Thinking about the discussion with — the other day it occurred to me that one of the reasons why conversion is so difficult is because it means giving up autonomy. The person for whom God does not exist can, at least potentially, be completely autonomous. S/he can, in fact must, decide for themselves how much weight they are going to give to social obligations, moral codes and the demands of others. Their attitude can range from total subservience to the will of others to complete idiosyncrasy. Once one acknowledges the existence of God (I do not mean here mere intellectual assent to a belief but the awareness of an existential relationship however dimly or unthematically felt) the second option no longer applies. They now know, however unreflectively, that their being is inextricably intermingled with the being of God and consequently with the being of others also. Autonomy was never an option. It was once an illusion, a desperate attempt to assert the reality of an independent self, a self that could be possessed.

Possessive quality is found in the conception of the individual as essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them.  The individual is seen neither as a moral whole, nor as part of a larger social whole, but as an owner of himself.  The individual is free, it is thought, inasmuch as he is the proprietor of his person and capacities.  The human essence is freedom from dependence on the wills of others, and freedom is a function of possession.  Society becomes a lot of free equal individuals related to each other as proprietors of their own capacities and of what they acquired by their exercise.  Society consists of relations of exchange between proprietors.[Macpherson C.B, The Political Theory of Political Individualism, Penguin 1962]


Of course we are not all possessive individualists but so many have the implicit belief that ultimately, ‘I am myself and I can decide what I am going to do with myself.’ Belief in God, however, entails the loss of even the illusion of independence.

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