Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reflection on the Contemporary Relevance of Free Will

Like many things in our world, what may be the “ultimate reality of free will” could be seen as confluence of three circumstances.  In terms of theology, free will is referred to as something given to us by a higher power.  Something that comes from without.  A gift.  Free will is to be honored out of respect for its origins and not used in vain.  It is, at the very least, a moral story.  At most a demonstration of faith.

A second aspect of free will is that it is self-evident.  We are always free to choose, even death.  And gift or not, free will exists.  Added to that component (or not) is the application of Intent, or in this instance, the decision to make use of the evident ability to govern one’s self in earthly matters.  To not only acknowledge the reality of free will as an ability to go right or left, but to choose to practice self-determination mindfully.   It can be used for good, or not.  

The third component of free will is the vessel, the Biology.  It is the aggregate filter through which either (or both) of the first two are processed, hopefully resulting in a beneficial result of its mindful application.  The biology expresses many things including emotional state.  When you add to the emotional state factors like genes/heredity, early neurological development, and environment it becomes a soup of influence over the expression of free will.  

Be they real or imaginary, these components:
(1) faith-based or cultural perception of free will as a “gift,”
(2) evident self-determination, and
(3) biological influence,
each contribute to the individual’s actions in general as well as their capacity for ethical behavior.  Much of religious interpretation is centered on the balance of these three components.   

Sometimes it feels as if we don't have a choice.  But the truth is even though we may sometimes have nothing but bleak choices in front of us, they are choices.  I'm not making a judgement call on the quality of available choices.  I'm saying that choices always exist because we are in charge over whether we turn left or right. We are in charge over whether we sacrifice ourselves to save a loved one or not.  The choice may not feel like much.  One could say, I didn't have any choice!  That's because the alternative was so unthinkable it could not even be considered.  But it is still one of the available options.  

Mahatma Gandhi said, “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience.” The options may not feel like much, but because the options exists we actually do make a choice for or against them.

Once we have acknowledged that there are always options (be they good or inconceivable) we must accept that the list of options is impacted by the three components of free will mentioned above.  When we are abused and made to feel worthless, our list of options feels short.  Sometimes it becomes a list with only two visible options on it: Steal or Go Hungry.  Once can always say that they have lots of other choices, they don't have to steal, but that's only true if they know it.  It's hard to know the content of a person's heart.  Abuse and anger make humans do terrible things.  Do we judge the thing or do we read it?   

So, what have we to make of the existence of free will today, then?  We cannot deny that it exists and that we are free to make whatever use of it we choose.  One could argue that free will gives us the opportunity to not only evolve but perhaps arrive more soundly at the intended destination for all the wrong turns we are free to make along the journey.  How much more value do we place on achievement when it is hard won?  How much more deeply do we value an accomplishment or care for an asset that was fraught with challenges?  If there is an energetic vibration to victory how much more loudly is it rung throughout the Universe when we have achieve a goal in spite of adversity?  Our struggles as well as our successes come from the exercise of free will, by ourselves and others around us, as interpreted through individual education/faith circumstances, level of self-awareness, and biological/environmental/emotional factors in combination.  

Is there fate?  Not as such.  But there is predisposition.  If one is a hammer, he will likely find himself in the company of nails, as the saying goes.  But it is not a given.  The hammer gets to decide.  Likewise, we may have influencing factors, but we make the decisions.

Our Judeo/Christian-influenced culture has a tremendous difficulty with accepting the mantle and responsibility of our inherent free will.  This is largely owing to the fact that God is traditionally portrayed as an outside Creator of the world, not part of it.  We are taught that God will tell us what to do for we are ignorant and are thus incapable of making an independent decisions about right and wrong.  Even those who do not subscribe to the belief of a higher power granting free will to humans are impacted by the wider culture's belief in it.  The old Calvinistic doctrine of "inherent depravity" has encoded into our culture a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, and disconnection.  This pervasive meme fuels our ability, or inability, to use our free will to make stronger more loving choices.  

Liberal religion has a mission to empower humanity with a message of self-determination, regardless of holy or earthly origin, so that we may emerge from the state of  believing we are “perpetually fallen” to a state of knowing grace.

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