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The "Science" of Choice: On Michael Bloomberg, the Thirst for Control, and the Scientific Case for Coercion

But from a Christian point of view, it is the complex mix of limits and autonomy that make a relationship with God possible and healthy. Whenever we begin to dictate what people must be forced to do, we need to be very cautious about the assertions we make, in the name of religion or science. In the name of gift and relationship, even God gives us the freedom to choose. For that reason, there will always be a spiritual and moral calculation to be made when we begin to think about our collective lives, including what we reward, punish, and control.

Religion has had a long, admittedly uneven history of navigating the difficult frontier between moral obligation and spiritual freedom. And it has often failed, miserably. There is no doubt about it.

But Professor Lieberman's article and Mayor Bloomberg's crusade illustrates that a world ordered by science and secular values cannot escape the same calculation, nor can it guarantee that we will avoid the same failures.

The spiritual and moral calculation remains. It is harder to preserve freedom than it is to coerce others, harder to nurture virtue and discipline than it is to enforce the patina of legislation, harder to change hearts than it is to monitor and sanction certain kinds of behavior. It is also harder to trust God with the messy, uneven results, than it is to impose our own will on others as a substitute.

That is why something as trivial as a rule against 32-ounce sugar drinks (though it holds no appeal for me) and an apparently scientific justification for its ban is fraught with so much significance. The problem isn't what the Mayor wants to control. The problem lies in a thirst for the kind of control over one another we were never meant to have.

6/10/2012 4:00:00 AM
Frederick Schmidt
About Frederick Schmidt
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/