Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice

Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice

by Alan Wolfe
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Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice by Alan Wolfe

"No sociologist now writing is able to capture and describe American manners and morals better than Alan Wolfe."—David Brooks
What is the difference between right and wrong? What does it mean to lead a good life? How binding is the marriage vow? What are your obligations to an employer? To your friends? To yourself? Is it always immoral to tell a lie? "[A]n alert and knowledgeable social critic," Alan Wolfe asked Americans around the country such questions in "his intriguing exploration of our collective character, testing prevailing notions of the culture war" (New York Times Book Review). Focusing on the traditional virtues of loyalty, honesty, self-restraint, and forgiveness, Wolfe "strips away ulterior agendas to give us a look at the raw material of the American conscience" (New York Observer) and discovers that "Americans...have not so much left traditional morality behind as they have redefined it in ways that suit their individual tastes, purposes, and situations" (Washington Post). "Wolfe is right that [the search for moral freedom] is a revolution...a very American revolution."—Newsweek

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393323023
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/17/2002
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alan Wolfe is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and the author of, most recently, the best-selling One Nation after All.

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Moral Freedom: The Search For Virtue in a World of Choice 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The subtitle of Alan Wolfe's latest social study is "The Impossible Idea That Defines The Way We Live Now." Professor Wolfe purports to study the idea of moral freedom and its applicability to the brave new world in which we live. This is a highly literate, reasonably well-designed popular study, the general conclusions of which are,insofar as Prof. Wolfe's interviews and surveys extend, no doubt generally accurate. For Prof. Wolfe tells us, in essence, that ours is a secular society in which relativism, materialism, subjectivism, and hedonism are displacing Christian humanism. That will come as no surprise to anyone. These isms, corrupt as they are, have led to a long train of sorrow and suffering: abortion, drug abuse, rampant crime, mass murder, and ethical confusion and chaos. When the idea of the sacred disappears, it will be replaced by a new god, and his reflection can be seen daily in our bathroom mirrors. One's complaint about Prof. Wolfe's study does not concern the question of its accuracy but rather the issue of whether he has even the foggiest notion of what "moral freedom" really is. He defines it as the idea "that individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life" (p. 195), which, of course, means that we should, much as Charles Reich once told us, "build [our] own philosophy and values" (p. 216) and re-define or re-design our own god (because the "old" one just isn't accommodating enough [cf. p. 226]). But of course this is not moral freedom at all; it is licentious and libidinous anarchy. Prof. Wolfe's (selected?) interviews of often well-meaning but inarticulate Christians unfortunately do not make the point one finds presented so powerfully in Pope John Paul's 1993 letter "The Splendor of Truth": "People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from Him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil" (#8). Moreover, the idea that freedom means the opportunity to "serve one another through love" (Gal 5:13; cf. 1 Pt 2:16) and the notion that freedom is selfless devotion to God (Mt 22:37)--and that therein lies the source of human dignity--Prof. Wolfe and a number of his readers would no doubt perfunctorily dismiss. Consider that one of his interviewees says of Mother Teresa that she was a "[vixen] on wheels" (p. 194). How can one react in the face of such stunted moral "vision" except to feel, not anger, not disgust, but pity? To think, even for a moment, that such a person (the interviewee) has a glimmer of "moral freedom" is to misunderstand both "moral" and "freedom." For the source of "morality" is not to be found in our appetites and urges; and the meaning of "freedom" is not to be found in the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, lust, anger, gluttony, sloth, greed), but in ordering our lives so that we live as we should, in the service not of the one we design to approve the indulgence of our urges, but of the One who designed us (cf. Rom 6:15-23, 12:2) to know His peace (Phil 4:7) in eternal life (1 Jn 5:13).