Free Will & The Constitution denies God's Omniscience
We are not tied to fortune`s wheel
I suggest that a belief in God and the Constitution are mutually exclusive unless we are talking about a watered down concept of god. The Constitution clearly contradicts
God's omniscience or the idea of any all-powerful god. And Christians who accept the Constitution have accepted a relatively
powerless god, whether they acknowledge it or not.
The US Constitution can be regarded as a statement about a belief in free-will; inherent is the notion that no god has the ability to interfere in the affairs of either people or the world – guaranteeing rights to individuals is based on the believe that they have the ability to freely choose. And if we believe we have free-will then it is difficult to argue that any god is omniscient without having to torture our understanding of what we mean by "free" or "free-will".
Christianity, free-will and the rise of the individual
The notion that free-will has had a crucial role in the development of Western Culture hasn't been properly acknowledged. The development of modern democracies was based on the notion of individual rights, and this concept of an individual was very much entwined with the idea of free-will. Democracies are based on the theory that we individuals are able to exercise a certain amount of free-will when we vote and generally go about our business. It is this thinking that is at the heart of the American Constitution.
Christianity, like all religions, is criticized for many things but some credit must be given for its unwitting part in the notion of the individual and, eventually, individual rights. The idea that a serf, knight or king would ultimately be judged by an even higher authority than any on earth helped encourage the idea of the individual – even though the often terribly unfair treatment many received on earth was rationalized by the belief that they would be properly compensated or rewarded in an afterlife.
The problem of an omniscient God, fate and free-will
However, the Middle Ages presented Christianity with a number of philosophical problems including wrestling with the notion of an omniscient God and free-will. And, in addition to free-will, the Church had to deal with the problems of Platonism, astrology and alchemy. Each presented separate and unique challenges although all had some similarities - mainly it was necessary or convenient to accept each of these beliefs and philosophies. But, on the whole, they all blended well into the Church's beliefs of the time and were used to strengthen arguments for the Church's own legitimacy.
Some beliefs were difficult to reconcile, however. Free-will was particularly troublesome. Not only did the notion of free-will challenge the idea of an omniscient god, astrology also presented similar problems since its beliefs and philosophy had been embraced by the Medieval Church. If the stars and planets write our fate, how could we maintain that we have free-will?
The Church was able to deal with the problems presented by astrology but never properly dealt with the question of free-will and an omniscient god. (To be consistent, if we have free-will, Christians would have had to admit that the future could turn out other than God expected, hence making him fallable.)
The Christian God of the Middle Ages was interpreted in a number of ways but he was not regarded as fallable except by some in obscure sects who met quick ends. In fact, not only were Medieval Christians worshiping a god whose attributes included omniscience (infinite knowledge) but a god who had omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence, as Wikipedia tells us.
Some still believe in fate
An omniscient god appears to contradict the idea of free will; humans resemble actors acting out our fate rather than behaving as free agents or individuals guided by free-will in a world where the future is unknown. The tension between fatalism and free-will does not seem to have ever been properly worked out by the Church.
Boethius, certainly one of the
most influential of the Medieval philosophers, suggests that
we rather passively accept our fate with arguments that are still as
eloquent and appealing today as they were when written. It is as if
we are tied to the wheel of fate – and the wheel turns. The
metaphor itself appeals to clever minds open to a little melancholia
and appealing archetypes.The idea of accepting or even embracing our fate is certainly still with us. It was made popular by the Stoics and is frequently embraced in story and myth. And the image and even meaning lives on for some as symbols on our Tarot cards and in other forms and art.
Free-will and responsibility chips away at an omniscient God
The view of most branches of Christianity has been that we have free-will, although in the omniscient Christian God's view of things our actions were predestined. St. Augustine and many theologians have offered various arguments to reconcile the contradiction between an all-knowing god and free-will. But the notion of God as an all-knowing being has been chipped away over the years. Islam and other religions have had to wrestle with the same problem of the contradiction between free-will and an all knowing and powerful god. Today, there are far fewer Christians who believe in an omniscient god because they accept that free-will is a contradiction to a belief in predestination. Some cling to the idea that the two beliefs are not incompatible and have even argued that God understands the paradox whereas it is beyond human understanding.
Certainly Christians have shown through their actions a complete rejection of the idea of fate perhaps in much the same way they saw Jesus exercising his free-will in clearly choosing his fate opposed to merely accepting it. The two may amount to the same but the former endorses a picture of God in a human form clearly going through the process of exercising freedom of choice while the latter makes Jesus little more than a pawn playing out God's will. The Three Temptations whether read literally or metaphorically, among other things, show Christ going through the agony of trying to make a right decision in much the same way as we all do when tempted to behave in ways we believe to be wrong.
A more distant god
The explosion of knowledge and love of learning that occurred following the Reformation was often utilized by the Church as well as the various monarchies to expand their influence, wealth and power. Christianity was not a passive religion; its history is built on many certainties including its own sense of superiority. Somewhat ironically, its survival will depend, like Darwin's subjects, on its ability to change and adapt. The recognition that God must be a great deal more distant and willing to leave us to our own devices than we previously believed is part of the new reality in which churches try and find their way.
Many of the ideals that
were the foundation of Western Civilization have lost their
authority. The majority of Christians no longer believe in an
omniscient god. The child-like belief that God is omnipresent taking
an interest and willing to intercede in sporting matches or even at
times of illness and tragedy seem naive to many believers of the 21st
century. The best that is hoped for by most is that some comfort
results from their beliefs – they no longer see a world where God constantly intercedes.
As children, many of us thought that God would be far more willing to follow our wishes if we believed and prayed hard enough. We saw any failure for the materialization of our wishes as a reflection of our own imperfection. Maturity persuaded most of us that it is the egoism of youth that makes us prone to the idea that we are more important that we really are in the scheme of things.
The Constitution`s challenge is to those who would be free
It seems that Christian thinkers are left with a series of dilemmas and one of the most troubling and interesting is reconciling the old idea of an omniscient god with free-will. If gods allow mortals to make their own choices then they can only watch and wonder as we may gaze upon a stage and guess what the next act will bring. And know it is not our fate that propels us to our decisions and actions, it is our human condition; to paraphrase Shakespeare`s Cassius:
The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
And the Constitution seems to be somewhat of the same mind; individuals` fates are not written by gods or in the stars, nor are we bound to fortune`s wheel since only the free are in the position to pursue the most tantalizing but illusory of`goals – happiness.
More by this Author
There seems no explanation of how such a literal story of the temptations could have been known to any others than the two central characters. The central message or lesson is to show that Christ was fully human because...
There are a large number of distinguished humanists but Thomas Jefferson does deserve more than a few words since he is responsible for the precursor to the First Amendment that is almost universally interpreted as the...
In retrospect I now recognize just how precious tongue twisters are. There is no dishonor in failure and deep satisfaction in succeeding. It’s one of those wonderful games or activities where there are no winners...