Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Paradox of Choice: Freedom, Choice, & Fruit

Freedom and choice seem to logically go together. In order to have freedom, in some sense, there must be some choice available to me. Choice in our culture has become a sacred right, not a means to responsible freedom. In the message at NewSong this week we covered Galatians 5 (Listen to Message). I suggested—though not original with me, many others have made the observation—Paul demonstrates that the follower of Christ possesses four (4) freedoms: 1) Freedom to love, 2) Freedom by the Spirit, 3) Freedom from slavery to sin, and 4) Freedom to/for transformation. The coin of freedom has two sides, a positive and negative side: freedom from (negative, not in that it is ‘bad’ but that we are free from something) and freedom to/for (positive, we may or can choose some action X or Y). These freedoms should result in the what the Bible calls “fruit” in our lives. Fruit is the resulting character virtue(s) that make us Christ-like from the inside-out. One culturally embedded obstacle to growing this fruit is “choice” oddly enough. It is not that choice itself is bad but the particular presumptions we have about choice and the unintended consequences to our lives that results from a culture of choice. This is what some sociologists have titled “the paradox of choice”.
The paradox of choice is that it becomes “the tyranny of choice.” Barry Schwarz in his powerful book The Paradox of Choice exhorts that we need to love constraints saying, “As the number of choices we face increases, freedom of choice eventually becomes a tyranny of choice.” As we decide to follow a rule (e.g. wearing a seat belt) we avoid having to make a deliberate decision again and again. This kind of rule-following frees up time and attention that can be devoted to thinking about choices and decisions to which rules don’t apply.
Schwarz observes in a section of his book entitled Choosing How to Pray that we “religion consumers” shop in the market until we find what we like. Even when people join communities of faith and embrace at least some of the communities practices they simultaneously expect the communities to be responsive to their, needs, their tastes, and their desires.
We who follow Jesus and ‘walk in step with his Spirit’ (Gal. 5) would be served well by examining our understanding of freedom, reflect on how we view and engage choice, and take times in solitude and prayer before God to see if we are growing our ‘fruit’ well.

George Haraksin
Pastor of Christian Formation
NewSong Church

1 comment:

  1. A friend from India once told me that he thought he understood why Americans (in general) seemed to be more unhappy than Indians (in general). He said that we have too much freedom, too much luxury, too many options available to us at all times. So instead of learning to be content with and make the best of our circumstances, we are constantly evaluating our options, second-guessing our choices, and building a sense of "entitlement."

    Thinking of this in terms of Galatians, I see more how right my friend was. I also think of Ecclesiates: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." (Ecclesiates 2:10-11) Without God, everything is meaningless. Only by faith are we free.

    I wonder what Paul would say about modern America's affluence and how threatening it can be for growing "fruit?"