GOD SAYS ‘FREE WILL’ MEANS
DO AS I SAY ‘OR ELSE’
How are you doing here? I know this is taking a while, but that’s because, as I said, the influence of the teachings we have all received about God runs deep. It embraces philosophical areas as well as the practical aspects of life.
Even though the following final topics touch upon concepts that we may think we’ll encounter only in the abstract, the fact is that how we think about these abstractions affects—and creates—our concrete moment-to-moment experience.
FREE WILL…Many humans have been told that What God Wants is for human beings to have Free Will. Thus, they may determine and decide for themselves which of the Ultimate Outcomes—heaven or hell—they wish to experience after their death. They may do as they choose at any moment, at every juncture. They are not restricted in any way.
Humans have been told that God has granted humanity this Free Will so that humans may freely choose God, freely choose God’s Way, and freely choose to be reunited with God in heaven. In other words, they may freely choose to be good, as opposed to being forced to do so. God wants humans to return to God by choice. No one should be required to do so.
Human beings have also been told that under the doctrine of Free Will, while people may do as they choose, if they do not choose What God Wants they’ll pay for it with continuous torture through all eternity. No element of duress is seen in this. It’s simply the Way Things Are. It’s Justice, at the highest level. It’s God’s Justice, which follows God’s Judgment. It’s important, therefore, to freely choose What God Wants.
One result of this teaching: Humanity’s concept of freedom has been deeply affected and profoundly shaped by its understanding of what God means by “freedom.” Humans have decided that freedom doesn’t have to mean freedom, but can mean simply the ability to select outcomes. This is better than having no choice at all, and so humans in positions of power have learned to use the word “freedom” to privately describe the process by which they get others to do as they as are told. People don’t have to do as they are told, of course. But if they do not, there will be a price to pay. That could mean anything from having taxes audited to being thrown in jail for two years without charges being filed and without any explanation other than being labeled a threat to the security of the country. Using this measure, nations call themselves “free.”
Most people, except, perhaps, the most stubborn apologists, see the contradiction in all of this. They understand perfectly well that no people are truly free who face the most horrendous outcomes imaginable if they don’t do what they’re told. Only a hypocrite or a fool would call such a choice “free.”
Humans have learned, then, that hypocrisy—especially hypocrisy for the “right” purpose, in the “right” cause—is acceptable on earth as it is in heaven. Much of humanity’s political activity has been informed by this ethic. And elsewhere within the spectrum of human activity as well, in the way many humans communicate with each other, in the way many deal with each other, it has come to be understood that the end justifies the means.
In fact, many humans have now convinced themselves that none of this is hypocrisy at all. It’s simply a matter of interpretation.
And so, in this day and age, freedoms are taken away in the name of Freedom itself. Millions of people gratefully embrace the political rhetoric that says lack of freedom is what guarantees their freedom, and the religious doctrine that says their choices in life arefree only if they do as they are told, because this is What God Wants.
This is Part V of an extended series of articles in The Global Conversation.
SUFFERING…Many humans have been told that What God Wants is for suffering to be used by human beings to better themselves, and to purify their soul. Suffering is good. It earns credits, or points, in God’s mind, especially if it’s endured silently, and maybe even “offered up” to God. Suffering is a necessary part of human growth and learning and is, more importantly, a means by which people may be redeemed in the eyes of God.
Indeed, one whole religion is built on this belief, asserting that all beings have been saved by the suffering of one being, who died for the sins of the rest. This one being paid the “debt” said to be owed to God for humanity’s weakness and wickedness. According to this doctrine, God has been hurt by the weakness and wickedness of humanity and, in order to set things straight, someone has to suffer. Otherwise, God and humanity could not be reconciled. Thus, suffering was established as a redemptive experience.
With regard to the suffering of human beings due to “natural” causes, it’s not to be shortened by death under any circumstances that are not also “natural.” The suffering of animals may be mercifully ended before “natural” death, but not the suffering of people. It’s God and God alone who determines when human suffering shall end
One result of this teaching: Human begins have endured unimaginable suffering over extended periods in order to do God’s will and not incur God’s wrath in the Afterlife. Millions of people feel that even if a person is very, very old and is suffering very, very much—lingering on the verge of death but not dying, experiencing interminable pain instead—that person must endure whatever life is bringing them.
Humanity has actually created civil law declaring that people have no right to end their own suffering, nor may they assist another in ending theirs. However anguishing it may be, however otherwise hopeless a life may have become, the suffering must go on.
This is What God Wants.
MORALITY…Many humans have been told that What God Wants is a moral society.
One result of this teaching: Humanity has spent its entire history attempting to define what is moral and what is not. The challenge has been to come up with a standard for society that does not change, all the while the society itself is changing. To find this “gold standard,” many societies have turned to God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Jehovah, or whatever other name they have used to designate Deity, and have relied on their understanding of What God Wants.
Many centuries ago God’s preferences in this matter were given a powerful label. They were called “natural.” This is because the concept of a Deity first entered the minds of primitive humans as a result of their earliest observations of and contacts with Nature. Here was something bigger than they were, something they could not control, something they could only stand by and watch, hoping for the best.
“Hoping for the best” soon transmuted into what would now be called praying. Whoever and whatever this Deity was, early humans reasoned, it was deeply connected with Nature, and Nature was an expression of It. And so humans created gods representing the sun, moon, and stars, the weather, crops, rivers, the land, and nearly everything else, in hopes of getting some control over things—or at least getting some communication going with whoever did have control.
From this connection of God and Nature it was only a short mental hop to consider that all things having to do with deities and gods were “natural,” and all things not having anything to do with deities were “unnatural.” When human language came into form the words “God” and “Nature” became inextricably linked. Certain conditions, circumstances, and behaviors were then described as “natural” or “unnatural,” depending upon whether they adhered to or violated the current perception of the Will of God.
That which is “unnatural” has, in turn, come to be described as “immoral”—since it’s not of God, and cannot, therefore, be What God Wants. The circle thus completes itself. Anything that is not considered “natural” is considered “immoral.” That includes all “unnatural” abilities, powers, behaviors—and even thoughts.
The idea that What God Wants is what is natural, and that what is natural is what is moral, has not been a perfect measure, but it has been the best that humanity has been able to do in the search for an unchanging standard. It’s for this reason that humanity has been loath to change its ideas about What God Wants. Changing those ideas changes the gold standard of human behavior.
Behavior is the currency of human interaction. Beliefs about What God Wants gives value to the behavioral choices of humans, just as gold gives value to the pieces of paper called money.
Thus, in most human societies it’s not an individual’s actual experience, but the society’s definition of it, that determines its morality. This is the case with homosexuality. It’s also the case with a great many other behaviors, such as prostitution, premarital sex, depictions of explicit sexual activity, the use of peyote, marijuana, and other plants and stimulants, or even the experience of ecstasy not induced by any outside stimulant.
For instance, if one says one has had an ecstatic experience of God, but if the experience does not fall within what humanity currently defines as “natural,” it’s considered immoral and to be warned against and, if it’s continued, to be condemned, and, if it’s still continued, to be punished.
In previous times it was often punishable by torture or death. More than one saint claiming and describing such ecstasies has been martyred in humanity’s long history, using such guidelines.
Those saints were killed because the people killing them were convinced that they were doing What God Wants.
DEATH…Many humans have been told that What God Wants is for their wonderful life to eventually end, at which time their opportunity to learn and to grow is over and the time to be rewarded or punished for how they have lived begins.
One result of this teaching: Many humans consider that death is a terrible thing, and something to be feared. It’s the End of the Line, the Final Curtain Call, the Closing Bell. Nearly all of the imageries surrounding death are negative, fearful, or sad, not positive, uplifting, or joyful. These imageries pervade our society. A street that goes nowhere is a Dead End. A person who is badly mistaken is Dead Wrong. The spirit who comes to retrieve your soul is The Grim Reaper.
Most people do not want to even talk about death, much less experience it. No one wants to experience it before he or she has to. People cling to life, sometimes desperately. The survival instinct is the strongest human instinct of all. Our common culture supports survival as the ultimate goal. Even people who want to die are not allowed to.
On the other side of death, many people feel certain, is the Final Judgment. If you have not been good, it’s at this point that you’ll go to hell. Your payment for all of your sins in this way is What God Wants.
Humanity’s list of What God Wants is very long and covers many other areas of human experience not discussed here. That list forms the basis of innumerable civil laws, cultural traditions, social mores, and familial customs that touch all human beings.
So what do you think about what you’re read here? With allowances for a few exceptions in wording here and there, or a slight difference in interpretation, is this basically what you remember being taught about What God Wants?
If it is, you have a lot of company. Millions of people have had the same experience.
(Our exploration of this topic continues in Part VI of this extended series, coming very soon. Don’t miss a single entry. And if you wish to catch up on installments that you have missed, simply click on the word HEADLINE in the Categories list at right, then scroll down to find the column you wish to read.)