Free will and religion

This week I listened to Dr. Ginger Campbell's episode of her "Books and ideas" podcast on free will. In it she refers to a book on the subject of free will and makes some interesting reflections, such as the fact that we may do what we want but we cannot will what we want - meaning that while we may act on our desires and impulses, such desires may not be under our control.

As an example, some months ago I was discussing with a colleague if she had gotten married of her own free will and she responded she did, no one forced her. I then questioned why she had gotten married. She said because she fell in love. I kept asking her why until she really got upset but my point was, she got married because she fell in love and because once you are in love you are supposed to get married. That is really an expectation set by your upbringing, society, whatever. I questioned her on why do you have to get married. That really upset her and I abandoned my line of questioning but the episode clearly illustrates what Dr. Campbell was mentioning: while my friend did willingly get married, getting married was not a decision she took, she was compelled by tradition or social convention to do so.

So what does religion have to do with all this? Very simple, religion is thrust upon us most of the time. We do not chose our religion, most of us are born in it. And then moving away from it is a really difficult process, that many people just never undertake. Of those who stay in the religion of their parents, many are not really deeply convinced believers, even if they think they are. They go through the motions and attend church because that is what they are supposed to do; they believe in God and have faith and pray, because that is what you do, what your parents did and your grandparents before them.

My contention is that many people just do not have any choice but to be religious and "believe". Most people never question religiosity, they just practice their "faith" and never apply any critical thinking to their "beliefs" which should rather be called "traditions".

That is the reason why Dr. Richard Dawkins says that forcing religion on children amounts to child abuse. Children have really no way to defend themselves from this imposition and they grow up in the tradition of going to church and "believing". And then, they may be hooked for life.

Never for one moment do these people get an opportunity to exercise "free will" and apply their critical thinking skills to the subject of faith and religion. They think they want to believe, they think they want to have faith but the whole thing has been thrust onto them.

Having been in the grips of religion for over 40 years, I understand how difficult it is to say "I will not believe anymore" and how this can bring you into serious problem with your loved ones, who are still in the tradition and dare not think about not believing.

But you can. And how liberating it is.

1 comment:

Ginger Campbell, MD said...

I appreciate you mentioning my Books and Ideas Podcast since it is not as well-known as my Brain Science Podcast.

Have you read John Stuart Mills' classic, "On Liberty?" It was published in 1859, the same year Darwin's "On Origin of Species" came out. I am reading it for the first time and I have discovered that his ideas are as important now as they were when he wrote.