False God #3: Choice

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 11, 2006

This God is Overlord to consumerism, and is at the heart of individualism. We Americans, perhaps more than anyone, worship the right to choose. This makes obedience to God, or even *gasp* the Church nearly impossible. Sure sure, most evangelicals center their theology around the choice to submit to God, but it is almost as though we keep one hand behind our back with fingers crossed as we do so, thus declaring: “I choose you, Lord. But I reserve the right to un-choose you. Is it any wonder that the American spirit prooves to be fertile soil for those forms of Christianity which affirm choice (evangelicalism, Methodism, pentecostalism, etc.)?

I’ve written alot about consumerism, so I won’t go into how consumerism is predicated upon the belief that individual choosers are sovereign purchasing agents. Consumerism is the commercialization of the chooser–freedom of choice on crack. If you want some good analysis on how modern consumer capitalism has roots in revivalism, I recommend you get Clapp’s the Consuming Passion and read the last chapter.

American spirituality is choice-based. We offer a vast array of spirituality tools and we encourage each individual to make their own lego castle made according to their own whims and tastes. Churches woo people into choosing them. We assume that no one really submits to theological traditions anymore and as a result we do church in ways that appeal to felt needs instead of giving people what we know they REALLY need, theologically speaking. We no longer think of our Christianity as an act of true submission, but an avenue towards spiritual expression and hapiness. But worship is always about submission. The fact that this paragraph may have made you feel a tiny bit anxious shows how deeply engrained our sense of choice truly is.

But we worship Choice–that shimmering God that never asks us to submit. And we tend to affirm those traditions which affirm choice, and castigate the ones that don’t. Damn those Catholics, who are so oppressive. Curse those Calvinists that don’t really believe in free will. Shame on those extremist churches that have high membership requirements. Whether you like Catholics or Calvinists is beside the point. We simply dislike those groups that deny the freedom to choose. We tend to think that the person who grew up in the faith is less of a Christian because they didn’t choose it for themselves. We tend to believe that sermons based upon the lectionary, prayers read from a book, or fasts during Lent are less meaningful because they are prescribed rather than optional.

Optional. That’s what it comes down to. When Choice is worshipped, the way of Jesus becomes a set of options. No wonder we see Jesus as the kindly inviter into an optional spirituality, rather than the Lord who challenges us to lay aside everything before we can really be a part of his Kingdom.

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3 Responses to “False God #3: Choice”

  1. Chris on June 11th, 2006 8:32 pm

    This post seems a little monolithic and a bit imprecise to me. It seems to me what you are really bothered by is not choice but that the range of choices in America can create in us a capricious lack of commitment. Choice is an inevitable facet of human existence, I hardly think attacking it as a phenomenon is really getting at the issue. And after all, maybe to some degree we must accept that American Christianity will inevitably manifest itself as choice-based, or, more precisely, prone to capriciousness. Even those parts of the church you use as examples of “denying the freedom to choose” must be chosen by the individual in the first place. Even a choice to submit is a choice, where should the locus of submission be, in what is submitted to, or in the submission of the subject?

  2. mark on June 11th, 2006 10:46 pm

    I think you’re starting with a faulty premise: that I’m attacking choice. I’m not attacking choice (nor the end of suffering in my earlier post). I’m attacking the worship of choice. I’m attacking the way it has been deified.

  3. TT on June 13th, 2006 11:22 pm

    I agree that America has a crisis of “have it your way” Christianity, but we are still in better shape than, say most of Europe, for example. The churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America look at us and are oftentimes disgusted by our . . . how should I say it? I guess bloated spirituality would be a good way to put it, and yet what many find reprehensible, others are drawn to that and are modeling their churches on this biggie-sized “Christianity.” There is no doubt that the American church is in crisis right now, and I personally believe that the only way for us to get back on track is to follow the lead of the Non-Western church right now, because they are getting it right.

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