I just read Boethius’ classic, the Consolation of Philosophy. And, truth be told, I found it very consoling. Boethius named it aptly (if he did in fact name it, I don’t know, but whoever named it named it aptly).
It made me do a lot of thinking. The first few chapters of Book one had me doing fist pumps and exclaiming expletives of happiness, so as you can tell from my reaction, I absolutely loved it. He starts off with this sad somewhat self-sorry poem about his woes (he’s in prison soon to be executed when he wrote this book), while the muses of poetry surround his bed. Then he notices Philosophy hovering over his head, and when she sees the muses of Poetry, she starts to severely reprimand them (she calls them sluts, no joke) and kicks them out of the room. Then she sits down next to a rather shocked Boethius and begins a conversation which is detailed by the rest of the book.
During the course of this conversation many interesting and ponderous things are said. The one which I want touch upon here is what the discussion revolves around for the last part of the book: fate and free will. You can call it predestination if you want, but I like the alliteration I have going on here.
I have never thought very rigorously about this subject, though I’m loathe to admit it, and this book has tested the limits of my reasoning and understanding on the matter. To me, the important thing is that people are responsible for their actions. No one can deny that. And if he does, he is an idiot that acts inconsistently with his beliefs every day of his life… or if he never takes responsibility for his actions, well, he’s at least double the idiot. You can’t live in the real world and claim to have no responsibility for your actions. That’s just absurd. So, as long as one agrees to accept responsibility for his actions, I’ve never been one to care much about what you believe about fate and free-will.
Personally, I have always claimed to stand on the side of free will, but only to emphasize the responsibility of man for his life and actions. I tend to dislike the notion of ‘predestination’–and when I say predestination I mean fatalism or lack of free-will–simply because I think it tends to make people feel less responsible for their lives. Then, about a year ago, I watched a lecture by Rob Bell (Thanks Aften!) who used an analogy that opened up my mind quite a bit. He talked for a while about time, and then took a dry-erase marker and held it up, saying, we see our lives as a line like this marker. But what if God could take our life and turn it this way… so that it looks like a circle. Or maybe this way, so it looks like a rectangle. This metaphor somehow helped me to visualize the idea that God is outside of time, and what that means (Gunn, check your cries of mocking condescension for just one moment). This leads us to Boethius.
But if God can see our whole life and know our every action with certainty, argues Boethius, doesn’t that logically mean the same thing as a lack of choice and free will? Philosophy, however, replies that because I see Gunn walking and thus can say that I know that he is walking, does my knowing impose necessity and lack of free will upon Gunn? No, of course not. Why would it be any different for God, then, to observe our whole lives in his eternal present without imposing necessity on our actions? If you claim that foreknowledge equals a lack of free will, you are making a logical fallacy, because knowing does not impose necessity.
(As a rabbit trail of sorts, God created time. So God wasn’t before time, because ‘before’ is a word used in reference to time. God just is. That’s why his name is “I am.” God is simple, completely unchanging, existential eternity. Because we are creatures of time, we are perpetual–that is we never cease to exist–but we are not eternal, because we are subject to time and change. Thus, in our quest for God and eternal life, i.e. true happiness, we strive towards precisely those qualities).
This insight of Boethius’s was rather a revelatory thought for me. I realized that in my fuzzy thinking, I had always sort of assumed that foreknowledge somehow seems to equal predestination, or lack of will, but this is nonsense, as Boethius lays out much more clearly than I just summarized. From what I understand, C.S. Lewis argues something along the same lines (I think perhaps he drew his arguments from Boethius, if I recall correctly), though I can’t attest to that first-hand.
All this leads me to have an even stronger distaste for the notion of ‘predestination,’ whatever that means. To be fair, the word is poorly diluted and can mean a multiplicity of different things, all of which I probably wouldn’t disagree so heartily with. I do feel like Calvin must be misinterpreted by the Calvinists upon this point, and so my next goal is to delve into the institutes and figure out what Calvin actually has to say about these matters.