Practicality

In a Facebook conversation about my “Three-Letter Worldview” series of posts, a friend and relative of mine, Carla, challenged me to write out “how I would put the worldview into practice in a country . . . how does my worldview translate to governing?”

She applied it to my self-described libertarianism and asked, “What is the practical application for governing in a democracy such as ours? . . . How would a Libertarian or libertarian [Ed: big or little “L” . . . for the record, I consider myself the latter, not the former] set up a system of government for 300 million+ diverse human beings to live under?”

I promised to respond, and then things got a bit crazy . . . My job got very busy, and then the area got hit by two major snowstorms in the course of a single week. On top of that, I’ve been helping my wife with the advertising and graphic design for a benefit concert she and a friend are planning for Save the Children to aid earthquake victims in Haiti.

So I’ve had very little time to write. But now that things are slowing down, I wanted to respond to Carla’s question.

First, my worldview is primarily that – a view of the world . . . an interpretation of what I see around me and how I see it working (or not working, as the case may be). It is not intended as a political system or a treatise on government.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that my worldview has no implications for what I consider “ideal” government. What it does mean is that, in choosing what form of government I will assent to live under, I am willing to settle for less than ideal, if in the meantime I can work – and encourage others to work – in directions consistent with that ideal.

But all that is not answering the question – it’s merely talking around it.

That said, Carla has posed a question that is really three:

1) How does my worldview translate to governing?
2) What is the practical application of my worldview toward government in a democracy such as ours?
3) How would I (or any libertarian) set up a system of government for 300 million people?

First: How does my worldview translate to governing? To tell the truth, my worldview as I have laid it out here doesn’t really speak much to how governing works, except to follow the advice of my favorite founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The government that governs least governs best, because the people discipline themselves.”

Note that this commonly repeated quote is usually truncated. Generally only the first half is recalled, but my worldview is dependent on both halves – a government that is restrained, and a governed citizenry that are restrained themselves . . . by themselves.

That’s basically the only broad implication my worldview as I have laid it out here has on governing, but the question that you are surely asking at this point is, “how is that practical??”

This threads very neatly into Carla’s second question “What is the practical application of my worldview toward government in a democracy such as ours?

To begin with, as I stated fairly explicitly in my worldview series, the views I hold are fairly government-agnostic. I believe that the views I hold are just as true in a democracy as they are in a dictatorship. The only difference is that, under some governments, the penalty for living a live consistent with those views may be more or less severe.

That being the case, one of the most hospitable forms of government to this worldview is that of a representative republic. Contrary to Carla’s assertion, we do not live in a democracy. This makes a tremendous difference because a republic is by far friendlier to the views I have espoused. In a democracy, a whimsical populace can inflict whatever it wishes, as long as it persuades a majority of its members to agree. In a republic, that populace is far more restrained by several factors – the supremacy of codified law, the separation of power into multiple decision-making bodies, and restrictions on how far even a legitimate majority is allowed to go in imposing its will over the minority.

But that’s only a side discussion. The main discussion on this question is one of practicality. How is it practical to expect that people control themselves, rather than relying on the government to control them?

The problem is that this question presumes some sort of government that is not, itself, made up of people – subject to the same whims, faults, limitations and errors as any others. The only really just government would be a government ruled by one truly perfect human being . . . and no such thing exists, or ever can.

This being the case, any government at all is a concession . . . a surrender of control over our own choices. But it is a necessary concession if we are to live in relationship with one another. Anarchy – the absence of any government – simply pits everyone against each other in a harsh, primal struggle for survival.

What, then, should we look for in our government on a practical level? I believe that perhaps the most harmful force in our current national character has been the drive toward relativism . . . the belief that everything is subjective, and that nothing is universal.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that at least 99% of all the standards anybody holds – including, probably, some of my own – are misguided and wrong. But 99% is not the same as 100%. In order for a society to function . . . indeed, in order for there to be any concept at all of justice, good, or right . . . something must be universally true. Otherwise, these words are just so many letters combined in an aesthetically pleasing order.

So yes . . . I believe most of what each and every one of us believes to be true is, in fact, probably wrong, either by virtue of being incomplete or being off target. On a practical level, this means that we should not endeavor to impose our beliefs, behavioral systems or tastes on each other. The laws of this country should strive to respect the choices each of us make for ourselves. The only laws I would like to see . . . the only ones I believe to be truly “just” . . . are those which prevent us from imposing our will on each other . . . those which prevent us from *eliminating* one another’s choices.

Therefor, my answer is that, in our democracy, we should strive to eliminate as many laws, bureaucracies, and systems of control as possible. And where it is not possible, we should maximize the ability of those under the laws to make choices within them. If there must be politicians, then let us strive to elect politicians who believe this, rather than those who are simply out for more control. And where there are none who truly believe it, let us elect those who at least find it in their best interest to pretend that they do.

Carla’s final question is a bit different. Her first question had one foot still firmly in the theoretical world, and one in the practical. Her second question moved fully to the practical realm, but dealt with how to apply my worldview politically to our existing nation-state.

Her third question starts from scratch, and asks how a libertarian would set up a system of government for 300 million people such as those living in this country.

I cannot answer for all libertarians, but I will answer for myself, and my answer will be similar to the one I gave for the last question . . . that is . . . it’s the wrong question. How would I set up a government for 300 million people? I wouldn’t.

This may seem like a cop-out, but really it is not. A government is not something I believe can be legitimately “set up” for people. In order to be legitimate, they must set it up themselves – whether by electing representatives, choosing the strongest warrior to be their king, selecting the best hunter to be their tribal chief, or simply allowing citizens to participate in a direct democracy.

To be honest, I think it would be easier to establish an ideal government from scratch than it would be to try to turn our country, with its history, its many diverse cultures, its baggage and its existing power structures into that ideal government. While I don’t subscribe to the view that “we can’t get there from here,” I do think it’d be one hell of a trip to do so.

The problem with this whole discussion is the fact that it focuses too much on government. This is, I think, one of the key problems with small “L” liberalism . . . that is, the left wing political viewpoint in America today. Like Carla did in asking these questions, liberalism focuses on government for everything. See a problem? What can the government do to fix it? Have a good idea? Let’s pass a law and have the government put it into practice! See someone in need? Let’s have the government help them out.

Frankly, I just don’t see the government that way. A government is just a particular structure put in place by people who seek to protect themselves. But in doing so, they sacrifice complete control over their own choices, and once they have given the government a little of that control, it will always seek more.

That’s where the liberal comes in . . . the typical liberal trusts the government, trusts it enough to willingly hand over his or her own control to solve that problem, to make something of that good idea, or to help that person in need. The typical liberal truly believes that the government is the entity best suited to make those decisions.

I think that’s giving the government . . . and the people who operate it . . . way too much credit.

What’s the alternative then? How do we build up a truly effective system of self-government?

The key is not government, but culture. Whether we’re talking about an existing system or one built from the ground up, the key is to start with the broadly-shared cultural belief that what we’re building is a good thing.

“But,” you say, “doesn’t that fall afoul of your earlier assertion that we shouldn’t force our beliefs on one another?”

Not at all. I don’t advocate forcing this belief on anybody . . . I simply believe that my ideal culture cannot exist in its absence. Besides, the belief I’m talking about is already broadly shared among much of western civilization. Those who believe in God call it the “golden rule,” but it is known by various secular aphorisms as well, “live and let live,” “let sleeping dogs lie,” “don’t tread on me.” These are all manifestations of the same thing. I prefer the Biblical expression because it is somehow fuller . . . deeper than the others. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is just another way of stating the foundational libertarian principle. It says, “I would like to be allowed the freedom to make my own choices, and because that is what I would like, I will give you that freedom as well.”

So the very first thing I would do to move this country – or ANY country – toward my ideal is work to instill within its people the importance of this vital principle. Right now, we have no central guiding principle . . . quite honestly, we have very little by way of cohesive culture at all, any more. Some of us operate on the hippocratic, “first, do no harm.” Others operate on the principle of “take what you can get.” Still others operate on various manufactured ethical codes that claim to have their basis in some form of religion or moral code, but few if any of these are truly internally consistent. Most are contradictory, and virtually all – when they find themselves with a hand on the strings of government – simply pull those strings in their direction, figuring that when an opposing viewpoint recaptures the reins it will do the same. All of these codes are, in some ways at odds . . . either with themselves, with each other, or both.

I’m afraid, Carla, that I probably haven’t really answered your questions. I suspect what you were looking for is an outline of how to restructure our government along libertarian lines, according to the worldview I outlined on this blog. The problem is, that is not - and was never - the point. The point is to outline how I, myself, try to live. Personally, I believe that if more people lived this way, we would all be happier, healthier, and more alive than we are now, but that’s not my choice – it’s theirs.

I can wish they would choose as I have, but truly I don’t have a lot of hope for that. So in the meantime I will simply keep developing my thinking, and keep sharing it with others. I may not be able to impact 300 million people, but perhaps I can impact one or two.

My Three-letter Worldview: Conclusion

There are a lot of words here. Some of them may seem controversial, irrelevant, even nonsensical. But this is what I believe . . . for now. I do not claim to be right – in fact, I assume that much of what I have written here is wrong. I do not claim to know the truth – or even that the truth is entirely knowable.  But because I do not know which of my beliefs are wrong, I will hold to them as long as they make sense. And because I cannot say which part of the truth I have managed to grasp, I will keep searching.

I’d like to say a few words about the sources that have informed my worldview. The two most influential, you may have noticed, are the Bible and Ayn Rand. Back in Part 1, I asked, and answered, the question: “How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?”

I suppose that Rand herself would likely be horrified to find elements of her philosophy plugged into an overtly Biblical worldview. But I do not, as she did, believe that the two philosophies are so utterly incompatible. I believe Rand’s harsh reaction to Christianity largely stemmed from ways it has itself been twisted to belittle . . . to objectify. I’ve been exposed to plenty of Christians who believe humanity to be the scum of the earth, utterly worthless in our own right, incapable of anything that is objectively good, and valuable only inasmuch as we are redeemed by God. I used to believe that myself

Like Rand, though, now I reject that view – though my reasons for doing so are different. I believe that we are created in the image of God – intrinsically valuable (and valued by Him). And while I believe that He is the source of ultimate truth, I believe that His image in us is capable of finding bits and pieces of that truth, of tasting and recognizing “good,” even apart from His intervention . . . otherwise what do you do with masterful works of art that appeal to something deep within our souls . . . and are created by those who reject Him? How do you explain cultures never exposed to the concept of “Jesus Christ,” who nevertheless have pictures of Him buried in their own cultural and historical traditions?

I suspect that if I were able to sit down and have a conversation with Rand, the biggest point on which we would differ is this: she respected humanity so highly as to believe there is nothing greater. I respect humanity so highly as to believe there must be.

It is because of this respect . . . both for the Creator and for the pinnacle of His creation . . . that I can say of myself the same thing as the One whose image I bear. With Him, I can proclaim my “self” as an individual, conscious being who exists to make independent choices and to live in relationships with other “selves” . . . with you, in fact, if you want from your relationships the same thing I do from mine . . . if you long, like the Velveteen Rabbit in the children’s fairy tale, to slowly, painfully shed your button eyes and faux fur covering and become real.

I want that. I strive for it every day, and usually I fail. But I never stop trying. I hunger for real relationships with other people sharing their real selves. And when I find such a person – as I have found in my wife, for example – it just makes me hunger all the more.

Most importantly, I live in relationship with the “Self” of the One who formed me, lost me, sought me, found me, and loves me. What He took as the identification of His “Self,” I now take as the definition of mine, and when I use those three letters, I mean not only that I am an extant, distinct, and conscious being, but that I am living out the life I was created for, endeavoring every day to live that life to its fullest.

I Am.

Are you??

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 7

This is the seventh segment of “My Three-Letter Worldview.” Read Parts 1-6 Here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6. Tomorrow I’ll wrap this all up as best I can.

In parts 1-6, I talked a lot about what I believe about myself and my interactions with others.

This piece is intended to discuss what I believe about God.

To begin with – obviously, I believe that God exists.

What do I mean by that?

First, I believe that the previously discussed irreducible facts of my existence and identity imply the additional existence of a “source,” of some sort.

However, I do not believe that this fact necessitates the existence of a “God” . . . be it the God of the Bible or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ask an atheist where it all comes from and he or she will turn it around on you and ask you where your God came from. Ask a physicist what happened before the “big bang,” and you will hear that it doesn’t matter, because it is not measurable and therefore outside the realm of science. It implies only a preexisting . . . something . . .

The simple fact is that there is no “proof” of the God I believe in. But my belief in Him does not require proof.

The book of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is as good a definition as any. Faith then, is what gives rise to hope . . . it is what drives me to believe things I cannot prove by empirical, tangible means.

It is what draws me to God.

Many people throughout history have attempted to “prove” God . . . to convince skeptics of His existence or His merit by logic alone. But these “proofs” are always unsatisfying. Pascal’s wager, for example, posits that it is better to believe in God than not, because the consequences of a mistaken disbelief are incalculably bad, while the consequences of a mistaken belief are nil.

This and all such logical arguments fail to take one thing into account. Mere belief in the existence of God is not what He asks of us.

“But wait a second,” you protest, “Acts 16:31 records Paul the Apostle saying exactly what is required for salvation: ‘believe . . . and you shall be saved.'”

Yes, it does, but the ellipses in the above sentence leave out its most important part – indeed, the most important piece of all of human history. They exclude the one unique factor that sets Christianity apart from all other world religions: Jesus Christ.

He is not unique as a mix of the human and the divine. Many religions have had their “god-men.” He is not unique as a sacrificial victim, which is also characteristic of many religions throughout history. He is not even unique in His victory over death.

He is not unique in how, when, or where he lived. His uniqueness is in why He lived.

non-Christian sects – and even some self-described Christian ones – equate Christ’s life to the lives of Moses, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama, Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard. They call him a great teacher and prophet.

And that is indeed what he was. But it is not what He is. Or more accurately, it is a piece of His existence, but only a piece.

We Christians have many petty debates about various divergences in what we believe, but I think the most petty – and most unnecessary – is the debate over predestination versus free will. I myself used to take gleeful part in these debates. But in doing so, I was off on what Emergent Theologian Brian McLaren calls and “adventure in missing the point.”

This is where my beliefs and the beliefs of the hard and fast physicist to whom I alluded earlier intertwine. I believe our human observations and conceptualizations are limited to the bounds of what science has come to call the “space-time continuum.” While I believe we are not mere physical beings, I believe our limited minds – bound within space and time themselves – can only conceive of things – even spiritual things – in physical terms. We cannot truly imagine “spirit” . . . we can only imagine a physical *picture* of what we think “spirit” looks like.

God, I believe, is not bound by such restraints. He exists outside of time and space. I don’t pretend to know how, or why, or that it’s even possible to understand, but I do not believe in a God who is constrained by physical limitations of any sort, the way I am – the way we all are.

So for this God, so many of the supposedly “big” questions of Christianity become meaningless. the question over predestination vs. free will, the question of how many literal “days” it took to create the universe, the question of when exactly Christ took on divine . . . even the question of the nature of the trinity.

Is God divided into three parts or one? From outside of space, the concept of “parts” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Neither

Did Christ become divine before or after His death? From outside of time, the concept of “when” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: He just IS.

Did God create the earth in seven literal days? From outside of time, the concept of “days” becomes meaningless, and the answer is: Who cares?

Did God predetermine who would join in relationship with him, or do we have the free choice to make that decision ourselves? From outside of time, the concept of “pre” becomes meaningless, and the answer is both!

Here’s why this last question, the one that misses the point so badly, is such a heartbreaking one . . . it is so close to the heart of the matter, yet misses it entirely.

The “heart of the matter” is this. God invites us to join in relationship with Him! And instead of marvelling at His invitation, we bicker over when it was issued.

Think about that. God – by whatever name you give him or concept you use to picture him – reaches from beyond the universe . . . beyond all bounds of what we can see or hear or “prove,” or even imagine . . . and invites us into relationship. As I defined relationship in Part 2 of this series, that means he literally invites my “self” to touch His “Self.” How cool is that??

There’s just one problem with it. I can’t do it.

I believe that in Eden, when humanity made the choice to reject their relationship with God, we placed the impenetrable barrier of space-time between us and Him. Ever since then, we have been living within those restrictions, and God has been reaching in to us, grieving for the relationship we broke and working toward its restoration, while we by our own poor choices have been adding onto that barrier . . . making it even thicker . . . distancing ourselves even further with each lie we live, each substitute we settle for, each relationship we fake.

One can see the imprint of His efforts throughout Scripture to restore the lost relationship. One can picture him taking long walks with Enoch, engaging in careful, detailed discussions with Noah, sitting down to a meal with Abraham, sparring physically with Jacob, and verbally with Moses, weeping with David, sighing in frustration with Jeremiah, comforting Esther as she fears for her life. With each overture he coaxes us closer, prompts us to eye the barrier we have created to see if there might somehow be a way around it . . . a way back to relationship with Him.

Ultimately, all of it is preparing humanity for that point at which He would physically enter space-time as one of us. He doesn’t sever the barrier we created – not yet. But He sets in motion the process by which it will be severed. Our choices have left us tainted – sick – incapable of breaching the barrier on our own to regain relationship with Him. So instead He comes Himself as a man – and not any man, but one who is not afflicted as we are by the choices we have made. He takes our sickness on Himself, working out the cure for our poor choices – our sin – in his own body, and ultimately curing it . . . creating a conduit through the barrier, through which we can reach for something more. He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is the Way – the conduit through which we reach for restored relationship. He is the Truth – the only means we have of breaching the otherwise-impenetrable barrier we created by choice. He is the Life – the cure to what ails us . . . the antidote to a lifetime, to several lifetimes, of poor choices: of settling for less than we deserve, less than we need . . . less than we truly want. He invites us once again into a real relationship – the fulfillment of all of His . . . and all of our own . . . “shadow” relationships.

And once again, just as He did in the beginning, because He still values us too much to force us into anything . . . because we are still the same creatures he designed to make conscious choices . . . He gives us a choice in this as well. Some choose to reestablish the relationship severed by our ancestors so long ago – to accept the antidote he offers. Tragically, most choose once again to reject it.

I’ve gone on a long time, for a worldview that unpacks itself from a mere three letters. In my next and final segment, I will wrap all of this up as best I can.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 6

This is the sixth installment of “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first five parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

In these posts, I’ve talked a great deal about “rights.”

I’ve talked far less about “wrongs.” This will be the subject of this installment.

Thus far I’ve argued that, as individuals, we have the absolute, inborn right to do as we choose so long as we do not, in exercising that right, infringe on the rights of another.

You might think that, by so arguing, I’m advocating a world in which each person gets to set their own standards, live by their own rules and ultimately live free of any constraints at all. To this I have two responses.

First, I haven’t really said that at all. I’ve already argued that we have the right to live free of external restraints, provided we are willing to suffer the consequences of doing so. I have the absolute freedom to drive down the highway at 100 miles an hour, so long as I’m willing to accept the speeding ticket and reckless driving charge that would likely result from my doing so. I have the absolute freedom not to pay my taxes . . . so long as I’m willing to spend a great deal of time alone in a dark room with bars on the door.

Second, and more importantly, I don’t want to.

Let me explain what I mean.

I mentioned earlier that I believe we are created to (a) live in real relationships and (b) make choices about how we interact with our world. But I believe that most of the time, we settle for fairly superficial shadows of the two purposes for which I think we were created. Too often, rather than living in real relationships . . . relationships where we actually put our selves out there to interact with the selves of others, we put on a facade, and blithely wander around interacting with other facades. We ask “how are you doing?” or “how’s it going?” or “how’s life?” all the while hoping against hope that what we don’t get is a real answer. We don’t want to hear, “life sucks right now. I’m upside down in my mortgage, I’ve been sick, and my wife and I aren’t getting along so well at the moment.” We want to hear “I’m fine.” Then we want to go on about our lives. That’s not a relationship. That’s the exact opposite . . . it’s the avoidance of relationship.

You see this even in many marriages. David Schnarch, psychologist, therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, says that when he sits down in a restaurant he can always look around the room and tell which couples are married, and which ones aren’t. How’s that? Because the married ones are the ones not talking with one another. Schnarch explains that many married couples have spent so much time with each other that they have realized which are the “taboo” topics . . . which subjects, when brought up, so irk the other partner that it’s just not worth it to bring them up. After many years of marriage for a couple like this, there are more sensitive topics than there are safe ones. Again, this is not relationship. It is the lack of relationship.

And what about choices? Every day it seems like we are coming up with new ways to not make choices. Even the newest “hot” search engine on the Internet, Microsoft’s “Bing” markets itself as a “decision engine.” Everywhere we look is another expert with another point of view assuring us that all we have to do is take this advice, read that book, make three easy payments of $19.99 . . . and we will be told what the “right” choice is.

If you’ve read much on this blog, you know I don’t trust “experts” much. This is why. Your typical expert doesn’t want to be told that he or she might be wrong . . . might not have all the information . . . or might just flat out not know what they’re talking about. They don’t want you to question . . .they just want you to do as you’re told. And to pay them for the privilege of doing it.

I’d rather make my own choices, thank you very much.

Relationships and choices. These are two things that set us apart as humans. Animals have functional relationships . . . their “marriages” are for the sake of procreation . . . their “friendships” for the sake of survival. They don’t have the ability to lock minds with another individual and realize that this . . . this is someone with whom I can relate. Here is someone who understands.

That ability is uniquely human.

So is the ability to make choices. In the animal kingdom, choice is driven by survivalism . . . compelled by instinct. In reality, it is hardly choice at all. We humans are different . . . ever since Eden we have been unique in our ability to make choices . . .

. . . unique in our ability to screw things up.

Yes, to err is human. It is the essence of what makes us human. We can strive to make wise choices, but it is our ability to make unwise choices that makes us so special. How counterintuitive is that??

What, though, does this have to do with the concepts of “right” and “wrong”? What does it have to do with the fact that I choose not to live free of any restraints or “morals”?

Simply that the choice of which standards I follow is guided by my desire to live . . . to live fully from what it is that makes me human. To live deeply in relationships and to make every effort to make each and every choice consciously, aware of the ramifications and accepting of the consequences.

Therefore, I choose, among other things:

  • To abstain from drugs – both illegal and (as much as I can) legal
  • To abstain from eating certain foods
  • To forego most vaccinations and stay away from antibiotics as much as possible
  • To abstain from sexual promiscuity – indeed, from all sexual activity outside my marriage
  • To seek a relationship with God apart from an institutional, organized church or denomination

These are just a few examples of my personal standards of external behavior. I do not demand that you follow them – or even necessarily think that you should. They are what is necessary for me to live a life of genuine, committed relationships and genuine, informed choices.

In the first example, I choose to abstain from drugs because I believe that for me they would function as a shield to block out the realities of life . . . to avoid the difficulties and struggles – the choices – of a life lived fully conscious . . . and fully lived.

In the second example, I have read enough to believe that my body is adversely affected by certain foods to the extent that its functionality is impaired. I believe many people simply go on and endure this impaired functionality because they believe it’s worth it in order to eat certain things, or simply because they don’t think about it at all. That is their choice, and I used to do the same. Now I make a different choice.

In the third example, While I don’t necessarily buy into all the hype around vaccines, I think there is enough “reasonable doubt” in many cases to justify a cost/benefit analysis that comes down in favor of going without. I believe that in most cases the risks of side effects outweigh the risks of the diseases in question. As far as the antibiotics, I believe many of the health issues we face today as a culture addicted to pills for everything can be traced back to chemical imbalances in the body created by excessive exposure to antibiotics. I choose not to expose myself any more than I absolutely have to.

In the fourth example, I choose a genuine, deep relationship with my wife. There is nobody who understands me more or loves me more. To seek sexual satisfaction anywhere else would be to not only damage that relationship, but to settle for something far less satisfying.

In the final example, I choose, again, a genuine, deep relationship with my God. For most of my life, I lived with a shadow relationship with a theoretical God. I learned all the verses, mouthed all the lines and modeled all the behaviors . . . but I didn’t really know God. Now I find that every time I sit through a church service I am drawn back into that old life . . . that shadow existence based on external pressures and rules, rather than on the reality of who I am, and who He is.

And ultimately, that’s what it all comes down to: internal vs. external motivations. That’s what I meant at the start of this post when I said that I the reason I don’t live a life free of any restraints is because I don’t want to . . . I believe external motivations are those used by people who wish to control us. I believe what God looks for . . . and what real “good” looks like . . . is internally motivated.

This might sound sacreligious . . . but I genuinely do not believe that the reason sin is wrong is “because the Bible says so.” I believe that the Bible says so because it’s wrong, and I believe it’s wrong because it’s living a lie. It’s settling for less life than I am intended to live.”

And that, I believe, is the ultimate wrong. Maybe even the only real wrong.

I know, I know, there I go sounding sacreligious again. Am I saying that sin isn’t a problem? That there’s far less wrong with the world than we generally think?

Not at all. I’m saying that I believe each of the world’s ills can be traced to the problem of less-lived lives. I think what we know as “sin” is really a matter of “settling” . . . settling for something less than we really want – something less than we really need in order to satisfy human nature’s inherent lust for life.

That’s why internal motivation is so important. External motivation can prompt us to model behaviors, but Matthew 5 is pretty clear that what God really cares about are our internal motivations. Have you killed anyone lately? No? How about calling them names? . . . yeah, well . . . that’s just as bad.

What about loving people . . . have you been kind and generous to your friends? Yes? well good! . . . what about your enemies??

What’s my point? Simply this. I believe that “sin,” to God, has far less to do with what I do, than why I do it! I believe, for example, that He doesn’t want me murdering people, stealing their stuff or screwing around with them, because each of these behaviors is an objectification of sorts. To murder someone is to say they are less of a person than I am . . . less deserving of their basic right to exist. Stealing their stuff says essentially the same thing about their other rights – the right to their time, labor and the fruits thereof. Sexual promiscuity objectifies not only the person with whom I’m engaging in illicit activity, but also the person to whom I have promised myself. It says to the one: “I don’t want a real relationship with you. You are simply an object to be used to slake my sexual desires.” It says to the other, “I claim that I want a relationship with you, but in reality all I want is a prop for family portraits and dinners out with friends. I don’t really want you.”

As I said earlier . . . sin isn’t wrong because Scripture says so . . . Scripture says so because it’s wrong.

We engage in this sort of objectification – both of others and of ourselves – on a daily basis. We do this whenever we do physical or emotional harm to another person . . . or when we settle for less than we truly desire and stop trying to attain it. We live a life that settles for shadow relationships . . . shadow choices . . . falsehoods modeled after something real that we have ceased to hope for . . . to long for . . . to even dream is possible.

I am unwilling to settle for that. I am unsatisfied with a shadow existence. I crave something more . . . something deeper.

And I believe God does, too.

My next segment will delve deeper into this assertion, and will answer what I consider to be the most important question of any worldview: What do I believe about God?

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 5

This is the fifth part of my series, “My Three Letter Worldview.” You can read the first four parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last two portions of this series dealt with “rights” . . . defining them and working through how I believe they function. Part 4 closed with the question of whether or not a government, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting us from violations of our rights, may legitimately protect us from ourselves.

I believe the answer is “no,” for two reasons. First and most simply, I do not believe it is possible for me to violate my own rights. They are mine and I may exercise them (or not) however I choose. Second, I do not believe any government has the capacity of properly judging what is, or is not, a “good decision.” Certainly, I have made what I consider to be bad decisions in my life . . . but they are decisions I myself have judged to be bad ones. I do not believe any other person or organization has the right to make that determination but me.

This might seem like a shocking assertion to make. How can I possibly be asserting that each of us is, in ourselves, the best judge of what makes a good or bad decision?

Well, in today’s world, the honest answer is that we can’t, because we have – all of us – stunted our decision-making capacity.

This brings us to the flip side of rights: responsibilities. In this day and age, everybody wants to spend the entire conversation talking about their “rights” . . . nobody wants to talk about their responsibilities.

We made certain to begin our discussion of “rights” by defining what it was we were talking about, so let’s do the same with “responsibilities.” We defined rights as a method by which we make the choices available to us. I believe responsibilities are another such tool. If rights are the tools we use to maintain our “selves” against the encroachments of others, then responsibilities are the tools we use to avoid encroachments of our own.

Thus, my right to free speech carries the responsibility of allowing others to speak freely as well, even when I disagree with what they say. My right to freedom of religion carries with it the responsibility to respect the same right of others to believe as they choose – even if it conflicts with my own beliefs. My right to freedom of association carries with it the responsibility of allowing others to associate freely – of not being offended if they shun me.

Perhaps most importantly, my right to act as I choose carries with it responsibility for the consequences that stem from those actions.

That, ultimately, is why the government has no business protecting me from myself. I have made my choice, and even if it’s a bad one it is still my choice. Should that choice do harm to another, then it is the government’s legitimate role to step in and protect them from the consequences of my bad choices. But as long as those consequences affect only myself, I have no claim on the assistance of any other, unless they should freely choose to give it either voluntarily or in return for just compensation.

But instead of fostering a culture of responsibility, we have built a culture of dependency. Instead of a society that respects each of us as individuals, we have built a society that only thinks in terms of groups: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, and so on, and so on, and so on. It’s identity politics meets class warfare meets groupthink. As long as we categorize ourselves as part of a “group,” then we don’t have to face the responsibility for our choices as individuals . . . If I have a load of debt, it’s not because I’ve chosen how and where to spend my money . . . it’s because we’re in a recession that happens to be hitting my country . . . my region . . . my state . . . my city . . . my neighborhood . . . my “group.”

Of course, there are always going to be factors beyond our control. I’m not one of those that believes God struck Haiti, or New Orleans, because of some “deal with the devil.” Those who were caught in those tragic disasters are not to blame.

But they are still responsible for the choices they make in reaction to the tragedy that struck them. We are all responsible for the choices we make, even if we make those choices in response to an event over which we have no control. When I fell in love for the first time and she rejected me, I had no control over her response, but I was responsible for the way I let it affect my relationships for the next several years.

But we don’t want this responsibility . . . we would rather have someone to blame. And so we wrap our “little” violations of rights inside of one another to make them seem more palatable. We “must” take a little bit of freedom here because we have made absolutely certain that exercising that by exercising that freedom we will affect one another in ways that should never have existed.

The so-called “war on drugs” is a perfect example: We “must” control access to these substances because they are “tearing apart the fabric of our society” . . . but the only reason they are tearing apart the fabric of society . . . the only reason their presence is accompanied by crime and social upheaval . . . is because they are illegal in the first place. We have only to look at the example of prohibition to prove this. When alcohol was illegal, people found a way to indulge themselves anyway . . . but in doing so they perpetrated a crime wave like this country had never seen before. But rather than blaming the government that felt it must control people, we blamed only the immediate perpetrators. And we have done the same with the war on drugs . . . we blame the gangs, the meth labs, the crack houses . . . rather than the government that makes them all necessary in order for people to make the choices they end up making anyway.

Why? Because we can’t have people taking responsibility for their own choices . . . then they’d be out of our control!

Which is, ultimately, what the government - any government - is, by definition, all about.

Does that mean I advocate unsafe, unhealthy behaviors as a way of life? Actually, no. In my next segment, I’ll explain why.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 4

This is the fourth part of my series on my “Three letter worldview.” In Part 1, I explained that those three letters are the ones by which God identified Himself to Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, “I am.” Part 2 expanded on the basic concepts of existence and identity by explaining how humans use relationships to interact, and by asserting that God created us to exercise freedom. Part 3 introduced my view on the concept of rights.

In part 4, I’d like to expand on rights a bit more by discussing how those rights interact with the rights of others.

I wrote in part three that “all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single basic right. The right to exist!”

I believe each of us has that right from the moment of our formation as an individual, human entity. I also believe that no other person can take these rights away from us, and that the only legitimate justification for taking the life – the physical existence – of another, is to protect the life – the existence – of another who is in imminent danger. For this reason, I am pro-life, with the single exception that I believe an abortion is justified if there is an imminent threat to the life of the mother. Also for this reason, I am against the death penalty. There is an argument that says the death penalty acts as a deterrent by preventing repeat offenses . . . but this makes two assumptions. First, it assumes the future guilt on the part of the one being executed . . . assumes that he or she will be a repeat offender. Second, it assumes the view of rights that I explicitly rejected in my last post – that a government . . . any government . . . has the legitimate function of deciding when and where the ultimate right of existence can and should be taken away.

If, then, governments do not grant us rights, what exactly is their function? I believe that governments are, by definition, a collection of individuals voluntarily assembled for the purpose of protecting one another’s rights. Those governments who act otherwise – who go beyond the function of protecting individuals from one another into the realm of dictating the choices those individuals must or should make with regard to the exercise of their own rights – have violated their purpose and strayed into the realm of illegitimacy.

And yes, I do believe that our government . . . indeed, every government now existent on this earth . . . has made that leap. It is for this reason that I really don’t believe there is one form of government that is “more legitimate” than another form. A dictator can be more benevolent than a parliament, and a democracy more tyrannical than a king . . . just ask Socrates.

No, the problem with governments is not in their form, but in their function. Our government – indeed, most if not all governments – have developed this notion that they are the ones who grant us rights. Those rights they “choose” to give us, we are free to exercise, within their discretion of course. But should we protest at the lack of those rights they choose to withhold, we are being unreasonable at best, and dangerous at worst.

One might think by this line of logic that I am advocating rebellion against oppressive and illegitimate governments, but in fact I am not . . . because it is not the government’s fault. It is mine. And yours.

You see, in the same way I believe governments do not give us rights, I do not truly believe they take them either. In fact, I do not believe that rights are something that can be taken away from an individual who is operating at his or her full mental and physical capacity.

They cannot be taken, but they can be surrendered.

Ponder that sentence for a moment.

Nobody can take my rights away from me without my consent. How, then, are millions of people enslaved by tyrannical regimes at this very moment??

The answer is choice – the same choice that, as I mentioned in an earlier segment – guides all human interactions.

I live under a government that sometimes acts in ways I believe to be illegitimate . . . because I choose to. I choose not to protest the unjust actions of my government because I believe it does a better job protecting my rights than any of the alternatives, and because – quite frankly – I like it here. It’s not perfect, but on balance I like it.

But this notion of choosing to surrender our rights places the nature of our government – of any government – in a new light, doesn’t it? In fact, I believe that even in forming a government, some rights are voluntarily surrendered. Absent any government, for example, the decisions that affect me are mine, and mine alone. When I live under a government, even a democratic republic like the United States, I surrender a portion of that decision-making power. Even in a direct democracy, the decisions are not left to each individual alone, but are made by the group as a whole.

As such, no government is going to make decisions that satisfy 100% of their citizenry, 100% of the time. Furthermore, because governments can only deal in “protecting” us against “violations” of our rights, they will be constantly seeking to expand the scope of those violations, in order to aggregate more and more power to themselves. It is simply the way they work, to the point where they will – and do – seek to protect us even from ourselves.

But why is this not a legitimate concern on the part of a government? They are in the business of protecting, are they not? So why should they not protect me from the consequences of my own poor decisions?

This will be the subject of Part 5.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the irreducible facts of existence and identity, how God is the ultimate picture of these concepts, and how we are shaped in that image.

In Part 2, I went on to discuss the role of relationship and the value I believe God places in human freedom.

In this section, I’d like to talk about the tools we use to govern those choices – what we call “rights.”

In the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States claimed that rights are “endowed by our Creator.” While I believe this to be true, I do not believe my interpretation of how rights work to be dependent on a theistic worldview. Nor do I believe that this salient quote from our founding document tells the whole story. I believe rights are given to me by God . . . but what are they??

This has been the subject of many a debate over the years since the concept of “rights” was first envisioned. Prior to the Declaration, it was assumed that rights were bestowed by virtue of birth based on nationality and class – the “rights of the nobility” or the “rights of Englishmen” or the “Rights of Roman Citizens.” The Declaration was both an extension of, and a break from, that viewpoint. It broke from the view that governments can have a say over what your rights are, or are not. At the same time, it held to the belief that rights are innate – they are something we are not given, they are something we are born with.

Their vision of rights was not universal – minorities and women were excluded, but this was a factor of the prejudices of their time, rather than an inconsistency in their beliefs. Indeed, the worldview they espoused were later used to extend to those same excluded groups the rights they were initially denied.

So that’s where our notion of rights came from, but the question still remains – what are they??

Here is what I believe: I agree with our founders that rights are something we are born with, not given. I believe rights are the means by which we make the choices we have available to us. I believe, in fact, that they are an extension of the two axioms of existence and identity. That is, because I exist, and because I exist as a unique, independent individual capable of cognizant choice, the ultimate arbiter of what I do with that existence is . . . me. This is what I meant in my last segment that God values humans’ ability to make choices for ourselves. Has He expressed a desire for us to choose certain things? Yes, but ultimately, He has given us the freedom not to do so.

So here I am, an extant individual . . . existence and identity . . . in a world full of extant individuals. As such, I believe all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single, basic right. The right to exist!

From my previous blog posts, you can easily tell, then, what I think that right entails. It is my right to live as a individual, free to engage in relationships with other individuals as I see fit, and to make the choices I see fit to make. From this basic right flow corrollary rights. I have the “right” to choose how I relate to that world – how I act, how I think, what I say, who I associate with, and how I spend my time. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of association, freedom from illegal searches and seizures, freedom to defend myself against attacks . . . all of these extend from that one basic right to exist.

That is not to say that I have the “right” to do whatever I choose, if that choice infringes on the rights of another to do as they choose. For if relationships are the points at which our “selves” touch one another, and if choices are the ways in which we interact, then rights are the boundaries between those independent selves. I have the unlimited right to do whatever I choose to do with my body, my abilities to think and communicate, and my time . . . right up until that choice infringes on your right to do whatever you choose to do with yours. As the cliche goes, my right to swing my fist ends at your nose.

This concept of rights is more inclusive than some . . . for example, it negates the old adage about “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” because it places the responsibility on the hearer to be aware of his or her surroundings. If each person in that theater bears the responsibility of both making informed choices – rather than running around in a panic – and respecting the rights of others, then I have the freedom to shout away all I choose.

But this concept of rights is also less inclusive than some. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. I would submit that he was half right . . . or more precisely, that only half of these are “rights.” Freedom of Speech and Religion are, indeed, a result of simply respecting one another as individuals. However, the so-called “freedoms” from want and fear are really the opposite – they are not freedoms, but demands. “Save me from shortage!” . . . “Save me from fear” . . . “Save me!” The difference is this: I believe that my rights make no demands on another except to do nothing. My freedom of speech does not demand that another stay silent . . . only that they not interfere with my speaking. My freedom of religion does not demand that another believe what I do . . . only that they not attempt to control what I believe. My freedom of association does not demand that another associate with me . . . only that they not attempt to stop me from associating with whomever I choose.

Contrast that to the vision of “rights” espoused by FDR. Freedom from want, freedom from fear. These so-called “freedoms” are not freedoms at all. The demands they make are on me . . . on you . . . on us as a society . . .  to step in – to interfere.

I’ll say more about rights in my next post.

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 2

In Part 1, I began exploring my three-letter worldview. I discussed what Ayn Rand calls the “Axioms” . . . the indisputable, irreducible facts . . . of Existence and Identity. I discussed how I believe these concepts originated with the God of the Bible, and how they are reflected in His creation – in us – with the three letters, “I Am.”

But what do those three letters  – those “axioms” really mean?

Simply this:

Existence exists, therefore something exists. That “something” is divided into distinct, identifiable entities. But these entities are not only distinct, they are conscious.

This is the final of Rand’s three axioms: Existence, Identity, Consciousness. Again, it is an irreducible fact. “How do you know consciousness exists?” . . . I know it because without it the question of its existence cannot be asked, or even considered.

We are, therefore, distinct, identifiable entities with distinct consciousnesses operating independently of one another. Independent existences. Independent selves. You. Me. Everyone.

So what?

The existence of independent selves implies some sort of relationship between those independent selves. What, then, is a “relationship”? The word is used to mean different things – that which we call a “ball” is often said to have a relationship with that which we call the “earth,” in that they are both round. A “cat” is often said to have a relationship with a “tiger,” in that they are similar species with similar traits.

I would submit, though, that these are imagined relationships. They exist only as theoretical constructs in the minds of conscious individuals.

I would submit that a true relationship – one that exists in both the conceptual and material world – can only exist if both parties to it are conscious of it. Any two individual selves who are conscious of one another’s existince have SOME sort of “relationship.” That relationship can be characterized in many different ways: friendship, hostility, fear, apathy, love, worship. All of these are different characteristics of a relationship . . . different ways of relating.

I believe humans are specifically, and uniquely, designed for this kind of relationship . . . the kind which is conscious, deliberate and real. In Genesis, God specifically states that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I believe what He said is true for all men and women.

Relationships, then, are the points at which two conscious, independent selves intersect. How those selves interact is by means of choices.

Choices are not unique to relationships . . . a conscious being has a choice about how he or she interacts with other, unconscious beings or objects, as well. We make choices every day – every minute. Which socks should I put on this morning? What should I eat for lunch? Should I read the news or watch TV? Usually we make these choices without a second’s thought . . . and sometimes without any at all.

I believe that, in addition to existing in relationships, humans were created to make choices as well. Genesis Chapter 2 records the very first pair of interactions between God and the first of His human creations. The first is when he commanded Adam not to eat of the tree in Eden. The second was when He brought the animals to Adam. In both cases, He placed Adam in a position where Adam had to choose.

It is the first of these choices that I’d like to focus on. It is the choice He offers here that I believe tells us more about God than perhaps any other in Scripture – not so much for the choices He gave Adam, as for the fact that He gave Adam a choice at all.

A different kind of god – one who did not create Adam for choice – would have simply created an automaton, told it what to do, and left.

Yet another different kind of god – one for whom choice was acceptable, but not of paramount importance – would have simply created Adam in the idyllic Eden and left the tree out.

This is how I know, with absolute certainty, that the God of Scripture finds value in the human ability to make our own choices.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how this leads to the concept of “rights.”

My Three-letter Worldview: Part 1

Ayn Rand, as she often does in my opinion, puts it best . . . most succinctly.

“Existence exists.”

It is a reformulation of Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” but it is somehow more complete, less problematic, more . . . satisfying.

“Existence exists.” It is one statement that brooks no counter-argument, for to even make a counter-argument presumes the statement itself. To argue with this simple statement is to concede the argument before it begins.

How do I know existence exists? The answer is, “if it doesn’t, how are you even asking that question?”

Existence, then, is not an assertion, a theory, a postulation, an argument. It is a fact.

From this indisputable fact of existence flows another – Identity. If you refuse to acknowledge that existence exists, then there is no point in . . . well . . . anything. But if you acknowledge that fact, then you have to acknowledge this: something exists. Something is allowing you to even have these thoughts . . . to even read this blog.

That “something” is identity. At this moment, you are reading something I have written. It is the first you’ve read it – the first time it has entered your mind. But it entered mine first, because I wrote it. That, in and of itself, is a demonstration that I am not you, and you are not me. We are separate individuals, rather than a great, amorphous It.

You may think this is self-obvious . . . and indeed you are right! But just being self-obvious is not enough. It has to be considered, because it is the basis for everything else.

How do I, as a believer in Christ, reconcile my worldview with that of a rabid athiest like Ayn Rand?

Easily, in fact . . . because God did it first.

In Genesis, God asserts that humanity is created in His image. Entire volumes have been written around the question, “What did He mean by that?”

Here’s what I think:

There is one time in Scripture where God is asked to identify Himself, and complies with the request. In the single instance we have of God telling us who He is, His answer is three letters. “I Am.”

I believe that is the image in which we are created. How could you possibly capture the concepts of existence and identity?? “I am” proclaims existence, while “I Am” identifies that which exists.

As I said before, Ayn Rand didn’t come up with this idea on her own . . . she merely distilled what was much, much older.

God says, “I Am” . . . and because I am created in His image, I am, too!

Existence exists. . . . I exist!

What does that mean?? . . . That’s what Part 2 is all about. Stay tuned.

The Illusion of Control

There was a time when powerful leaders in particular cultures could control large swaths of their respective societies with utter impunity, and when the people being controlled had no choice in the matter. That time has passed.

Wikileaks.org is a site recently begun with the intent to be “an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.” According to its authors, “It combines the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface.”

The God Journey, as many of our readers know, is self-described as “an ever expanding conversation of those living outside the box of organized religion.”

The American Broadcasting Company is one of the “big three” U.S. television networks.

Myspace is a worldwide, incredibly popular social networking website.

Amazon is a global, online bookstore.

And yet, each of these organizations, with each of their very different missions, and very different (though sometimes overlapping) audiences, shares a very important position in modern western culture.

Together, and with millions of other individuals and organizations, they are demonstrating to the world, one example at a time, that modern western culture’s time has passed.

Humanity has seen many eras and cultures rise and fall, but a trend-line is visible when they are set against one another. The earliest civilizations had rulers with the absolute and completely arbitrary power of life and death over their people, and the people had no alternatives. Then, ancient civilizations like Babylon began to craft law codes to make the controls exercised by the rulers, and the actions taken by the people, less arbitrary and subjective.

Then Greco-Roman culture added the concept of a popular voice in the decision-making process. Though imperfect, and at times merely notional, this was a sea change in terms of control.

With the birth and ministry of Christ came the idea that one’s soul was his or her own to control – and to dedicate in service to God or to reject Him, rather than to be tossed around by the whims of the mad and capricious deities followed by the cultures in which Christianity was born.

The Reformation furthered that belief by positing that the Roman Catholic Church did not have the sole right to mediate the relationship between God and His creation.

The birth of the United States came with the notion of government by the consent of those governed.

The women’s suffrage and antislavery movements expanded that notion to previously subjugated segments of society.

The civil rights movement asserted that mere freedom from enslavement was not enough – that all should be equal in the eyes of the law.

So it is that we find ourselves today on the cusp on another movement. Like those before it, this movement is about control.

Wikileaks – the website I mentioned earlier, was originated to ensure the ability of individuals worldwide to pass information back and forth free of censorship from their respective governments.

The God Journey is an adventure in relationship with Christ free of those who wish to control that relationship from within the walls of some traditional churches.

ABC News last week posted yet another “classified” program discovered through a leak from anonymous sources within the U.S. intelligence community – this time about a “finding” by President Bush authorizing covert action against Iran.

Myspace is one of thirteen sites recently blocked from being accessed on .mil domains – those owned and operated by the U.S. military. While the reason given for the ban was a potential for future bandwidth concerns, there is widespread suspicion that it is also connected to operational security – the ability of the military to control information from its members who used the thirteen websites.

Amazon began as an online bookseller, but has become much more. First the company began to allow users to sell their own used books through its website. Then it began to sell other products in addition to books, and to allow others to do likewise. Now, among other ventures, the site offers on-demand publishing, characterized as “inventory free fulfillment” which allows users to self-publish, and immediately begin marketing and selling their own work. Our friend Kate Bowen did so, and her book In Bonn is now available on Amazon.

These are just a few examples, but it is definitely a growing trend. Modernity was the day of the middleman; of the specialization of labor. It was the time of the “expert.”

That time is passing.

What do we call this new period into which we are entering? Some call it “postmodernism,” but that seems, to me, to be merely another way of saying “we don’t know what to call all this.”

I think it needs a new name, separate from the baggage that the word “postmodern” has accrued. Time alone will tell what that name might be.

Terminology aside, however, the simple fact is that you and I are getting harder and harder to control – that in fact, such control is merely an illusion, right up to the point at which we assent to it.

. . . which is the problem, isn’t it? All too often we don’t even realize we have assented. How many times in your life have you uttered the words “I don’t have a choice”? I know I have, far more than I now care to think about.

But the truth is, in nearly all cases, we do. I might think I don’t have a choice but to go to work in the morning . . . but I do. Each day I choose to go to work and earn a living that helps to support myself and my wife. I could just as easily choose to find a different job, or choose to find some way of employing myself, or choose to make less and live in a smaller house . . . or choose to walk away from it all, for that matter.

It’s an empowering realization, because once I begin examining my life through the lense of my own choices, I realize that this is, indeed, the life that I have chosen . . . and that I rather like it. Even in the worst of times, it is better than many alternatives. It has made me realize that I do not have to allow so-called “experts” to tell me, among other things, what to think about world events, how best to care for my body, or how to connect to God.

The simple fact is that experts might (arguably) be right a majority of the time, but they will be wrong sometimes. When they are, there is undoubtedly somebody out there with the right answer, and all I usually have to do to find it is run a reasonably thorough search through Google and compare all the different viewpoints I get.

I am done looking at the world through other people’s filters. My own are hazy enough without introducing the additional, inevitable subjectivity that comes whenever somebody else attempts to force us to see something “their way.”

All of this brings us back to the websites mentioned at the start of this post. Each, in its own way, is working to increase the number of viewpoints available to us. Each is part of the reason we live in an era of choices like none that has ever existed before. Some, like ABC News, have tried to play the role of middleman, working with other news organizations to tell us what to think . . . but their day is coming to an end as well – just look at the explosion of news-related blogs, some of them even producing their own original reporting from places like Iraq. There is even a news service that exists to provide content for bloggers, just like the Associated Press and other wire services do for “mainstream media.”

In other cases, there are outside forces who attempt to wrest control from some of us. I cannot access MySpace (or YouTube, etc.) from my office because I work on a military installation. The military has also attempted, recently, to clamp down on soldiers blogging on day to day life during deployment.

Such efforts will probably be successful, for a time – but the ABC story is proof that even the force of federal law against release of classified information is not enough to protect a story from getting out. If that’s the case, how can the military expect to control bloggers in its ranks?

This whole situation presents a host of opportunities, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. The simple fact is that when it comes to the information era, it is easier to operate as a small, agile entity than a large, clumsy one. For this reason, the U.S. government is losing the War on Terror (if I may use a term that has fallen out of favor), and it is losing that war on the Internet.

It is a new, multidimensional threat. How does a government as ungainly as the U.S. address such a threat? I don’t know, but it is certainly not by attacking any country in which terrorists are plotting against U.S. assets, or by attempting to root out and arrest terrorists wherever they might be hiding. Those methods might (arguably) have worked once. They do not work any longer.

Perhaps there is no response. Perhaps this is another chink in the armor of a nation-state system that seems to be failing. perhaps the answer is to plod along as best we can as nations until something better, more agile comes along.

That, it seems, is our choice. The future is up to us.