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Guest post: A eulogy for free will

It is with pleasure that What's Wrong With the World presents a guest post by Peter Johnson of the Acton Institute. (Bio at the end of article.)

(Intro. by LM.) This essay is especially timely in light of the breaking news that the SCOTUS has given homosexual "marriage" its own Roe v. Wade, another vast abuse of the Constitution to further the ends of the "Church of Sexual Liberation" represented by Fr. Fatalism. There is no question that today's decision will further the demise of Free Will in America, both by the suppression of the freedom of those who dissent from the Church of Sexual Liberation and by the further enslavement of men, women, and even children to the passions and fads represented by that Church.

Our thanks to Mr. Johnson for providing us with this essay at such a timely moment.

Free Will: A Eulogy

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Free Will. I am Father Fatalism, pastor of the St. Sanger's Sexual Liberation Church here in New York City.

Although it had been many decades since Free Will set foot in my church, I maintained a close relationship with him and have come to deeply admire his idealism. His optimism never faded, even as he suffered greatly in his last years.

I met Free Will many years ago. He was an old man when I met him—more than 3,000 years old—a crotchety, stubborn guy who still spoke with a Greek accent so thick that one might think he had only recently left the land of his birth.

I was a young pastor, just out of Masters Johnson Seminary, ministering to a group of young hippies in San Francisco. As I recall, I was explaining the importance of sexual indulgence when Free Will wandered into our drum circle. At first we thought he was one of us. He had an unimpeachable pedigree—a strong supporter of Civil Rights—and said all the right things about being a revolutionary. In fact, he called himself a freedom fighter. He said the Movement was a matter of conscience and human dignity. We enthusiastically agreed with him.

But it wasn’t long before he began to sow discord among us. What exactly did he mean when he said “conscience” and “dignity” anyway? Didn’t he mean that it ought to be our right to love whom we wanted to love, when we wanted, how we wanted, without fear of stigma?

He would say strange, troubling things like, “freedom is not the ability to do what you want, but the right to do what you ought” and “liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” All of it sounded very judgmental. Who was he to say what we ought to do anyway? Who was he to say what constituted a mature civilization?

But we tolerated him. After all, our movement is about tolerance.

But the good will didn’t last long. The Church of Sexual Liberation was becoming more formal and we produced our first creed: Liberty is power. We thought this was a simple, universal truth—one on which we all could agree. But Free Will objected, saying it sounded too much like John Dewey’s misguided positivism. At this point, we didn’t bother to argue because—I have to admit—we were tired of fighting against his self-refuting sophistry.

So we expelled him from our community. I am still sad that I did not do more to keep him in the Church, but it was a different time. How was I to know that his expulsion would lead to his untimely demise? I will forever regret that I did not do more.

But in my defense, it was a busy time for the Church of Sexual Liberation. We had grown from a small gathering of likeminded people to the most powerful movement in America. I had risen in the ranks and was working in our headquarters overseeing a number of new ministries: the Mission of Reproductive Freedom, the Order of Humane Pregnancy Termination, the Society for Decree Nisi, and The Hollywood Proselytism Project. I simply did not have the time to mediate a solution for a widely disliked apostate like Free Will.

For many years after his expulsion, Free Will ran his own community outreach, slowly earning a cult following among a small group of extremists. Moral theologians and philosophers tried their best to defend and promote Free Will’s weltanschauung, but their apologies fell on deaf ears. Of course, we all now know that these misguided academics suffered from the same fatal conceit as Free Will: a tautological, a priori adherence to a preternatural code or—at the very least—some degree of implicit acceptance of a “Creator” or “transcendence.”

And for a time it seemed as if Free Will might be content to live among a small community of religious fanatics and cranky secular Libertarians. I remember I would see him from time to time during this period of his life. Usually he’d come find me when some faction or another of his community left him to join my Church. He would come by the rectory and calling for me from the street, refusing to enter a church, calling me all sorts of pejorative names and accusing me of subverting reason and order. I guess I should have seen this as the beginning of his escalating mental illness. But I told myself that he was just being dramatic.

And this is the way I want to remember him forever: the cantankerous, diminutive man in the street calling me a “cult leader” and “slave master.” He was still mostly sane then, and the anger fueled several long debates between us.

On one such visit, I remember we argued long into the night, the streetlights making his wrinkly face look even more severe than normal. We had exhausted ourselves arguing about the merits and deficiencies of the criminal justice system, and he lit up a cigarette. That was the thing about him: He was full of contradictions and inconsistencies. I feigned shock that he would openly smoke cigarettes, and said that it was a perfect example of why his community continued to splinter.

He told me that I sounded like his old critics, David Hume and Karl Barth, who he said were both obsessed with peccadillos. I laughed at this and told him that we didn’t believe in “peccadillos” at the Church of Sexual Liberation, but that we did believe in science. And the science was clear: cigarettes are bad for your health.

He seemed truly perplexed by my position. He asked me why I cared. I don’t know what I told him—surely it was some sort of lie. I couldn’t tell him the truth, which was that I pitied him. He was just a crank: a stodgy old traditionalist, clinging to his long-debunked neo-Platonic philosophies, dreaming of a renaissance.

Things got much worse, as you all now know. I don’t like to think about the loneliness he must have experienced in his final years. First the libertarians left him en masse when they joined my Church’s oldest ministry: The Convent of Comfort Women and Recreational Pharmaceuticals.

Soon afterward, large groups of his religious adherents began to leave him. One after another, large denominations began to leave their faith traditions for my Church’s newest ministry: The Fellowship of Orthodox LGBTQ. The ministry advanced the common wisdom that homosexuality is not a choice; and more importantly, it made a compelling case that human dignity requires the expression of one’s innate desires.

It wasn’t long before Free Will was all alone. Homeless and rumored to be insane, he was sometimes seen on street corners yelling incoherently about how bisexuals by their very nature embody his philosophy of non-determinism and that simply choosing to satisfy an appetite did not necessarily constitute a reasonable choice. More of the same tired self-refuting arguments. But no one listened to him, anyway, because we all knew he was insane.

I occasionally visited him in the psychiatric hospital after he was committed. I thought the Church could bring him some peace. But he was quite delusional by then and had convinced himself that the Church of Sexual Liberation would somehow kill him. I tried to explain that we were just a community—a fellowship—not unlike the many communities that he had lived in throughout his life. But he was steadfast in his refusal to join us. He died in a padded room, tied to a hospital bed, gnashing his teeth at the nurses who had to force him to take his drugs.

But that is not the way I want to remember our old colleague Free Will. I choose to remember him differently. I choose to remember him as the small, vibrant, pugilistic old man who gave everyone fits. And if that isn’t a fitting homage to a wise, though ultimately misguided soul, then I don’t know what is. Thank you.

Peter Johnson studied English and philosophy at New York University. His understanding of neo-Marxist egalitarianism made him an exceptional candidate for the Peace Corps, where he taught beekeeping to subsistence farmers in rural Paraguay, despite having no previous experience keeping bees. After the Peace Corps, he lived in Senegal for a year where he cavorted with a bunch of Fulbrighters who enjoyed a yearlong subsidized vacation abroad in return for writing obtuse academic papers reaffirming a postmodern worldview. He now works for the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is being vigorously deprogrammed by natural law philosophers, theologians, and a Catholic priest. You can find him on Twitter at @ActonPete.

Comments (17)

The unwillingness of the Catholic Church to excommunicate Kennedy and Sotomayor is one of the gravest moral scandals in its history in the United States. The complete inability of the Catholic Church to excommunicate leading men who commit sin this grave while forthrightly excommunicating little girls for abortion in other countries shows a level of moral blindness and cowardice that is just breathtaking. It is the epitome of unrighteous judgment to hold poor children to a higher standard than rich, well-educated men and women with significant political power.

The hidden reverse paternalism: The Church institutes policies that seem to indicate rich people, by their nature, are incapable of fully pursuing moral rectitude.

Meanwhile, governments institute policies that seem to indicate that poor people, by their nature, are incapable of creating enterprises that will provide material sustenance for themselves and their families.

All of a sudden, state welfare doesn't seem so bad; the consequences aren't quite as permanent as misguided Church policies...

I suspect every change in the landscape of law is a win for some and a loss for others. A win for the kids who spent their lives being bullied and called names, sometimes beaten to death. But viewed as a loss by those religious parents who would sooner force their "effeminate" male children or "masculine" female children to attend Christian re-education camps where they can be held down and shouted at ("Do you know how you're making Jesus feel!? Or your parents!?"), or instructed to pray the gay away.

Oh to bring back the good old colonial days in the U.S. when homosexuals were executed. Though Thomas Jefferson pleaded that they only be castrated.

Oh to bring back the good old days when women could be labeled "fallen" and their children "bastards," and everyone could look down on them.

Oh to bring back the good old days when young Puritan boys and girls experimented with sex in their early teens and only agreed to marry if the girl got pregnant. Of course it was easier and made more sense to marry early back then since kids were taught the tools of their future trades while young and didn't have to spend years in college or trade schools only to graduate and have to struggle to find a job and manage a career.

Oh to bring back the good old days, the days before people started wise-ing up and taking the Catholic Church to court for continuing to play the old game of "hide the pedophile priest in a new parrish."

And let's not get started on Protestant pedophiles like the Super Christian in the Guinness Bk of World Records for the longest sermon, who almost took over Jimmy Swaggert's time slot, who was busted on more counts of taking minors across state lines for sex than anyone had ever been busted before.

Yes, we live in a permissive society with loads of food and access to more addictive substances than our ancestors ever dreamed of, from endlessly tempting sweets, salty and fatty delectables, to a wide variety of alcoholic beverages and mind altering substances, to online gambling, scores of video games (and virtual reality helmets coming soon), endless sources of entertainment, endless variety of clothes, jewelry cars, homes to choose from, and all the pornography the web can spew forth (with sales of porno movies quite brisk whenever the Southern Baptist Convention rents hotels in town). Unless we revert to becoming Amish I'm afraid that's how things will remain, bread and circuses. And even the Amish have trouble keeping drugs out of their community. So perhaps becoming a member of a tight knit fundamentalist Hassidic Jewish sect or a fundamentalist Muslim might be the alternative. Or perhaps just remain a relatively moderate Christian or secularist who is aware of all these possibly addicting things, and tries to maintain one's health in mind and body.

There may come a time when emergency rationing takes place of course, of water, maybe even food. For all we know California could dry up or a super-volcano on the east coast could blow or an asteroid explode above a major city, or a solar flare could explode transformers worldwide. Of course any technologically advanced society would be in danger of collapse then, not just permissive societies.

All in all, I like any society where people have learned to throw words around rather than bricks. Where the sexually frustrated have their outlets. Where the government has social programs for the poor and also taxes the wealthy to a greater percentage than it taxes the poor, and also keeps at least one eye on the environment and developing alternative energy resources.

As for free will I think even more important than making free will decisions is the importance of making well informed decisions. So I hope young people will be taught about sex education and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases early in school which seems to work well in Scandinavian countries.

Father Fatalism has done a sterling job debating the voices in his head, but since we don't hear them that comment doesn't mean a whole lot to the rest of us.

Pete, that's a great eulogy of dear departed Free Will. May we always remember him when the Church of Tolerance forces us into ever more narrow straits and finally locks us into a tiny torture cubicle for intending, within the privacy of our own thoughts, to think "but the gay king has no clothes."

The complete inability of the Catholic Church to excommunicate leading men who commit sin this grave while forthrightly excommunicating little girls for abortion in other countries

I don't know what bishops have been doing "in other countries", but Canon Law excommunicates anyone who willingly gets an abortion automatically. I recall no bishop making a special announcement of these. But the result applies also to anyone who helps the mother get an abortion, including a boyfriend, parent (mother or father, doesn't matter), the doctor for sure but also the receptionist and the nurse. It is my opinion that it applies also to any politician who votes for dollars to be spent for abortion or Planned Parenthood as well, and any judge who strikes down attempts to constrain abortion on specious grounds like Kennedy's Planned Parenthood "meaning of existence" stupidity. The penalty doesn't need a bishop's decision announcing the excommunication, it happens by the force of the law itself. The difference is, though, that Kennedy, Pelosi, and Sebelius almost certainly know about the Canon Law automatic excommunication, while many of the "poor girls" do not.

As for free will I think even more important than making free will decisions is the importance of making well informed decisions. So I hope young people will be taught about sex education and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases early in school which seems to work well in Scandinavian countries.

Father Fatalism, truly FREE choices are choices made with fully adequate knowledge to the situation, by definition. Lack of knowledge, itself, reduces the freedom of the actor choosing.

However, so called 'sex education' as currently practiced in the modern US public school context does not provide truly full knowledge adequate to the reality of sex, nor is it even halfway decently successful in combating either out-of-wedlock pregnancy or STDs, much less in reducing emotional and psychological damage of poor choices about sex. And a part (though not the whole) reason is that it either ignores or it gets completely wrong the moral dimension of sex and its integration into the whole human person as a being designed for self-giving love. (And, by the way, anecdotal references to Scandanavian countries and their largely integrated societies will find little in parallel results in as large and pluralistic society as the US.

I've enjoyed this site for sometime now - many thanks Lydia - this is my first post. I felt compelled to offer encouragement after the Oberegefell decision. I'm sure Wormwood is laughing in glee, but as a Church - and that includes Protestants and Catholics who hold to the same basic Christian tenents - we need to stand firm and not lose heart. Apparently we have re-entered a historical phase where the Church is essentially existing in a neo-pagan culture. We've been here before - the first century Church and the Dark Ages/Viking barbarism, the Enlightenment/French Revolution, Communism etc etc. The Church will never be destroyed and will be triumphant, but right now we need to be that counter-cultural force, being the salt and the light. As Paul said it must be done in love - we can't be just a bitter hyper-partisan political foe, we must be something different - a spiritual and moral alternative. Remember, its a spiritual battle and we are on the ramparts now, and foe is at the gates and we've been there before.

Matt, welcome to the ranks of the speaking part of our readership. And thanks for the encouragement.

I think you are right that we must be prepared because the real battle is spiritual, not merely political. Merely political forays will not be sufficient. Which is not to say that we must abandon the political arena: there are still such battles we must wage, even if we expect to lose them. Sometimes fighting a losing battle is the modus operandi of winning the moral and spiritual war, but the way we fight must be conformed to that final goal, not just any old way. As you say, not with bitterness. The cheerfulness of the Christian going knowingly into persecution is the witness of martyrs, and this we must practice.

@ Mr. Fatalism: So in other words the Catholic Church is a bully that houses child rapists and colonial Puritans, homosexuals were bullied and treated unfairly throughout their lives (you'd think, if this were anywhere near true, there would be direct accusations of the perpetrator - so, I will say that I do not believe the appeal homosexuals being bullied, at least not to the extent the way you make it out to be), if the US just followed Scandinavia's sex education programs the US would be A-OKAY when it comes to STDs and teen pregnancies (indirectly saying teenage sex and pre-marital sex is fine) while showing you have a bizarre comprehension of the article.

I appreciate this meditation on “sexual liberation” over and against “free will”, where at first the sexual libertines embrace free will as their friend and mentor, but later find themselves enslaved to the logic of expressing their sexual desire wherever it may lead, leading them to reject free will. They cannot not express themselves.

It certainly is our new state religion, celebrated most recently by the Obama White House bathed in rainbow colors at night... Everybody on the spectrum, nobody off the spectrum! All wavelengths are created equal!

I might have called it the Church of Sexual Satisfaction, but I defer to Pete's choice of words. In the Church of Sexual Liberation, what is “original sin”? That we are all born with the ability to curtail our sexual desires? i.e. we are born with “free will”?

I originally coined my phrase "choice devours itself" to refer to the phenomenon whereby force is eventually used upon those who were supposed to _benefit_ from some choice in order to force them to accept this "choice." An example would be forcing a woman to have an abortion because that is the only "rational choice," or Belgium giving euthanasia without request or consent to people who surely "would" choose this if only they could understand what is truly in their best interests.

However, I put the tag onto Peter's post, because there are so many ways in which the Church of Sexual Liberation destroys freedom. Some of those ways are the classic "choice devours itself" ways, as when Planned Parenthood turns a blind eye to statutory rape even of quite young minors or when leftist international aid workers collude with sex traffickers, agreeing not to tell girls how to escape from slavery (in exchange for getting "access" to give the girls STD counseling and treatment).

Peter's article clearly envisages a different way as well, which Tamsin articulates well--enslaving people to their own desires by initially promising them freedom. There are innumerable examples of this. Just one example is pornography addiction.

Father Fatalism,

Your points are well taken. Religious groups have bullied and even done violence on marginalized groups throughout history. Perhaps this is reason to avoid all religion.

Similar things could be said about science and technology. Most great advances in science have been accompanied with great advances in weaponry and instruments of war. The Atomic bomb comes to mind.

Let's just agree we can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. I would no more encourage humankind to eschew all religion than I would that they eschew all technology. (No offense to the Amish out there--maybe they truly have it right.)

Omar Bradley (2nd in command when the Bomb was dropped on Japan) once said this: "We are living in an age of technological giants and ethical infants."

For all of religion's problems, there is a tradition of ethical thinking running through it for which I find no parallel. I'll call it the natural law/natural rights tradition--but don't think I'm just a run of the mill Catholic apologist. I'm a Presbyterian through and through.

There is a sense in modern society that education is the answer. Father Fatalism (from the comments), this is your fatal conceit. Education apart from a thorough ethical training is useless.

Please tell me if I'm off the mark on this, but my guess is that you would say that we can do adequate ethical training, availing ourselves of the most current science, which is apart from religion. I would love to hear what you propose in terms of ethical training apart from religion.

I've never seen anyone propose a secular ethics curriculum that wasn't, at its heart, utilitarian--and therefore subject to the type criticism that David Hume made about ethics being little more than sentimentalism.

Utilitarian ethics ends in some particularly bad places. Including, but not limited to dropping big bombs on cities because it's for the "greater good."

Tony T,

Buckle in. Sex education is going to be very weird in the coming years. It will be increasingly clinical. Sanitized of all those persistent, thorny complications of being "human."

Sanitized "sex education" paired with a persistent consumer culture, which has perfected commoditizing sex is a scary thing.

How shall we be in the world, but not of it? How shall we live a life where we fully appreciate our dual nature, at once corporeal and at the same time transcendent?

I'm reading JPII's "Theology of the Body" right now. He saw this coming 30 years ago and the depth of thought in this work is exactly what the doctor ordered. But based on your comments, it sounds like you may have already read this.

Now if only the Presbyterians had something similar... :)


Pete, I have read parts of the Theology of the Body, back before it was published as a single opus. I have also read many other things John Paul II said about love as the vocation of man. Taking his vision together with a Thomistic understanding of the nature of man as revealed by nature and by revelation, I fully accept your comment that in the past "Religious groups have bullied and even done violence on marginalized groups throughout history", without thinking that this bullying represents the essence of religious thought - either about sex or about homosexuality.

Buckle in. Sex education is going to be very weird in the coming years. It will be increasingly clinical. Sanitized of all those persistent, thorny complications of being "human."

Yes, I suspect we have only scratched the surface of how weird it is going to get. Will we continue to teach people to avoid STDs, or will it change to "bacteria have a right to live, too"? Will we continue to even pay lip service to "consent", or will that fall to other deformations of the will (lust) for power over each other?

Will we continue to even pay lip service to "consent", or will that fall to other deformations of the will (lust) for power over each other?

You've not been keeping up with the news, I take it. Consent has been elevated to an outright tyranny in several states thanks to "yes means yes." In fact, there are lefties calling for jamming that into all relationships including marriages.

It's so bad, that even a growing number of feminists are starting to say it's going too far.

You've not been keeping up with the news, I take it.

I have been keeping up, Mike, and I know what you mean. However, I see countervailing tendencies which create bizarre cultural "noise." These include the increasing normalization of S & M and the continuing normalization of the sexualization of children, at least for purposes of their having sex *with each other*. (So they can't consent to sex with someone several years older, but sex ed assumes that they are capable of the fullest consent to every type of sex act with those who very close to the same age, and indeed that it is happy and healthy for them to engage in such acts.)

It is nothing new for society to be inconsistent to the point of schizophrenia, and that is so on the matter of consent. Indeed, if it were not for the normalization of sex as a form of recreation, undertaken while drunk, the draconian "yes means yes" campaign would never have been suggested. The members of the Church of Sexual Liberation want to have it both ways, as usaul.

Of course terrible things have been done in the name of religion! And terrible things have been done in the name of science too!

I'm with you Tony. Neither atrocities done in the name of religion nor in the name of science represent the essence of what both disciplines can do for man.

In fact, I think there is a strong moral case to pursue both disciplines--one informing the other.

An actual prayer said this past week at a festive Eucharist hosted by the Fellowship of Orthodox LGBTQ in the Church of Sexual Liberation:

"Spirit of Life, we thank you for disordering our boundaries and releasing our desires as we prepare this feast of delight: draw us out of hidden places and centers of conformity to feel your laughter and live in your pleasure." (see more at http://anglicanink.com/)

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