Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why Be Free?

By 'freedom' many things are meant. Some freedoms are political. Others pertain only to the individual, or perhaps to the will of the individual. I will speak of the latter sort.

Why should we want to be free? What would freedom gain us?

Surely it would gain us freedom from the interference of others. It would gain us the ability to do what we wish. This is a prima facie good.

But genuine freedom is more than this. Genuine freedom requires that we be little gods. Let me explain. If an act (and by 'act' I mean all that we do) is free, its cause cannot lie outside of us. For if its cause were to lie outside of us, we could not be responsible for it; and if we were not responsible for it, it was not freely done. So, then, a free act is one whose cause lies within us. It is for this reason a kind of little miracle. In that place where the free act arises (whether this be the will or simply the self), the laws of nature do not hold sway. For if they did and thus determined that our act would occur as it did, the cause of that act would lie outside us. But as said if the act is free, its cause must be within us. Thus in a free act more is accomplished that can be attributed to the operation of natural law, i.e. a free act is a little miracle. But little miracles can only come from little gods, from beings who are not bound wholly by natural law.

But perhaps there is a law other than the natural, a law that governs our acts alone. But this cannot be. We are natural beings, inhabitants of the world of objects and events that we call 'nature'. Thus if there is a law that governs our acts, it is by definition natural.

So, then, our question becomes this: Why should we want to be little gods? What would this gain us?

It gains us worry and condemnation surely. Only she who is free can be rightly condemned for what she does. Only she who is free has any reason to worry that she will fall short and sin.

But does it gain us anything that we might wish to have? Here I do not see my way clearly. I have heard said that only that love which is freely given is a love we should cherish. This is too strong a claim. A young child loves its mother not because it freely chooses to do so but because that is the child's nature. But the young child's love is righly cherised by the mother. But is the child's love, though good, deficient in some way? Is there a better love, an adult love that does not arise through nature but instead is freely given? There is of course the love that an adult gives and it does differ in character from the love given by a child. But is it a better love? It is often a love that is accompanied by a greater knowledge of the object of its love. It is often a love that has endured strife and loss. It is for this reason often a deeper love (although not likely a more intense or a stronger love than that of the child). But the depth of the adult love thus does not arise out of some free choice; its depth has another origin.

But what of God? Is not God's love for His creation the best sort, and it is not freely bestowed? If God exists, His love could not fail to be of the best sort. But it is not freely bestowed. God of course acts under no external compulsion; but neither are His acts free. He of course is not bound by natural law. But He is bound by the law of His own nature to do what is best, for by definition any being that does less than what is best is not God.

Freedom then is not necessary for the best sort of love. But love is the Good Itself. It is that after which we all strive, that for which we would give up all else. Love led to the creation of the world, and its redemption in Christ (or so says the Christian).

Freedom, then, is not worth having. We can possess the Good and yet not have it. Indeed I think that we should not want it. The best, most blessed state is to so remake our nature that we cannot but love perfectly, and one who cannot but act in a certain way is not free. Freedom is a curse, and an illusion.

Friday, May 27, 2005

God Within

I have often encountered the claim that God reveals Himself too all but only some choose to heed His call. This of course justifies condemnation of even those who have never heard the name of the God of the Jews (who is also the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims). They too were presented with a choice, it is said; and by the manner in which they live their lives, they reveal the choice they have made. If they chose to follow the inner voice, the voice of God that is in all, they will be good, and if not they will be evil.

Is this true. Does God reveal Himself to all?

I find it impossible to answer. Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is not. When I look inward and try to find God within, I find nothing that I know I should call 'God'. But this does not imply that I have not found God. (One might meet someone whom one believes is a stranger but in fact is an old, dear friend, and if the friend choose not to speak her name you might never know who it was.) I find that I have deep moral convinctions, moral convictions that do not seem to me to have their source in any choice I have made. Rather they seem to bind me whether I wish them to or not. They are bits of granite within my mind. I cannot be rid of them, I cannot change them. Are they God in me? Perhaps, but they do not say that they are. They do not speak His name. At the moment, I am enough of a Kantian to doubt that the moral law could have its source outside of ourselves. But I am enough of a philosopher to know that my judgment in these matters is fallible.