I discovered recently that I might be suffering from ‘illusionism’. The fact that I believe in a reali-ty beyond my senses and therefore that life after death exists is probably quite a give-away! In this case, though, the phrase refers more to the wrestling that goes on where physics, philoso-phy, and neuroscience converge to say to us that there is no such thing as free will. The idea is that we think we personally consciously choose our behaviour but this is an existential ‘fraud’ (an illusion) because behind the choice are brain activities and circumstances (eg. physi-cal activities, the level of chemicals in us, even tu-mours, and so on) of which we are not aware which govern our behaviour. The theory suggests to me that we are going along for a ride in life in a body that is responding to the environment and we think we are ‘in charge’ – hence no free will.
If this is true then morality and ideas of good or bad go out the window as does being responsible for our be-haviour. Nevertheless we deplore abuse but recognise less culpability if the perpetrator was abused in child-hood (we think the perpetrator both wrong in behaviour but also a victim). How much free will is evident here?
I remember my mother saying to me often as a child, “It is not what you mean to do, it is what you do that counts”. Broadly speaking that is true but intentions are not insignificant.
In the age of sound bite aphorisms I have often said that the two things parents really need to do for their children given that they should feed, water, and house their children and don’t beat them up – that’s part of my ‘givens’ – is that they teach them accountability (they are responsi-ble for their actions) and they affirm, say, affirm, say constantly that they love them (because this love is not determined by the children’s behaviour but exists because of their being – be-cause the children exist – and it is always a gift, freely given).
And so for me, how my environment or my circumstance or my health or even the neuroscience of my body impacts me cannot be the controller of me (though they can severely impact me) but I choose to say that I will try to be aware of – and responsible for – all my thoughts, words, and deeds. Why? Because I have heard the story of a God who was free to do whatever he wished but wanted to rescue me and did so ultimately through crucifixion. His free will meant his sacrifice – and gave me my identity – and now I seek – believe – act – choosing my thoughts, words, and deeds. Or recognising (repenting) what I have done. I have free will in this world in my behaviour because my crucified God showed me that the biggest trap that binds me, entraps me is my sin – and not my glands or neuroscience.
What the world might call my illusionism, I’m choosing to call faith in the God who loves me – who died and rose again for us – and I’m choosing to be a disciple of Jesus which is all about my behaviour each day and not just for an hour or two on Sunday. And I thank the Holy Spirit for freely staying with me to help me live this way.
I wish physics, philosophy, and neuroscience well and look forward to what we might learn from them but as far as the big picture of reality is concerned then it is the story of a cross and an empty tomb that defines my reality. My God freely loves me (and you! – and the world!) – and nothing beats that! GS