Written by Chuck Crisco
Do we have free will?
You might say, “That seems like a dumb question. Of course, we have free will! I just chose to read this article and I chose my wife… even if her father was holding a shotgun behind the curtain at the ceremony. I make choices of my own free will every day.” But do we really have free will and does it really matter? Philosophers, theologians and probably bar-mates have argued, uhm, I mean “debated” this question for a very long time. It matters in terms of culpability in the legal system. Was Johnny insane when he killed his wife or was it pre-meditated? Was he under the “influence” of drugs when he stole that car? Was she under duress when signing that last will and testament before she died?
Every person who has struggled with the tension between forgiveness and justice has struggled with this question at a certain level. Was that person functioning out of free will or not? Can I blame her or not? “Did he mean it when he said he loved me or was he drunk?” It matters for anyone who is seeking to discover their personal sovereignty but who felt like victims their whole lives. “Why do I keep making the same bad decision over and over again, I feel like I am a slave to those impulses!”
One of church history’s most notorious or shall we say influential leaders in the 1700’s was Johnathan Edwards who preached the famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In the message, people would collapse from their seats and respond with moans and tears as he dangled them with a mere spider’s thread over the fiery pits of hell with no hope except the sovereign mercy of God. In the greatest of irony, this message was preached by a man in a Christian movement that believed God predestined some to heaven and some to hell yet motivated them through graphic descriptions to freely come to salvation.
The question of free will is not as clear-cut as one supposes. Take for instance the man in the year 2000 who was arrested for sexually molesting his 8-year-old stepdaughter and for child pornography. This was not a lifelong addiction; in fact, it started happening suddenly. A short time later he began having terrible headaches and when they did a brain scan, they found that he had cancer right in a part of the brain that is responsible for sexual and impulsive behaviors. They removed the tumor and the impulses were gone. About a year later he started having the impulses again and they found the tumor had returned. So, was he acting out of free will? Was he morally responsible? Legally responsible?
How about the choice I made today to eat leftovers for lunch? Was it free will? Libertarian Free Will philosophers will say yes there were choices (Chick-fil-a or left-over chicken alfredo) and I made the choice based on the options available. I decided to eat the leftovers, in this view, because I had a choice. So even though the event happened be-“CAUSE” my stomach was hungry, I still had choice because as a free-will agent I can cause a course of events because my mind had choices I could set in motion.
The Determinist philosophers say that fate is inevitable because every event has a cause behind it and even though it may have been one minute ago, the past is still an event that affects what happens. So even though I felt I was making a choice, my decision was based on a host of unknown factors or causes such as habits, what I liked as a child, the fact that I ate at Chick-fil-a yesterday, or my body chemistry may have created a craving that I acted upon unknowingly. In this case, they say, I could have done none other than eat leftovers. Since no one reading this cares what I had for lunch, I’ll move on.
The point is that free will is not as clear as one would expect. A study was conducted by scientists in Berlin which found that many decisions are not made by the conscious mind at all. At the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the researchers used a brain scanner to measure the responses to a decision each participant was asked to make. But what was astonishing was that they were able to predict which decision would be made a full seven seconds before they acted on it. This means actions were decided before they rose to conscious awareness. (https://www.mpg.de/research/unconscious-decisions-in-the-brain)
The problem with most philosophical pursuits is that they start from a materialistic worldview that doesn’t allow for a broader perspective. For instance, as you may know, Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are generally not considered science fiction anymore as researchers validate them more and more. A consistent core experience is the story that we choose to come here. In my days as a pastor, I taught that there were some things about which we had no free will such as the color of our eyes and the fact that we were born. But now even that is up-ended when we understand things in a spiritual light because many reports that is exactly what we do before incarnating.
Living The Law Of One
I tend to believe in the perspective from Living the Law of One (link), in which Carla Rueckert says, Free will is involved in the very first movement of the infinite Creator away from its mystery-clad unity. In their story of creation, the Creator uses its faculty of free will to choose to know Itself…It then sends forth the Thought or the Logos which is Its creative principle and the essence of Its nature. The essential nature of the Logos in unconditional love…The Logos then uses Light to manifest the Creation in all of its rich detail. Endless orders of magnitude, from stars to subatomic particles, are then formed…So the first distortion or movement away from the pure potential of the unmanifest creator is free will.
In other words, free will is part of the nature of One/Source/God/Consciousness, of which everything is made of and from, therefore free will is also part of the fabric of reality. While there are many layers that can cloud that free will, the free choice to seek to dismantle our chains is the echo of the absolute shining through, beckoning us to know ourselves.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is explaining the mysteries of the universe to Arjuna and says, “I have thus described to you this wisdom, which is more secret than all secrets. Reflect on it fully and then do as you choose to do” (Shloka 18:63) Even the choice to explore the mysteries of reality is a reflection of the original choice of Brahman. But a wise one comes after reflection, which is the invitation for free choice to be expressed. So the journey to be “free” to choose is ultimately the journey of Self-discovery. It seems to be experienced as peace and contentment that arises when are in the most alignment with our true Selves.
When we are comfortable in our own skin, free from the limiting self-doubt and flowing from the intuition of the heart, then we are in harmony with reality and our choices feel natural and effective. In fact, decisions almost make themselves when we are in the flow of living in the present moment without judging ourselves and others. Not only that, the intention of love is an alignment with our true nature from which clearer choices emerge.
Can this knowledge be used?
What does it take for us to move out of confusion into greater clarity? What steps do we take? Whichever one you want. But personally, I think our primary action is one of seeking through humility. In the beginning, what we find is that we are seeking answers to our issues. Then we learn to let go of beliefs, dismantle lies and learn this body we possess. But eventually, our journey takes us right back to the beginning, to our selves.
What we are seeking is seeking us. The one that is looking is what you are looking for. To “get close to God” as some would put it, or to experience greater freedom from choices that are made by undue influences we are essentially going back to discovering who we are… both as beings of this earth reality and the beingness of Source itself.
I suspect that most of us on a spiritual journey will acknowledge that free will originates in Source and is embedded in all reality. It is clouded and restrained until one feels the pain of the present circumstances or pain of one’s past mistakes and the pull of a greater reality. It is progressive and becomes more effortless as we come to know our true nature/Self. In other words, if I had been closer to my true nature today I would have chosen salad!