A close cousin of autonomy, and perhaps its motivating force, is freedom.
Much of the story of the 20th Century is one of freedoms gained, whether through social justice (votes for women, end to segregation), social upheaval (free love, relaxation of divorce laws) or just general social change (wider accessibility of travel and communications around the world), many, many of the boundaries placed on life in 1900 had been blown apart by 2000.
Freedom, in many of these things, was about the freedom to please oneself, freedom from commitment, and freedom from the old mores. In the early 21st Century, though, those very freedoms are coming into conflict, as we discover we’ve been freed from all kinds of constraints, but with no idea of what we’ve been freed for.
What is the purpose of all this sexual freedom, or this educational freedom, or this religious freedom? Very often, we end up rushing about trying everything just because we can, with no end goal in mind – we wanted to be free because we felt freedom itself to be desirable, not because we felt the constraints were preventing us from creating the best possible society. If you free a criminal from prison without giving him a vision for living inside the law, he will simply re-offend.
Many of the ‘freedom’ test-cases going through the law over the past months have had about them the ring of a two-year-old testing the boundaries of his life to see what he can get away with; he doesn’t necessarily want to stay up past bedtime, or eat all the cookies, or throw his dinner on the floor, but he wants to find out what will happen if he does – does mum really mean ‘don’t do that’? Will there really be dire consequences?
We’ve told ourselves there is no God, and thus no eternal consequence for our actions. Therefore, the only rules which make sense to us are those of which we can see the immediate consequences: murder is wrong because it negatively affects an innocent person and his/her family. Adultery is wrong if you’re the wronged spouse, but actually, if you’re the one who was unhappy in the marriage, and not being utterly fulfilled by your spouse, then what objection could there possibly be to you finding satisfaction elsewhere? The vows you took in church don’t really mean anything, in this day and age you’re free to get your needs met wherever and however you can.
If you’re not convinced both that the purpose of a restriction is (thoroughly, in all ways and at all times) good and that the consequences of breaking it are real and negative, what possible motivation could you have for keeping it?
So we throw our dinner on the floor, then wonder why we’re hungry; we eat all the cookies, then wonder why we feel sick; and we stay up long past bedtime, then wonder why we feel grouchy and out-of-sorts the next day, and nothing seems to go right.
That’s fine when you’re two years old, but if you don’t learn from those mistakes, recognise the patterns and begin to change them, you remain immature, swayed by every impulse, unable ever to make wise decisions to benefit your own life or the lives of others.
We’re living like two-year-olds – or perhaps like teenagers who are doing the same but who should be old enough by now to apply reason to their situations and from whom the irrational behaviour is therefore far less excusable.
God’s vision of freedom is freedom to serve one another, and freedom to live according to His (thoroughly, in all ways and at all times) good law, and freedom to worship Him in spirit and in truth. We need to understand that God’s laws are good and for a purpose, and we need to envision our culture with the idea that living well means living in a world whose laws we are subject to, and rebellion against those laws brings not release but bondage.