The Ramifications of Free Choice

Monday, 7th March 2011 at 16:35 UTC 2 comments

There is an argument that about free choice that goes something like this: I have the right to make my mind up, and to decide as a I choose but if somehow my decision results in a later problem or inconvenience to myself, it wasn’t free choice in the first place. This arguments is applied in everything from bank bailouts to sexual health to the Christian doctrine of Salvation.

I suppose its a part of the Christian condition that we like the idea of getting something for nothing. Increasingly we’re being encouraged to “take risks”, be it in marketing or in government policy. When we’re told an industry is becoming more “risk-averse” its a bad thing, despite the risks they are becoming averse to having potentially devastating impacts.

The banking crisis has been a classic example of this attitude: money thrown around all over the place to try, and when it all went wrong, the expectation of a benevolent government writing blank cheques, with no requirement to behave responsibly in future times. It probably comes as a surprise to some, but I actually agree with this government that people should behave more responsibly. What I disagree with, however, is that they should only take responsibility for themselves, and that this message should only extend to those towards the bottom of the pile.

And so a similar thing happens when it comes to the Christian message of salvation. God offers us a free chance to get to know him and spend eternity in his presence, and yet respects our right to freely choose not to. The point of the free choice here isn’t that we get to decide either way with no bad outcomes – something the bankers seemed to think they had a right to in the bail out – but that we can make the wrong decision and take the consequences. There’s a great gulf between the two scenarios.

Of course, with the bankers, this was compounded by the problem of humanity’s failure to properly understand risk. We take “probably will” to mean “sure it could fail to happen but it’ll happen all the same”. When it doesn’t, we complain. The Government has made much of people’s sense of entitlement to benefits if they’re at the bottom end of the spectrum. But these were not the people gambling on and against the future of massive swathes of the population. Whether individualist entitlement is acceptable per se, insisting that everyone else must take the pain for you is surely nonsensical. The free choice we (allegedly) hold so dearly in an (allegedly) free market state.

What am I getting at? I think its this: that its a sign of just how privileged parts of our society have become that everyone is left under the impression that it would only be fair for everyone to experience that same insulation from the harshness of reality. The fact is, there has always been a price to pay for messing up. Its just that right now, our society is being given such bad role models that it cannot accept that reality.


Entry filed under: Economics, Faith, Freedom, Materialism, Theology.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Helen  |  Monday, 7th March 2011 at 18:07 UTC

    I disagree with your soteriology. It’s rather Pelagian. 🙂

  • 2. Greg  |  Monday, 7th March 2011 at 21:15 UTC

    Au contraire Helen, it looks like a pretty orthodox Arminian position to me – what Graham’s described is limited salvation based on resistible grace, which summarises the second and fourth theses of Arminianism, the Remonstrant Articles! Pelagianism would deny original sin, I don’t see where Graham does that.

    I’m a bit confused as to why he equates this with the bankers in his first paragraph, when it looks like he meant to contrast it: banks are too big to fail, unlike Christians. Graham, could you clarify please?


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