January 27, 2011

Lost in Space and the Vagaries of Free Will

Growing up, one of my favorite TV programs was "Lost in Space." During the first season of the program, there was a serious sci-fi edge to most of the storyline. An episode in the last season featured carrot monsters (!)

During that first season, two of the major characters in the series (a sabataging stowaway, Dr. Smith, and an all too human Robot) have a discussion that runs like this:

Dr. Smith: Would you like to try your hand at a game of chess?

Robot: If you wish to play the game, I will join you. I am not programmed for free will (free choice).

Dr. Smith: Don't worry about it, free will is vastly over-rated.

Is free will "vastly over-rated"? Is free will responsible for all of the messes polluting our world? The world is truly filled with violence, not just in Tunisia, Congo, Afghanistan, or other places famous for their fierce environments. There are armed conflicts on every continent, except Antarctica, and there are no signs of abatement.

Are we "better off" for our ability to make free choices? Wouldn't we all be a lot happier if we had no choice about doing "the right thing", and no knowledge of any alternative? The world would be filled with peace, cooperation, material progress, pain/cruelty free food and eating, well-balanced eco-systems, etc.

Why doesn't God get more actively involved in putting a stop to all of our expressions of free well? While chatting with a co-worker the other day, she told me she'd found some research material from one of the lost books of the Bible stating the base of the Tower of Babel may have been as expansive as a major county in my home state. We went on to discuss what the true state of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah may have been. How could these large cities have less than ten righteous people living in them?

Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah are two examples of God's direct intervention in shutting down particularly nasty expressions of free will. Still, these true accounts are Bible stories seldom told beyond elementary school level Sunday School classes. We want God to put evil in check, but we don't like really massive lightning bolts from the skies.

Does it all end up like this? -- I want my free will, but I want insulation from unpleasant expressions of the free will of others. Finally, I want God to eliminate the "bad" free will expressions of humanity at large. Before I can meditate on this for three minutes, I know it's never going to work out that way. What God offers now is individual mercy and redemption, an open hand of love, and the option to become more like Him or stay just as we are.

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