Monday, December 16, 2013

The Four Dimensions of Freedom

We've been having a lively discussion on the question of free will vs. predetermination. It seems to me that there are four different perspectives on this, two religious and two secular. Therefore, depending upon where one comes down on it, a religious person might have more in common with a secular person, and vice versa.

For example, it is not just certain religious believers who affirm predetermination, but certain scientistic materialists as well. Since free will is incomprehensible in any materialistic scheme, materialists will go to absurd lengths to try to convince themselves it doesn't exist. For example, a while back -- can't find the link -- we highlighted a physicist who argues that everything was preprogrammed into the big bang. Why not? If one is going to embrace an absurdity, might as well go all in.

At the other end we have the religious and secular believers in freedom as an ultimate category. The latter are generally known as existentialists, in that they believe our existence is entirely shaped by our freedom. There is no word for religious believers in freedom. I want to say "Christians," but let's not be snarky. If I am not mistaken, Kierkegaard might be regarded as the first self-conscious Christian existentialist; in fact, wikipedia says he was the first existentialist, full stop.

That would be ironic, if anti-religious assouls such as Sartre could trace their grubby lineage right back to Christianity! For again, what other religion (or let us say "religious stream," so as to include Judaism) posits freedom as an absolute value?

I think, however, that one could argue for Pascal as the first. For example, this has a very existential ring to it:

"For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed."

And why did Pascal appear when he did, in the 17th century? Because this is precisely when man was becoming increasingly aware of the problem of freedom -- since he didn't have much of it prior to modernity -- and how it seemed to create a "distance" or space between man and God.

As it so happens, I've had this battered copy of Christian Existentialism for so long, that I purchased it back when I more or less considered myself an atheist/existentialist. So, how did I find out about Berdyaev? No doubt via Ken Wilber. What does Wilber say about him? I don't know. Let's find out.

In Up From Eden (1981), he has a quote from Berdyaev on the nature of freedom vis-a-vis paradise:

"Not everything was revealed to man in paradise, and ignorance was the condition of life in it. It was the realm of the unconscious."

How does this line up with tradition? Unfortunately, most of my books are stored away again while the remodel marches limps on, so I can't access most of my Jewish sources. However, there is this, from Rabbi Telushkin, which is very mainstream, with no added esoterism:

"Yet, as good as it was, creation was still unfinished. The Rabbis of the Talmud deduced from God's ceasing to create that it is humankind's mission to serve as God's partner in finishing His creation and perfecting the world." And "The prevailing attitude among Jewish scholars is that people sin as Adam and Eve sinned, not because they sinned." In other words, freedom -- in particular, to distinguish good from evil -- is preserved.

I'm also looking at John Paul II's Man and Woman He Created Them, but there is waaaaay too much to summarize. Well, this: with the injunction about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Genesis introduces the subject of free will and self-determination, whereby man becomes a "partner of the Absolute."

Back to Wilber, who further quotes Berdyaev: "Man's freedom was not as yet unfolded, it had not expressed itself... Man rejected the bliss... of Eden and chose the pain and tragedy of cosmic life in order to explore his destiny to its inmost depths. This was the birth of consciousness with its painful dividedness" (ellipses his).

So, the Fall cuts both ways, with a loss and gain. But there is no way to regain what was lost by going backward -- which again distinguishes the Judeo-Christian stream from all other religions and philosophies of antiquity. There's no putting the truthpaste back in the rube.

Now back to Christian Existentialism. Here again is where things get controversial, for Berdyaev writes that "At the end of the Christian path there dawns the consciousness that God expects from man such a revelation of freedom as will contain even what God Himself has not foreseen.

"God justifies the mystery of freedom, having by His might and power set a limit to his own foreseeing," since "such foreknowledge would have done violence to and limited man's freedom in creation. The Creator does not wish to know what the anthropological revelation will be."

Now seriously folks, who in his right mind would?

Me, I like this angle because it gets God off the hook for foreseeing the unspeakable evil in his creation and going with it anyway. For one thing, what if evil is a kind of "non-being?" If so, how can being know non-being? How also can the absolute good know absolute evil, for this implies the presence of evil in God (for only like can know like)?

In any event, "a determined freedom is no freedom at all." And a determined evil is absolute and eternal evil.

The Creator's idea of man is sublime and beautiful. So sublime and so beautiful is the divine idea of man that creative freedom, the free power to reveal himself in creative action, is placed within man as a seal and sign of his likeness to God, as a mark of the Creator's image....

Christ would not have been God-man if human nature is merely passive, unfree, and reveals nothing from within itself.... Man's likeness to God in His Only Son is already the everlasting basis for man's independent and free nature, capable of creative revelation...

13 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Re. JPII's Man and Woman..., I read that a couple of years back; I seem to recall it often resonated quite nicely.

...

There's no putting the truthpaste back in the rube.


Ha - you can say that again...

...

And a determined evil is absolute and eternal evil.

Christ would not have been God-man if human nature is merely passive, unfree, and reveals nothing from within itself...


Well of course, when you put it that way. For in a deterministic universe, how could man be anything but absolutely and eternally evil? Man would not then be merely passive and unfree, man would be wholly incompatible with and unknowable to God.

12/16/2013 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

"Not everything was revealed to man in paradise, and ignorance was the condition of life in it. It was the realm of the unconscious."

How does it line up with tradition? Not bad, I'd say.

From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ -- Isaiah 48:6b-7

12/16/2013 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Based on how some things are phrased in the book of Hebrews, I have wondered if the sun did not set on the Sixth Day until the Cross. But that's kind of off-beat.

I think it is safe to say that there is truly an ongoing evolution toward the kingdom and the final New Man.

I've heard Christians say that "theistic evolution" is the worst of both worldviews. That's only because they have accepted a very twisted definition of evolution.

12/16/2013 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Robert Godwin said...

Interestingly, in Jewish tradition a boy isn't circumcised until the eighth day, I suppose signifying a new round of creation.

And in Christianity, since the resurrection occurs on the seventh day, you might say that a new round of creation follows on the eighth. So, I suppose this means we're all living in the cosmo-historical Monday.

12/16/2013 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Puts a whole new spin on "having a case of the Mondays"...

12/16/2013 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Not everything was revealed to man in paradise, and ignorance was the condition of life in it. It was the realm of the unconscious."

Brain bomb, right there.

What did man think of his dream-thoughts -- if he even dreamed or thought at all -- back before then... Did he know awake from sleep?
Maybe there was no difference between the two to him. Maybe he just "does what he wants" in both states, and what happens as a result of his decisions/actions, happens just the same in either state.
This seems to be on the same plane of discussion re the attached/detached distances from God. But, ouch, my hair hurts now.

Anyway, awesome post.

12/16/2013 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think in many ways one can think of the parable as a story of just what happened (or happens) to man when man became (becomes) man. It goes to that boundary, not so much between animal and man, as homo sapiens and person.

12/16/2013 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Since free will is incomprehensible in any materialistic scheme, materialists will go to absurd lengths to try to convince themselves it doesn't exist. For example, a while back -- can't find the link -- we highlighted a physicist who argues that everything was preprogrammed into the big bang. Why not? If one is going to embrace an absurdity, might as well go all in."

Which goes hand-cause in glove-effect, with this:

"Genesis introduces the subject of free will and self-determination, whereby man becomes a "partner of the Absolute..."

For as you reject reality, you confine yourself to the range of errors determined by the choices you've rejected. People always wonder how anyone, socialists of the German variety circa 1930's-1940's for instance, could possibly have thought it made sense to do the evil that they did.

But...

When you've rejected truth in favor of what you'd determined reality must be, then, to the extent possible, you've limited the options that enter your awareness, you've transformed yourself into the mindless automaton of your fondest ASSumptions.

To escape that black hole, or even to realize that you are in one, requires a very fortunate and gracefull insight - One which could no longer arise from your own thoughts.

12/16/2013 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Ummm... Soph-Determinist?

12/16/2013 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Would it be true to say that in Eden humanity was not so much unconscious as intuitively harmonized with O?

Otherwise, how would it make sense that unconscious Man was "sufficient to stand, though free to fall"?

The big rupture occurs after the assertion of (illusory) self-sufficiency. Adam and Eve succumbed to that.

Like them, we've been succumbing ever since.

12/16/2013 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You could look at it as a move from childhood innocence to the adult maturity that comes at the expense of disillusionment. Thus, to "be as children" would be a recovery of this mentality.

12/16/2013 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Tyson vs. Kierkegaard.

12/16/2013 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That's funny. I never thought Iron Mike was stupid, though he was obviously not quite right. He was also very naive early on. His gold-digging first wife took advantage of that.

12/16/2013 02:14:00 PM  

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