Free Will Hypocrisy

November 11, 2008 at 2:04 am 22 comments

I’ve noticed Christians are really hung up on the concept of free will*. It’s a very useful tool invoked to explain away everything from the Problem of Evil to the need for Jesus to die on the cross to the reason lives aren’t saved and prayers aren’t answered. Christians explain that God gave people free will which he has promised not to violate. He gives us all the freedom to choose between good and evil and thus eternal life and eternal damnation. He is grieved when we don’t choose the “right path,” but he will respect our decision and not intercede in our lives.

Christians really love this idea, and if you talk or debate with one you will surely hear them invoke their beloved God-given gift of “free will” with a twinkle in their eye that betrays their facade of modest humility and lets you know that they’re unbelievably certain of not only their chosen faith, but also of the usefulness of their apologetic “free will” card which will proved a philosophical answer to any of the difficult questions posed by nonbelievers.

Free will is an essential part of God’s salvation plan for the world. We are supposed to come to God freely, of our own volition, and make an informed and personal decision to accept him as our savior. My question is this: if Christians cherish free will so much, and believe that it is central to the process of belief, why do they also practice and praise childhood indoctrination? Doesn’t this seem directly hypocritical?

Research and personal experience both have proven that where a child is born and the religious affiliation of a child’s parents have the largest baring over their religious affiliation. Take a look at this map which shows the distribution of Christian denominations in the US if you don’t believe me. If you happen to be a baby born to Christian parents in a part of the world that is populated primarily by other Christians, you are going to be a Christian.

As a baby I was not baptized because my parents wanted to give me the freedom to choose religion on my own. They felt like baptizing me into the church as an infant violated my free will. My parents believed that the decision to follow Christ or not was ultimately up to me, and one that I would make once I reached the “age of accountability.” The majority of Christians believe in this mysterious “age of accountability,” which is a stage in development a child reaches where they are able to understand right from wrong, and thus are able to make a lifelong dedication to Christ. My family believes this age is about five or six, or whatever age a child reaches where they begin to empathize and understand simple moral concepts like “sharing is good” and “hitting is bad.” They believe that at five years of age a child who can’t even pick out their own clothes is ready to pick out their religion. A child of five is going to choose whatever their parents chose, or whatever they believe will make their parents happy. They are not coming to God based on their own will.

Thus I was born a Christian. I didn’t have any choice over the matter. Like all Christian parents, mine felt that leading me to Christ was their most important duty. They took the words of Proverbs 22:6 to heart, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it,” and began my religious instruction when I was just barely learning to talk. I was instructed that I needed to ask Jesus into my heart as my savior because of how much God loved me. It wasn’t a matter of choice, it was a matter of duty. I wasn’t given any other options. They didn’t explain to me that, if I wanted, I could pray to Allah instead, or maybe Buddha. They certainly didn’t tell me that I could chose to not believe in God altogether. They violated my free will by urging me to make a decision that I did not understand the implications of, and without offering me alternatives. It wasn’t even a matter of “Will you decided to accept Jesus as your personal savior?” but rather “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior yet?”

Indoctrination violates free will, and that is why many free thinkers (myself excluded) consider it child abuse. It stifles a child’s ability to make a personal and conscious decision to follow any particular faith. Yes, a child might grow into an adult and decide to abandon their religion of their own volition, but it is extremely rare. It turns out that the old proverb is actually true. A child who is taught “the way [read: RELIGION] he should go” will not depart from it, even after they reach maturity. Darwin realized this when he wrote that it is as likely for a child to apostatize from their indoctrinated faith “as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.”

Christians love free will, but they fail to see the how often they violate it.

- orDover

A Clarifying Addendum:

I am in no way saying or suggesting that parents should be careful to keep their children’s free will in tact and unvoilated. I recognize that all parents, regardless of their belief system, will have a great influence over the belief system of their children. This cannot be avoided. I am singling out Christian parents only because their religious belief claims that free will, coming to Christ via an independent personal decision, is a crucial and paramount part of God’s plan for salvation.

*I should take this opportunity to explain that I am skeptical of “free will” and believe that it is likely a cognitive illusion.

Entry filed under: orDover. Tags: , , .

The Psychology of Apologetics: Biblical Inerrancy From Tormented Soul to Freed Atheist – Part 1

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sophia Marsden  |  November 11, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Free will and “indoctrination” (childhood or otherwise) are not opposed. No more than free will and prison are opposed. It is not a violation of my will to teach me something, I have the choice to reject or accept it – and yes, if I love and trust you and due to my age lack the experience to be critical and suspicious, I may well be predisposed to accept, but I can (as plenty of non-Christians brought up in Christian homes can attest) reject. Just like I can still commit a crime even if you dangle the threat of prison at me (once I am imprisoned I am more limited in my freedom of action of course, but my freedom of will remains inviolate, I can resist you to the end if I so choose).

  • 2. Mee  |  November 11, 2008 at 3:07 am

    “Free Will” and the Christian God are already opposed.

    Seriously, think about it. God gives you free will, then punishes you for all eternity if you don’t do what he says anyway. That is *not* free will.

    If I ask you to commit a bank robbery with me, you can say yes or no. That is free will. If I ask you to commit a bank robbery with me, but tell you that if you say “no”, I will drop your entire family and all your friends into a pit of slow-working acid (prolonging their incredibly painful deaths), that is not “free will”. That is being forced to pick an option you might not have picked.

  • 3. Sophia Marsden  |  November 11, 2008 at 3:17 am

    No, if you ask me to commit a bank robbery but if I say no its the acid for my family and friends – I still have free will, I am not forced to pick either option, I am perhaps persuaded by the consequences, but I still have absolute freedom to say yes or no.

  • 4. Gracie  |  November 11, 2008 at 4:15 am

    Excellent points that you’ve expressed eloquently – I appreciate your words a great deal – sure wish the Christians I’m surrounded by would visit this site. I’m the minority between family and friends since my beliefs have changed drastically in the past five years. It can make for some very uncomfortable situations.

  • 5. blueollie  |  November 11, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Free will: what of “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart” then? :)

  • 6. BigHouse  |  November 11, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Sophia, you may have a semantical point but you don’t have much pf a philosophical one. God loaded the dice significantly with his believe or perish gameshow he created. It may be free will by the letter of the law, but by no means the spirit.

  • 7. orDover  |  November 11, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Free will and “indoctrination” (childhood or otherwise) are not opposed. No more than free will and prison are opposed.

    This is not a good argument nor a good analogy. It ignores the proof I gave that religious parents raise religious children, and the examples from my own life that I gave about religion not being a choice, but a predetermined mandate for my life. If you raise a child and tell them that there is only ONE way without giving them any information about other ways, then you are indoctrinating them and thus forcing them to accept the one way you teach them.

    To play off of your prison analogy, this would be equivalent to a parent teaching its child to be a pick-pocket, insisting that pick-pocketing was the only way to make a living, and the only thing the child would ever be good at. When the child gets caught and sent to juvenile hall is it their own fault? No. They didn’t now they had any other options. They didn’t know that they could stop doing the illegal activity. Maybe the child would grow up and realize that plenty of people work 9 to 5 at honest jobs, and that they could get one of those honest jobs, but if pick-pocketing is the only thing they know, they only skill they have, the only thing they are good at, then they are just going to keep doing it.

    It has already been established that people are overwhelmingly likely to be the same religion as their parents. Of course these children grow up and realize (even if they were originally told) that other people believe in different religions, and some none at all, but they still decide to stay with their childhood religion, because that is what they know.

    It is not a violation of my will to teach me something, I have the choice to reject or accept it – and yes, if I love and trust you and due to my age lack the experience to be critical and suspicious, I may well be predisposed to accept, but I can (as plenty of non-Christians brought up in Christian homes can attest) reject.

    Right. But how many do? Very few. Why? Because they were indoctrinated. See that Darwin quote above.

  • 8. Jenkins  |  November 11, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I think it’s a bit of an over-generalization to say that most Christians believe in this idea of free will. There are many of the Reformed tradition that wouldn’t agree with this.

  • 9. peridot  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    The idea of free will seems to be very popular among the Christians I know, mostly nondenom and mainline protestant. And they do use this very amorphous concept to try to explain everything.

  • 10. BigHouse  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    To me, free will is a similar conundrum to the old God paradox that goes: Can God make a stone heavy enough that he cannot lift it?

    If I have character traits that pre-dispose me to reject God, like rebelliousness, skepticism, or resistance to authority, wasn’t it God that instilled these traits within me?

    If God is omnipotent and omniscient, how can he impart “true” free will to his creation without actually predestining the outcome? And if predestined, how free is this will we supposedly have?

    I haven’t heard a good Christian rebuttal to this conundrum yet.

  • 11. mjenkins30  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I should probably have worded my comment a bit different. I would say that most do hold to this doctrine, if you want to call it that. The only thing I was pointing out was that the article made it seem like it was an across the board thing for Christians when there is a large chunk that disagree with this notion.

  • 12. Griffin  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    The better question is how ‘real’ is ‘free will.’ Christians will tell you that God says that he wants us to come to him freely. What they never mention is that if we don’t come to him freely, he will torture us for eternity.

    I’m pretty sure that counts as coercion. I mean, if I told somebody that they needed to give me their wallet ‘of their own free will’ or I would dump their body into a pit of fire, I’m pretty sure that it would still be considered stealing.

  • 13. ED  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    According to some of the greatest philosophical minds of the last 500 years free will is nothing more than an illusion. Genetics, environmental factors and prior decisions that affect future choices virtually eliminate the possibility that our volition is nothing more than choosing according to our greatest desire at the moment of choice. Those desire have causes and do not arise out of nothing. Theist love to cite the ex nihil argument. But our choices have prior dispositions, inclinations and motivations or they arise ex nihil.

  • 14. orDover  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    I should probably have worded my comment a bit different. I would say that most do hold to this doctrine, if you want to call it that. The only thing I was pointing out was that the article made it seem like it was an across the board thing for Christians when there is a large chunk that disagree with this notion.

    This post was pulled from my personal blog, where I have disclaimer explaining that when I write about Christianity, unless specified, I am referring to popular American fundamentalist protestantism, and that I understand that the various generalizations I employ do not fit the broad spectrum of Christianity for the most part. That’s why I didn’t take the time to explain the sort of “Christians” I am talking about in the post.

  • 15. mjenkins30  |  November 11, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Thanks for the explanation; understood.

  • 16. Jenkins  |  November 12, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Big House

    Have you ever read any Jonathan Edwards? He tries to deal with the conundrum you talked about by saying that God has two wills, a will of decree and a will of command. I will butcher this beyond recognition if I tried to explain it, but I’ve seen his explanation of it posted online before, so I could email it to you or post it here. I didn’t want to do it now in case you’ve already come across it. I’m not really sure what I think about it; it seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

  • 17. Paul H.  |  November 12, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    They forgot karma and reincarnation. Choices are made and the results spread over many lifetimes.

  • 18. BigHouse  |  November 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I have not read him jenkins, but if you provide me a link I’ll check it out.

  • 19. societyvs  |  November 19, 2008 at 11:32 am

    “It has already been established that people are overwhelmingly likely to be the same religion as their parents” (OrDover)

    You say ‘overwhelmingly’ as part of your answer to kids becoming the same faith as their parents – if there were no such thing as ‘choice’ (which is proof of free will) – shouldn’t the word used be ‘all’? How do you explain the fact there is exceptions to the rule you try to set out here without ‘choice’?

    “If I have character traits that pre-dispose me to reject God, like rebelliousness, skepticism, or resistance to authority, wasn’t it God that instilled these traits within me? If God is omnipotent and omniscient, how can he impart “true” free will to his creation without actually predestining the outcome? And if predestined, how free is this will we supposedly have? I haven’t heard a good Christian rebuttal to this conundrum yet.” (Big House)

    (a) The first part about having traits disposed to ‘reject God’ – this is not a factual statement whatsoever. Some Christians might believe this (from the original sin idea) but this by no means makes it fact. Judaism does not hold to an ‘original sin’ idea (which is where Christianity tries to claim this doctrine arises from).

    But even if we born with traits of ‘sin’ – isn’t ‘sin’ all based on choice? How can one ‘sin’ without developing the thought, thinking it through, then committing the action? Isn’t it the brain that moves the hand each and every time – even if it seems like such a routine thing?

    (b) Predestination is not something we can prove. It may very well be true – but what does that matter – no human being would actually be aware of that reality to live by it. So the human is left with the obvious – his ability to choose and determine his life. Who cares if God is all knowing – unless we verify that? Fact is – we cannot and we have to live with the basic reality we have – which includes choice. It’s a matter of focus.

    Pre-destination makes no sense to me (maybe it’s just me) – the idea all things were ordained for you before your birth – and no matter what choice you make – you were supposed to make. I would say if this is true – no one is guilty of a crime – except for the person with the power to change it (God). Pre-destination if followed to it Nth degree – lets people ‘off the hook’ for any and all of their actions (and in that extreme sense is dangerous).

  • 20. Josh  |  November 19, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    “if there were no such thing as ‘choice’ (which is proof of free will)”

    I completely disagree. I could reword your sentence to this: if there were no such thing as ‘fate’ (which is proof that there is no free will)…

    “isn’t ‘sin’ all based on choice”

    Not at all. What about sacrifices in the OT for unintentional sins?

    “Predestination is not something we can prove.”

    How then could the apostle Paul speak so adamantly about it?

    “would say if this is true [predestination] – no one is guilty of a crime”

    Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but if someone goes wrong and is harming society the rest of society will be compelled to do something about it out of self-defense and self-preservation.

  • 21. orDover  |  November 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    You say ‘overwhelmingly’ as part of your answer to kids becoming the same faith as their parents – if there were no such thing as ‘choice’ (which is proof of free will) – shouldn’t the word used be ‘all’? How do you explain the fact there is exceptions to the rule you try to set out here without ‘choice’?

    Choice is not proof of free will. (If you want to get into the larger discussion of free will, it basically boils down to choices being made by the subconscious mind without any input from the conscious bit—decisions made automatically by the brain, rationalized post-hoc, creating the illusion of a free will.)

    But relating more closely to the original post, assuming a priori the existence of a free will which can be violated, there are exceptions to the “rule” of indoctrination (such as a de-Convert like myself) because there is a variety of ways children are educated and raised. Some are raised in a liberal faith, some are actually given a real choice regarding religious belief, some are raised to think on their own. Some are indoctrinated as children, their “free will” is violated by raising them to believe a religion that they did not choice on their own, but then later assert their “free will” when they get older. Imagine someone forcing you, as a small child, to wear the clothes that they pick out for you. When you grow up, you can either continue to dress in that same style and color, or you can assert your “will” and change your mode of dress. You remedied the problem, but that doesn’t mean your free will wasn’t violated in the first place.

  • 22. Angie Van De Merwe  |  November 19, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Although it is true that our upbringing does form us, it is not true that “life” also transforms us. Our historical situatedness has stable (family, culture, historical time frame, etc), and unstable (experiences, within space and time and with people) that also impact our lives and understanding of faith. These stable variables can be understood in scientific terms, but the unstable (the individual’s personal experience of their experiences) is not so easily understood, because of the many variables that are applicable to a specific situation, and the individual person. So, free will is really a simplistic understanding and concept in itself.

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