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Life

Category: free will

Martin Luther

by Andrea Elizabeth

Martin Luther has been on my mind since I saw a documentary on him a few weeks ago. Some scholars may not agree with the portrayal, but the analysis was basically that he was the first freedom fighter. I am ambivalent, as usual, about this. Hierarchicalism can seem like the minds of the few powerful ones can overly dominate the masses. Do not we educate our children to think for themselves? Do we trace this back to Martin Luther? Did domination exist in the first millennium pre-schism? And if not, did it spread to the east despite their differences? I like the idea of people coming to the Church of their own free will without psychological or physical coercion. I like the model of the Church as hospital and the Sacraments as medicine. I also recognize that we in our immaturity and waywardness need some fear of God to keep us in line. But there is a difference between guidance and domination and exploitation, and that seems to me what uprisings tend to be about. Sadly, opposite extremes usually flow from them with anarchy, secularism, and chaotic individualism replacing order and unity. I think we can have both worlds that would incorporate voluntary, informed unified worship.

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Crops Rotated

by Andrea Elizabeth

The last part of that section is very pessimistic! Down on marriage, friendship, and social position. This is written by A, the aesthete, so grains of salt must accompany, but still there rings some truth. Between the lines I hear someone conscious of being trapped. If one views marriage, for example, as being forever chained to someone else’s moods and persnicketyness, then that should be avoided. When people say marriage is becoming one, I don’t think it should be one or the other dominant personality. Oneness is a goal reached by two perfect people. One’s prevailing selfishness drags them both down into a false, unequally yoked unity. All that achieves is disconnecting one from the One.

The end of “The 4400”

by Andrea Elizabeth

We finished watching The 4400 last week. I blogged about the series half-way through here. In that post I mentioned being perplexed about the series being cancelled. *Spoiler alert* The problem started for me when the show begab centering around Promicin shots instead of the original 4400 people, each with unique special abilities, who had been abducted by the people of the future and sent back in 2004 to save the world from their fate. Promicin is the extracted chemical that is found to have given the 4400 their abilities, which if injected in the population will give half of them abilities, but will kill the other half. The first couple of seasons had the original 4400 trigger ripple effects for change in ordinary people. Then it became about Promicin envy and conspiracy theories.

I much prefer personal stories to the over-arching conspiracy stories, which I have trouble following anyway. I watched X-Files for the individual phenomena, not the smoking man stuff, which I still don’t understand. I liked the first book of The Hunger Games when it was about Katniss and her family and friends better than the second when it got all professional. I still haven’t finished the third global book.

I have a theory that stories mirror the writer’s theology. If a character has a positive arc, then usually it means that the author believes hard times can make good people stronger. They believe in free will. And that God is sort of mean for either allowing or causing bad things to happen, but it will all work out in the end. This is western stories. I haven’t thought about if Russian stories are like this. There are obvious messianic messages in The 4400. The abilities are like miracle-working. At the beginning there were the Chosen who were sent to bless the world. But then when they extracted the Promicin, it was more like evangelization where the 50% who were injected were made into “Christians”, and the other 50% died of a leaking brain hemorrhage, even though they wanted to be “Christians”. This seems Calvinist to me, except they would say no one wanted to be Christians, but some were made so anyway and to the others the message was lethal.

Let’s see, how would a free will person view it? I suppose Christianity is sort of like being injected with the Holy Spirit and the mysteries of the Church. And there are lethal side effects. You have to learn to die to yourself. If you do, maybe you’ll become a miracle worker that will help people. If you stay selfish you’ll either make people stumble or become an example of what not to do, which can still motivate people to change. Their choice.

The ending had one person develop the ability to subject everyone with whom he came into contact, and increasingly beyond his proximity, to the effects Promicin so that half the people died instantly and the other half developed abilities. I suppose it was a little like judgment day, except there didn’t appear to be any difference in anyone’s character, sort of like Calvinism, only they were all innocent seeming.

Theological pros and cons to the quantum theory of multi universes

by Andrea Elizabeth

1, Con. If all possibilities are actualized, whose spouse will you be in heaven? Even if people will be like the angels and not married, wont they have memories of their past life? Too many memories?

2, Pro. It could explain how people can possibly know everything and be everywhere in heaven, provided the alternate selves will be integrated.

3, Pro. It could explain how someone is guilty of murder or adultery for just thinking it.

4, Con. It dilutes the importance of this set of actualities, such as the Fall, the Incarnation, and every day decision-making.

5, Pro. It supports being credited for your intentions.

6. Pro. It is a way to see fiction as the gateway to knowing what some of the other worlds are like, thus making fiction real or true, and those who get caught up in it not crazy or delusional.

7. Con. It is an excuse for these people to think they are not crazy or delusional.

8. Con. It makes truth too relativistic, unless certain foundational truths about human, divine, and created natures remain constant.

The pros and cons are equal, therefore I have determined that multi universes both exist and do not exist.  (see related posts on Schrodinger’s cat in the February archives of Sine Nomine, starting with “Quantum Cats”.)

Work with what you’ve got

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have heard transgendered people say that they are being true to themselves by surgically and hormonally changing their bodies. My first opinion about this is that we are not our sexual orientation. Transgendered people will probably say that they didn’t so much do it because of who they are attracted to, because they probably don’t have any qualms about appearing hetero or homo sexual, but it seems that sexual relationships are usually involved in their sense of identity. Indeed in even homosexual relationships, each person seems to assume a masculine or feminine identity. There doesn’t seem to be a gender neutral (SNL’s Pat appears more masculine to me). If we are not our orientation, which does seem to be tied to our sense of our own gender, then does it follow that we are not our gender either? I don’t mean to prioritize gender so much, but a story about a transgendered person did make me start thinking about identity.

When the Bible says that there is no longer male or female, Jew nor Greek, I am lead to believe that gender is not the source of identity. Growing up with a Protestant, Christ only, view of Christianity, Christ has been the sole example of humanity, so one sort of has to ignore they are female when focusing on that. There are of course many gender distinctions in the Bible such as who can teach whom and so forth, but that can be somewhat separated from one’s spiritual aspirations. It is hard to come to terms with the Orthodox perspective of increased veneration of female Saints, but I’ll say even they are Christlike.

This is all to say that from the Christian (an identity that applies both to male and female) perspective, our gender is not who we are. With that I’ll not dispose of St. Maximus’ distinctions, but the distinctions are not as obvious as we may think. Male Saints can be praised for having certain female characteristics, perhaps gentleness, and vice versa. There are many hymns that praise female Saints for “manfully bearing …” too. Therefore I think that what men and women can properly do is pretty fluid.

Then we come to traditions. There are many cultural and Christian traditions that relegate what a man and woman can properly do as men and women. In the ’60’s these traditions where criticized and the social penalties for not conforming to them where thrown out the window. More recently, I think there has been a more tolerant view of traditional “options”. They have become a matter of aesthetic choice. A person is to be true to themselves, and some people may have a more fundamentalist makeup. I’ve even wondered if this is true. At bottom, I think everyone should choose to be traditionally Christian, but maybe that’s because I score very high in judging in that personality test. Good grief. I actually don’t feel all that traditional. I don’t like feeling boxed in. I love and respect the Orthodox traditions, but I’m a bit lenient sometimes.

Some people’s identity seems very linked to their occupation. I was watching a female classical xylophone player the other day, and was amazed at her precision, quickness, and attention to musical dynamics. To focus so much energy into becoming that proficient means that you have to totally believe in music. Your whole life has to become about music. While it was most impressive, I wonder if music is worth that much belief in it and its importance. Of all the disciplines, I probably would say that music is at the top of that list. I think it’s God’s language, but it’s not His only one. Jesus is called the Word, but did he sing the world into existence? I wonder. I think atoms are probably harmonically held together.

Men and women can harmonize together. Last night we heard the male Stretensky Monastery Choir perform in Dallas. It was beautiful and wonderful and transporting, but towards the end in the folk music section the conductor turned around and lead the Russians, who were many, in the audience in singing the chorus to a particular song, which they all knew. I think it was my favorite part of the whole concert. I was hungry for the higher, lighter registers, as much as I loved the lower ones up to that point. It’s nice to hear them in their individual settings, but I like variety.

In an old blog, in my profile I wrote, “I am what I like”. While what I like is important to my sense of self, asceticism is doing without things we like. Perhaps the ascetic likes asceticism more! But we don’t empty ourselves to be empty. We want to like Christ more.

fears and freedom

by Andrea Elizabeth

“To manipulate the fears of others, you must first learn to master your own.” (Batman Begins)

Not that it is good to manipulate the fears of others, but mastering one’s own first reminds me of eyelog removal.

“Home, where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth… Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy… So simple… And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to “stay in the sun.”” (Dark Knight Rises)

This assumes that sunlight isn’t the goal, but freedom. And that freedom is out there, not within. Sunlight can symbolize the presence of God, and like Dostoyevsky says, freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be. The monk is told that everything he needs for salvation is in his cell, and not to seek to leave it. Perhaps even a prison cell can be a good place to learn how to be free, which is learning to control oneself.

“Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” – St. Silouan

Anxiety with freedom

by Andrea Elizabeth

Kierkegaard disagrees with the idea that Adam fell because forbidden fruit is more enticing than permitted fruit. That may be a motivation now, but in Adam’s innocent state, he had no concept of evil or even of death to arouse desire or fear for them. Instead it was freedom that awakened anxiety.

When it is assumed that the prohibition awakens the desire, one acquires knowledge instead of ignorance, and in that case Adam must have had a knowledge of freedom, because the desire was to use it. The explanation is therefore subsequent. The prohibition induces in him anxiety, for the prohibition awakens in him freedom’s possibility.

Post-fall, it has been explained that freedom in Christ means that with grace we can choose righteousness over sin. This has been used to contrast the notion that freedom means the ability to choose to disobey, which is what Kierkegaard is pointing out here in a pre-fall context. More neutral language would be, it is the ability to choose among several possibilities. Gnomically we want the best, as did Adam, but then it becomes a matter of deliberation and inspiration, for better or worse.

What passed by innocence as the nothing of anxiety has now entered into Adam, and here again it is a nothing – the anxious possibility of being able. He has no conception of what he is able to do; otherwise – and this is what usually happens – that which comes late, the difference between good and evil, would have to be presupposed. Only the possibility of being able is present as a higher form of ignorance, as a higher expression of anxiety, because in a higher sense it both is and is not, because in a higher sense he both loves it and flees from it.

After the word of prohibition follows the word of judgment: “You shall certainly die.” Naturally, Adam does not know what it means to die. On the other hand, there is nothing to prevent him from having acquired a notion of the terrifying, for even animals can understand the mimic expression and movement in the voice of a speaker without understanding the word. If the prohibition is regarded as awakening the desire, the punishment must also be regarded as awakening the notion of the deterrent. This, however, will only confuse things. In this case, the terror is simply anxiety. Because Adam has not understood what was spoken, there is nothing but the ambiguity of anxiety. The infinite possibility of being able that was awakened by the prohibition now draws closer, because this possibility points to a possibility as its sequence.

In this way, innocence is brought to its uttermost. In anxiety it is related to the forbidden and to the punishment. Innocence is not guilty, yet there is anxiety as though it were lost. (The Concept of Anxiety, p. 44, 45)

This is a sad thing, but it is better than the idea that God was dangling an enticing carrot in front of Adam. In His love, he knew the  consequence of anxiety, but to love means to make free. Anxious freedom in love is more important than peaceful security in lower ignorance. This anxiety is not the goal however. It takes maturity to push through it and to find peaceful facility with the knowledge of good and evil.

Religious and economic freedom?

by Andrea Elizabeth

One point, perhaps the main theme, of the PBS documentary, God in America, is the emergence of the preeminence of a person’s personal experience with God in validating if they were a Christian or not. As much as the Pilgrims’ goal was for religious freedom, it was still the freedom to rule the church as “the few” saw fit. Anne Hutchinson started the shift by claiming that God spoke to her. She lead private meetings to instruct others in a more personal religious life, which threatened the established Church leadership. George Whitefield can be credited with the populous movement away from the church and into the field. He challenged the people to consider that if a church minister could not relate a personal encounter with God, that he was not a Christian.

Growing up with the message of the independent personal salvation experience, until I was received into the Orthodox Church, I found the idea of the necessity of church membership an external, superficial, authoritarian power play. Who was the Church, or rather the individuals in power positions, to validate or invalidate my relationship with God? To what effect is a Church leader’s baptism or any other sacrament when it is just done to you? Living a good life was also part of established Church membership. But that was another “external”. Isn’t it what’s on the inside that counts?

I now see that this is a gnostic religion that separates a person’s soul from their body and from the Body of Christ, and relies on emotionalism and possibly deluded conclusions about experiences. It has lead to chaos inside and outside churches in America.

I also saw the episode on the emergence of the religious right into politics. They said it began with the Scopes trial where William Jennings Bryan preached against teaching evolution in school.

At the 1925 Scopes trial, Bryan faced off against the self-proclaimed agnostic attorney Clarence Darrow. Bryan took the lead. Darrow appeared defeated. He then hit upon a clever tactic: he called Bryan to the stand to defend the Bible [whether Genesis 1 should be taken literally or not]. Under intense questioning in the summer heat, Bryan faltered. His fundamentalist beliefs could not stand up to Darrow’s withering inquiry.

Days after the trial ended, Bryan died in his sleep. Shortly before, he wrote: “Science is a magnificent material force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can be perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of machinery. … If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene.”

Evangelicals went underground with this intellectual defeat.

Martin Luther King and Jerry Falwell brought them back out, the latter through President Ronald Reagan. This set the stage for the election of the first Evangelical president, George W. Bush. At last the religious right believed that America could be purged of the evils of abortion, homosexuality, and evolution education. Unbelievably, this did not happen. Let down and disillusioned, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson withdrew from the political sphere.

In another documentary, Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible, LBJ’s Vice President’s social morality, publicly unframed by Christian affiliation, and political savvy confused me, a social conservative. I did not realize he was so influential, essential really, in the civil rights movement. I also agree with his stance on Vietnam, though LBJ squelched it. He brought forth many of the social programs we have today which I have very mixed feelings about. I just looked up his religious affiliation and he was a Congregationalist, which is what the New England Puritans originally evolved into. Interesting.

I have not been following the Tea Party movement very closely as I am disillusioned about the mixing of politics and religion too. Besides, it seems less about religion and more about the morality of certain conservative economics, which doesn’t really interest me that much. Render to Caesar and all that. At the same time, Hubert Humphrey makes me feel a bit less dismissive of governmental involvement in morality.

The one thing needful

by Andrea Elizabeth

If true freedom is the ability to choose among a variety of goods, then why do all pious Orthodox look the same? The more pious an Orthodox person is, the more flowingly they are covered up, including the men’s faces. The more pious they are, the more they say the same thing all day long – Kyrie Eleison. The more pious they are the more sparse their lifestyle, until they dwell with nothing but a hole in a rock and an icon or two. Basically, the more they choose one thing.

If freedom of will initially manifests itself in the ability to loosen fallen passions by abstinence, with the goal of attaining life in Christ, how is one not absorbed in an ADS way into the One? I don’t like the idea of individuality being in terms of preference, but perceptually, it is what it seems like. One person likes purple, one likes sushi, and one likes the ocean, and that combined with their differing coloring and proportions constitutes their individuality. Things can be further boiled down to temperament, activity, and ascetics. You are what you eat? You are what you like? That doesn’t matter that much to me anymore – you are how healthy your choices are, and healthy choices are based on being virtuous and pious or not. And the more virtuous and pious you are, see paragraph 1.

One could differentiate between pious solitary monastics and more socially conscious people, but I hear that the hermits are interceding for the world too. The more virtuous, the more selfless, and again doesn’t this lead to being absorbed into the One, like the drops of water into the sphere of water that Tolstoy describes? Icons retain their different coloring, but they are still translucent to some degree. The divine light even obliterates some of that on the Mount of Transfiguration. But they still had names. Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. They still had individual experiences of divinity. I don’t get the sense that they are as lost in it as Tolstoy and even Lewis describes in Out of the Silent Planet.

So if a virtuous, pious person is one who becomes self-less, and united with suffering humanity as well as to the Trinity (there, that’s four things, no two) then what is humanity? There is one human nature. I think I’ve read that humans are intended to be as united in their humanity as the Trinity are in their divinity. We say the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, so humans are one. It was the fall that separated us from each other as well as from God.

Setting aside preferences for different varieties of creation, created things can manifest God as a prism manifests light through variety. Oh yes, I had the idea recently that the Transfiguration seemed to absorb all distinctions because the Apostle’s eyes weren’t accustomed to the brightness. With increasing exposure, pious people would still be able to see individual things that retain their God-given individuality.

And surely there’s pious marriage and not just pious monasticism. A married person still has to attain a certain singleness of commitment and focus. Icons of married Saints like Elizabeth and Zachariah, and Joachim and Anna are different than icons of single Saints. They are shown together embracing in a unique way. Well, icons of the Theotokos and Christ are similarly embracing. I’ve seen pictures of hermits embracing icons, and monastics can sometimes hold their prayer ropes similarly. Part of being human is needing a touchstone.

Perhaps the last The End

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another aspect of Tolstoy’s theory is that in the present an action seems free, but the more time elapses after the event and the more is known what lead up to the event, the less free it seems, till it becomes inevitable that the event occurred as it did. In another sense we can see that this is true in that the past had to occur as it did for us to have this present. To acknowledge free will, one has to acknowledge that an alternate present is equally possible.

I believe it is taught that when Christ became incarnate he willed not to know some things. My recent reading of Psalm 76 (77 in Protestant Bibles) points to the Psalmist, and possibly Christ, not knowing if God would deliver him, and if he would be forsaken forever. Therefore the possibility of two outcomes is acknowledged, not the inevitability of one. It is unthinkable for us to consider that the Father could have left the Son’s soul in hell, but I guess there was a certain risk given the dynamics of the situation. This is perhaps the anguish of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There’s another verse (maybe a hymn) about Christ not being tempted by death. He could possibly have given up his own soul.

Back to alternate realities. Acknowledging that things could have been different displaces the inevitability of things, including sin, and can make us more thankful that Christ and others chose wisely. However, it seems we can only vaguely and for the briefest of instants consider what things would have, should have, or could have been otherwise. It becomes speculation laced with fantasy thinking if we dwell on it. All we can do is try to live deliberately and righteously now with what we’ve got.