Posts Tagged ‘Free Will’

For parts 1-4, click here

Let’s do a quick summary.  Here are some key points from part 4 regarding the premise of Forming Horizons: (more…)

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If you have not read part 1 already, I would highly recommend doing so.  This post will not make much sense otherwise.

That said, I’ll start by citing the reflection with which I said I would pick up:

If [a] lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I realize that this would be poo-pooed by many psychologists and philosophers of the last couple centuries.  What is more, I must acknowledge this attitude to be by no means limited to intellectual elites.  If it started with them, it has “trickled down” quite a bit.  This is probably why we, as a society, are so reluctant to affirm the inherent dignity of the human person as such — an affirmation that would require both opposition to abortion and the recognition that humans have greater dignity than animals.

With that dignity, after all, comes responsibilities that are decidedly inconvenient.  It is more convenient and more comfortable to reduce morality, and even choice itself, to animal instincts and determinism.  Under that rubric, dignity becomes synonymous with autonomy, or the ability to exercise personal freedom and choice independently of constraints — an ability that many people defend with the oft-repeated battle cry: “Just let me be who I am!”

And that, I suspect, explains why the one rule our society accepts is this: “Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”  If you are hurting people, you are infringing on their autonomy, after all.  Traditional morality becomes a problem according to this new “unum necessarium,” as it undoubtedly poses a threat to autonomy as we understand it.

abortionOkay — assuming that this worldview is true, abortion becomes doubly “sacred.”  The attendant notion of the mother’s autonomy takes from the human person the responsibility of being a subject while also assigning priority of life and prerogative to those able to exercise autonomy — namely, those already outside the womb, and able to survive independently.

CecilThe preference we give to animals over human fetuses is also explained.  When it comes to autonomy, we see a difference in degree rather than in kind between man and beast.  Beasts, after all, act according to that very thing to which morality and choice have been reduced in human beings: Instinct.

A lion has the wide open savannah to traverse, and in which to do whatever instinct bids.  The buffalo has the wide open prairie, and is not naturally constrained by anything against acting according to its inner drives.  The trout in the stream, the buck in the forest, the whale in the ocean, the goat on the mountain slopes, and every other animal you can imagine is likewise able to exercise “autonomy.”

FetusNot so the fetus (human or otherwise).  The fetus cannot possibly survive apart from its “host,” from the maternal microcosm it inhabits; much less can it exercise autonomy as we understand it.

I say all this by way of mere observation.  In part 3, I’ll go into the moral implications of this worldview.  Hope you’ll stay with me!



  1. “RussianAbortionPoster”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg#/media/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg
  2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg
  3. “3dultrasound 20 weeks” by Staecker – My baby, my picture.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg#/media/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg

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Much has been made of a comment Pope Francis made a couple weeks ago in a homily — I think you probably know what I’m talking about.

The Holy Father made two points:

1. All human beings are called to do good; and

2. Christ has redeemed not just Catholics, but all people — even atheists.

Many have taken this to mean that everyone basically gets a free pass to heaven.  But a little clarification is needed.

Really, there is nothing newsworthy here.  The Pope was, in fact, merely reaffirming Church teaching on God’s universal salvific will and the fact that the Body of Christ extends beyond it’s visible boundaries (which is to say, the Catholic Church).

But here’s what we have to keep in mind: Christ, for His part, has redeemed all humanity of all times and all places.  But salvation is a two-way street.  Our salvation required the initiative of Almighty God Himself, “who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

But, as Peter Kreeft says in his great book “Catholic Christianity,” God seduces us, but He never rapes us.

No one can be forced into heaven.  Heaven is an eternal relationship with God and with the assembly of the blessed, and one which must be entered into freely.  God has freely and gratuitously redeemed us, and now we must freely and generously respond with our lives and hearts.

Here is the official Church teaching on the subject:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

…they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.*

But even those atheists (and others) of goodwill who obtain salvation are, just like the rest of us, saved by Christ, not by their own merits.  When they turn toward the good as they know it, they are turning toward Christ, though they may not realize it.  For Christ is the Source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

* From “Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (italics mine), quoted in reverse order — full text here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

Photo from Wikipedia

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