Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Free Will"? Ha!

No doctrine is more passionately held in the United States than that of Free Will, but this Pelagian heresy comes under attack in a substantial article in the January 2 New York Times (see, you never know what you will find there!).

Dennis Overbye writes:

I was a free man until they brought the dessert menu around. There was one of those molten chocolate cakes, and I was suddenly being dragged into a vortex, swirling helplessly toward caloric doom, sucked toward the edge of a black (chocolate) hole. Visions of my father's heart attack danced before my glazed eyes. My wife, Nancy, had a resigned look on her face.

The outcome, endlessly replayed whenever we go out, is never in doubt, though I often cover my tracks by offering to split my dessert with the table. O.K., I can imagine what you're thinking. There but for the grace of God...

Having just lived through another New Year's Eve, many of you have just resolved to be better, wiser, stronger and richer in the coming months and years. After all, we're free humans, not slaves, robots or animals doomed to repeat the same boring mistakes over and over again. As William James wrote in 1890, the whole "sting and excitement" of life comes from "our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago." Get over it, Dr. James. Go get yourself fitted for a new chain-mail vest. A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.


This is priceless. What does St. Paul teach if not "the dull rattling of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago"? Paul calls that condition "Adam" (Romans 5). We are trapped in it, and that is precisely why we have a victorious Saviour who has broken that chain in his death and resurrection. We are "slaves to sin." That's one of the chief messages of the letter to the Romans. And "who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord."

The section just quoted above is is the best part of the article. The rest of it consists mostly of testimony by psychologists and sociologists who don't think we have much free will. That's all very well, and it's cheering to have this support from the various social sciences. The real news here, however, is that God, in his Son's sacrifice, is reshaping our wills into the "mind of Christ." In the definitive paradox delineated by Augustine in the fifth century, perfect human freedom is found in service to the will of God.

Link to the Times article: