Free Will and Dogma

     It can be difficult to put a definition with the concept of “free-will.” Until recently, I personally understood free-will to be the idea that God allows human beings to choose their own path in life. I am now told that it is really only the idea that people can “freely choose” to love God. Since I personally lean toward the deistic or pantheistic side of God’s relationship with man, I do not believe that free-will can be anything more than our right as individuals to take actions which influence the progression of events in the greater whole that is existence. The Catholic Church teaches that free-will does not imply any choice between possibilities, rather that it is the ability to freely choose to accept God.

     My question in response to this idea is simple. If this is a free choice and there is only one option, how can it be free? My teacher specifically says that free-will isn’t a choice between decency and sin, or between God and rejection of God, instead it is the option to “freely choose” God or to violate free-will. It seems that, logically, a choice cannot be free if there is only one option. When we observe false democracies in international politics, we never consider Cuba, China, or North Korea to be real democracies because they have elections with only one option. Clearly we are not freely choosing God if to do anything else is incorrect.

     The easy response to this is to say that by rejecting God we are using free-will, and we are suffering the consequences. This, again, can be countered by saying that by making a bad choice (as opposed to an incorrect choice or violation) we bring about legal, social, and spiritual consequences. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t have the free option to choose that path. This discussion in my religion class specifically revolved around the bombing in Boston.

     We were required to reconcile this suffering with the existence of a loving God, basing our arguments in Catholic doctrine. All the students (myself included) stated that the reason those men were able to cause pain and suffering was that they had free will, and therefore they were able to choose a destructive path of murder and depravity. The alternative choices were, in reality, infinite. This is what all of us understood free will to be, however we were incorrect.

     I will use this as an opportunity to, once again, point out the flaws with dogmatic teaching. We, as a class, were required to formulate our arguments based on Catholic teaching (with the exception of a few non-christian students), and this led many to give speeches based on things they didn’t believe to be true. Many students are agnostics or atheists. A few are Protestants. Not many have formulated views such as mine, but then again not many study these things as a hobby. When an educator chooses to force a specific belief on students, even grading based upon adherence to their doctrines, they alienate the students by preventing them from forming their own ideas. This type of teaching ultimately stifles free-thought and prevents interfaith discussion and theological debate. Of course that could be exactly the outcome a dogmatic teacher would hope for.

Works Cited

“Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man’s Freedom.” Catechism of the Catholic Church – Man’s Freedom. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a3.htm&gt;.

“Free Will.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA:. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2013. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06259a.htm&gt;.

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3 Comments

Filed under philosophy

3 responses to “Free Will and Dogma

  1. Church dogma with respect to free will depends on who you talk to. Seems like everyone has a different take. Of course if you believe that God is omniscient, then free will goes out the window (and so does the concept of sin).

    • Michael Sweeney

      I go to a Catholic high school, so anything I post in reference to my religion classes is based on Catholicism. Interestingly enough, a Muslim student said that his Imam taught him that God is omniscient, but he doesn’t control what happens in the future. He says that everything is part of the plan, but also that we are able to do what we want without interference. I don’t understand this logic fully, but its definitely a different way of thinking. Personally, I don’t think God is conscious in the same way as we are, so omniscience isn’t necessarily in a human sense. We frame everything in a human way, so to say that God or the Absolute is “omniscient” or “good” (or bad for that matter) is a simplification of the potential complexity of existence.

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