By Jean H Charles
The first act of terrorism by man might have been when Eve plotted with the snake to ask Adam, why you don’t develop your free will and eat of this apple? The world order set by God in the newly created paradise was then subverted. The eternal life as well as a life free of labor on earth was then compromised.
In retrospect, the true face of divinity of man occurred when he exercised his free will (albeit under undue influence by Eve) to disobey God. As such, amongst all the creatures, man is the only one who has the possibility of exercising his free will in the course of his actions.
And man had to wait until God, through the free will action of his Son made man, accepted to be crucified willingly so humanity’s redemption might occur.
When man is coerced by his religion, his beliefs or other circumstances to act not according to his free will, he becomes closer to the animal and by consequence a dangerous entity.
The drama of the 11 young men, who gave up their free will in believing that a legion of virgin women were waiting for them after their criminal act of using a plane to attack the World Trade Center, is a manifestation that the concept of free will must enter into the jargon of preventing terrorism or studying the way to peace.
Rene Descartes with his sentence in Latin, Cogito, Ergo Sum
(I think, so I am) has set the rule that man is the only animal capable of independent thinking.
My perusing the concept of free will came with my encounter with people of different religious denominations. With a double entendre, I have set myself as a Catholic sinner when interacting with a Baptist or Adventist brother or sister who is not freely allowed to sin. In that sense, maybe the Catholic tradition and the practice of free will might be closer to the concept of the divinity of man free to do wrong or to do well.
My interest beyond how to make nations become hospitable to their own people is exceeded only by my desire to see the achievement of peace in my own lifetime. The cogito ergo sum
of Descartes must start with each individual exercising his free will, devoid of snake like reasoning that the beyond is better if you leave aside your divine power of reasoning independently.
The United States is facing these days the dilemma of having its own sons and daughters being seduced by extremists, who promise that their world order is better than the one that they are living under in this Western World. There is the story reported recently by the New York Times of Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who is the product of middle class gated community in Florida and who become a suicide bomber in Syria.
Law enforcement officials as well as his parents are pondering the dust to find why he has been entrapped in such an infernal spiral.
There is the story of Abu Iyadh, the charismatic jihadist leader from Tunisia, who converts hundred if not hundreds of thousands young Arab minds into a cocktail of charitable work mixed with horrible scenes of violence upon peaceful citizens.
The answer can be found in the concept of free will in the Islamic philosophy, where doing good or bad has been planted by God. There is a sense of determinism that man has little choice in doing bad, it was predicted. Ernest Renan, in his speech at the Sorbonne on Muslims and free will, said it best: “Convinced that God determines wealth and power to whomever He sees fit, regardless of education or personal merit, the Muslim has the deepest contempt for free will.”
The Muslim faith is not unique in shaping the behavior of its members to ensure that they follow the line without any small deviations. In fact, much of the terrorism in Africa is the result of extremist groups fighting one another under the legend that my Muslim practice is holier than yours.
Most of the religious doctrines, with the exception of Catholicism, tend to believe that the will should not be let free to wander; it should be constrained for its own good. The moral responsibility is diluted and becomes even hazy.
The truth that human persons have the capacity to determine themselves and their lives through their own free choices is integral to Catholic faith. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church
God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel’ (see Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (no. 1730; the internal citation is from Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et spes],
The free will concept goes even beyond the issue of war and peace to enter into the realm of juvenile delinquency, of blindly following the latest trend such as the one related by my esteemed colleague Anthony L Hall in his recent essay on the body-scrunching Spanx worn by women to look good while being utterly uncomfortable.
The decade of the sixties might have been characterized when the concept of free will was at its peak, yet it was also the time when the psychologist Stanley Milgram discovered how easy it was to have people do horrible things, as some 65% of people tested would kill easily if asked to do so.
The moral of this essay is, in addition to making nations engage in the politics of making life hospitable to their own people, teaching and practicing the ABC of free will to the young people must be part of the required curriculum in building mature adults who will then erect better nation leading to lasting peace in our lifetime.