Heteronomy

Heteronomy is defined this way: “it refers to action that is influenced by a force outside the individual.”

(The definition presupposes an atomistic self, i.e., a notion of the self as separate from “external forces.” Let’s suppose for a minute that this characterization of the self is indeed an accurate one.)

Its quite amazing how much of our lives is spent engaging in heteronomous actions and in providing the influences necessary to motivate heternomous actions in others. Almost every time I find heteronomy, I find a relationship that is not rooted in love.

This makes me wonder: how am I to understand my relationship with God in light of these observations? Are my actions that are aiming at obedience to God heteronomous actions, and thus, actions that are motivated by a relationship characterized by a lack of love? Are there exceptions to the rule, “heteronomy != love?” Is it the case that God, in actuality does not desire us to engage in actions heteronomously? Or is it none of these things at all?

Jesus seemed like he was really big into autonomy. Whenever we see him inviting a potential disciple to follow him, we see nothing but Jesus presented that potential disciple with a choice: join me or don’t. There’s not attempt at persuasion. There are not threats of eternal damnation if one does not comply. A simple yes or no question is Jesus’ method of determining who will autonomously choose him. Was this love?

(Its interesting how different our “evangelism” techniques are these days compared to Jesus’ style.)

When we zoom out, however, and consider the creation ourselves by God, it seems like there is less autonomy involved. To make a decision that is not influenced by a force outside the individual is ridiculous, in this sense. It would be impossible to make a decision at all if a certain confluence of external events hadn’t cause you to be in the position of decision making in the first place.

Sitting here typing, I’m succumbing to an internal force: exhaustion. Although this is not an “external” force in the strictest sense of the word, it still has coercive power. Perhaps, then, there are internal limitations that, paradoxically, can prevent full autonomy. Either way, I cannot explore the matter further because my conscious will is being dominated by a more primal one: the will for sleep.

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