Liberty, Free Will and You

Americans like to toss around the words "freedom" and "liberty" routinely. Through the Constitution we have the guarantees of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion, among other freedoms. Yes, Americans are freedom obsessed. The concept of freedom is fascinating and frightening all at once. So lets take a look at the metaphysical question of freedom; is it an illusion, or is it reality? Are we truly free, or is our life in some sense mapped out for us, predetermined? Are my decisions truly the product of liberty, or are they simply illusions of freedom, as they arise from other causes and effects that predispose me to make the choices I do?

We have to admit that there are some things we do not have the liberty to change, control or determine. We cannot determine our parents, where we grow up, what rules we have to follow in our parents' home, etc. Nor are we free to violate the laws of society. Certainly we can make the decision to steal, lie, cheat, and kill. However, we must distinguish between the ability to do so, and the freedom to do so. We have the ability to violate laws, but not the freedom. The same is true of divine and natural law. We can claim we have absolute freedom all day, but any attempt to fly without a plane or helicopter will end very poorly for you. Nature's law- gravity- will have its way. Indeed we could apply this as well to Gender Reassignment Surgery. Are those who disfigure their bodies through this method really changing their gender? No. They can change appearances (ability), but they cannot change their gender no matter how they try (freedom). Divine and Natural laws remain in control. So absolute freedom cannot be true.

There are several metaphysical schools of thought on freedom.

The Determinist will tell you that everything that occurs in the cosmos is caused by prior states of affairs, including our every day choices of what to eat, when to get out of bed, what route to drive to work, and who to date and marry. Pretty bleak, eh? In this view there is little room for true freedom, and perhaps little room for divine intervention as well.

Of course, you also have those metaphysical Calvinists, the Predestinationists. For them, every single event is fixed by God. Period. Not much different from the Determinist, is it? They simply invoke God as the Absolute Determiner.

But what of the Fatalists? Surely they have the key, right? Well, lets take a look.

The Fatalist will tell you that some (and most likely all) events are irrevocably fixed; therefore, there is nothing you and I can do to alter them in any way. Just like in that iconic British Science Fiction series, Doctor Who, when the Doctor is confronted by a companion to change the future or past and he responds, "I can't! You don't understand. Some events must remain a fixed point in time, otherwise the fabric of time and space itself is undermined!" The Fatalist, like the concept of time in Doctor Who, says that the happenings of the cosmos and of individual lives- your life and mine- are set and predetermined at the beginning of time itself, and so there is nothing we puny mortals can possibly do to in any way shape the course of events. 

In effect, our lot is determined independently of our choices and actions. The future is always beyond our grasp; just waiting for us to play our part like helpless automatons in a cold universe.

Have I depressed you now? Don't be. Remember yet another lesson from Doctor Who: You see, even though the Doctor spews the Fatalist philosophy, he always finds a way to completely prove it wrong. 

While there is a sense in which we are limited, and thus not completely free- there is also a sense in which we were created as free moral agents. That's where Self Determinism comes into the picture. This is a sort of middle road between Determinism and the fallacious concept of absolute freedom. While it is true that we are affected by our environment, we have the ability to change our environment. So we are at times a causal agent. This indicates that we have a certain degree of freedom, or free moral agency. All things are not set in stone, established at the beginning of time. They are not all predetermined by other causes and effects. This is not to imply that this moral agency (an ability) grants us the freedom to violate divine law. It does not. It merely places our destiny in our hands by virtue of the right or wrong use of our moral agency, and thus is a form of freedom.

Justin Martyr wrote. "In the beginning, He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God."

The very fact that we have a consciousness of freedom implies that freedom exists. The fact that we have a sense of responsibility, implies the freedom to make informed choices. Why would we deliberate, why have that ability at all if we do not have a certain degree of freedom? In fact, the entire notion of judging morals, ethics and actions on a personal or legal basis would have no foundation whatsoever if we do not possess moral causal agency.

God has created us all with this agency. What you do with it does have an affect not just on the temporal, but your eternal destiny. You possess the ability and the moral agency to self determine your absolute destiny.

Justin Martyr wrote as well, "Neither do we maintain that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer. Rather, we maintain that each man acts rightly or sins by his free choice...Since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed."

"It was God's desire for both angels and men, who were endowed with free will...that if they chose the things acceptable to Him, He would keep them from death and from punishment."

A life without God is a life of making choices that may or may not be good for us; choices that lack divine sanction. In short, we make choices in the dark.

Imagine if you will, you're in a dark room. It is so dark you can barely see your hand in front of your face. Your task is to cross a very narrow bridge down the center of the room, below which are sharpened spikes. You can't see anything at all; not your feet, the bridge, the spikes, or the other side. Nothing. That is what life is like without the One who created you with the freedom to determine your destiny.

Jesus said, " I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

You need the light. Then and only then will your freedom have been wisely used.