Hard Going and Simply Rational continue with a discussion on predestination, choice, free will and consciousness.

SR: I’ve been thinking about what you said about your invisible church, the UCC. It sounds a bit crazy, to say the least.
HG: Well, it would to a rationalist, wouldn’t it?
SR: Look, I can think of all kinds of problems. For a start, you say that anyone can be a member of this church but that’s not what I gather from reading the literature.
HG: Literature?
Wild flowers
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Predestination – a red herring
SR: The Bible and all the theology connected with it. For example, there’s predestination . How can your religion be universal if God determines who will be saved? Where is there choice in that?
HG: It’s a hoary question but also trite. A red herring, but very popular with rationalists, because it lets them off the hook.
SR: You’re being provocative! What do you mean, ‘lets them off the hook’?
HG: Well, obviously if God does the choosing, you don’t need to bother, you’ll end up in heaven anyway, or in the other place.
SR: Is that what you really believe?
HG: No, I said it was a red herring …
SR: Okay, what do you mean? I see you’re dying to tell me.
HG: I am, but it’s quite subtle really. I hope you have a few moments …
SR: Of course, my ears are tingling …
Red hot poker from above
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Is God a dictator?
HG: First, God’s reality is not our reality. All our talk, all our language, is closely bound up with time. So when we say ‘choose’ we are talking about the human reality in time, not God’s reality, which is something else entirely. We could put it like this: God sees things from a perspective outside time, there is no past, present or future. He knows the choices everyone will make and has always known that. His knowledge is immediate, if you like.
SR: He has foreknowledge but doesn’t dictate how anyone will choose, is that what you mean?
HG: Yes, more or less. God isn’t a dictator, if he was we’d all be robots. These ideas are rooted in a mechanistic view of the universe. Remember, that until quite recently people thought of the universe as a machine. With the quantum revolution, it puts a different light on things. There is much greater uncertainty.
SR: Maybe so, but it’s still obvious that thought is the product of neuronal firings in the brain.

The ‘hard problem’ of consciousness
HG: Really, do you believe that? Certainly, there is some kind of correlation there. But you must have heard of the so-called ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. That is, the apparent impossibility of identifying thoughts, reasons, intentions and so on with so-called matter, whether that matter/energy is synaptic firings or whatever. A person is conscious of consciousness and the thoughts a person has can affect the ‘matter’ of the body, for example, with psychosomatic illness. How can what has no physical dimension or weight, for example, a thought, influence what is tangible and can be measured?
Jamaican flower
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Choice or no choice
SR: I’ve no idea. But you’re getting away from the point. Even assuming a person is free to choose whether to accept God or not, don’t the Scriptures make very clear that God chooses people for himself, not the other way round. ‘But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise …’ and so on and many other such passages.
HG: There are certainly many places where it says that God chooses people but in other places it invites people to choose, ‘seek and you shall find’, ‘choose this day who you will serve’ and so on.
SR: So we have free will?
HG: Yes, we have free will to reject God but if we have a desire for a relationship with God in Christ, God’s helps us to have that relationship. In that sense he chooses us.

Jamaican flower (2)
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Mind or heart
SR: So religion is democratic after all, you have a free vote.
HG: You could say that, although it’s a bit more complicated than that.
SR: Oh yes, you would make it complicated, wouldn’t you. Now what?
HG: Well, when you vote you leave things to others, to the politicians, but when you start a relationship with the Sacred One, you have to carry on. Actually, your heart tells you what to do.
SR: What’s your heart got to do with it? You know my name. I use my mind to work things out. Not feelings and sentiment.
HG: If by mind you mean reason, you won’t get very far. The heart is the inner person, the self, it knows far more than your mind ever will. It’s the part that survives death.
SR: O, come on, you don’t believe in survival after death. That’s just stupid.
HG: Is it? Can we come back to that next time?
SR: If I haven’t kicked the bucket with frustration at your ideas!