I have been working on a document titled “What I Say.” It’s catalyzed by the quote attributed to George Fox, the founder of the Quakers: “You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say?” I’ve been trying to analyze my spiritual beliefs logically. Some things I believe on faith, or based on experience. But what requires faith/experience, and what can be derived from other beliefs? What are the consequences and implications of what I believe in? It has been rather difficult to figure it all out, but it has forced me to reexamine just about everything I believe in and why I believe it.
That’s just an introduction to the real point. One thing I have been struggling with is free will and its relationship to morality. If you don’t have free will, how can you be held responsible for your actions? I worked through the standard Buddhist morality (Pure Speech, Pure Action, and Pure Livelihood) without touching on free will. It’s not that you are responsible for the pain you cause to others. Rather, it’s that causing pain to others is the same as causing pain to yourself. So it’s just stupid to cause pain to others.
But then I started looking at the teachings of Jesus. One that really resonated with me is that it is not enough to abstain from doing wrong, we must also actively do what is right. The Buddhist stuff I’ve dealt with is all about not doing wrong. Not that I’m trying to say Buddhism doesn’t have a tradition of also doing what is right. But Jesus is much more explicit about it. The problem is that doing the good that Jesus suggests (feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the imprisoned) does not follow from the reasoning I used with the Buddhist morals.
Which doesn’t mean there can’t be other reasoning for the Jesuist morality. (I thought I just made that word up, but apparently it’s attached to some beliefs I’m not sure I share. I just mean it as “from Jesus”). And I do believe in free will. Sort of. I believe that when we are truly in the moment, when we are one with God, that we have free will. I also believe that while that generally takes a lot of practice, we can have it accidentally when we surrender our selves to something we are doing intently.
Why am I writing all this? Because I was watching the Adjustment Bureau (the movie with Matt Damon) tonight. One of the final lines of the movie was “Free will is a gift you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it.” It really struck me to the bone, and made me think of all this. I don’t know if that quote will lead me to the foundation of my belief in Jesus’ moral lesson, but I’m sure it is going to be engraved upon my brain for some time to come.