Destiny, Fate, Necessity And Freedom

The Ladies of Fate

My students are all teenagers, so they’re naturally exceptional at being preoccupied with romance and love.  Most of them buy into the idea of soul mates, destiny, and fate.  If anyone asks them, “Do you believe that you are destined to be with a certain person?” I can probably guarantee that their answers are almost always “Yes!”

But I don’t think that these ideas of fate and destiny are exclusive to the teenage belief.  I think a lot of us would like to say that we are destined to this or that, or that our fate is this or that.  Yet, if we just think through the natures of fate and destiny, we would realize that we can’t really say that we are destined or fated, at least not in the strict sense of what those terms mean.  For if we say that we are fated or destined to a certain end, we can’t possibly make a case for our freedom in acting this way or that way.  There is a wonderfully written dialogue between Cyniscus and Zues by Lucian of Samosata that illustrates this point.  In the conversation, Cyniscus poses several questions that point to the internal conflict between the notion of fate and freedom, even the freedom of the gods.

If, Cyniscus suggests, every human being and god is subject to the threads weaved by the Fates, then why ought human persons offer sacrifices to the gods at all since they seem to also be “slaves” of the Fates?  In fact, Cyniscus tells Zues that it seems to be better to be a human since our slavery to the Fates end at death, while the slavery of the gods, who are immortal, is everlasting.  Cyniscus then observes that it is more sensible for us to offer the sacrifices to the Fates instead of the gods since the Fates seem to be the ones in charge.  Accordingly, if all our actions are weaved by the strings of the Fates, then what justfies Minos in rewarding the good and punishing the bad?  

These questions cannot be ignored by those who believe in fate and destiny since, by their very definitions, the two notions suggest that our actions are among the particular events that inevitably come about because of the necessity of fate.  Thus, we are no more justified in punishing the criminal than rewarding the philanthropist.

Perhaps we mean something different when we say that we are destined or fated for this or that, but then what is it that we mean?  Can we speak of destiny and fate while preserving our freedom to act in such a way that we can say that there is genuine freedom in our choices? Some things to think about to begin the week =)

Have a blessed Monday, friends.


A Prayer Of Distraught

It’s been awhile since I’ve composed poetry, so here it is:

You mother of God, who’s perfect in every way;
rich in compassion and rich in humility.
Please listen to my prayer sent to you this day
as I slowly lose patience and charity.

I am saddened, dear Mother, as tears run down my face
and as my faith crumbles to dust.
My mind so confused in absence of grace,
and my heart knows no one else to trust,

My hands thumb through your rosary
while my lips recite those familiar words.
Yet I know not what it is I carry
and none of those words my soul heard.

Dear Mother, blessed woman among women;
even the pearls of the deep confess this.
And the angels of God sing of your greatness
as you enjoy your place in Eternal Bliss.

Look upon me then with mercy and love;
with tenderness from your place in eternity;
With a sweetness of that grace from up above
and help bring my confusion to clarity.

You must remember, dear Mother,
your own confusion when Gabriel delivered the word.
So grant me strength now, dear Mother
To make sense of a life so blurred.

Oh dear woman, Queen of the angels,
Come to me now and be by my side
And all these knots in life, please help untangle
And wipe away all these tears I’ve cried.


Syria And Just War

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly heard of Syria and the violence that have been on-going there.  And with the recent chemical attack, allegedly by the Syrian government on its own people, President Obama thinks that a strike is necessary in order respond to this heinous act.  There have been many debates on this Syria matter, and there has also been lots of ink spilled on the nature of the proposed strike within the just war framework.  If you are unfamiliar with just war theory, I will here give a very brief description of it.

The just war tradition has its provenance in Catholic philosophical thought.  It has two main criteria, which also holds within themselves other criteria.  The two main criteria are ius ad bellum (criteria for the right conditions in order to enter war) and ius in bello (criteria for the right conduct in war).  In order to satisfy the ius ad bellum, these need to be present:

  • There must be just cause
  • —The declaration of war must come from competent authority
  • —Right intention of establishing lasting peace in entering war
  • —War as a last resort
  • There is a good —probability of success
  • —The damages and costs of going to war–both temporal goods and spiritual health–must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms. This is also known as the condition of proportionality.

In order to satisfy the ius in bello, these must be present:

  • —Principle of Proportionality — This means that the response to the aggression must not exceed the nature of the aggression.  Thus the question to answer here is what kind of force is justifiable?  Accordingly, no total war is permitted.  The Christian must also consider the virtyue of charity and mercy.
  • —Principle of Discrimination —  This means that the —response to aggression must be discriminate and directed against unjust aggressors.
    —Accordingly, non-combatants are immune from war as targets

If we subject the current Syria matter to the just war doctrine, we will find that it is unjust to carry out an attack.  A friend, former professor, and mentor, argues in his recent article for the Washington Post that it is morally impermissible according to the criteria of ius ad bellum for the United States to strike. :

The call for military intervention in Syria arises from the desire to “do something” when faced with evil, yet it is not clear what intervention will accomplish. The just war tradition insists that the war be fought with a right intention, meaning that it is fought in pursuit of clearly defined objectives that will facilitate the establishment of lasting peace when the conflict ends; it also insists that there be a reasonable chance of success that those objectives can be met through the use of force. It is revealing that in our public officials’ statements to date on the possibility of intervention, they seem more certain that we will resort to violence than on what the purpose of that violence will be, whether to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities through surgical strikes or to create a no-fly zone to weaken the Syrian military and provide a safe haven for the opposition. Violence is a solution in search of a rationale. Our faith in redemptive violence blinds us to those outcomes more likely than peace if we intervene: the widening of the war through the more aggressive intervention of other powers such as Russia or Iran, or the coming to power of an Islamist regime in part of or the whole of Syria if we successfully topple Assad. The low chances of accomplishing a peaceful outcome also make the inevitable civilian casualties of any military strike especially unjustifiable.

Elsewhere, we find R.R. Reno observing on his Firstthings daily piece that:

There are times when military force should be used, and now may be one of those times. But a just occasion does not automatically a just war make. One of the principles of just war-making is probability of success. Another is proportional use of force. Still another is last resort. These principles require clarity about the strategic goal of going to war. Success in achieving what? Proportional to achieving what? Last resort for achieving what? The Obama administration’s explanations of our need to bomb Syria make it impossible for me to formulate these questions in anything like a precise way, much less answer them. When do we know our credibility has been successfully preserved?

You are of course free to form your own conclusions on the matter, but I agree with Shadle and Reno in that our administration has been quite vague, at best, about what we hope to accomplish with a military strike.  And with this vagueness, they fail to justify a strike in the just war tradition.  In these times, we must remember that the power of prayers is unbelievably effective!  Pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria, my friends.

Have a blessed Monday.

Atheism And Freethought

This past Saturday, our family went to the downtown farmers market for a stroll and some good food.  I stumbled upon a stand set up with a big banner that reads: Don’t believe in God?  You’re not alone!  Of course, being the curious person that I am, I went to the stand to retrieve some literature that was there for the taking.

I found three common things present within all of these pamphlets: 1. The word “religion” is used interchangeably with Christianity; 2. There is a promotion of freethought; and 3. Atheism is about being anti-religion (anti-Christianity).

I’m not going to generalize the host of atheists as holding these three positions, but in my own experience this seems to be the case and this group’s pamphlets solidify that judgment.  While I do not agree with 1 and 3, I still understand them since they’re straightforward.  With 2, however, I don’t really know what freethought really means.  Does it mean that the freedom to think ultimately leads one to atheism since one is freed of the enslavement of the hierarchical Church?  If such is the case, I can name plenty of people who are free in thought and yet are faithful Christians (cf. Francis Collins, Stephen Barr, Peter Kreeft, etc.)  Perhaps freethought here means thought that is more scientifically inclined, free of theologically biased convictions.  If that is the case, Robert Jastrow‘s quote comes to mind:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Happy Tuesday!