FREEDOM OF WILL, DETERMINISM AND RESPONSIBILITY
There has been an ageless debate on determinism and freedom of will. Thus whether the human person is absolutely free in his choices and actions in life or whether there is a force acting on this freedom of will thereby making man irresponsible to his actions. Rather than accepting either school of thought, I seek a merger of both freedom of will and determinism. Thus man is both free and determined; not absolutely free and not absolutely determined. Hence I suppose man enjoys as much freedom as a goat enjoys as the length of its rope permits.
Determinism is the theory that human behaviour and actions are wholly determined by extra factors, and therefore humans do not have genuine free will or ethical accountability. There are several different supporting views for this belief, which incorporates philosophical determinism, psychological determinism, theological determinism and scientific determinism. Thus all forms of determinism are based on the theory of Universal Causation. This is the belief that everything in the universe including all human actions and choices have a cause. The philosopher John Locke used an analogy in which a sleeping man is locked in a darkened room. On waking up he decides he will remain in the room, unaware that the room is locked. In reality the man has no freedom to choose because he cannot get out of the room even if he wanted. However, his ignorance of his true condition has led him to believe that he does have the freedom to choose to remain in the room.
The implication of this school of thought is that we cannot be held morally responsible for our actions if they are causally determined and not a result of our own moral choice. The implication thus is that one is not culpable for his wrong actions neither should the good-doing Christian church-goer be appreciated because each of them isn’t responsible for their actions. Furthermore, our right to punish “guilty” criminals is removed since they cannot be held accountable for their actions.
Today’s first reading stands to challenge the above theory. It rather accepts Freedom of will or Libertarianism. It is the view that when faced with the choice between right and wrong we do act as free agents. Libertarianism is the theory that humans do have genuine freedom to make a morally undetermined decision, although our behaviour may be partially determined by external factors but it does not believe that human behaviour is wholly determined by external factors. The lord gives us a way to salvation; that is keeping his commandment. Thus He says; ‘ if you choose to keep my commandment you will be saved and you will live’ (Sirach 15;15). Invariably death awaits one who decides to choose otherwise. Nevertheless, He has only given us the necessary consequence of our choice as life and death and freely allowing our wills to choose from these options. ‘He has placed before us fire and water: stretch our your hand for whichever you wish to choose’ (Sirach 15;16). He has not by this fact of free will forgotten his justice neither has ‘He by this freedom of will commanded anyone to be ungodly nor permission to sin’ (Sirach 15;20).
Life is a choice. Whatever you do is a choice you are making even when you do nothing is also a choice made! The spoken words of your mouth, actions, places you visit, thoughts you entertain in your mind are all choices you make heading to a purposeful, necessary and unavoidable destination. Thus every choice has a destination because they are like means leading to ends in themselves. At the face of reality we choose between God’s will and man’s will between commitment and convenience. Hence in today’s Gospel Jesus encourages a positive choice to righteousness that is not determined by the force of superficial religiosity and legality like the Pharisees but out of a free choice. Matthew’s gospel, from which today’s passage comes, was written primarily for Jewish Christians and throughout his gospel, he constantly uses the Old Testament to show that the life of Jesus is not a breakaway from past Jewish traditions but that it is a continuation of all that was foretold by the prophecies of the Hebrew Testament. In today’s Gospel he emphasizes the relation between Jewish Law and the teaching of Jesus, where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” and to upgrade them. Condemning their superficial religiosity and legality Jesus takes the Jewish law to a greater height. That is a proper fulfillment and spirit of the law whereupon it is incardinated in the hearts of men and are freely accepted.
Thus the law recommends that one shouldn’t kill another but the free acceptance of this law in commitment forbids getting angry, gossiping nor insulting a brother. In as much as the Jewish law forbids adultery, it does not forbid lustful look and fantasy. Thus Jesus adds that if one has freely chosen to obey this law, one is also by this fact committed to avoid lustful look on a woman who is not one’s wife. Similarly, avoiding murder therefore is not enough; the true Christian must remove any inclination to murder by building up true, brotherly love for all men in his heart. We must also avoid injuring our neighbor or fellowman in his person, or in his character. We must not only avoid adultery, but must also develop a Christian respect and esteem for purity, the virtue which will preserve us not only from adultery but even from thoughts of adultery, or any other abuse of our sexual gifts given us by God for his sublime purpose.
A great question today is ‘what is the motivating factor for our actions’? It is not in the action itself but it is in the motivation behind the action where the Christian’s true identity is found and formed. And that identity is the identity of Jesus Christ. We are called to take upon ourselves the very identity of Jesus Christ. We are called to be selfless givers. We are called to be eternal lovers of the Father. We are called to rejoice in His presence in our families. We are not called to be minimalists in the faith. We are called to develop the facility of finding meaning in the laws that God gave us so that our external actions might truly be a reflection of our internal attitudes. May the Lord help us Amen.