We are, from the cradle, born into servitude, and we remain in chains until death. From the first breath drawn until eternal embrace, we are shackled by circumstance; our every need dependent upon external dispensation. We are told that there exist “free will” within our every decision, but consider that those decisions are conditionally shaped by what is or is not available to us, and what is available is either predetermined by physical limitation or by appeal to the largess of another. This renders the concept of “free will” aberrant and useless. Our decisions are entirely guided by the grace of others..
Thomas Merton, the 20th century Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic, suggested that “We are all but leaves being blown about by the winds of circumstance.” In suggesting that we are hemmed into bondage by choices limited to external grace, even the winds of circumstance fail to blow in the face of reason. So who, or what, then accounts for what is available to us to choose from?
For the believer, it is none other than God. To the faithful, all things flow from and return to God. This being the very same God who in return bestows upon his children a vaporous gift of “free will” but who nonetheless precedes it with a litany of commands and admonitions beginning with “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have gods before me. “and couples this with a host of “Thou shall and Thou shall Not’s.” In this condition of being, “free will” is lost amongst the jealous threat of choosing unwisely. Could not a free man elect, without consequence, to worship another god? Or no God at all? Would not the gift of “free will” proceed without such a conditional caveat? Again, the chains rattle.
For the Atheist, and indeed, the Agnostic, the bonds of servitude are no less secure. Believing themselves free of the over handedness of a deity, their dilemma becomes all the more transparent as they show themselves entirely supplicant upon the goodwill, or lack thereof, of their fellow man. They lack even the myth of divine intervention in making not only choices, but the right choices. Theirs is the delusion of certainty, while all around them exist walls constructed of avarice and greed, and from this fervent field decisions are plucked.
Freedom from servitude, absolute freedom, requires a “free will” unencumbered by what is and isn’t possible; by what is and isn’t allowed. Without such abandon, chains are tightened and our enslavement certified. Everywhere we look, and for every corner we turn in this life, our path is laid out before we can even begin to contribute in as much as direction is concerned. What is and isn’t available to us is predetermined, less by failed aspirations and more by social and environmental contract. Freedom crumbles in the face of reality and reason.
We are, after all, little more than indentured dreamers.