June 18, 2006

Freiheit Freedom

Posted in Reflections at 3:37 pm by egalitaria

My colleagues and I have gotten into the habit of debating concepts and philosophies during our brief lunch hour recently. It usually ends abruptly, but this one continued as we adjourned to a good banana leaf dinner. 

We brought up the topic of again, freedom, as I had earlier written about the Islamic perspective of freedom. To recap, I wrote that within Islam, the concept of freedom really means the freedom to do good within the boundaries of Islam. Let me propose that this is a different sort of freedom altogether.

There is a "truth will set you free" sort of freedom, also elaborated upon in the Bible. This freedom is liberating, which gives our spirit a freedom that can only be felt either spiritually or emotionally. I too subsribe to this being real freedom of the spirit, the soul, the being. 

But we have to be clear about our definitions. I think much of the problem in debating arises because of unclear premises. In the more secular usage of freedom, this really means the freedom to choose. Boundless freedom. We have to accept that while it is true that all humans are given the freedom of choice, this may not necessarily be the right nor best way forward. So we can be comfortable talking about different freedoms. An absolute freedom, which is granted to all of humanity – also the freedom to suffer the consequences. You're free to take drugs but you're trapped in it eventually. And second, a freedom that liberates. 

This led me to think about the concept of choice. People who speak with me will know that I am big on choice. What this means is that I truly believe all are "free" to choose, and will experience the consequences (good or bad) of this choice. This extends to how people are "free" to choose their religions. However, does this argument really hold? 

Can people choose their beliefs? Or is a person's belief system a result of the process of socialisation and natural inclinations? By definition, choice means I have the option of one over the other. However, because of the person I am today (a summation of nature and nurture), I would be more predisposed to believe something over another. And I do not have the choice of predisposition A over predisposition B. I am, therefore, more likely to believe that the sky is blue, compared to someone who lives in the Arctic who would believe the sky is white.

The argument this friend gave is that, is it possible for me to CHOOSE to believe that Mickey Mouse is a real character and he lives on the moon? Is that a choice? I cannot choose to believe it. I simply don't believe it. Because of my disposition: being brought up knowing Mickey Mouse is a fictional cartoon. 

Bringing the question to God, is it possible for someone to choose to not believe in Him? If, based on the natural predisposition of someone who is a cynic and rationalist, he simply does not believe, can this be considered a "choice" that the person made? 

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