if you don't like what others are saying or the ideas they are advocating, you are free to silence them by whatever means available. You have total freedom of speech and expression but everyone else's freedoms are limited by how you feel because you deserve to be kept safe from ideas which challenge or compete with what you have already determined to be right for you, right now."
  • "When your ideas change, the world must conform. That's just the way it is. And no, you don't have to justify your change of mind because you are, well, you!"

You can see how autonomy sells lies like sexual anarchy, no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, and universal salvation. But can you also see how autonomy sells lies like racial or national supremacy, greed, corruption and social engineering?

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Autonomy is the "have it your way" Burger King advertisement writ large as comprehensive worldview. It's Greek roots are autos, meaning self, and nomos, meaning rule or law. So autonomy, in right proportion, is necessary and good for the functioning of a free society. However, when taken to the extreme it is anarchy. People who worship at the altar of autonomy are living in open anarchy to God's sovereignty, the common good and ultimately the best interest of the self.

God creates us to be free but that freedom is within bounds. Those bounds are enormous: the fullness of who God is, all that He has made, and His righteous ordering of all things. Those are big boundaries! But they are boundaries none-the-less. The autonomous self wants to be free of all bounds, including (and maybe especially) God.

It is God who has made us and we are His.

It is God who created us male and female.

It is God who knit us together in our mothers' wombs.

It is God who measures our life, numbers our days, forgives our iniquities and makes of us a people.

It is God who gives us work and meaning and purpose and destiny and community.

It is God who gave us marriage for the ordering of human life, the birth and nurture of children, and as a structural building block of working society.

It is God who gives us the hope of heaven and the Way of salvation and no one comes to Him but by His own designed, constructed and preserved Cross-road.

You can imagine that you are free of God but you cannot escape the reality of God's reign over the next beat of your heart. God is literally closer to you than your next breath. We are not autonomous and yet, in His grace, God allows us the freedom to imagine and even live as if we are. God so fully respects the freedom of the will with which He created us that God allows us to live as free people – freedom from righteousness, freedom from glory, freedom from blessing, freedom from heaven, freedom from joy, freedom from contentment, freedom from love, freedom from relationship with Him.

If you want to be free of God, like an unbroken wild horse, God will allow you the freedom of your own unbridled head. You can go wherever your own mind leads, into darkness, despair, loneliness, meaninglessness, depression, destruction. You will find willing companions, starting with the Father of lies, who will tempt you with the promise of self-glorification. God will stand ready to redeem whenever you turn, but the further you travel into autonomy's delusion, the harder your heart and stiffer your neck become and the more difficult it is to yield to God.

The Christian life is one of joyful submission, total freedom within the bounds of a restored relationship with God in Jesus Christ. It includes the moment by moment cooperation with the Holy Spirit at work within the believer, bringing one into ever greater conformity with God's design, God's will, God's grace. Through the process of refinement, the mind of Christ is cultivated in the mind of the believer; our hearts reflect more and more the heart of the Father; we freely choose – as totally autonomous people – to do what is right in His eyes because we genuinely desire to bring God joy. We understand that we are not our own and that this is our Father's world. We pray and work to see His Kingdom come and His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Total freedom, within the gracious bounds of God's sovereignty. This is life and He longs that we have it abundantly.

Originally posted at reconnectwithcarmen.com

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Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program, and author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation, to be released September 25th. 

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