Hello there, good readers! I am back to the blog after a whole year hiatus; much has happened in my life, but in summary the two most important forces to have influenced my new life are Prozac and Protestantism (I’ve always had a thing for alliteration, I guess). I’m jumping right back in with a good ol’ OMPCR. One of the most hotly debated topics in Protestant Christianity (indeed, all Christianity) is the idea of predestination—in particular in relation to “chosen-ness”. The two biggest names in the Protestant Reformation in fact came to their own interpretations of predestination via studying the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo, revered by Catholics as one of the greatest teachers of the faith: however, as usual, Luther and Calvin could not reach a common consensus (Luther went for single predestination, whereas Calvin advocated for double predestination). As Western Christianity celebrates Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, today, I thought it a great time to look at the idea of a Chosen One embracing their destiny—today the Western churches proclaim Jesus entering into Jerusalem to begin the culmination of his destiny as Messiah through the trials of Holy Week leading to the resurrection of Easter. Let’s look at some other Chosen Folk and see how they are both chosen and choosing.
Last week Lady Geek Girl talked about the way fate and free will tend to be ‘in a relationship and it’s complicated’ in popular fiction.
This week I’m also going to talk about free will, but I’m going to take a different track—I’m going to look at the intersection of free will and personal responsibility.
What exactly do I mean? Well, people have free will. They can do whatever they want. But if it’s within their power to do the right thing, even if it will have unpleasant consequences, do they have a responsibility to do the right thing? Or is it morally acceptable to say, “no, I’m washing my hands of this”? I think that there has to be a balance. In fiction, choosing of one’s own free will has a particular weight and importance.
Before this becomes a Philosophy 101 debate, let me give you some examples to show you what I mean.
I have noticed something when watching television or movies and reading books or comics: we humans seem never to know if we would rather believe in free will or fate. If I had to pick I would say that we are more inclined to approve of free will, but fate still seems to be a hard and fast concept that we cling to, and it shows up in much of our pop culture.
It seems to mean that any time the concept of fate is really introduced into a story the author tends to quickly subvert fate with free will. Take, for example, Harry Potter. In book five when Harry learns that a prophecy predicted he would be the only one that could defeat Voldemort he was upset, until Dumbledore pointed out that after everything Voldemort put him through Harry would want to kill him anyway, regardless of what any prophecy says. Furthermore, Dumbledore stresses that Voldemort had had to choose between Harry and Neville (as the boy to potentially kill him) and if Voldemort had ignored the prophecy, then Voldemort’s choice would have ensured that the prophecy would never have come to pass. And finally, in book seven, Harry has to freely choose to sacrifice himself or else Harry might not have survived his encounter with Voldemort. Despite the strong sense of fate, the books make it clear that the characters’ choices, their free will, are what’s important and not some higher cosmic power.
In the TV show Heroes, a painter has the power to see the future and his prophecy tends to be accurate. However, the prophecies also tend to change. Isaac, the prophetic painter, predicts something vague enough that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The tag line in season one of Heroes for a while was “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.” Isaac constantly draws pictures of serial killer Sylar killing Claire, an immortal cheerleader. Isaac’s pictures show a blonde cheerleader with her head sawed off. However, another character, Peter, saves Claire. So doesn’t Isaac’s prediction hold true? Kind of. Sylar mistakes another blonde cheerleader for Claire, so it could be argued that Isaac’s prediction holds true. However, the characters also have often traveled into the future where they see horrible dystopian-like realities, that are later stopped and changed, no matter what Isaac has predicted. In Heroes, the characters act like your fate is inevitable, unless it’s really bad and they decide to change it. The writers couldn’t seem to decide whether to follow fate or free will.
There are many other examples of course (Supernatural, Oedipus, Brave, Thor, Beowulf, Star Wars, Saiyuki, Doctor Who, Into the Woods, Dark Souls), but this theme of fate versus free will is something that consistently comes up in our pop culture. I think it’s because on some level humanity likes fate. We like the idea that God or some other higher power has a plan in which we play a part, maybe even a starring role. However, we find the notion of being bound to a fate, especially one we may not like, distasteful. We like have autonomy, but we also like the idea of being destined for something great or important.
What do you think? Are our lives governed by some kind of fate, free will, or is it a bit of both?
Tune in next week and get some religion.