The Illusory Freedom of Pop Culture

imagesWestern culture is changing at an astonishing speed today. Twenty-five years ago, when I graduated from college, cell phones were barely a known commodity. Today smart phones are a staple of contemporary life. Al Gore had not yet invented the internet. Today our family panics if the Wi-Fi goes out. Socially the country was largely conservative and the values were largely biblical. Oh how things have changed. The guiding principle today is “freedom”—freedom to do and be whatever one wants. Casting off the shackles of a repressive morality—anything goes. An important question to consider, however, is this; does the new “anything goes” morality work? In other words, does the pursuit of unfettered freedom really make one free?

Roger Scruton thinks this new morality actually ends up enslaving those who practice it. For example, consider the practice of sex. Traditionally sex was understood in the context of a covenant commitment—an I-You relation. Today sex is understood in terms of body parts, release, and recreation. The result as Scruton observes is that the experience of sex “is addictive—that is to say, it can be obtained without effort, leads automatically to the pleasure that completes it, and rapidly colonizes the brain of the one who gives way to it.”[1] Instead of freedom, the quest for sexual liberation leads to enslavement.

Or consider contemporary “pop” music. As Scruton puts it, the “quick fix” mentality has led to the creation of “machinelike” music which bypasses, “all interpersonal relations, to focus on the pure stimulus and the pure response. It is a music of objects, from which subjects have been excluded.”[2] Scruton’s point is that much of the music of pop culture is narcissistic, focused on a kind of musical arousal “demanding no effort of listening and divorced from any relation with the external world.”[3] Exhibit A: Justin Bieber. QED.

The point, argues Scruton, is “that the freedoms seemly enjoyed by the American people are illusory freedoms, and that the underlying cultural reality is one of enslavement—enslavement to the fetishes of the market and the consumer culture, which by placing appetite above long-term values leads to the loss of rational autonomy.”[4]

I agree. A life devoted to our base appetites is not a life of freedom; it is an enslavement.  Genuine freedom is not the freedom to do whatever you want to do. Rather, genuine freedom is the freedom to do what you ought to do.

Can such a freedom be found? Is there a freedom available to all in which the shackles of addiction can be broken, and the human soul liberated from the demons that pull it down? Yes this kind of freedom is real. It is offered, in fact, freely. All you need to do is turn your soul away from the idols that enslave it toward the true God, who loves you and has come in the person of Jesus Christ to set you free.

To learn more about Jesus, see my post on King Jesus.

To learn more about the Story Jesus invites us to, see my post on the best possible story.


[1] Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 151.

 [2] Ibid.

 [3] Ibid.

 [4] Ibid., 152.

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