On Being Compliant

Years ago, my dad explained to me why he didn’t like to fly. It’s not that he didn’t fly or was afraid of flying or something like that. But if he had the choice to take a road trip or fly, he would prefer to drive. His reasoning was simple, and it is something that most of us can relate to. He said that when you fly you have no control. You are simply along for the ride. You are a passenger in every sense of the word. You will sit where they tell you when they tell you and not move until they tell you. It is all necessary for safe and efficient air travel. Everyone just falls in line. But deep down, I think we long for the autonomy and agency that comes when we are behind the wheel.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I try to understand everything from Covid mandates, to people’s fascination with driverless cars, and the rise of cancel culture. Yes, I think there is a connection. See, we live in an age where garages have been converted into “man caves” and a study in the home gives way to home theaters. The activity of humanity, at least in our affluent country, is driven more by consumerism with their artificial needs that slowly strips us of our sense of control. Instead of being creators, we become collectors. We have been on a steady move from people who have some sort of dominion over the stuff of their lives to people who are simply entertained and rendered passive consumers. 

Last week, while I was at our district’s pastor’s conference, I found myself in an odd conversation when one of the gentlemen mentioned that he would love it if self-driving cars were already a reality. He like the idea that he could read or do other work while the car took him where he needed to go. It would be safer as well, less accidents, because we wouldn’t be in control. No need to worry about distracted drivers because we would all be distracted and none of us driving. It makes sense, I suppose, and it seems reasonable. We should just give over to the big tech giants who promise the automation of our daily inconveniences. That way we can be free to pursue other things. But what other things are you going to pursue? More than likely you will just spend more time on Facebook, more time scrolling through social media feeds, more time in passive consumption of whatever dopamine drip you’ve become addicted to. 

We’ve all seen WALL·E we know where this leads.

I think that the more we become passive, the more we turn to our screens and drift away, the more time we spend as just another passenger along for the ride, we are in a sense speeding up the aging process. (Or rapidly reversing it.) As we freely turn over our autonomy and dominion, the more we will find ourselves at the mercy of others. The difference between those saints I visited last Monday in the nursing homes and our modern culture is that they don’t want to be there. Their bodies have worn out, their passivity is a result of many years of use and activity. It is only now, near the end of their lives, that they have someone else tell them where to go and when to sit and for how long. Yet, we seem to be opting for this, even preferring it.

When I watch the massive compliance with many controversial mandates issued by state and federal government, what I see is not nobility or patriotism, but a normal response from those who have been taught that the best thing is to do what you’ve been told. The same goes for the cancel culture who can’t handle the jokes that Dave Chapelle makes. So, like a bunch of little children who have not real control over anything in their lives, they cry and whine to get their way. Look around. We are not in control. We are not driving the car. We are not deciding what is best or right or faithful or true. We are simply receiving it all and won’t risk giving up what we consume to oppose it.

It is strange because passivity and receiving is major part of the assurance of our faith. We confess that we are saved by grace, through faith and not by our own work, not by what we have done, not by our own reason or strength. The confidence of salvation is rooted in receiving what Christ has done for us. And so, there is a major part of the Christian reality that ought to come alongside the compliance of our age. And yet, I don’t think we were created to live lives in the horizontal realm as simple consumers. We are blessed with incredible gifts by our Creator that are bound up in activity; in governing our own sphere and having dominion over all things below us. 

Perhaps just being a passenger and going along with everyone else, just being compliant in our temporal realities effects more than our physical selves. There is a spirituality to this. I think there is righteousness in our doings, in our work, our driving, our creating and our fixing. And so perhaps, there might be righteousness in noncompliance as well.