September 18, 2019
I weaponized faith for the first time yesterday. Well, maybe that's too strong a word. But that's how it felt, like weaponizing. This happened when a friend decided to challenge my ridiculous proposition that human beings have no free will; saying to me "we're doing this" as he stepped to a convenient whiteboard to lay out his case. And as he began to draw a graph-chart I remember telling myself to use faith if things don't go well, which set the stage for an easy parachute away from his argument should it prove sound. Yet, that's not what I really want... I don't want to hold on to any weak belief. I do want to be convinced otherwise if I can be shown to be wrong. I sincerely wish to see the error of my ways. And yet, something inside me was preparing a defense. I even said to him as he began to draw on the board "you know this free will thing is a matter of faith to me?" to which he countered with a wry glance.
"Here you are, the atheist, using faith to your own ends to unsettle the footing of your opponents."
The chart my friend produced included columns describing characteristics such as the qualities of our birth and the influence of our environment and our times - all of which he agreed are largely outside our personal control and thus beyond free will. The columns he laid out thus constituted about 80% of who we are, so he was largely conceding that free will isn't real - up to about 80%. The remaining 20% he described as our true choices, and as the seat of our free will. It was here - in the 20% of freedom - where our liberty to choose was found. Free will, he argued, is therefore real, if only to the tune of roughly 20% of our constitution. It was a simple and clear case - seemingly sound - though I did see a hole where I might begin a counter-argument. However, instead of mustering a fight, I chose instead to play my trump-card - quite prematurely.
I declared "But I take it that we have no free will as a principle of faith!"
My friend's wry look took a twist, the same twist my own expression might make whenever someone uses faith on me. "Oh, so that's what you're going to do" he said. Adding, "I know what you're up to... Here you are, the atheist, using faith to your own ends to unsettle the footing of your opponents."
That wasn't right. That's not what I'm up to. Or is it? I countered that this isn't my game, that I really BELIEVE we have no free will, and that no one can choose what they believe. Adding that I hate this belief of mine and that I wish it were not true. But yet, I believe, I honestly believe we have no free will - though I cannot demonstrate this is so. And thus, I hold this truth on faith.
The discussion ended there. Wholly unsatisfactory. Utterly incomplete. I felt like a cheater and a fraud. I wanted to sneak away and avoid my friend for the rest of the day, as I respect him and appreciate his time and the effort he made to share his rationale and reason in favor of free will. And though I saw fertile ground for a real and interesting discussion on the matter, I chose instead to avoid that high-road and jump immediately into the dark retreat of faith. I ran away instead of fighting. I hid somewhere false to console myself that my belief is true. I was - and remain - ashamed of myself. And I will seek some penance now for my sin, the sin of exercising faith.
I need to confess.
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.