Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Outhouse: Reflections on The Shack, Part Three: Free Will

[The Shack by William Young is a major bestseller and worthy of comment. This is the third of five quick looks at The Shack from my perspective.]

Papa (God) tells Mack that she was powerless to interfere in the brutal rape and murder of his baby girl because if she were to stop the crime she would be robbing humanity of free will, and without free will we humans are nothing.

At first this may make sense to you, and it certainly placates Mack, but it bothers the hell out of me. When God talks about protecting free will she subtly shifts our focus from Missy to Missy’s murderer. The only free will God is protecting by allowing the brutal rape and murder of little Missy is the free will of the murderer. God robs Missy of her free will without batting an eye!

Of course if you believe in The Secret and its backwards Law of Attraction (like attracts like), then you might say that Missy’s free will was also honored because she brought about her rape and murder by thinking thoughts of rape and murder. According to The Secret everything that happens to us happens because we attract it to ourselves through our thoughts. How a little kid has such thoughts, however, is beyond me, and only a heartless fool would imagine that little Missy chose to be raped and murdered, but if heartless idiocy is what it takes to excuse God of the crime of callous indifference then millions of The Shack readers are willing to do just that.

So which is it, Papa—whose free will are you really concerned with: the murderer’s or the victim’s? Papa’s logic demands that we see that she is siding with evil. Unfortunately, Mack doesn’t see this. He is content to let God squeak by with this silly argument about free will. But you shouldn’t!

Hold on a second, Mack might object. God is talking about the big picture—human free will in general and not the murderer’s in particular. If Papa were to save Missy she would have to end free will for all of us!

This is absurd on at least two counts. First, if you believe the stories in the Bible as most of The Shack’s readers do, then you know that God overrides free will. What, for example, is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart if not the theft of his free will? Second, if God refuses to intervene in life because of free will, and this callousness allows the free will of the powerful and wicked to override the free will of the weak and innocent, then God is simply enabling survival of the fittest at its most brutal. In fact if this is the theology of The Shack, the its author is a deist of sorts believing in a God who created the world and then leaves it to its own devises.

The simple fact is that little Missy died because God let her die, and if Mack let’s God off the hook for this murder he is just enabling God to perpetrate further evil while pretending to be powerless to stop it. The God of The Shack suffers from a type of Munchausen’s disease. She let’s evil happen so she can pretend to suffer with the tormented and thus earn the love of the survivors. Papa/God is one sick black lady. How can people find this comforting?


eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

Did you ever read "God as Cosmic Sadist," by
Rabbi/Dr. Richard L. Rubenstein? It was published almost forty years ago in the periodical "The Christian Century." Much of what you're writing herein aligns with the argument in that article which is a critique of the theology of Emil Fackenheim.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks for the Rubenstein reference. No, I haven't read it.

Patti said...

The whole free will argument makes me nuts. There is no such thing as free will. We are limited by our biology and our ideology and quite frankly, reality. Most of us are so blinded to what motivates our behavior that we could not anymore freely will change than see it for what it really is. All the jammering about free will is navel gazing at its most paralyzing.

AaronHerschel said...

I dunno Patti. While I agree that free will is limited by biology and ideology, I don't imagine that it doesn't exist at all. In any case, one requires a belief in free will if one is to believe in any kind of ethics.

Patti said...

I can only speak from my educational background in psychology. Unless there has been some recent research in free will that I am unaware of, we still fall in the no free will camp.

The issue for us is the word "free". It means unhampered and completely open to change. I can will myself to be a better person, but can I will myself to be say, a zebra? And what does "better" mean, for that matter? A person's will is present and active, but we are not able to change it at will. Pun intended.

Tell me more about what you are thinking Aaron. I value your input.

Jay said...

Patti, if I may give my input. The idea that we don't have absolute free will does not necessarily mean that we don't have a relative free will; I don't think it's as simple as a binary equation.

We are shaped by our biology, by our surroundings, and the limits of reality, but we are able to choose our actions within these frameworks. It may mean that it's not as simple as "we have absolute control over our surroundings and even ourselves," and that we should look into the factors that contribute to why people act as they do.

I agree with Aaron regarding ethics. Why have a justice system if we don't will our action?

Patti said...

Thanks Jay! I agree with both you and Aaron. good points...

But I can tell you from my MANY years in Christianity...relative free will is not what they are talking about. Christians often use the phrase free will to cast shame on others who do not behave according to some standard. Rarely does it get used in the sense where they are trying to use their free will to stop sinning. Super pet peeve of mine.

But I do hear you and appreciate your thoughtful approach.

Jay said...

Thank you, Patti!

I think you are right in revolting against the sense of unfettered free will.

What is not shaped by its encounter with other beings/its surroundings? Not even God, according to some. Are you familiar with process theology? I'm very ignorant of it. I wonder what Rami thinks of it.


Patti said...

You got me on process theology.

I like the phrase "unfettered free will", that really sums it up.

AaronHerschel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AaronHerschel said...

Just want to toss this in to see what reaction it gets:

"Do as thou wilt is the whole of the law. Love is the law. Love under will." --Aliester Crowley

Patti said...

It gets the same "deer in headlights" reaction I have to lots of the postings. I have no fricken clue what that means.

"Love under Will." I sure hope he is cute. ;0)