Someone recently asked me if I believed we had 'free will' or free choice. Here is my provisional response.
I don't think we have as much free will as we usually think we do. An embryo developing in the womb has no free will. The new born for the first year or so has very little if any free will. I know some in the New Age movement say we choose to come to this earth. That may be, but I and many other people see no solid evidence for that assumption.
With time the growing infant seems to have the ability to make some minor choices, and good parents allow them these choices in order to launch them into the soul-making endeavor. As our individual soul wakes up and grows, we gradually get more choices.
But studies and research demonstrate that most of our responses during the day are reactions rather than choices (see Malcolm Gladwell’s, BLINK). We say the same words and phrases, have the same beliefs, choose the same relationships, eat the same food, watch the same TV shows, read the same kinds of books, like the same politicians, seek out the same friends, wear the same clothes, make love or war the same ways, go to the same church, don’t go to church at all, have the same morning and evening rituals, etc., etc. Over time, usually due to some stressful or painful event, some of these things change. But very, very few people actually ‘choose’ do something out of the ordinary.
True free will is doing things that you do not naturally 'want' to do or normally desire to do. This is what the European mystic Gurdjieff called 'voluntary suffering.' One uses his/her will to voluntarily become uncomfortable. He realized that the soul only stretches when it breaks out of the rut. Doing and thinking the same things everyday is not free will. VERY few of us actually choose – we react. ‘Re-act’ literally means ‘to act again.’ Repeat after me, “I am not a robot. I am not a robot. I am not a robot.” Now try saying the opposite, “I am a robot.” Find ten ways your life is robotic. Ironically, if you do this, you may have just stopped being a robot for a few moments!
That is why I like to pick a book from another point of view and read it. I just read Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, the socialist Community Organizer who has so influenced Obama. I am reading Glenn Beck's book, Common Sense. I read books on pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage. Recently I have begun going to plays, shows or concerts that I think I would hate, though I must say, ‘chick flicks’ are still very painful.
Try eating a meal today consisting of food you have never eaten before. If you are a Democrat, watch Bill O'Reilly for the whole hour, or listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio without judgment. Read one of Ann Coulter’s books. In fact, ‘choose’ to find ten points where you agree with them. THAT is free will and that is what makes soul. If you are a Republican, listen to Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow or Stephen Colbert. Find ten points of agreement. Read one of Obama’s books – Audacity of Hope or Dreams from My Father. If you are a theist, read a book by an avowed atheist like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you are an atheist, read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain.
Then try the opposite. If you are a Democrat, find five areas where you disagree with your party. If you are a Republican, find five areas of divergence from your party. If you are an atheist, critique atheism. If you are a theist, critique theism. If you are a New Ager, find five valuable insights from the Christian tradition. If you are a Christian, find five valuable insights from the New Age religion.
Most people will find these tasks virtually impossible to initiate, much less complete, proving that free will is largely non-existent. Some may try one of these exercises, but will grouse, groan, moan and cringe their way through it, usually ceasing before the full hour is up or book read. Or they may watch or read, but will not be capable of choosing to find areas of agreement. Our will is most often frozen in a particular ideological mode and can find only what supports our current prison of supposed ‘free choices’. Will is not free unless it chooses beyond our current areas of security and certainty.
Give it a try, then post a response on this blog about your experience.