Skip to comments.Anthony Burgess and Free Will
Posted on 10/18/2018 1:02:14 PM PDT by donaldo
The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.
"I do accept the fundamental Christian tenet that man is born in original sin: we are more likely than not to choose the bad rather than the good, and this, which is called the Augustinian point of view, I too believe, after Saint Augustine who first propounded it, seems to be in thorough accordance with the facts of history. Now, there is a contrary belief which strangely enough, or not so strangely, came from England, or came from Britain; there was a monk called Pelagius [man by the sea] who said that man is good, that man is capable of becoming better, that man can build the just society and create his own heaven upon earth. This seems to me to be false, it is not borne out by the facts of history, but this false theory, this heresy, underlies Socialism, underlies Communism, underlies all political theories which believe that man can fulfil himself through the state. But when we see the state becoming powerful, trying to fulfil man, we see that the state becomes a great instrument of tyranny, as in Russia, as in Nazi Germany. What we have to do is live our lives, sort out our own morality for ourselves, accept that were imperfect and just do the best we can. This has always been the position of the just man throughout history and it must be the position in the future: we will not get any better but we must try."
Put me down, then, as a believer in original sin. I agree with Malcolm Muggeridge:
The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.
By definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange - meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is all about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create.
Stanley Kubrick's take:
"It is necessary for man to have choice to be good or evil, even if he chooses evil. To deprive him of this choice is to make him something less than human - a clockwork orange."
Kubrick directed the movie 'A Clockwork Orange'. In the book and movie Alex was to be cured by aversion therapy. This therapy was dubbed the "Ludovico Technique." (Ludovico is Ludwig in Italian. Alex loved the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.) The priest rightly argued that Alex would be denied his humanity if he could no longer exercise choosing to be either good or evil. He would be nothing more than a clockwork orange; i.e., a robot.
These ideas are nothing new. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky addressed these ideas in their writings. George Steiner in his 'Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism' discusses all the above at length. The book assumes two opposing viewpoints on the nature of man. Either they postulate the inherent fallibilty of man or they affirm that man is perfectible. Dostoevsky was in the camp of the former while Tolstoy believed in the latter. Tolstoy was a chiliast, or Millenarian who believed that reason and will alone can create a true "civitas Dei." (Please remember that Christ didn't offer earthly bread but rather heavenly bread.)
Dostoevsky regarded the idealism of reformers as misdirected religious enthusiasm, or in the words of Charles B. Guignon "Christian philanthropic ideals twisted into secular humanist ends." Again, Tolstoy believed that man must either create the good life here on earth or resign himself to suffering. To him the Kingdom of God must be realized as the Kingdom of Man! Dostoevsky believed this "impossible" and that all attempts to do so were doomed to bestiality and the destruction of the very idea of God. Steiner: "For what need shall there be of a consoling and redeeming God if men achieve perfect justice and repose in their mortal lives?"
Permit an extended quote about good and evil. This from Charles B. Guignon's introduction to a pamphlet entitled Dostoevsky: The Grand Inquisitor:
Dostoevsky believed that the capacities for both good and evil are fundamental to our existence, part of the undercurrent of life itself. He had little patience with the Utopian reformers who thought that humans are fundamentally good, and that it is only their upbringing or socialization that causes evil. Seeing evil this way treats it as something "subjective" - as a psychological "problem" that one can "disown" since it is not really one's own. On the view of the liberal reformers, there really is no real evil; there are only dysfunctional families or unfair social conditions. Evil is not something I do; it is something that befalls me from the outside.
Steiner on Dostoevsky's theory of evil: "Without evil there would be no possibility of free choice and none of the torment which impels man towards the recognition of God." And "If the freedom to choose God is to have any meaning, the freedom to refuse Him must exist with equal reality. Only through the chance of committing evil and experiencing it can man attain a mature grasp of his own freedom. . . . The pilgrimage towards God can have real significance only so long as men may choose the way of darkness." Just so.
None of this should be construed as a criticism of Christian charity and good works. That's not the point. But if we ever hear someone talking about his a priori blueprints for a Utopian Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, look out. (See Burgess quote above about socialism, communism, and Nazism.) The history of the 20th century was replete with the bleached bones of those who believed such nonsense. As I've said so many times one can not expect immortal satisfactions from mortal conditions.
And finally this from Nikolai Berdyaev:
The existence of evil is a proof of the existence of God. If the world consisted wholly and uniquely of goodness and righteousness there would be no need for God, for the world itself would be god. God is, because evil is. And that means that God is because freedom is.
Remove choice and we lose our humanity. That's the point of so many dystopian novels. A perfect society can only be created with a nation of robots.
I’m predestined to be bored with discussions about Calvinism.
I love this post....All good discussion....Mike I throw a branch on the fire to see if it burns bright?
This debate (free will or predestination) - original sin imputation, etc keeps ever on the boil.
This is because we are trying to understand the relationship between free will and predestination as humans, who are “stuck” in the river of time. If time is a dimension, which God created when he created the other 3, and God lives outside of time, then he knows the beginning from the end.....
In fact, he can “see” all of time and can “know” something that he does not “cause”. Can a human do this? No, the only way a human can for sure 100% predict a future event is to cause it to happen. You might object - but I can predict that tomorrow gravity will still work and an apple will fall downward.
But can you, really 100% predict it will happen? What if the universe implodes tonite? What if God changes the “rules” of reality (similar to what happens in Quantum effects).
Humans indeed DO have free will. 5 point Calvinism requires a “small” God.
Both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy lived in the 19th Century. The idea of a Utopian Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, Tolstoy’s position, was very popular. Things seemed to be getting better and better. Christians believed that the Church would preside over a millenial age of goodness which would end with the return of Christ.
Then WWI came crashing in and reality replaced their optimism. The 20th Century didn’t get any better after that. Within the Church the theology shifted in the direction of pre-millenialism, where the return of Christ was necessary before things could get better and usher in a Millenial Kingdom. The Church was inadequate to the task.
One of favorite movies by my favorite director based on a great book. It's a shame that Stanley and the publisher left the last chapter out when the book was published in the USA.
My last thesis before reporting for active duty was on “A Clockwork Orange”. Getting past the sensory assault that was the movie, the book really held some insights.
I agree about the omission of the English ending.
Burgess touched on this in his 1986 introduction to the book:
“Briefly, my young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth which has much energy but little talent for the constructive....There comes a time, however, when senseless violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and ignorant.”
I have to believe in Free Will. I have no choice.
Your post brings to mind the words of Holderlin:
What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it heaven.
In their attempts to create Utopias ideologues created the worst Dystopias ever. Two hundred million people were killed by their own governments in the 20th century. The late R. J. Rummel coined a word for it, democide, death by government.
It's like that with writers. A few have a cult develop around their works and it keeps their names alive, but others fade away once they stop writing and living.
Your post also reminds me of this from Hugh Kingsmill:
Most of the avoidable suffering in life springs from our attempts to escape the unavoidable suffering inherent in the fragmentary nature of our present existence. We expect immortal satisfactions from mortal conditions, and lasting and perfect happiness in the midst of universal change. To encourage this expectation, to persuade mankind that the ideal is realisable in this world after a few preliminary changes in external conditions, is the distinguishing mark of all charlatans, whether in thought or action. In the middle of the eighteenth century Johnson wrote: We will not endeavour to fix the destiny of kingdoms: it is our business to consider what beings like us can perform. A little later Rousseau wrote: Man is born free and is everywhere in chains. Johnsons sober truth kindled no one. Rousseaus seductive lie founded the secular religions which in various forms have dominated Europe since Rousseaus death.
Tragically, many 3Cs - Cookie-Cutter Conservatives/Christians - neither regard nor oppose this natural fallen inclination.
Such people put their real faith in what they call the Free Market. That is why they defend crony communists like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.
That was an interesting read. Watched the movie back in college, hated it. Reading the authors words on the topic, it makes more sense now. Doubt Ill like the movie anymore, though.
I am not, and never have been, a “Calvinist”; I have had many theological debates with those who are.
Genesis 6:5. Genesis 8:21.
Clive Staples Lewis could hardly be called a Calvinist, but he understood the Biblical axiom, and explicated it in That Hideous Strength.
“I have to believe in Free Will. I have no choice.”
When it comes to Calvinism it’s a you can take it or leave thing.
Calvinism, if brought to an extreme, can tend toward antinomianism. There is this thread in some faiths where God is so beyond our understanding that we shouldn't even try. And because God is the master of all, there is nothing we can do to even moderately enhance our chance of salvation.
In this sense antinomians focus too much on the unimaginable immensity of God. The antinomians go too far when they use this as a license for debauchery rather than a reason for obedience.
(Of course a stereotypical Calvinist's idea of debauchery might be having an extra slice of pie after dinner.)
Thanks for posting! This slides off topic, but not far.
I think that Augustine would say something like:
God is Good
His creation reflects his Goodness.
He placed a desire for good in Man.
That man, created as a rational being, was able to see and appreciate God and Good reflected in his creation and could express his love God and the creation in the proper amounts, an “ordinal” love. (He Set his “Loves” in order.”
As a result of the fall man’s rationality was marred and he
could not clearly see what was good and should desire and love. Man now would sin by loving the correct object to excess or defect, or could love the wrong object altogether.
Chapter 27.The Order of Love.
28. Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for Gods sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself. Likewise we ought to love another man better than our own body, because all things are to be loved in reference to God, and another man can have fellowship with us in the enjoyment of God, whereas our body cannot; for the body only lives through the soul, and it is by the soul that we enjoy God.
I sent your compilation to about 7 people and credited your FR name! It seems like a good way to approach people about the Dangers of Utopian political systems and Christianity using well known cinema in the popular culture!
(Did you know that two fardels equals one nook! One nook equals about 20 acres!)
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