Choice, Truth, Authority (Guinness)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization by [Guinness, Os] In his 2016 publication Impossible People, Os Guinness shares some very helpful insight on our cultural situation as it relates to the historic Christian faith.  This is a very good book; I’m sure I’ll mention it here again.  Right now I want to note the section where Guinness gives three examples of the damage modernity has inflicted on the Christian faith and the church.  The first is modernity’s emphasis on choice and preference – an emphasis which “tends to undermine all forms of authority other than its own and replaces them with the sense that all responses are merely a matter of preference.”

“…From breakfast cereals to restaurants to cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen.  Just choose.  Simply choose. Experiment.  Try it out for yourself.  How else will you know unless you have tried it?  After all, there are always others, there is always someone or something more, so unless you try them how are you to know whether you have missed the possible holiday, relationship, or philosophy that might really hit the jackpot.”

“…Even God is reduced to consumer choice, and when truth is taken out of the equation, sticking to one choice is no longer a matter of intellectual conviction but a sign of timidity as well as folly.  Surely, the unspoken adpseak tells us, you should always be open-minded, for the genuine freethinker will always wish to choose and keep choosing, to experiment and keep on experimenting.  Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid.  So long as we can choose, we are free.  Choosing is all that matters.  Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant to the central act and main event: you are the sovereign chooser, and you are free to exercise your sovereign right to choose and choose and choose again in whatever way you like – untill all choices seem the same and each one shrivels into insignificance.”

Guinness does explain this in more detail, which is for sure worth reading, but it’s too long to quote here.  Here’s part of his critique of the “sovereign chooser”:

“When such autonomous, free-choice consumerism washes over society from the shopping mall to the bedroom, the office and the ballot box, the result is predictable.  What will be the price of obedience to authority, and what will be the respect according to principled dissent?  Choice – unbounded autonomous, subjective sovereign individual choice – is the playboy king of consumerland, and with comfort and convenience as his closet courtiers and cronies, he now rules much of life.  Authority and obedience are therefore banished together.  They are the unwelcome spoilsports whose entry might ruin the fantasy game of infinite choices.  The result is no surprise – a grave crisis of authority within the church, and a rash of positions and interpretations that in any clearer thinking generation would be frankly seen as the rejection of the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures that they are.”

Read that last sentence over again.  I think Guinness is exactly right.  Stay tuned for more on this book later….

Os Guinness, Impossible People, p. 69-70.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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