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Choice or Personal Responsibility?

This is something that has been on my mind lately. What is the relationship between choice and personal responsibility? Can one exist without the other? Which focus is more dangerous?

In today's society it seems like personal responsibility has become quite unpopular and many are trying to shove it out of society. Our litigious culture is willing to sue anyone for anything. If someone makes a mistake, they tend to point their finger at someone else. I see this at work, in the news, and at school (which really gets me). Our school system has become scared to discipline our children or hold them back due to the possibility that they might get sued by angry parents or damage the students' "self esteem". If our school system is afraid to teach our children to take personal responsibility (morally or academically), how can we expect our students to take any kind of personal responsibility when they are adults?

Let me clarify something about our schools. We have many awesome teachers who have found ways to hold students responsible regardless of the flawed system that limits their activities, and I commend them for this. However, if the system would allow students to be held directly responsible, the teachers would not have to spend so much energy on that, and instead spend more energy teaching our students.

Our government surely doesn't seem to care much; they like to institute more and more social programs that allow the public to rely on the "system" rather than taking responsibility for their own lives (I understand that sometimes people need help, so the system should allow for these situations, but only these situations).

What I find ironic, is that as our society disowns personal responsibility we clamor for more choices, more options. But, the thing is that choices have consequences that come with them. If you are given a choice between two things, normally each option has pros and cons that the other doesn't. To get the rewards of one option you must accept the consequences of not choosing the other. I will soon be faced with a choice like this. I plan on buying a new computer in the next year or so, and my options will be either a desktop or a laptop. The desktop is faster than the laptop, but does not provide the portability of a laptop. If I choose the laptop, I gain a reward (portability), but I also accept the consequence (slower speed). I don't like it, but if I want the choice I must accept one or the other. If I don't want to accept the consequences I could have someone else make the decision for me, then blame them for making the "wrong" choice. Now, this example is really trivial (no moral or life-long consequences), but it is an example that we can all see.

I see the same concept played out in much less trivial situations all over; from work to school, from leisure to relationships. Employees blame coworkers for their bad performance; students claim that professors are too tough because their grades suck; people sue fastfood chains because their health was compromised; men and women cheat on their spouse, then blame their spouse by saying that their spouse didn't meet their needs. What do all these situations have in common? Choice. The person chose to take the action that looked enticing on the surface, then refused to take personal responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

If people don't want to take personal responsibility, then why not remove options? Take choice out of the equation. If you can't choose, you're not responsible. If there are fewer choices, then social equality is closer to being realized also. With no choices, everyone is equal (no "Jones Complex" or desire) and not responsible (no stress). What could be better than that?

Many people value personal responsibility, because it is a sign of strength. Personal responsibility is perceived by others when a person has tough choices and accepts both reward and consequence of the decisions made. Strength is perceived when others realize that despite the consequences, that person made the right choice. Those who focus on personal responsibility value choice because personal responsibility is dependent on choice being available. However, those who focus on choice, value it because it gives an illusions of freedom and control.

Lack of personal responsibility is a sign of weakness. Someone who is weak is unable to make reliable decisions, and more options tend to confuse the issue more. Those who are personally responsible are then given the opportunity to take responsibility (and control) for the weaker. When control is taken, options are taken.

Choice is good, but should not be our focus. If we, as a society, focus on personal responsibility, more choices and fewer consequences will follow. We will remain in control and have true freedom. If we, as a society, do not focus on personal responsibility, we will see our choices dwindle into the hands of those who do focus on personal responsibility- we lose our choices, our strength and eventually, our self-respect.

Right Living or Right Thinking?

I have come across several people who have told me that right practice (orthopraxy) is more important than right beliefs (orthodoxy). We're all familiar with the phrase "You can talk the 'talk', but can you walk the 'walk'?" In terms of "orthodoxy" and "orthopraxy" it is, "You may have orthodoxy, but do you have orthpraxy?" These same people interpret this to mean that orthopraxy is more important that orthodoxy. I disagree.

Right Living (Orthopraxy) presupposes Right Thinking (Orthodoxy). How one lives is dependent on how one perceives the world. Perception always precedes action. In order for someone to determine that an action is required (or not), a perception must be made. If a person makes the wrong perception, the wrong action may very well follow. Of course, if the right perception is made, the right action may very well follow also. This is not a definite equation because one still has to make a decision based on, not just one perception but, numerous perceptions; and it may not always be clear which of those perceptions should take precedence over the other(s). To make that determination (action), other perceptions must be invoked.

Does Doubt Equal Disbelief? Part 2

This was originally going to be a single-part topic, but I realized after several comments on the original post, that I needed to clarify and address a few extra things for both the unbeliever and the believer.

First, I want to define a term. Second, I will discuss the scriptures brought up as challenges. Third, I will provide scriptures that allow for "doubt" being biblical.

1. Doubt- when I use this word in the original post, I am referring only to be skeptical of the truth of a claim. I'm not talking about distrusting someone, and I am not talking about not believing that something you pray for will come true. I am speaking strictly of being unsure of the truth of something someone is claiming to be true.

2. A few scriptures were posed to me as being Biblical evidence that doubting truth claims is unbiblical. The implied conclusion seemed to be that investigating Christian truth claims is discouraged in the Bible.

Here are the scriptures posed as challenges:
James 1:5-8
Matthew 21:21 (parallel passage Mark 11:23)
Romans 14:23

Let's look at each one individually:

James 1:5-8
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

Notice that the context of this passage is a man asking God for something (wisdom, in this case). If a man asks God for wisdom, but does not believe (doubts) that God will give it to him, he is "like a wave of the sea...". This passage's specific definition for the word "doubt" is "doubting someone" or "not believing that something you pray for will come true." Neither of which is the definition or context of my original post. Since the context of the two being compared (my post and the biblical passage) is not the same, the comparison is unwarranted, and may be discarded.

Matthew 21:21
"Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."

This one has also a different context and definition. (I have always been a fan of Greg Koukl's booklet and online article "Never Read a Bible Verse". The short version is that one should never take only a single verse (out of context) to make a point.) If you read the whole story (Matthew 21:18-21), you will notice that Jesus is not talking about doubting the truth of something that is being told to you. He's talking about being able to wilt a fig tree or move a mountain. The specific definition of "doubt" and overall context is not the same. So, that really has nothing to do with my post either.

Romans 14:23
"But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."

Please read this one in context (Romans 14- the entire chapter). Notice that Paul is talking about trivial issues that may cause someone to stumble (food and drink in this case). He makes it clear in the verse 23 (the one you quoted) that he is still talking about food and drink. Specifically, Paul is talking about doubting (not knowing) whether or not eating or drinking something will cause a brother to stumble. Once again, this is not the definition of "doubt" nor the context that I use. So, this one is not applicable either.

3. Here are a few scriptures that promote testing truth claims, being gracious to (rather than condemning) those who have questions (doubt), and providing a defense of the Gospel.

1 Peter 3:15
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Jude 1:22-23

1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

In 1 Peter 3:8-22 Peter is commanding his brothers to be compassionate and humble in everything that they do. In verse 15, he specifically mentions situations in which someone is asking questions about their beliefs.

1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test everything. Hold on to the good.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Paul is saying pretty much the same as Peter above.

Jude 1:22-23
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

In context (Jude 1:17-23) Jude is speaking of people who doubt the truth-claims of Christianity.

I have published two other posts that may also help to shed more light on the subject (each has references for further investigation):

Why Apologetics?
Is "Blind Faith" Biblical?

If you think that I need to address anything else in regards to this topic, please let me know.