#paganvaluesmonth Free Will

There are still a ton of topics left uncovered by me this year, along with a few basic ways I might provide information in hopes of facilitating the blogging process for my fellow bloggers.  I am very much a US American in my acculturation, and this means I have the unfortunate tendency to either think “I can’t” (thankfully, this is rare these days) or “I’m going to DOITALLATONCE!” which is not just unrealistic, but can unchecked turn into a method of burning myself out until it really is a de facto “I can’t.”

I am working hard on moderating these qualities. My greatest challenge is finishing a work, and after that, sustaining the sorts of projects that are intended to be ongoing. In the efforts of caring for myself and my personal energy, I have learned that consciously only doing a little bit at a time takes me farther, faster than trying to apply massive effort and then just resting.  I will hopefully remember to refer back to this when I put up a “tips for Pagan Values bloggers” post after this one.

In the meantime, I consider this a value that goes well with my philosophies of opposition to domination and control: free will. Just as domination and control have some small grey areas ((self-defense has a hierarchy of response in my mind with domination magic as one of the last resorts)) outside the sexual arena, so does the influence of free will.

Hopefully to best communicate my perspective, I want to lay down the following suppositions, concepts, and/or ideals. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the time to explore this as in-depth as I’d like, so I will lay this down as a rough outline for an in-depth discussion, possibly next year:

  • Free will is actually a pillar of belief that can and does connect Christianity and Paganism. I’m willing to venture that most Christians believe in free will, and that most Pagans do as well. Although evolutionary biology/psychology are used as the Pagan version of the Christian concept of pre-destination, a the core of our ethical and moral decisions and discussions revolve almost entirely around the strong belief that we do have a choice about our choices. ((This fails to explain why those that believe in predestination evangelize anyway. I think they just want more people to make babies and thus church members with.))
  • Free will is sacrosanct. It is the center of the soul and mind, and is precious and private in the same way that we consider our genitals.
  • At the core of our beings, we always have a choice. Depending on the situation, we may not have choices we are happy to make. Even in the throes of drunkenness or on a high, we have a choice about our actions.
  • The core spiritual struggle to do moral right comes in the negotiation between what other humans want from us, and what our core will/connection to the Divine or free will most want. This is what sane Muslims mean when they speak of jihad. While to them it is struggle to do right in the eyes of God, to Pagans this conflict is the struggle to moderate between the demands of the overculture and the struggle to honor our own sense of what’s right.

Free will on the surface appears a pure topic. People should have the freedom at least to think what they want to think. But just as “harm none” can actually lead to immobility when applied the wrong way, free will can also lead either to immobility or worse, to just handing yourself over, if you misunderstand it.

Every single human being that interacts with other human beings is in a negotiation for his or her free will all the time. This isn’t because we are all consciously at war for domination. Certainly, some of us are, but for the most part the behavior is at least unconscious if not unintentional. It’s the pressure many Pagans know by loved ones who want us to convert to their religions and thus relieve the pressure of having their assumptions challenged by our very presence; it’s the lady at the supermarket trying to persuade you to buy her brand of frozen food; it’s the politician that knocks on your door in a handshake campaign; it’s even your neighbor calling you to ask you to keep the noise down after 10 pm.

These aren’t all bad things, these aren’t all good things. What these are are negotiations, part of the billions of lifetime transactions that over and over define the lines between your will and the will of those who live around you. In fact, it’s the absolute core of all ethical decisions and discussions: it’s all about what actions you decide to take.

Sometimes, people will try to even get you to think differently. The Greek and Roman art of rhetoric, a long-honored tradition that defines the US and other legal systems, is built around changing the minds of the people. When we practice persuasion or manipulate emotions for any reason, we are essentially tapping into the free will of others.

While manipulation is spectacularly rotten, it is also extremely common, so common that many people can no longer distinguish between persuasion – an appeal to a person’s highest ideals to change a thought or feeling – and manipulation, which is a provoking of emotions to prompt a specific response or result.

A short example

Most of the ethical discussions around magic actually do boil down to free will. We witches worry a lot about whose mind we might change and how, sometimes to the point where we over-confuse what we do.

For instance, in binding magic: I’ve read the argument that when you bind a thief from robbing your home, you are “thwarting the thief’s free will.”

Absolutely not.

The thief will still want to rob you. If you’ve performed the binding properly, he/she will simply find him/herself unable to succeed at robbing you. I seriously doubt I will get bad karma from sending out energy that gives the thief a flat tire as s/he is driving out to my home to grab my stereo.

Now, if I’d bewitched the robber to lose interest in robbing me, yes, that might be more effective – but I’ve also then screwed with his/her free will. I’ve also stolen from the thief an opportunity to grow/change by changing his/her mind about robbing me.

If I chose to be nice and not perform a binding, I’d have dishonored myself – and by that, I mean, did a poor job of caring for the life I’ve been charged to take care of the entire time I’m on this earth – and then there would be the karma of having my stuff stolen, and the feeling of violation resulting from poor self-care. Please do not take this to mean I think ALL people should bind thieves. For non-magical people, the basic effort of locking a door is sufficient to honor the self and the home. This scenario would also be one where I somehow saw the theft coming: unexpected actions by others are one of the many prices and challenges of life.