the implied restraints of faithfulness

For some time now, I have been growing in my understanding of how many cultural disorders are related to hatred of limits. The aspiration to limitlessness was embedded in the first temptation and the original sin, it informed the earliest docetic and Gnostic heresies, and it inspired the founding intellects of modernity. Many sincere Christians still have some sense that being limited is an effect of sin, rather than a condition of the Creation. Both Genesis accounts of Creation (in chapters 1 and 2) resound with the establishment of boundaries—in time, in space, in ontology, and in vocation. God created all things (including his image-bearers) to thrive within limits, and he then asserted that this circumstance of Creation is very good. After delivering the mandate to serve as his regents and stewards over all Creation, God reminds Adam and Eve that they are creatures who are bounded. They do not exist independently, but must turn to the earth (from which they came and to which will return) for food, for the stuff of life. But not all the food in the Garden was on the menu. Man was limited and needy in his created state, and his continued fellowship with God required the recognition of boundaries.

Almost all human cultures have pursued the task of defining and governing boundaries in human behavior. Philip Rieff argued (in The Triumph of the Therapeutic) that every culture survives “by the power of its institutions to bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs with reasons which sink so deep into the self that they become commonly and implicitly understood.” The story of modern Western culture, however—a culture built around the ideal of the sovereign self—is a story of the abandonment of restrictions and restraints in the name of human freedom. Our institutions have increasingly been defined in terms of encouraging liberation from limits rather than cultivating a conscientious honoring of limits.

…With echoes of numerous theologians who have related the imago dei to our essential relationality, Berry questions the understanding of freedom that dominates modern culture. “In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom of Words, ‘free’ is etymologically related to ‘friend.’ These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of ‘dear’ or ‘beloved.’ We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. All this suggests that our ‘identity’ is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.”

Ken Myers rarely has a thought that is not backed up by much reading and reflection. These thoughts of his from an online posting spoke volumes to me in several areas.


  1. Nathan Stocker says:

    “The story of modern Western culture, however—a culture built around the ideal of the sovereign self—is a story of the abandonment of restrictions and restraints in the name of human freedom.”

    That’s pretty funny, and rather sad, because any non-autistic conception of self-sovereignty entails the immediate recognition that each self-sovereign is quite tidily bounded by the fact of everyone else’s same sovereignty. Such are the implied restraints of (political) *freedom*, if it is to mean anything beyond “I can rightly do whatever my whim may be!”. It’s funny, because this is so basic, so simple. It’s sad because it seems not enough, proponent or detractor, see it.

    IOW, I am beyond your bailiwick, as you are beyond mine. FAH! on anyone, self-sovereignty advocate or not, who wants to elide the second half, with all its enormous implications.

    Freedom is an equilibrium of regency and stewardship, to use this passages’ terminology. There is no more “ME, your regent” than there is “YOU, *not* my regent”. There is as much “my responsibility” as there is “not my problem”. There is as much “Yours!” as there is “Mine!” (Speaking quantitatively, of course, there is vastly much more of the former, here. heh)

    I also find equally funny and sad the casual separation of “selfhood” and “deliberately maintained connections”. As if it makes sense to think of the latter not integrally composing the former. Such a dichotomy weakens the concept of both. (Especially as Myers wants to locate our *identity* in our connections. “Our?” He hasn’t identified the referent of that, yet — that’s precisely what’s in question, here — *he doesn’t get to use that word*, yet. *What’s* connected to *what*, again? Blank out.)

    There is no freedom *vs.* limits. There is no self *vs.* connections.

    But there is no counting the ways misconceptions create such conflicts, aye.

    Fah, I say. FAH!

  2. Jesse says:

    At least regarding the value and power of self-limitation, I would think that you and Myers have a lot in common.

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