Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Inconsistency of the Worldview of Personal Autonomy


The most common worldview in our culture seems to be what Dr. Albert Mohler calls the worldview of personal autonomy.  This worldview holds that the individual has the capacity to decide for oneself and pursue a course of action in one's life, often regardless of any particular moral content.  We see this thinking in much of what our culture has come to value, from the “right to choose” (abortion) to the supposed inherent virtue of challenging authority.  The worldview of personal autonomy says that there is no higher authority than self.
One test we can use to evaluate the validity of a worldview is by its internal consistency, or coherence.  Does it contradict itself?  By this test, we would have to conclude that the worldview of personal autonomy is not valid.
Consider one major issue upon which our country is currently fixated: transgenderism.  The push for the acceptance of gender transition through hormone therapy and surgical procedure is founded upon the ideal of personal autonomy.  The individual has the right to determine his or her identity, and society must relate to that individual according to the individual’s choice.  If a biologically male individual identifies himself as a female, he has the right to change his biological features to match his “identity” and to live as a female.  Further, society is bound to recognize that choice.
This has led to a cacophony of news items related to the how society is struggling to workout exactly how to accommodate the transgender community.  The issue of public restrooms alone is baffling.  If people can truly determine their own gender, then they should also be able to choose which restrooms to use in public, some argue.  There have been obvious objections by others uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with someone of the opposite biological gender regardless of how that person “identifies.”  One middle ground solution has been to create certain gender-neutral public restrooms for the use of transgender persons.  However, this solution is viewed by some as discriminatory because it singles out transgender persons and fails to fully regard them as the gender with which they identify.
This one issue of public restrooms points to a huge problem with the ideal of personal autonomy: one person cannot exercise true personal autonomy without infringing upon the personal autonomy of others.  If we propose to accommodate transgender persons by allowing them to use whatever public restroom them prefer, is it possible to also accommodate those who by their personal autonomy choose to not share public restrooms with those of the opposite biological sex?  No, it is not.  The only way for one person to live with complete personal autonomy is to deny complete autonomy to everyone else.  Anyone who has ever lived under the same roof with even one other person knows this to be the case. 
Some might say, “well, we should modify the idea of personal autonomy by saying a person has the right to choose their own course of life as long as it does not infringe upon another’s right to choose.”  What a nice thought.  However, human history bears constant evidence that man is not capable of preferring others.  Every war in history, every divorce, every murder, every rape, every act of injustice has been the result of man choosing his own way to the detriment of others.  And the transgender issue demonstrates this, too.  The LGBT community is not seeking merely to have the right to choose for themselves.  They want all others to prefer them, accommodate them, and celebrate them.  They have no interest in not infringing “upon another’s right to choose.” 
Introducing the caveat – “as long as it does not infringe upon another’s right to choose” – guts the concept of personal autonomy to the point of rendering it virtually nonexistent.  Here’s why – exercising personal autonomy almost always affects others.  If I choose to sit in a particular seat in the movie theater, I decide for everyone else that they will not sit in that seat.  That is, they are not able to exercise true personal autonomy; they must choose some other seat.  The times in life when making a choice does not in some way affect others are so few and far between that the exception becomes the rule and the application of personal autonomy can only infrequently take place.
You see, you can believe in the ideal of personal autonomy but you cannot live that way because it is self-contradictory.  It is a logical impossibility for all people to have personal autonomy.  Only the Christian worldview is internally consistent.  We’ll think more about that next time. 

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