Post Reply
7 years ago  ::  Apr 15, 2008 - 8:46AM #1
compx2
Posts: 426
Hi Avoran. 

Me: "The stuff I hear people say about "Free Will" makes it sound mysterious..." and "When I read "Abdu'l-Baha's exposition of the subject of "Free Will" in Some Answered Questions he sound solicitious to me, like he is humoring us. There is nothing to really explain. We have free will, end of story."

"Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions are, for the most part, left to the will of man. But there are certain things to which man is forced and compelled, such as sleep, death, sickness, decline of power, injuries and misfortunes; these are not subject to the will of man, and he is not responsible for them, for he is compelled to endure them. But in the choice of good and bad actions he is free, and he commits them according to his own will."  (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 247)

Is there something beyond this paragraph that I am missing?

"...your approximation to God is by definition no more precise than mine. "

Hmm, is Einstein's understanding of theoretical physics more precise than someone who understand's Einstein's ideas?  Probably not.  But is the understanding of a student of Einstein more precise than mine?  Absolutely.

So if you understand my beliefs, and I understand yours, then our approximations are precisely the same.  If either of us lacks any part of the understanding of the other then our approximations are less precise.

[It is as though I am supposed to accept that if it is in the Writings it is true.]
That's not my position so it shouldn't be an issue.

I was using it to signal causal dependence, which is the sense in which (as I understand it) `Abdu'l-Baha frequently uses it.

"1) many aspects of religious truth may become verifiable in the next world"

Verifiable to whom?  Will be be better able to convince others of the truths we understand in the next world?

"2) some aspects - such as laws - are indirectly verifiable even in this one. As fs puts it, it "works"."

That is the only condition.  As I said before, there was presumably a time when "Thou Shalt Not Kill" was not seen as a reasonable proposition, but today we have general consensus.

"Plants, for example, "love" light and grow towards it without free will."

We would have to agree on the dynamics of "love" before I would go along with you there.

"But human love .... goes hand in hand with understanding."

Not in Hollywood.

"For there to be love there has to be understanding (recognition)".

Does that relate somehow to your idea of Free Will?  That was my issue, and the topic of this new thread.

I would also remind you that I asked you about your reference to the non-existence of evil as it related to potentialities.  Perhaps that issue better belongs in this thread as well. :)

"This 4 smilies per post limit is very annoying."

I have just smiled in a written message for the first time ever,  I think.  To each his own.

--Kent
Quick Reply
Cancel
7 years ago  ::  Apr 16, 2008 - 5:02AM #2
avoran
Posts: 121
[Is there something beyond this paragraph that I am missing?]
It's been a while since I read SAQ so I went back to look at that section now.

The first thing that leapt out at me was `Abdul-Baha's opening statement: [COLOR="SeaGreen"]"This question is one of the most important and abstruse of divine problems."[/COLOR] That doesn't sound to me like He was merely humouring the questioner. :)

The first paragraph, the one you quoted most of, makes one main point: we have free will in questions of good and evil, not over matters subject to the laws of nature. The second paragraph, quoted below, gives some examples of what good and evil mean:

[COLOR="seagreen"][INDENT]"For example, if he wishes, he can pass his time in praising God, or he can be occupied with other thoughts. He can be an enkindled light through the fire of the love of God, and a philanthropist loving the world, or he can be a hater of mankind, and engrossed with material things. He can be just or cruel. These actions and these deeds are subject to the control of the will of man himself; consequently, he is responsible for them."[/INDENT][/COLOR]

The most striking thing, to me, is that the good actions are Other/other focused (selfless) and the evil actions are self-focused (selfish). That's a point that came out already in our discussion on the other thread.

A little later He goes on to make what I think is a critical point:

[COLOR="seagreen"][INDENT]It is said in the New Testament that God is like a potter who makes "one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour."[Rom. 9:21] Now the dishonored vessel has no right to find fault with the potter saying, "Why did you not make me a precious cup, which is passed from hand to hand?" The meaning of this verse is that the states of beings are different. That which is in the lowest state of existence, like the mineral, has no right to complain, saying, "O God, why have You not given me the vegetable perfections?" In the same way, the plant has no right to complain that it has been deprived of the perfections of the animal world. Also it is not befitting for the animal to complain of the want of the human perfections. No, all these things are perfect in their own degree, and they must strive after the perfections of their own degree. The inferior beings, as we have said, have neither the right to, nor the fitness for, the states of the superior perfections. No, their progress must be in their own state.[/INDENT][/COLOR]

Although the examples `Abdu'l-Baha gives here compare different "kingdoms" (based on the hierarchy of mineral, vegetable, animal, human, Manifestation that He uses in several places elsewhere) it seems to me that the same principle can be applied to differences within each kingdom. It would be equally absurd, for example, for a dandelion to complain that it was not a rose or a worm that it was not an eagle (not that there's anything wrong at all with dandelions or worms, I'm just using those images because they'll be readily understood). Similarly, human beings are not all equal. We have different capacities spiritually, intellectually, eemotionally and physically. Since all this is in the context of a discussion of free will, it follows that we do not choose (and are therefore not responsible for) any lack of capacity. What we are responsible for is how well we use the capacity we are given.

I can think of at least two other things - besides common decency and justice - that support this contention. First, I seem to recall a biblical passage (though I can't find it, the exact wording eludes me and possibly I'm confusing sources) that says, in effect: the more you have been given, the more shall be asked from you. Second, there is a story about `Abdu'l-Baha heaping praise on a deceased believer who passed away in the Holy Land after living a life that was not even remotely notable on the surface. When asked why He was so lavish in His praise, `Abdu'l-Baha replied that the man had fully realized the potential he had been given.

The point of all this is the same point I made in my first post in the soul/higher self thread: that our visible actions are partly the result of our choices and partly the result of God's shaping of our vessel (via our genes, our parents, our culture, our school, and so on). Even if, starting now, everyone always chose the spiritually right thing, our actions would still be very different from one another. A person who grew up under one set of circumstances may need to make heroic inner efforts to achieve an outward behaviour that requires no effort at all from a person who grew up under other circumstances. The outward actions are equal - but who has more fully exercised his spiritual "muscles", whose soul has gone further towards fulfilling its potential? Who has won a higher, nobler station in the next life, where the limitations of the outer vessel fall away? True, even a slight effort from the second person may bring more outward benefits to society. From one POV, however, that is secondary: for all its worth and beauty the physical world is a lesser good. From the other (and equally valid) POV, that affirms the worth of this life, we can still ask: why are the outward effects of the first person's efforts comparatively modest? Because of the effects of the actions of his parents/teachers/neighbors etc., which are in turn the result of their choices interacting with the actions of their parents/teachers/neighbors, etc. and so on back to the dawn of human consciousness.

For me it is breathtaking and humbling to realize: by making a choice, I am shifting the pattern of evolution. Which, now that I think of it, seems to echo a point that you were making as well. :)

[Hmm, is Einstein's understanding of theoretical physics more precise than someone who understand's Einstein's ideas?  Probably not.  But is the understanding of a student of Einstein more precise than mine?  Absolutely.]
On second thought you're right about that. I would only add, to show the limits of the analogy, that knowledge of God is based not on intellectual acuity but on spiritual perception, which is honed by humility, detachment, love, and so on.

["1) many aspects of religious truth may become verifiable in the next world"
Verifiable to whom?  Will be be better able to convince others of the truths we understand in the next world?]

`Abdu'l-Baha says (it's in a quote somewhere in Ruhi 1) that many things become clear to us in the next world. As I understand it, that means things like spiritual qualities, the soul, and the Manifestation become tangible realities - things that are immediately obvious in the same way that physical entities are obvious to us here. We no longer need to be spiritually discerning to see that they are real - although we will require spiritual discernment to understand what it is that we are seeing and make use of it.

["But human love .... goes hand in hand with understanding."
Not in Hollywood.]

Indeed. But what has Hollywood got to do with it? What Hollywood shows, for the most part, isn't human love. It's the human animal's love - a different thing and fine in its own place but "lower" in the hierarchy of existence.

["For there to be love there has to be understanding (recognition)".
Does that relate somehow to your idea of Free Will?  That was my issue, and the topic of this new thread.]

I don't see a direct connection, although ultimately everything is related to everything.

[I have just smiled in a written message for the first time ever,  I think.  To each his own.]
I'm the last person in the world who would hang a smiley face on any physical object around me. :) But I use them freely in forum posts because they take the emotional sting out of comments that might otherwise be perceived by the reader's sub-conscious as aggression. When people talk in person, body language tells them whether they are facing good will or ill will. Without those cues, it's easy to make the wrong assumptions. Smileys are the "body language" of electronic communication. You can avoid a lot of pointless negative reactions that way.
Quick Reply
Cancel
7 years ago  ::  Apr 16, 2008 - 7:37AM #3
compx2
Posts: 426
Hi Avoran,

"The first paragraph, the one you quoted most of, makes one main point: we have free will in questions of good and evil, not over matters subject to the laws of nature. The second paragraph, quoted below, gives some examples of what good and evil mean"

I am waiting for the explanation of why having free will over our behavior becomes an important issue of religion.

Because 'Abdu'l-Baha said it was important?

"we do not choose (and are therefore not responsible for) any lack of capacity. What we are responsible for is how well we use the capacity we are given."

We all have more capacity than we use.  Are you suggesting that the doctrine of Free Will means, in effect, don't judge others?

"For me it is breathtaking and humbling to realize: by making a choice, I am shifting the pattern of evolution."

I am struck by how little that has to do with the doctrine Baha'is teach about "Free Will" and its effects.  It seems to me this has much more to do with arising to teach, or the mechanics of a contingent world.  If you believe those issues belong under the subject of Free Will, why?

"knowledge of God is based not on intellectual acuity but on spiritual perception, which is honed by humility, detachment, love, and so on."

I don't follow.  Please tell me what a "spiritual perception" is and how such perception can be "honed" with virue.

It seems to me we are not talking about perceptions but powers.  And we gain spiritual powers by exercising  virtues, using "Free Will" to act for God and Truth and Love.  If you ask me, the whole of the doctrine of Free Will is included in the statement "let deeds not words be your adorning".

Me: "Will be be better able to convince others of the truths we understand in the next world?"

You:  ...  "spiritual qualities, the soul, and the Manifestation become tangible realities"

Sorry, I didn't get that answer.  Was that a "no"?

"But what has Hollywood got to do with it?"

Tell people about love without a condition and they are thinking the Hollywood definition.  If we are discussing issues that help us understand things, so that we can use our understanding to help others, then we need to address the words we are using, we need to try to be clear.

So I we are back to your original assertion.  What does understanding have to do with love?

And what does understanding and love have to do with Free Will, besides the fact that if we show understanding and love to our fellow humanity our spiritual powers increase?

"I use them ( :) )freely in forum posts because they take the emotional sting out of comments that might otherwise be perceived by the reader's sub-conscious as aggression."

I have no such aggression, but I have an urge to follow a subject through to its conclusion.  Should anyone abandon the quest I press with them in conversations, I just hope that they notice I am still here, still willing to go further and deeper than most if they would like to share further conversations with me.

--Kent
Quick Reply
Cancel
7 years ago  ::  Apr 16, 2008 - 8:54AM #4
avoran
Posts: 121
[I am waiting for the explanation of why having free will over our behavior becomes an important issue of religion.]
That section in SAQ does not, as far as I can tell, say why it is important. Presumably it was important to the questioner, and `Abdu'l-Baha affirms that importance. One reason I think it's important is that free will is a central element of any answer to the question: how can there be evil (and hence suffering) in the world if an omnipotent God is All-Good? And that question is important because the same spiritual faculties that have the God-given capacity ro recognize the Good in the Manifestation are also sensitive to evil and suffering. If it is right to ignore that question, then it is right to ignore the Manifestation.

[We all have more capacity than we use.  Are you suggesting that the doctrine of Free Will means, in effect, don't judge others?]
In a sense. That is the other main reason, as I see it, why free will is important. Knowing that free will is limited affects the way we judge peoples' actions, not only other peoples' actions but also our own. Important note: I'm not referring to standing in judgement over a person (clearly wrong in all cases) and I'm not referring to the way we judge the impact of those actions (something we often need to do, but the cause of an action is irrelevant for that purpose). I'm referring to judgements about the best way to change future actions for the better.

["For me it is breathtaking and humbling to realize: by making a choice, I am shifting the pattern of evolution."
I am struck by how little that has to do with the doctrine Baha'is teach about "Free Will" and its effects...  If you believe those issues belong under the subject of Free Will, why?]

If that isn't obvious from the presence of the word "choice" in my sentence, I don't know what else to say. I agree that my statement is also related to the other subjects you mentioned. But there is no reason it can't be related to more than one subject at the same time.

Quite frankly I'm disappointed with such a negative reaction to a deeply-felt statement of agreement with your POV (at least as I understood it). Not, of course, that your function in life is to please me (or anyone else except God). But knowing that might help you to understand better the responses you get.

[It seems to me we are not talking about perceptions but powers.  And we gain spiritual powers by exercising  virtues, using "Free Will" to act for God and Truth and Love.]
What difference does calling them "powers" make? Perception is simply one of those powers.

[If you ask me, the whole of the doctrine of Free Will is included in the statement "let deeds not words be your adorning".]
In what way?

[Me: "Will be be better able to convince others of the truths we understand in the next world?"]
Very possibly, although for that purpose I think our state of spiritual development (virtues, divine qualities, spiritual powers, whatever you want to call them) is more critical than the world we're conscious of being in. Also, as I'm sure you'll agree since you keep coming back to deeds and words, convincing others of the truth is less important than applying the truth in our own actions. Although at this point we can have only a dim concept of what sort of "actions" might be possible in the next world.

[If we are discussing issues that help us understand things, so that we can use our understanding to help others, then we need to address the words we are using, we need to try to be clear.]
True :)

[What does understanding have to do with love?]
To love something or someone we have to recognize in it/them some quality worthy of love. It goes without saying that such qualities exist everywhere in creation, including in every person ("a mine rich in gems of inestimable value"). But we don't always recognize them - possibly because they are hidden, possibly because of our biases. Such qualities also (obviously) exist in God but we don't always recognize them there either (ref. back to the Buddhism thread and the discussion of authority).

[And what does understanding and love have to do with Free Will, besides the fact that if we show understanding and love to our fellow humanity our spiritual powers increase?]
I don't remember saying that as such. But off the top of my head, the ability to understand and to love seems to be what makes it possible for us to choose the right thing. It might be worth exploring this further. My intuition tells me there is a very close relationship between free will, love, which are linked by the self/Other issue.

I am wondering if perhaps part of the struggle we're having to understand each other here is due to different perspectives on what the phrase "Free Will" means or implies, just as using different definitions of the word "higher" caused a blockage on the soul/higher self issue.
Quick Reply
Cancel
7 years ago  ::  Apr 17, 2008 - 9:22AM #5
compx2
Posts: 426
Hi Avoran,

"...free will is a central element of any answer to the question: how can there be evil (and hence suffering) in the world if an omnipotent God is All-Good?"

How about this explanation?: 

"Know that beings are of two kinds: material and spiritual, those perceptible to the senses and those intellectual.

"Things which are sensible are those which are perceived by the five exterior senses; thus those outward existences which the eyes see are called sensible. Intellectual things are those which have no outward existence but are conceptions of the mind. For example, mind itself is an intellectual thing which has no outward existence. All man's characteristics and qualities form an intellectual existence and are not sensible.

"Briefly, the intellectual realities, such as all the qualities and admirable perfections of man, are purely good, and exist. Evil is simply their nonexistence. So ignorance is the want of knowledge; error is the want of guidance; forgetfulness is the want of memory; stupidity is the want of good sense. All these things have no real existence.

"In the same way, the sensible realities are absolutely good, and evil is due to their nonexistence -- that is to say, blindness is the want of sight, deafness is the want of hearing, poverty is the want of wealth, illness is the want of health, death is the want of life, and weakness is the want of strength.

"Nevertheless a doubt occurs to the mind -- that is, scorpions and serpents are poisonous. Are they good or evil, for they are existing beings? Yes, a scorpion is evil in relation to man; a serpent is evil in relation to man; but in relation to themselves they are not evil, for their poison is  264  their weapon, and by their sting they defend themselves. But as the elements of their poison do not agree with our elements -- that is to say, as there is antagonism between these different elements, therefore, this antagonism is evil; but in reality as regards themselves they are good.

"The epitome of this discourse is that it is possible that one thing in relation to another may be evil, and at the same time within the limits of its proper being it may not be evil. Then it is proved that there is no evil in existence; all that God created He created good. This evil is nothingness; so death is the absence of life. When man no longer receives life, he dies. Darkness is the absence of light: when there is no light, there is darkness. Light is an existing thing, but darkness is nonexistent. Wealth is an existing thing, but poverty is nonexisting.

"Then it is evident that all evils return to nonexistence. Good exists; evil is nonexistent."  (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 261)

It seems to me the doctrine of Free Will is largely related to the largely Christian exercise of "theodicy".

It is not a Baha'i problem, or a Baha'i doctrine except where we try to speak to theodicists.

"If it is right to ignore that question, then it is right to ignore the Manifestation."

Ignore it?  Simply put, evil is willful badness.  Humans are the only beings we know of who are capable of willful badness.  Other badness is absence of goodness, not evil.

"Knowing that free will is limited affects the way we judge peoples' actions..."

I forget the list of limits you named for Free Will.  Did you mean psychological illnesses which disallow the acceptance of authority?  Is this the sort of limit you are talking about here?

"["For me it is breathtaking and humbling to realize: by making a choice, I am shifting the pattern of evolution."

If you mean that we have a "choice" means we have "Free Will" which is central to "theodicy", well, I am skeptical.  It seems hoplessly confusing to me that the subject of yes/no, one or zero, a, b, c or d, should be a religious issue.

Obviously, a religious issue is one that involves our virtues, our development, bettering ourselves and humanity.  How we make choices might be a religious issues, but that we have choices is just too small an increment of information to build a meaningful religious doctrine, in my opinion.

"Quite frankly I'm disappointed with such a negative reaction to a deeply-felt statement of [I]agreement with your POV
(at least as I understood it)."

I did not mean to trample your emotions.  I am speaking issues here, and you will not hurt my feelings if you think I am wrong.  If you just tell me why I am wrong I will actually be pleased.

"What difference does calling them "powers" make? Perception is simply one of those powers."

So what is a "spiritual perception"?  A couple examples will do.  I just don't know what one is.  I do know what spiritual powers are: virtues.  Perception is one.  So if you were to say the "spiritual power of perception" I would know what that is, but to say "spiritual perception" implies, in my mind, that you are discerning something "spiritual" and I would like to know what you mean by that.

[Me: I][If you ask me, the whole of the doctrine of Free Will is included in the statement "let deeds not words be your adorning".][/I]
You: In what way?

Make good choices.

"...convincing others of the truth is less important than applying the truth in our own actions."

When He said that our deeds should be our "adorning" I think there is an element here of showing those deeds to others for admiration and emulation.

"Although at this point we can have only a dim concept of what sort of "actions" might be possible in the next world."

Which was my point.  If we want to perform actions we should do them here, not expect that we can fulfill material spiritual purpose materially from the next world.

You said: "["1) many aspects of religious truth may become verifiable in the next world"

My point is that our understanding or religious truth, will be unimportant in the next world, though our deeds will still count.  If we are going to convince others of religious truth, or gain some ourselves, here is the place to do it.

"To love something or someone we have to recognize in it/them some quality worthy of love."

Okay, thanks for your explanation.  I accept it.

"...the ability to understand and to love seems to be what makes it possible for us to choose the right thing."

From my perspective, the choosing is the important part of that equation.  Whatever makes us choose to better ourselves and those around us is a doctrine of the One True God.

"It might be worth exploring this further. My intuition tells me there is a very close relationship between free will, love, which are linked by the self/Other issue."

Okay, please go ahead.

--Kent
Quick Reply
Cancel
 
    Viewing this thread :: 0 registered and 1 guest
    No registered users viewing
    Advertisement

    Beliefnet On Facebook