Last week I wrote a post, How to Talk to Children About God (Heaven, Hell, Jesus, Salvation, and How it All Works). I have been interested in the negative response to one single sentence: “Her base identity before she is a girl, your daughter, a sister, white, American, etc, is that she belongs to Jesus.” This idea touches a nerve because it is one place in which Christianity is deeply subversive toward American culture. One person commented:
“And then, if she decides that you are wrong? What happens then? You have told her that her identity, the identity that you love, no longer exists. Great idea!”
…snarky, but interesting response. Another said:
“What about leaving kids to make up their own minds and not pumping their heads full of indoctrination when they’re impressionable ? Is that not an option?”
Both of these comments, I think, portray the typical Liberal view. In our society we are raised on the idea that we are free. “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up,” remains a constant refrain from those who sell the American dream. That we are free to choose what sort of life we want to live is assumed. But is it a Christian idea? I think not.
Freedom is not simply the ability to choose. We actually get to choose very little about our own lives. We did not choose to be born, born in American, born a male/female… We didn’t choose our race, or in most cases our religion. Children do not choose where they will be educated, where they will live, their economic status, and so on. Popular parenting has parents saying, “You can choose to obey or you can choose these consequences.” The kids are going, “But I want to choose x or y.” The parents respond that x and y are not one of their choices. We give the illusion of choice, but we limit their options. By the time they do starting making some choices for themselves their identity is already set.
Even as adults nearly all of our decisions have been impacted by social, political, and economic forces of which we are not even typically aware. If freedom is merely the ability to choose, then we are not truly free.
The hard reality according to Stanley Hauerwas, a fantastic theologian and ethicist who has done some work in this area, is that “none of our decisions are entirely ours.”
Nobody is totally “free” to decide their own story. The lie of Liberal Democracies is that they teach us to ignore the reality that all our freedoms are tempered by our subjectivity. Most of the “choices” we talk about were made for us. We do not even choose what we want to wear. We go to the store and choose from the choices that have been made for us by designers, buyers, and trend setters.Shouldn’t we just allow our children to choose whatever story they want to live? The short answer is no, because none of us really choose our own story. We were born into an ongoing story that will continue long after we are gone. It’s God’s story, not ours.
Hauerwas often says, “We live in a time when people believe they have no story except the story they chose when they thought they had no story. That’s ‘freedom’ in a society shaped by liberal political theory,” (From “The Politics of Gentleness”). It sounds confusing, but what this means is this: Most people think there is a time when we are at square one with no story at all. Freedom, in that view, is our right to choose our own story. This view is simply false. We we were born into an ongoing story that was here before we got here and will continue long after we die. We are so interconnected that no choice is made in a vacuum. Nearly all of our choices are impacted deeply by all kinds of things that are out of our control. We do not choose our own story. We have to be given a good story to live. That’s a huge part of what it means to be a parent, and to work with children in the church. We are giving kids a good story to live. A story that is true at least in part because it will make them true.
Freedom, for Hauwerwas – and I think he’s right – is not the ability to choose. Freedom is the ability to identify with our own lives – even the choices made for us – and to simply say, “I did those things, and those things were done to/for me. This is my life… this is me.” That is freedom.
Freedom is a matter of choice; it is a matter of identity.
That’s why we tell our kids who they are, why we tell them what story they are living in. That’s why we don’t teach them that they are free to choose whatever story they want. To hand them that distorted view freedom will produce more self-absorbed producers and consumers, which may be exactly what our society demands, but it isn’t very Christian.
Hauerwas again, “Our ‘freedom,’ therefore, is dependent on our being initiated into a truthful narrative, as in fact it is the resource from which we derive the power to ‘have character’ at all… The fundamental category for ensuring agency, therefore, is not freedom but narrative.”
This means that if we subject ourselves to the wrong narrative (i.e. Americanism, consumerism, individualism, and so on) then we’ll be a slave to that narrative. There is only one narrative which does not wish to enslave us – but to make us free – and that is Christianity.
I’m raising my kids to own this reality.