No, I am not writing about the Dolphins latest off season moves. Let’s face it, you have to be a greater person of faith than me to think those transactions will bring any relief. I mean, let us be serious, after so many years, you can’t keep calling it rebuilding if there was nothing built in the first place. But I digress. (Bitter Fins fan that I am).
I have been thinking instead of that age old question of Free Will. It is one that philosophers smarter than me have been tangling with for thousands of years. And we as a race continue to do so. There is some current thought and debate under the heading of Free Will as we technologically make smarter and smarter machines. If we can produce artificial intelligence, will it have a “mind”? (My current limited understanding of the concepts in play, the question at hand is whether or not there is a difference between the “brain” and the “mind”? That is, to use a metaphor, is there only a projector and movie screen, or is “someone” watching the movie?)
In any case, there is a question in many quarters about Free Will these days in general terms. We think we have choices, but perhaps it is an illusion. Perhaps the “choices” we make are just completely pre-determined by chemical reactions in our brains as responses to stimuli. That sounds depressing. It certainly goes against my grain. The classic rock band Rush addressed the question with the song “Free Will”. An interesting attempt, but the last line of the chorus is “I will choose Free Will”. My brother, the great philosopher, Fed-Ex Ground mogul, life-long Rush fan, and one of my favorite theologians, pointed out the logical flaw in that lyrical statement. That is, you can’t choose Free Will; if you are making a choice, it means you already have it. Duh.
Well, apart from all that, there has been a vigorous debate in the Church over the ages about Free Will. That is, how much agency do we humans have in our relationship with The Almighty? There is a wide spectrum of thought in Christianity on this question. And in fact, Martin Luther wrote a long book about the subject (hey, it only took 380 words in before I mentioned Luther).
The book is called “On the Bondage of the Will”. The book is basically a response and refutation to another theologian of the time, Erasmus. Erasmus (you could tell people were important and smart back then if they had a Latin name) had written first about Free Will, making a strong assertion in favor of the concept. Luther wrote his book as an epic rejoinder. I tried to read it once. Frankly I found the text tiring, and the snide remarks unnecessary. And that’s surprising, because I am a big fan of snide remarks generally. But I am obviously not accustomed to 16th century polemics (vocabulary word!). And I am merely an under-educated layman of course.
Luther asserts that we might have Free Will when it comes to the mundane things like what we are going to have for lunch, but other than that, not so much. That is, when it comes to God, we are (and should be) actually powerless to choose Him. God chooses us. And Luther has many scriptures to back him up (of course he does!)
I must confess, that although a life-long Lutheran, I find myself more aligned with the Erasmus side of the argument. (Go ahead Bishop, kick me out now).
To back up a moment, and so my Confirmation teachers don’t spin too fast in their graves, I am on board with Grace Alone, and Faith Alone and all the rest of my upbringing. And my thinking is there is a whole spectrum of Christian thought on the matter ranging from the Calvinists and their emphasis on predestination (actually – Double Predestination! Yikes!) on the one end. And the “You have to make Your decision for Christ!” folks on the other.
So, with my Reformation learnin’ still in place, I know that there isn’t anything I can do to work my way to God. I know it, know it, know it. And that is a good thing. I wouldn’t want to rely on my own abilities for just about anything. Although I am pretty good at Microsoft Hearts, because I have been practicing that for many years. Free with Windows!
But still. I am thinking we must have a smidgeon (a word my Dad used) more agency than Luther gives us credit for. (Unless I misunderstand him, which is a very possible – remember the part about being an undereducated layman).
Now, perhaps this just because my general philosophy in life revolves around a high dose of personal responsibility. I personally hold that apart from the occasional flood, hurricane, or lightning strike, everything in life is a result of our choices. I get frustrated with folks in general that continually blame their circumstance on things out of their control, when in fact, when looked at dispassionately, it turns out to be a result of their choices. So there’s that.
Or perhaps my outlook is a vestige of my stubborn old human pride. I have a need to be the boss of me. So maybe that has put me off the rails (from Martin’s perspective).
But here is the thing (Ah, at last, the Thing!) It seems to this poor soul that if we creatures are to show true love, even especially towards our Creator, that we have to have the agency to say yes or no. If I understand Luther, he says we might be able to say no, but have no real ability to say yes. I am a little to the left of him (or was it to the right?) on that spectrum I suppose. I think that if we are truly that powerless in our ability to choose, that’s not quite enough to be in a relationship. In Church, we talk about being in a relationship with God a lot. But a real, meaningful relationship sort of requires all parties to have a certain amount of freedom to make it real. Relationships aren’t about a puppet master calling all the shots after all, right? (Married guys, I know what you are thinking!)
So that’s enough for now. I’ll keep thinking. And honing those Microsoft Hearts skills.