‘What we set our eyes on’

It’s spring in Washington and flowers are starting to bloom. Though few are out to enjoy them in this season of quarantine.

Karen Swallow Prior and Jen Pollock Michel dialogue on autonomy and true freedom in an eight minute conversation on “why freedom needs boundaries”. Worth watching/listening:

Karen Swallow Prior begins the conversation by reminding us that there really is no thing as autonomy. We are born into communities, times, and places, and everything that makes up who we are comes from others. In other words, our particularities come from somewhere outside ourselves. As Christians we understand that God determines the things that make up the individual self.

Jen Pollock Michel points that it can be burdensome to believe in yourself. Humans tend to be unreliable and fail everyday. But Christianity helps us face the truth about ourselves: there’s good that I don’t do and evil that I do, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, and if our only ethic is to believe in ourselves, we’re left in a truly hopeless position. We need other people!

Karen agrees, adding that we not only need other people, but that meaning and purpose come from beyond the human realm.

Jen mentions the book Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, which chronicles the stories of people who at the end of their lives discover that finding meaning outside of themselves leads to a more joyful and full life. This is true, Karen adds, not only at the end but in every other stage of life. All throughout life we are changing and growing, but to believe in ourselves means to believe in something different in every stage of life.

It’s ironic, Jen notes, that we think believing in yourself is the way to freedom when it reality it only leads to slavery. Freedom always tends towards flourishing when we have our boundaries, because those boundaries are established for our good. We often think of obedience as negative boundaries, but they are actually meant to free us.

Finally, Karen concludes that our development never happens in a vacuum. We always cultivate our desires based on who or what we set our eyes on.

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