In our postmodern culture self-fulfilment has become a matter of individually self-chosen goals. Freedom – in the sense of the absolute autonomy of the individual – has become the single, overarching ideal to which all other goals are subordinated. I must be free to be whoever I choose to be and to pursue whatever good I define for myself. There must be no normative goals, models or ideals for which I should aim. The point is not simply that there are no such normative goals, but that there must be none, if I am to be truly free to be myself – to be the self I choose to make myself. Needless to say this contentless freedom is much more of an ideology than a reality. Most of us in fact seek fulfilment in goals presented enticingly to us by society, not least by commercial interests, as those normally thought desirable – especially in sexual relationships, work and an affluent lifestyle. But these are ideologically packaged as means to a freely chosen, non-normative path of self-creation. This ideological packaging is seductive. It leads people to set great value on, for example, freedom to buy things (consumer choice) and freedom from long-term commitments in relationships – understanding these things as important to their self-fulfilment. Such notions of self- fulfilment have all the potent allure of the ideal of freedom. They also have their victims: people impoverished by debt and children thrown out of a parental home to live on the streets are just some of the more obvious of these.
The roots of this particular ideology of self-fulfilment lie in the rejection of God, and it requires the rejection of God. This is because it envisages freedom as absolute autonomy. The freedom it desires is not freedom to discover and to embrace truth and goodness for oneself, but freedom to create one’s own truth and goodness for oneself, ‘God’ is only conceivable as a land of function of one’s freedom, and in some debased forms of contemporary religion ‘God’ becomes a mere means to the religious person’s self-fulfilment – a genie in their lamp. In a culture which has lost the sense of what it could mean really to believe in God, this is not surprising. But it illustrates how carefully Christians need to distinguish the Christian understanding of salvation from the culturally dominant notions of self-fulfilment.
Fulfilment as the pursuit of absolute autonomy has freedom from God as its presupposition. By contrast, salvation – in the Christian sense – is what people seek when they know that God is the reality to be reckoned with from first to last. For people who seek salvation, whatever else they may think they can know about God, it is self- evident that God is the source and goal of all things, never a means to an end. God is the source and the goal of my freedom, never its function. I do not know what Christians mean by salvation until I realise I can be fully myself only in receiving myself from God and in giving myself utterly to God. Salvation is to experience as the source and the goal of my own being and living the one who is the source and the goal of all things.