In America, choice itself has become our god. We worship freedom of choice. We worship the individual will to make choices for ourselves. The words of Isaiah the prophet are haunting in this day and age.
“Each has turned to his own way.”
We call this “freedom.”
As author David Bentley Hart has written about freedom today,
“Freedom is the power of choice rather than the ends the individual might choose.
The power of choosing itself is liberty…
Neither God, then, nor nature, nor reason provides the measure of an act’s true liberty, for an act is free only because it might be done in defiance of all three…
We have a pronounced tendency in society at large less to judge the laudability of particular choices by reference to the worthiness of their objects than to judge objects worthy solely because they have been chosen.”
In other words, the only thing sacred is to choose whatever I want as an individual, regardless of what impact this will have on my life or society at large.
“Each has turned to it’s own way.”
For my parent’s generation it was different. They still had a grand story that believed in right and wrong, good and evil, and sacrificing for the sake of others. They followed the grand story of Jesus and his ways, or at least they were haunted by it enough to stake their claim on the story.
The results are in. My parent’s generation overcame the great Depression of the 30’s, and then saved the world from unfathomable evil in the 40’s in WW 2. Well, that took three and a half years. This generation, sometimes called the Builders or the “Greatest” generation, believed in something bigger than themselves. Now, like all human beings, my parent’s generation had many flaws and failures, probably no greater than not passing on the grand story to my generation, the Baby Boomers, who cut our teeth in the 50’s and came of age in the 60’s. Somehow, we lost the sense of the grand story, we lost a big enough drama to bring us a sense of meaning and purpose that would last and cause us to thrive. We were called the “Me” generation.
Is it shocking to discover that my generation, the one who followed, the “Baby Boomers” would have a price to pay for the loss of a grand sense of meaning and purpose in our lives? Well, what do you think?
More and more for my generation, it is the freedom to choose to do what I want that became the ultimate good. The freedom to buy more and more, the freedom to tune in or tune out, the freedom to do my own thing. And when my will becomes supreme over the will of the source of all creation, there is a terrible price to pay. And we are paying it.
Just one example, Baby Boomers are diagnosed with 10 times more severe depression per capita than my parent’s generation.
And the generations that follow mine are rampant with a loss of meaning and purpose that addictions and consumerism continues to try to fill. The will to choose is now supreme, regardless of how this affects society in general.
Hart says two things happen as a result of individual choice itself being supreme. First we become a society of consumers.
“We give in to a fairly banal kind of liberty, no more- though no less- significant than a consumer’s freedom to choose among the different kinds of bread, shoes, televisions, political parties, or religions.”
“When one considers our culture’s devotion to acquisition, celebrity, distraction, and therapy, it is hard not to think perhaps our vision as a people has narrowed to the smaller preoccupations and desires of individual selves, and that our whole political, social, and economic existence is oriented toward that reality.”
Yes, we are better in one way because we don’t have the miseries of our ancestors and we can gratefully embrace the triviality of media, social media, and shopping.
This consumerism and distracting ourselves because we have lost any sense of meaning and purpose is one result of choice itself being supreme.
What are ways we distract ourselves today?