Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Perception Is Reality: God, Destiny & Free Will

I had a pair of very interesting conversations the past two weekends, the first of which I will touch on in this article. It was only a brief part of a conversation that was had, but the topic got me thinking.

One of the biggest problems that I find with God – theologically that is (there are many other issues I have with the notion of a complex universal creator) – is the concept of free will and fate. Logically speaking, the two cannot co-exist, it is impossible. If one is in control of one’s own destiny, there cannot be a set fate, a destiny, awaiting us. If there is a set fate, a fixed end point in our lives, then we cannot have free will, as we are essentially little more than passengers on a ride through existence.

The problem comes with the logic of God. For God to exist as truly omnipotent– which, logically, it must have to be – it must be all knowing. This would lead one to believe that God has a set fate for us, a plan in which he knows every decision we will ever make, every thought we will ever have and every feeling we will ever experience. This is fine, until you call into question the motivations of the deity. The majority of belief systems tell us that God loves us and cares about us, that we, as its creation are something that, at the very least, interests it.

Now, if we take God as being a loving being (again, my interest in this argument is from a theological standpoint, one that deals with the religious depiction of the deity), the issue of a predetermined fate becomes something that raises serious questions. If we do have a preset fate, then God is most definitely a sadist. Why otherwise would a child be born in Africa, spend 2 years of its life barely able to eat with flies nesting in its eyes, knowing nothing but constant struggle, only to die by malnutrition and starvation, having done nothing but essentially suffer for its entire life, if God did not enjoy our misery? Why are things like cancer permitted to exist if God knows everything that can and will happen in a persons life, and can obviously influence the outcome?

No, if fate is something that exists, then God is one of the sickest beings in existence. The sickest in fact, as it is its existence. However, if God truly loves us, refuses to muddy himself in our affairs and permits us true free will, it cannot be an omnipotent being, thus cannot be God. True free will means we make all our own choices, meaning God would only be aware of them once we make them. If such a deity were unable to know what we were going to do, that would render it something considerably less than omnipotent.

So we are presented with a problem. Either God is an absolute bastard – something totally anathema to what all religions tell us – or is unable to know every, and thus, does not exist (it is not a God). The problem is a one that appears to run directly in contradiction with the accepted philosophy of all religions. It, essentially, negates the very idea of God in the first place (looking at it through the prism of God being an entity that actually likes us and this reality).

Prior to last week I had never received an acceptable explanation for this issue. The one I received was surprisingly simple, but once considered actually explains a hell of a lot. Essentially it boiled down to ‘Perception is reality’. The logic was that, while yes it’s true that God has a plan, and does know everything, we as a species are so unaware of it, and so apparently able to agree with free will that we do not really perceive it; it is never apparent. In not being able to perceive it in any way, can it ever really be said that we don’t have free will? As far as we are aware every action leads to another, every reaction to another, and every opinion we think we choose to have is built off of something else we experience. Just because we are unable to perceive these things happening to us, rather than them actually happening doesn’t – to us – make it seem any less like free will.

It has also recently been discovered in the past few years that the brain actually makes decisions before we are consciously aware of them. The subconscious mind reaches choices and what not without our self aware selves realising it. So, essentially, there is already a degree of fate working in our lives, as we don’t consciously make our own decisions.

Through this prism, one can come to the conclusion that God – if it exists – is a benevolent sadist. While there are things, like the African child I mentioned earlier – that seem cruel, working through a religious prism, this child, it should be assumed will be relieved in a rather lengthy afterlife (though that’s a whole other ballpark (especially when one considers the problem of hell, but that is a uniquely Abrahamic concept)) – it seems that the dramas, hardships and traumas of life would be permitted to endure so that, essentially, it broadens and enriches our experience down here in our brief corporeal form. So while we must endure suffering, we do so in a way that contributes greatly to our experience. It’s something that is difficult to endure, as hardship is something we would naturally want to avoid, yet it is important to our development, our interactions and our understanding of the reality we inhabit and we are definitely better off for it.

Whoever said God works in mysterious ways may not have known how right they were.

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