A synonym for autonomy is independence. How appropriate then to write about Independence Day.
According to Wikipedia, Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence…declaring that the 13 American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “No duh, Kathy.” Be patient.
It strikes me that Independence Day celebrates a one-time act of severing from the British Empire. But from various political issues, decisions, and statements from leaders in our nation, as well as from the ever more individualistic tendencies and views of the general populace, one could gather that Independence Day celebrates the notion that we are independent in the world. And nothing could be further from the truth. The nations on earth are interdependent. As much as we might prefer to think of ourselves as autonomous or independent, every action we take has an impact on every other nation on earth.
A great read is Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. In it, they discuss the value we in the west place on individualism and how that informs the way we read scripture as well as live out our faith. One example they share is of the departure of the novelist Anne Rice from the Christian Church. According to the authors, Rice claimed to remain faithful to Christ, but not to being ‘Christian’. The authors also point out that “(a)ssociating with Christ but not his church is a distinction Jesus would never have made. (…) Jesus viewed us — his church — as a collectivist community.”
Richards/O’Brien talk of one way to help correct our notion of individualism within the context of life in the kingdom of God – that is to realize that many times when the Bible uses the word “you”, it is meant in a collective sense as opposed to an individualistic sense. Thus, as they point out, we read Ephesians 2:21-22 as follows:
“In him [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you [plural] too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Their conclusion is poignant:
“So why go to church? Why worship with a group? Because in some way we may not fully understand, the Spirit indwells the group in a way the Spirit does not indwell the individual.”
Our actions as Christians impact the entire community. We may have an illusion of autonomy or independence, but we (not I) are the church.
I am old enough to have learned from first-hand accounts of the honourable objectives of our nation in our international relations and actions. We have a history of defending human rights. Of freeing others from oppressive regimes. Of acting honourably even under extreme duress. Of being focused on the greater community and not ourselves as an individual nation, independent from global authority and autonomous in our behaviour.
My prayer is that we posture ourselves as such in the global community once again.