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‘Rights Come From God’: Dismantling The Dangerous Lie of Personal Autonomy

Every day, many in our culture champion homosexuality and transgenderism, the murder of babies in the womb, and even the right of suffering people to take their own lives through assisted suicide. A root of these views is the idea that we are our own masters—that, in rebellion against the Word of God, we can define who we are and write out the trajectory of our own lives. 

In the past, people generally understood that human autonomy is limited: There are fixed truths woven into the universe, and we have natural obligations to others.

John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, says our culture’s view of personal autonomy is no longer just a moral issue, but an issue of identity. “Today, it’s not, ‘I can behave in whatever way I want,’” he says. “It’s ‘I am whoever I think I am.’”

Carl Trueman, author and professor of Biblical and religious studies at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, says that Western culture has redefined humanity based on the illusion of autonomy: “At the heart of the modern notion of what it means to be human is the idea that we are fundamentally free,” independent, having no obligation, able to chart our own course.

Author Alisa Childers adds: “We live in a culture that views any kind of authoritative hierarchical structure as being inherently oppressive. In our culture, it’s considered virtuous to identify what your deepest desires are and then make those desires your actual identity. So, in other words, culture would say, ‘I am who I feel I am.’”

Sex and Abortion: “My Body, My Choice”

“Let me cut to the chase,” touts a Planned Parenthood sex ed video. “Virginity is a completely made-up concept. It’s a term that was created simply to control and shame people. … shame has no place in someone’s personal decisions about sex.”

And this from a Planned Parenthood representative at a February press conference, as she explained her reason for seeking an abortion: “I wanted to pursue my personal ambitions after graduating college, and I wanted to invest in my life first.” She called it “torture” to have any waiting period before she could have her unborn baby killed.

Trueman observes that our culture’s view of sex has shifted away from considering what responsibilities it requires to a simple quest for self-indulgence. In culture’s eyes, “it is something we can freely and independently do cost-free to ourselves,” he says. “The unborn baby is seen as a ‘problem’; it inhibits the woman’s freedom and autonomy and therefore must be disposed of.”

Childers says, “Let’s just call it what it is: It’s the religion of sex. … if it is our core identity, then it’s absolutely the highest virtue. Therefore, culture says, women should be able to live whatever kind of life they want with no consequences.”

Transgenderism and Gender Identity

“Only you can define your gender identity,” says a video from Mermaids, a U.K. charity for transgender minors. It describes gender as “a spectrum, with loads of possibilities.”

In transgenderism, Trueman says, “there is a belief that I can be the master of my own destiny; my body can be overcome.”

LGBTQ advocates teach that sex and gender are different things, and that gender is fluid and can change over time. Meanwhile, they want people, even children, to have the “right” to irreversibly change their bodies if they feel like their gender identity doesn’t line up with their biological sex. A person’s “true self” is simultaneously something he gets to define, and something he cannot help.

Stonestreet points out that it’s an unsustainable lie that “identity is constructed,” and that we can “make ourselves” and violate God-given norms without consequence.

“I can choose not to acknowledge gravity,” he says, “but eventually gravity is going to win.”

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

“We think we can make ourselves like little gods,” Stonestreet says, “and then we’re frustrated, depressed and suicidal when it doesn’t work out.”

Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity are nonprofit organizations in the U.S. committed to increasing access to assisted suicide. Both stand on a platform of “empowerment” and “compassion,” making the case to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to American citizens so they can kill themselves before their natural times—again, in the name of personal autonomy.

Assisted suicide is legal in 11 U.S. states for people with terminal illnesses and a prognosis of six months or less.

Elsewhere, in places such as Belgium or the Netherlands, the prerequisite for assisted suicide (self-administered) or euthanasia (physician-administered) is that the patient’s physical or mental suffering is “unbearable” and shows no sign of letting up, no matter how many years he could have left on earth.

“I was just in Canada,” Childers says, “and one of the women there was telling me that someone in her family was a little bit older, was going through some depression, and the doctor actually offered assisted suicide as an option to them. How did we get to this point?”

And where it’s illegal in the U.S. to prescribe a lethal pill, a patient can voluntarily stop eating and drinking with the support of certain hospices, practices and nonprofits.

The justification for this is that it is the patient’s choice. It is considered OK to withhold food and water from, or to give a lethal drug to, a dementia patient—so long as she expressed her wish to die from assisted suicide while she was still psychologically aware. 

“One thing that reminds us that we are not autonomous is that we are going to die,” Trueman says. We cannot control our own circumstances, he adds, so we “attempt to take control of the last thing that we don’t have control of—and that is the place and hour of our own death.” 

The Truth

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

True freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want—it is to be set free by God from slavery to sin (1 Peter 2:16; Romans 6). As created beings, we are defined by God and the boundaries He has set in place, Trueman says. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3, they were “effectively attempting to redefine what it means to be human. 

“The Bible shows that freedom has a moral shape,” Trueman says. “It’s the freedom to act in accordance with God’s design. It’s the freedom to realize what God means when He declares us to be human beings.” 

God’s Word declares that human life is sacred, from birth to death (Genesis 1:26-28). If culture understood that humans are made in the image of God, Childers says, “it would end abortion, it would end euthanasia. It would end all of the problems that result from humans harming one another.”

“God’s Word is what’s behind creation itself,” Stonestreet says. “So, the more you deny God’s Word, and the more you deny God, the more you deny reality.” Human dignity and rights come from God, and the church has “a remarkable opportunity to point to the truth and to show in our lives that truth actually is the way things work.”


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