Free will is overrated, at least as framed by Christianity. It’s not that I want to feel compelled to do this or that, but I’m willing to give up certain “freedoms” for the betterment of humanity.
Take the freedom to kill or torture children, for example. According to the Christian notion of free will, we must have the ability to do such an awful thing else we’d be robots.
This ability to torture the innocent wouldn’t really be a theological/philosophical problem were it not for the insistence that the Christian God is, among other things,
- completely good,
- all knowing, and
- all powerful.
Put those three together with the world’s suffering and we have a problem. In order to explain the suffering, we have to compromise. Maybe God isn’t all knowing, and isn’t aware of the suffering. Maybe God isn’t completely benevolent and doesn’t want to do something about the suffering. Or perhaps God knows about the suffering and wants to alleviate it, but being limited, there’s nothing he can do about it.
Since none of these alternatives are acceptable to most believers, Christians explain suffering by invoking free will and saying that it couldn’t be any other way if humans are to be more than robots.
But free will doesn’t fly, especially considering the patriarchal God we see in the Bible.
God is seen, among other things, as the perfect father. “Our Father who art in heaven” pray Christians every Sunday; Jesus, in the Gospel narratives, cries out to “Abba” — “Papa” — while being crucified. God is the ultimate father.
This post was inspired by Thud’s “The Org Chart God.”
I too am a father, and if I imagine treating my child (eventually children) like the Christian God treats his children, I shudder.
A thought experiment: in the future, my wife and I have a second child. At some point, our first-born daughter gets the notion that it would be a pretty good idea to see if rocks can bounce off little brother’s head. If I’m standing by and do nothing about it, what kind of father am I? That kind of behavior would rightly be labeled child abuse.
“But, Your Honor,” I protest before the judge, “I was just giving my daughter the ability to practice her free will.”
In the real world, “free will” doesn’t cut it. We might have the Twinkie legal defense and any number of other, bizarre explanations/excuses for behavior, but I don’t know that any lawyer has ever tried the “free will” defense, and for good reason: it’s absurd.
Why am I so stuck on the problem of pain as it pertains to children? After all, suffering is suffering. It’s simple: as adults, we have the cognitive ability to turn suffering into something positive. “What does not kill makes one stronger” is how it’s often expressed.
Children, however, do not have this advantage. Suffering cannot take on a higher meaning with children; it is only confusing pain.
And yet Christians use the free will defense daily to get their God acquitted.
A correlative defense is the “God’s ways are not our ways” defense. This raises just as many questions as it is supposed to answer, but suffice it to say that any being whose ways include non-intervention when children are suffering is not a being I have much respect for.
The bottom line is that there really is no adequate answer for the problem of evil. Indeed, some of the more traditional answers seem quite outdated, as John Hagee discovered recently when he suggested that God allowed, even directed, the Holocaust through Hitler. Yet this was nothing new. Jewish theologians have been saying similar things for centuries.
Pastor Hagee’s view that an omnipotent God must sanction the evil in our world actually has deep roots in Jewish thought. To cite just one example, the Talmud teaches us that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of “sinat hinam,” or baseless hatred. In other words, our own Talmud teaches that God used the Romans to perpetrate the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people (until the Holocaust) because of Jewish sins. (haaretz.com)
The defense of God’s actions — or apparent lack thereof — is a distasteful activity to begin with, so it’s not surprising that we can so mangle ideas that they come out sounding offensive to casual listeners. Then again, why should finite humans get stuck defending an infinite being?
The problem of evil is what ultimately led me away from theism, but that’s somewhat surprising considering how theists frame the question in relation to their faith: there is no answer, but I have faith that there is a reason, that it will all make sense. Yet it seldom does make sense during our Earthly lives.