On Freedom and Will

Dear Father,

Dissatisfied 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, Father of fathers and lord of the universe, were somehow nothing but a mere machine did not sit right with my Crossian upbringing. My mind, perhaps my conscience, rebelled against this thought and it sought to find a way out, a loophole I could exploit to bring you back to your full power. Charged with this intent I did what very many lovers of Sophie have done over the years; I decided to engage in a thought experiment. Now, as with all thought experiments there was an underlying premise to mine, in this case the direct opposite to the feared conclusions of my last letter. The central premise of my experiment was thus: You possess free will; any definition of freedom and will must be made in such a manner that keeps them firmly in your grasp. Needless to say dearest Father, with my once little friend quizzing my thoughts I arrived at a not-so-rosy end to this most basic assumption.

Consider yourself, Father. You are. Before there was time, you are. After the end of time, you are. There is nothing without you. The very first pages of your Book spend words expressing how you fashioned everything. They tell us how you commanded light into being with a simple utterance from your lips. Pages, verses, chapters and books have been spent across the ages expressing the sheer, wondrous breadth of your power – power, we are told, beyond anything your children could ever imagine. You see all; you know all; in very many ways you are all.

I can almost imagine you sitting (if such a concept even existed at the time) all by yourself and deciding, freely, to make things. Perhaps you even made ‘making’, and ‘unmaking’, and ‘remaking’, and all the other kinds of makings there are and can be. With no compulsion, no impetus, no force but your own, you made stuff. You fashioned the earth, and the heavens, and your guards, and the animals and your children, freely. And this is the point Father, for I cannot stress this enough: You did these things without necessitation. You had your freedom and you had your will, and this is the world that they birthed. The question of good and evil seems almost childish in hindsight, for you truly are above such petty nonsense. You are the Great Arbiter, the one whose words and arbitrations immediately become the very truth of the universe. This is not just power, Father. It is freedom, perhaps the purest kind of freedom… perhaps the only kind of freedom. Your actions have no consequence, unless you will it to be so. Your choices have only the meaning you want, only the effects you wish. You are unconstrained, unbound, unfettered. You are free to do whatever you want. Your will is truly yours.

Contrast this with your children, dearest Father. Unlike you, supposedly eternal, we were made, and without our consent. Our very beginnings are a testament to lack of freedom, for our existences are tied to your whim; our fates are in your hands. But that is not all. We do not choose our bodies; we do not choose the matter from which we are made. We do not choose our parents, and by extension we do not choose the environments into which we are born, the people to whom we are charged. We are, with the exception of the First Brother and his wife, dropped into a harsh and cruel world we had no part in making, and forced to do all that it takes to survive. From the moment we are born we are surrounded by things we do not understand, people we do not know, circumstances we do not control; and by the very nature of the bodies and brains you have seen fit to give us, these things and people and circumstances are constantly affecting and changing us, constraining us, directing us, putting us into little boxes before we even know what boxes are.

Even the ‘we’ that I refer to already comes, at birth, with its own set of rules and regulations, rules that our conscious minds are unaware of, compelling us to do things, using our surroundings and our very compositions to form the consciousnesses we will in turn use to observe and judge our worlds. We inherit traits and characteristics from our parents; we are moulded and changed by our environments. From the very first days of our lives to their last, we walk in a world of constraints, of limitations, of twists and turns and things we cannot do.  And then (unlike you) our actions, voluntary and involuntary, are surrounded by consequences, consequences we once again did not choose, consequences we had no part in creating.

So, we do not choose ourselves; we do not choose our characters. We do not choose our environments nor do we choose the effects of our choices. Examining all the things we do not choose, Father, one starts to ask exactly what our free will means. Placed beside your freedom and the will it enables, our wills and our freedoms seem to me to be very limited, almost non-existent. It seems then that if we attribute free will to you, if we say that you have free will and you are the standard by which everything else is to be judged, then we are severely lacking. We are prisoners of the bodies and worlds you have given us, ultimately your prisoners, for in the end only you can decide whether we are worthy of the Great Upstairs or deserving of the pit down below.

Of course an argument can be made for different levels of freedom, and it is one that Doubt put forth while these thoughts were flying through my head. We are free, he offered, but not as free as you. And to that I laughed. Imagine that Father. Not too long ago I was the one offering outs to unpalatable situations and Doubt was the one laughing at my feeble attempts.

Of course, one can assume that freedom is not binary and that there exists, no matter how small, a modicum of it in every being. But even in that the difference in the levels of freedom between you and us is so great I cannot really assume that we are ‘free’ in any sense of the word. To use a human analogy: The justice of your children requires the existence of prisons, places people are kept either temporarily or permanently for crimes against their fellow men. By Doubt’s definition these people are free. They can roam the expanse of the prison; they can talk to other inmates; they can walk around in their cells and sleep in whatever manner they desire. But against the freedom of being able to go anywhere, or talk to anyone, or do anything (within the constraints of the law, of course), these privileges, these ‘freedoms’ are useless. The inhabitants of these prisons are often described as having lost their freedom, not because they have become like the machines your children have invented, but because they are so constrained by the wills of others their little smidgens of freedom are effectively useless. Against the freedom of our Father most powerful, your children are in prisons, Father. Ours is really no kind of freedom at all; it is a very elaborate form of bondage.

If you are said to be free, truly free, then your will is free as well, and we have satisfied our initial assumption that you have free will. However, in doing so we have stripped ourselves of the very freedom I rejoiced over in my last letter, turning our wills into nothing more than pre-allowed permutations over a fixed set of options. Of course if we take you out of the picture and turn to our programmable machines and the inanimate objects and plants that surround us, we suddenly feel once again like beings of immense volition. But if we cannot judge something as fundamental and intrinsic as free will against the standard of our Father, then whence comes our judgement? And, perhaps more importantly Father, if our freedom pales so greatly before yours in what way can you look upon us and judge us on the basis of truly ‘free’ will?

With indignation,

Your Prodigal Son

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5 thoughts on “On Freedom and Will

  1. drenn1077 says:

    For a god to be omniscient there must be no free will.

  2. […] 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 free at all but are limited by predetermined rules we cannot change. The last point is among the reasons I am […]

  3. […] between what is good and what is evil then you are not a free being; you can never choose evil. We looked at power and limitations and found ourselves lacking. In a world of bounds and limits your children are anything but free, […]

  4. […] referenced this viewpoint when we discussed free will. Unwilling to accept that you were a simple machine, bound to always pick the good option when […]

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