Thursday, July 07, 2005

Free the Will

I have just finished a most interesting book, A Vindication of The Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. I admit that this is a bit of an unusual read for me, but a friend gave it to me at exactly the same time as I was studying the beginning of Genesis and really understanding for the first time the curses we as women (and men) live under as a result of defying God, and I thought the timing was most apropos. I will not revisit the topic (see my previous blog entitled “Curses”), but let me give you a few quotes that have stirred my mind:

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep woman in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a plaything. The sensualist, indeed, has been the most dangerous of tyrants, and women have been duped by their lovers, as princes by their ministers, whilst dreaming that they reigned over them.”

“…that they who are taught blindly to obey authority, will endeavour cunningly to elude it, is most natural and certain.”

Now let me take these thoughts and apply them to any person who has been oppressed, not just women. I do believe that free will is possibly the most valuable, dangerous and mysterious gift that God has given mankind and one of the sure signs of this is that we seem to be determined to strip it from our fellowman. Throughout history, people (and unfortunately the church has been a major abuser of this type of power) have sought to exercise power over other people, to control them, for this ability to make other people bend to our wishes is an intoxicating drug. All too often those with some semblance of authority use it as a weapon to subjugate others or as a device to satisfy their wants. This is not true authority. As my husband says, “Anyone who has to tell me I have to submit to him, does not have true authority.” And as Ms. Wollstonecraft so aptly points out, those whom circumstances has stripped of obvious power, often resort to manipulation and cunning to achieve their ends.

Let’s take this out of the realm of philosophy and get personal. There is a part of me that would love to be able to control people, because I believe I would only do good things with that power. That’s a lie, plain and simple. There are certain things that I think are important and right, and instead of presenting my ideas and values and letting them speak for themselves, I have (and I am not proud of the fact) resorted to other methods to convince people these things have merit. I have seen other well-intentioned people do this as well. We might put a spin on the words we use, slanting the facts so that our angle is seen in a more advantageous light; I can add a twist of emotion and heartfelt sincerity to soften people to my ideas; someone might throw in a little guilt trip because we know everyone feels they should do more; you can assault someone with such a barrage of words and facts and knowledge that they are overwhelmed; a person can get angry and unpleasant to be around, making acquiescence the more pleasant option; or I can resort to pointing out a weakness in someone’s character and endeavour to win the case by sheer underhanded meanness and degradation. We see all these manipulative behaviours in their rawest form in children when they are learning to exert their own wills, and it is not an attractive qualitiy. But as adults with a righteous cause, especially the cause of Christ, or helping the poor, or saving souls, the end is so vital that we sometimes wrongly suppose that it merits adding a little muscle to the message. Admit it, this basic human right to make your own choice just seems so ineffective in bringing people to the truth and encouraging good behaviour. What was God thinking when he dreamed that one up?

There are many flaws in that train of thought, but the main one is that I suppose I have discovered the ultimate truth and in some way, that gives me the right to force it on other people. Only Jesus carries the ultimate truth within him; I am simply stumbling along discovering shards of it scattered here and there in this broken world – and anytime I misplace my humility, the truth I do have a grasp on quickly slips from my fingers, because truth and love are inextricably intertwined, and if I infringe on someone’s dignity by attempting to usurp their God-given right to choose and exert pressure on them to do a certain thing because I believe I know what is best for them, I am in error. (Please note that I am talking as one adult to another and not about the care and protection of children.)

If God, in his infinite wisdom, allows people to make their own choices, be they good or bad, I cannot work against that. He is ever present, ever loving, always caring for us, offering wisdom and truth to those who ask for it, merciful yet just, but never a tyrant. That the most powerful being in the whole universe would restrain his authority in order to give us power over our own lives is indeed a great and unfathomable gift, but He refuses to overstep that boundary, and so should I. Blind obedience, as tempting as it may be to demand in order to effectively achieve a noble goal, has no lasting value. Even the creator of the universe does not stoop to such methodolgy.

I will openly speak about and live out those things I believe to be true and right, and I will be passionate about them, but I will not demand that you accept them, nor devalue you if you do not embrace them. The truth is not a sledgehammer, it is a sharp sword, and it does not need heavy-handed wielding to make it effective.

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