Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 14, 2002
Human free will means we're sometimes guilty
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
Some time ago, the Atlantic Monthly's senior editor Jack Beatty penned a short essay entitled A Call To Order, advocating "a moratorium on the rhetoric of 'root causes,'" pertaining to crime, social violence and general cultural incivility.
Beatty exhorted his readers to collectively re-affirm that "Bad . . . wrong, immoral, predatory, vicious, or depraved choices" underlie criminal and anti-social behaviour. We must abandon "the presumption that society is responsible for the crimes against it," Beatty declared.
Well said, but of course not everyone agreed, as several rebuttal letters emphasized. That wasn't remarkable itself, but what impressed me most is that the dissenters all, explicitly or implicitly, write off the concept of human free will.
It appears that an ideology of pure causal determinism has become so rigid a dogma in the dominant liberal humanist worldview that it's no longer considered debatable by many.
"For a hundred years, virtually no one except the religiously orthodox (implied: no-account, intellectually-challenged imbeciles) has believed in free will," wrote one respondent. Another letter-writer referred to the "cultural myth of free will" and another to "utopian moral dreams."
Having read the Humanist Manifesto (1933 and 1973 versions), I guess I shouldn't be surprised at the dogmatic line. Liberal humanists since John Locke have argued that human minds are born as tabula rasa - clean slates - and that all knowledge originates in experience.
Therefore, declares the manifesto, "individuals are largely molded by their cultural environment." It nevertheless perplexes me that intelligent and articulate people can be so thoroughly hoodwinked by such a manifestly insupportable notion.
If these gentlemen really believe environmental factors are the basis of criminality, how do they account for the many individuals who experience such alleged "causes" without becoming hooligans and thugs? How do they purport to explain how vast numbers of people have lived through great misery and deprivation, as in, say, the Great Depression, without turning predatory?
One gainsayer quoted Nietzsche's observation: "Men were called 'free' so that they might be judged and punished - so that they might become guilty." Well, yes, that's the point.
As St. Paul puts it: "Sin is not imputed when there is no law," and goes on to wrestle with the seemingly paradoxical nature of absolute objective order ("law"), and individual guilt, at considerable length.
Paul concludes: "Well then, am I suggesting that these laws of God are evil? Of course not! No, the law is not sinful, but it was the law that showed me my sin . . . sin used the law against evil desires by reminding me that such desires are wrong . . . only if there were no laws to break would there be no sinning. . . . Didn't the law cause my doom? (Nietzsche's assertion) How can it be good? No, it was sin . . . that used what was good to bring about my condemnation. The law is good, then, and the trouble is not there but with me" (Romans 7:7-14).
That last statement is what people especially hate to accept, which is why real Christianity is such a tough sell compared with secular humanism's feel-good Pablum. The Humanist Manifesto's article 7 declares that realization and fulfillment of human personality in the here and now is life's ultimate goal.
That's certainly a warm, fuzzy concept contrasted with St. Paul's "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Trouble is, Paul is the one accurately articulating humanity's existential dilemma, as opposed to humanism's wishful thinking.
Unwillingness to face and struggle with the sin that so easily besets us, allows human evil to take root and flourish, especially in our increasingly Godless and spiritually bankrupt era. As Carl Jung wrote: "We have no imagination for evil, but evil has us in its grip."
It's just so darn much nicer, so much more comfortable, to embrace humanism's delusion that people are basically good, and that it's faulty social systems and economic inequities that make some of them behave so abominably. Like all successful lies, that one contains just enough truth to make it seem plausible to the credulous.
Truth is, we're both angel and devil, with free will to choose which of our two natures we will follow. Free will is a divine gift that makes us human, that makes human love possible, but it comes at a terrible price.
There's the paradox: "good" is a meaningless distinction without the relativity of evil. But if we identify ourselves one-sidedly with good, and attempt to totally externalize evil, we are in accord with neither truth nor reality.
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