Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Art of Choice P. I

What choice will you make?
It occurs to me that everybody is an anarchist. There isn't a person alive who doesn't freely exercise choice between alternatives. Even those within the most oppressive political climates make choices every day, choices that compel them toward whatever is in their best interest in the moment. And those of us who live in freer political situations have no more freedom than the oppressed: we simply have less to fear from the consequences of our choices.

Anarchy, when distilled to its most sedimentary concept, simply means "rulerless," or "leaderless." This is a way of being that all of us accept in our day-to-day, mundane lives. You don't have to go to work: you choose to go to work. You don't have to research your paper for university; you choose to. You don't have to scoop your dog's droppings from the lawn; you choose to. You rule your own life on your own terms. You, as an agent of action, choose between the alternatives available to you. Even when things are chosen for you, you compel yourself to accept or reject the choice made for you.

So why do people feel so beholden to have their choices made for them? I'm thinking specifically of churches now. The religious person, it seems, accepts the choices of her predecessors--no! she chooses the choices of her predecessors when she chooses the particular brand of Christianity she will participate in. The Catholic convert can only be accepted by her socio-ecclesial circle if, like the rest of them, she chooses to accept the doctrinal choices chosen (often) 1600+ before her existence.

She may choose trinitarianism, but quietly nod at Arianism. Yet to air her innermost, her truest choice, she would be summarily forced to decide between alternative punishments for her free-thinking assent: recant or be excommunicated. So while she thinks she may be making a choice for Catholicism, by choosing a certain expression of Christianity, her mind has been decided for her long before she arrived at confirmation class. She is anarchist essentially, and Catholic positionally.

This is the juggernaut we are all (in a bitter irony) forced to face when we consider our participation in society and social infrastructure: to get along, we must go along. In order to be, we must be ordered. But we are not to order ourselves; we are not to freely compel ourselves. In religion, as in politics, we are late on the scene; we are to content ourselves in the same pasture, not choose the pasture we know we will feel most content in. Doing so, naturally, makes one anarchistic (leaderless) and heretical (literally, "able to choose").

And since we freely choose between alternatives in mundane ways all day (every day), we must certainly be incapable of choosing in extraordinary ways on any day, yes? The logic doesn't follow, I know. But before I explore this topic any further, ask yourself this question: are you choosing the life you want, or wanting to choose a life that is you?

I'm interested in thinking through this with you, if you're willing.

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