Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Free Will

Ok, time to wade back into the fray...

Today's Super Tuesday, John Kerry winning, John Edwards fading, yada yada yada.

There's some rumblings going on around the web regarding Kerry's response to a NYTimes reporter's question about whether God was on our side...

"Elizabeth Bumiller of the NEW YORK TIMES asked Kerry: "President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America's side.

"Is God on America's side?"

KERRY: Well, God will -- look, I think -- I believe in God, but I don't believe, the way President Bush does, in invoking it all the time in that way. I think it is -- we pray that God is on our side, and we pray hard. And God has been on our side through most of our existence.
There's a lot of opinions back and forth about what that answer means for Kerry, and its reflection on his campaign and presidential mindset (Michael Totten, Lileks). But one comment I read was telling, a quote from Abraham Lincoln (accuracy unverified but assumed):

BTW, during our own Civil War, some God-bothering type asked Lincoln the same question: did he think that God was on the Union's side?...Lincoln replied: "I am more concerned that we are on God's side."
There, from our 16th President, is the essential core to any question about who's side God is on.

God is on no one's "side". Period. Let me explain.

I have two kids, whom I love very much. Occasionally they squabble as children do - over toys, over the TV, over the phases of the moon, whatever - and sometimes I'm called in by the Tennessee Supreme Court to mediate. As dads do. Now, do I "favor" one kid over the other, as a matter of foreign policy? Am I on one kid or other's "side"? Of course, sometimes one is in the wrong and one is not, and I try to set things straight but there is no inherent favoritism.

Extrapolate up. W-A-Y-Y-Y up. We were created (as most Judeo-Christian beliefs hold) with a very special gift - the gift of free will. Humans have the built-in ability to ultimately decide their own actions. It is the most precious gift - and ultimately the most dangerous gift - we have ever or will ever receive.

God is good. That's something every Sunday School kid knows. But if we did not have the absolute ability to decide between right and wrong, good and evil, we would be automatons. Going about our programming without thought to morality or ethics.

But we're not - we have the ability to freely choose between one course of action or another. Between one thought or another, or between belief systems, or between philosophies, or religions, or lack of religions. Or milkshakes.

Every single day 1000's of people around the world murder, rob, steal, cheat, abuse, lie, commit adultery, speed, punch, curse out, badmouth, shoot up, cut off, flip off, oppress, starve, stab, shoot, poison, bludgeon, strangle, kick, attack, or blow up other people. Or, unfortunately, fly airplanes into tall buildings full of innocent workers. But each of them chose to do so, of their own free will.

You might say the Iraqi's under Saddam Hussein had no free will, or the citizens of the former Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany. I say, of course they did. They had tons of free will - their actions were heavily restricted, and the consequences of their actions could be grave but they could freely make up their own minds one way or another. No external force can make someone believe or not believe in anything.

So, is God on our side? Does He even now protect us from further terrorist attacks - none of which have happened since 9/11 on American soil (anthrax and ricin notwithstanding)? Or did He punish us for our Godlessness, as Jerry Falwell might believe, by manipulating the minds and free will of 19 Al Quaeda terrorists and causing them to attack our people?

As to the latter, no. As to the prior - hard to tell. I think it's possible God may be willing to actively cause certain events to happen that shape the future. I'd like to think we were under his deliberate protection, but it's difficult to say for sure.

But if Bush thinks God is "on our side" in the fight against totalitarianism, he's wrong. And if Kerry thinks "God has been on our side through most of our existence," he's also not quite right.

Like Lincoln said, we should be on God's side. That's the only way to ensure the integrity of our purpose.

But, you say, don't the Islamic terrorists believe they're on their own God's side, too? Yes, some of them, probably. Maybe even most of them. But from what I've heard of Islamic doctrine, especially fundamentalist Islamic doctrine, free will isn't a very prominent ingredient in their little Belief Salad (hold the anchovies).

Our side, their side - debatable. God's side - well, who am I to argue with Honest Abe?

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