Saturday, June 4, 2011

Free Will

The press recently made much ado about the death of “Dr. Death,” who promoted euthanasia and actively helped people kill themselves. Much less has been written about his personal weirdness, like being so entranced at looking into the eyes of the dying, “to see the moment when life left.” Was it the “right to euthanasia” or the “right to watch people die” what he really espoused, I don’t know, but regardless of his personal strangeness, there are many who espouse what they see as his higher-level philosophy: “Man is free to do anything he wishes, even dying.” Strangely, this is espoused as some sort of sacred right, although nowhere is it written that it is a right, nor sacred. (What truly is sacred is life, all human life, a topic of most importance --- but for another time.)

Those favoring abortion base much of their case on that the same “free will” argument: it’s my body, and I can do with it what I will. These “free will” advocates are quick to dismiss any weird examples which can be brought up, like Dr. Death --- or Hitler or Stalin. Like euthanasia now, there were many followers of Fascism and Communism in this country prior to the obvious, blatant, and undeniable horrors later documented at the end of WWII. But even now, there are those who ignore those horrors, and espouse socialism and all of the “rights of the common man” it claims to protect, regardless of how many common men must be killed.

There are many excellent resources which define and explain free will. The catechism does it fairly simply, and the writings of our most recent popes are excellent at going into great depth to explain it. There is nothing I could improve upon those efforts. Free will is a gift from God, the catechism explains, and part of our nature, the part that is like Him. And it is meant for us to freely choose the good, and the God. Other uses of our free will are really misuses.

The simplest analogy for explaining free will which I ever read was one which described our free will as like that of little puppies. They have a free will of sorts, and very liberally use it. They use it to explore --- everything, and to test limits. But they have someone which is their parent or guardian, who teaches them the limits of their free will, limits set so that they will be protected from harm. Sometimes the puppies ignore the limits, and harm does come, even death. But when they ignore the limits, their parent or guardian chastises them and explains the limits again --- if painful penalties they suffered were not learning enough. And perhaps most importantly, the parents make clear to the puppies that despite their errors they are still very much loved. Forgiveness is always available for mistakes of free will.

Some puppies are stubborn, however. Their free will is taken as a matter of self-importance, as if their free will is somehow a definition of who they are: “I am free!” Having tasted some of fruits of a free will gone wrong, it sometimes seems sweeter to them than the use of free will as it was intended. We all know that the circus lion or elephant which kills usually must be put down, because once it tastes blood and the freedom to kill, it is hard for it to not kill again. Power over another, even oneself, is such an ego-boosting thing: “I am like a god.” Which is why clearly defining the purpose of free will, and its limits, is so important: to protect us --- from ourselves.

But equally important is clearly defining that an abuse of free will can be forgiven.

We want our children to grow up to be independent, to freely express “who they are,” yet we must teach them limits of their free will. A child coloring a picture is instructed to “stay within the lines.” There are rules on how to color properly, or the result will not as beautiful as the creator of the picture intended. And there are some children who, despite our instructions, will want to color the sky green instead of blue, or the plants black instead of green. Some parents may laugh at their “independent little man” who would do this, but wiser parents will yet again instruct their children on the proper use of colors. Knowing what is right and what is wrong, are among the limits on free will. And they are most important to be taught, and adhered to.

As adults, we are not like little puppies any more. When we abuse our free will from what it was intended, choosing to not “stay within the lines,” we are acting, still, as little children. We have so much to learn. And we have a loving Father, who is always willing to explain to us --- yet again --- how wrong we are in our stubborn actions of “free will,” and to chastise us and correct our actions, in love. He always loves us, even when we “choose” to disobey. But as adults, our chastisements become stronger.

“Dr. Death” chose to disobey. His “free will” seems to have gone far astray from its intended uses. When he killed, did he become like the animal which once killed, became more likely to kill again? And how is he now being treated by God? Is His love still ever present? Or has it become necessary to have him “put down?” This is not for us to know; we are not the Father, and we do not possess His wisdom --- nor His love. We can only look at one of our litter gone astray, and perhaps hope to learn from his mistakes.

Our lives may depend upon it.

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