Freedom and Determinism

For those who are trapped, wandering up and down the road of modern philosophy, there seem to be only two possible positions: the protesting demands of absolute freedom, or the resignation to determinism.  Whether genetic determinism (Watson and Crick), psychological determinism (B.F. Skinner) or mathematical determinism (Stephen Wolfram); rationalism logically leads one to conclude that there is no freedom or choice (other than to logically accept the position of determinism).  This is hardly even the Stoicism of the Greeks, where one is caught up in the determinism of the Fates, but is free to choose how one accepts one own’s fate.  The other position is the rejection of reason and an irrational insistence in absolute freedom, any restriction is an unacceptable oppression that must be eliminated (with violence if necessary).  This is Karl Marx’s hatred for God, because his very existence implies a limitation on us; and the post-modern insistence that we are free to define ourselves (sexually) any way we want.

While some strands of Christianity have gotten caught up in this rationalism (I am thinking of Calvinist determinism as a particular example), the Patristic traditions are more complicated; they seem to state positions (often quite contradictory) without trying to explain them.  This can be particularly evident in the prayers of the Church.  Some can sound down right Stoic:

Oh Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy Holy will.  At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things.  Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is sent down from Thee.  Grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it, direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive and to love. 

We see such contradictions in one of the Morning Prayers:

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

This can sound almost Freudian, with multiple personalities.  That these are prayers implies that they are requests of a free will (“save me”), yet the freedom is asking God to deterministically do something (“save me, whether I want it or not!”).

Behind this is the bizarre idea that we are not presently free (we are not totally rational free agents), but that we are enslaved to sin; and the only way to freedom is through radical obedience to God’s will; or as practically expressed in the monastic tradition, through radical obedience to a spiritual elder.  A radical denial that is freely chosen as an affirmation to develop the freedom of one’s will.

There is no explanation here, it is mystery that can only be answered through worship.

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