The Lens of Autonomy

As we take in air as we breathe, we cannot help but take in the cultural atmosphere in which we live. Yes, we all are soaked to the eyeballs with secular ideas which we think are normal and natural as mother’s milk. It is only with great effort that we can disengage ourselves; an effort that can be styled as a fight for our very lives. No, I am not being overly dramatic.

The lens that we wish to expose in this post is the lens of autonomy. This word is made up of two Greek words “autos” which means “self” and “on” which is a participle meaning “being.” An autonomous being is a “self being.” In enlightenment thought, it is our natural right to be autonomous. What is meant here is that we must be free to make our own choices without any reference to an external authority, especially God, Church, or Scripture. Our “self” is the true reference point. Granted, we cannot do anything that would directly harm others, for this would be unsociable. Western Democracies are now crumbling because it cannot manage their hosts of autonomous beings. Who or what can herd the cats? We see that the situation in the church frightfully parallels the society at large.

The great confusion has got to do with the idea of freedom and how it relates to autonomy. The Modern/postmodern world has confused freedom with autonomy. The Bible and the Church fathers present freedom as a gift from God, an aspect of the image of God in us. We can become autonomous with this gift of freedom by choosing sin. This is what Adam and Eve chose to do with it. When we do this, we become slaves of sin and self. Autonomy is therefore not freedom, for it leads us into slavery to self, having our own way rather than God’s way. True freedom is a paradox. We freely submit our wills to God … and then we find ourselves growing into freedom over the course of time. Freedom is the power to turn our wills to the good, the true, and the beautiful. Freedom is not autonomy. The enlightenment has declared that freedom is ours by right as autonomous beings. We have drunk deeply from this infernal chalice.

When we take stock of ourselves, can we say that we are truly free, or is their within us a dark streak of autonomy? Have we confused autonomy with freedom like our culture does? When we hear the Word preached, are we listening with a critical spirit (see post above on this), as if we are the final arbiters of what is true, weighing what is said by how we feel about things? If we do not like what is said or done at one church, do we simple get up and go to another? Do we really submit ourselves to a rigorous discipleship with spiritual mentors that have authority to speak truth into our lives? Are we really accountable to anyone? Do we let anyone really close to us? Do we hide in big churches? Are we growing into Christian freedom or are we stuck in our own autonomy? We might think that we are disciples because of our conversion experience and think we are biblical because we read the Bible at times and go to Bible believing church. But do we hear what we want to hear, and read what we want to read? In the end, we are so often left to our own autonomous selves; we simply trust ourselves as competent judges to figure things out. This may be the American way, but it is certainly not the way of true Christian discipleship.

Could it be that we Christians are guilty of the same mindset of our godless culture? If so, what should we do about it?

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