On Will and Freedom

Dearest Father,

I have looked upon your justice, the tool with which you judge your world, and I have come away saddened and disappointed. Where I naively expected some model of perfection, distinct and separate from the crudeness of your children, I was met instead with its idealisation, the perfect realisation of spite and vengeance. I have struggled with this realisation these past weeks, wondered how such cruelty could come from one so “loving”, and much like I did many moons ago I have once again come to the doors of will and sin. Harsh though your judgement may be, there is a point to be made for the fact that we chose our paths freely, that we decided to embark on the road that guaranteed our destruction. This concept, this notion of free will, is another one of the many pillars of dogma on which the House is constructed, for if humanity is not truly free to decide what path it takes, your reason for punishment seems to fall right on its head. It is implied that we had a choice between you and death, and that we chose death. Ignoring what I perceive to be the ultimate cruelty in offering such a binary, restrictive set of options with no middle ground, my mind in days past has settled once more on the concept of free will and what it truly entails.

As your son, I am intuitively aware of my freedom. These words flow freely, so to speak, from my mind onto the paper. My choice of meals on this beautiful day was mine and mine alone. What I wear, how I look, all these things seem to me to be fruits of my will, the manifestation of me exercising my ability to choose things and make my own direction in the world. Under this system of agency it is not hard to see how I can make certain choices that may or may not lead to your displeasure. I make a myriad of choices daily; not all of them can be to your liking.

Of course, such a view of human will obscures some very basic points. I hardly think the decision to write to my Father, or my choice of what to eat in the morning, is what the elders of the House had in mind when they considered that your children had the ability to make decisions. I also doubt that this is what you had in mind when you, if the tales are to be believed, bestowed upon your children this holy right. No. If this were the case then animals, like the noble lion, would be possessing of this same free will. After all they choose whether or not to rise from the grass and go in search of prey. They choose when they groom. They choose  with whom they mate. Such choices, while properly termed choices, cannot be considered in the same vein as that which we term free will, at least not in the context of your justice and its consequences. That would mean that lions, save for some mere changes in appearance, are essentially no different from us. I do not think this to be the case.

Such reasoning provides me with only one out, that when the elders of the House, and your Book refer to the free will of men, they refer specifically to our ability to choose between good and evil, between what is right and what is wrong. The lion, under this line of reasoning, is not possessing of this gift, for as far as we can tell he is under no such obligation of good and evil. He is beneath us if your Book is to be believed, present only for our purposes. He cannot aspire to the greatness of paradise or the torments of damnation; we and we alone are capable of choosing in this manner. This, it seems to me, is what ultimately separates us from them. I am aware that we are fashioned in your image – a concept I have called to doubt many times in the past – but I feel that this is truly the difference between us and the other animals you made on your green earth: the ability to choose, to apply our freedom towards good and evil.

Of course this calls into the question the very notion of good and evil. I skirted around this problem when talking about justice, ignoring it completely while I dealt with what I considered to be your useless and pointless reactions to the existence of evil. It is, if my lessons as a young boy are to be believed, a very complex and yet simple issue, with various peoples from various corners of your earth possessing different paradigms of what good and evil are. Allow me to skirt around it once more; I assure you, there would be lengthy letters on this issue soon enough.

Regardless, it is intuitive and nearly self-evident that your children possess the capacity to pick between this dichotomy, between good and evil, and the apparent exertion of this ability is what has gotten us into this mess. This is the sole reason for my curiosity concerning this issue of free wills. As I stated before, my displeasure at your world and your justice would lose some of its steam if the will we have been promised is indeed the will that we have; there is, after all, a saying about horses and rivers and making them drink.

Now I will mention, as I am wont to do, that my friend Doubt was not too pleased with my understanding of free will. He raised a very interesting point, and it is one that I must share with you Father, for it has gnawed at my mind for quite a while now. See, if we view free will as the ability to choose between good and evil, to weigh the options so to speak and to decide, we have put ourselves one step above the animals, but also, it appears, one step above you. You see Father, regardless of what we consider to be good or evil, there is one thing that all within the House and even some outside it, like the Stars and the Crescents, agree on, and that is that you can do no evil. You can only do good. In pointing this out to me Doubt asked, as he is wont to do, a most important question: Does this mean that you do not have free will?

I must say that his question is very pertinent. We have distinguished between ourselves and animals like the lion, whose choices have no apparent consequence in the grand scheme of things. The lion can no more damn himself by his actions than can he save himself. He simply does not have that capacity. And neither, it appears, do you. You are Good, we are told. There is no evil in you. Whatever it is that you choose, it is good. As such, with regards to the problem of what exactly it means to have a free will, in any way that makes sense, it would appear that you are lacking. You cannot choose between good and evil, for that choice does not exist for you; to use Doubt’s words, it is a senseless proposition.

This raises two very important inquiries for me, Father. The first is one of rights and understanding. It is a very human, very childish question, and while you may brush it off I believe it warrants asking. It is this: If you cannot choose between good and evil, on what basis do you hope to judge your children, who are faced with this monumental choice almost every day of our lives? You have never experienced this choice. It, in all ways that matter, is a non-issue for you; you do not, cannot struggle with doing what is right and what is wrong. Whence then comes your understanding of our plight? Is this perhaps why your justice is so harsh? If you could only see how difficult it is for your children, could things not be different? Would you not be more lenient?

The second and perhaps more important question is one that strikes at your very nature dearest Father, for the realisation of your lack of free will makes you a very strange being indeed. It means that you have, quite literally, no choice. Unlike the lion whose choices are neither good nor evil, yours are always good. You cannot help yourself so to speak; you are bound to good. It means in effect, dearest Father, that you are a machine, a robot that will do a set of things and a set of things only, for it knows not how to do anything else. And this is a very interesting and dangerous thought, for it means that on some level, on some very important level, you are even less than your children. Our wills are lauded as the greatest characteristic of mankind. I have already shown that it is this free will, this presence of choice, that sets us apart from the rest of your creation. It is this that makes us special, different. And if this cruel world is the gift of our elevated and ‘free’ position, one must think of the bliss that comes with being bound like you to unwaveringly follow a fixed set of options, to not have the apparently ‘human’ free will to pick where you want to go. Such a state would make us immune to condemnation, like the lion and yourself. It wouldn’t matter then how cruel your justice is; it simply would not apply to us.

And so I ask, dearest Father: Are you like the lion, free of consequence, or are you like the man, bound by it?

With much thought,

Your Prodigal Son

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3 thoughts on “On Will and Freedom

  1. […] with where I left things in my last letter, I decided to revisit the issue of free will and what it means for you. The thought that you, […]

  2. […] quandary. If it is taken from the perspective of good and evil then you do not have it, for you can never choose evil. If we take it from the basis of constraint and power then we do not have it, for our wills are not […]

  3. […] after trial it has become clear to me that this free will is something that cannot be defined. We looked at good and evil and found you lacking. If free will is the ability to decide between what is good and what is evil […]

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