Predestination vs. Free Will
How much of our lives are dictated by fate? How much of our lives are determined by predestined circumstances vs. our own determination to create and change our futures as we see fit? Are our lives planned out for us even before we are born? Or do we have some control in how they turn out? How much? Do things really happen “for a reason” — a reason that is ultimately part of this giant plan seemingly so much larger than any of us? Or, rather, do things happen as a result of our own actions, of the choices we make and the decisions we follow through with? What role might religion (or lack thereof) play in a person’s view on this subject? Personal experiences or background? How might one’s opinion influence the way they live their life?
You ask me of something I cannot do, of something I have purposefully tried not to think of.
You could think of it similar to asking a religiously-conflicted teenager, one whose life has revolved around the question of God, one whose parents have forced him to go to church, one at the cusp of his life, one that’s struggled with expectation versus his own personal doubts… whether or not he believes in God. How can you ask of him a “yes or no” answer on a topic that has both failed, saved, and defined him through his life to be answered and eloquently written in the span of a week?
This is going to be a lengthy blog. Herein, you have been warned.
I identify myself racially first and foremost as an American. Principles of freedom, individual rights, and the ability to create and define your own path to the future have been ingrained into me ever since I’d watched my first show of “Dora the Explorer” (“Where should we go next?”). My primary language is English (well, technically, my first word was “agua”, but that’s beside the point). My baby sitters were Hispanic, my preschool teachers Middle-Eastern, and my peers mostly white. I was raised valuing diversity and differences in culture, surrounded by hard-working people who had sweat and labored their way through adversity. I enjoyed this perspective, or at least, I didn’t know any different, and that’s how my parents wanted it to be.
This severely contrasted to my second world. Since last year, I had gone to the same Korean-American church in Los Angeles since before I was born. It is the landmark of my family’s past. My grandparents attended it as one of their first American communities when they immigrated. It is where my parents met, where they eventually were married, and where, eventually, my sister and I were baptized. Here I was told God was the one who provided for us, who looked out for us, and later, a God that had a reason for every difficult event in our lives. He knew who we were and where we were going. The Korean culture, though I didn’t know it then, also applied to this belief. Korea, though it has thoroughly and impressively revolutionized itself recently, cannot easily uproot its longstanding culture and tradition of Sameness, of maintenance of class boundaries, a feeling of knowing how you were born, and subsequently, how you were going to die. Whereas American billionaires are the first to donate to causes and set up foundations to raise the unfortunate out of the ashes, Korean billionaires will be the first to set up wills and saving accounts for their heirs, to keep long-standing traditions and legacies. Their innate independence and stubbornness in the face of adversity translated into something different, something more pessimistic, and maybe, more realisitic.
And here I had two pulls. My identity and environment stressed and revered the fact that I had my own free will, there was nothing holding me back from my potential except myself. One the opposite side, my spirituality and heredity told me that God had a plan for me, and that my life was already mapped out.
Each side had encouraged me and disappointed me. Through “free will” and the American Consciousness I was exposed to a number of different cultures, people, philosophies, and lives that were beyond extraordinary. These people had made themselves, and were proud of it. I also saw those who had everything they needed, and simply made the wrong choices. They not only hurt themselves, but the people they loved. These are the people that usually claim (thought it’s usually not true) they can’t change themselves, and stop trying to improve or get themselves out of their own, self-created problems. I’ve seen people denied opportunities based on skin color, age, belief, and appearance no matter how willing they are. I’ve seen others with hearts of gold, the determination of Franklin himself, and the work ethic of Boxer the horse that can’t find jobs, meaning in life, or any sliver of humanity at all. It’s this defeatist attitude, selfish human nature, and unsuccessful stories that I reject in the “make your own path” theory.
The thought that everything has a reason has pulled through for me so many times in my life. People often ask me and those of my religion something along the lines of “How can the world be like this if there was a God?” to which I answer, “How would the world be if there truly and definitely was not?” The fact is that people need a “God”, whatever it may manifest itself into; they need something that will tie themselves to the hope that Man has the potential to be good, and that we are more than animals with meaningless 68.3-year lives- whether it be science, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, activism… In difficult times the idea of predestination, learning from mistakes, and trusting that, in the end, a caring God will provide has held me off of the edge of seeing no value in life. There were times when it was extremely difficult to accept, however, especially when I started to grow more and more estranged with the values, and the peers, of my church as my worlds began to clash.
It’s the same answer to the same question, really: “What controls our destiny, our future?” The only change is in the answer. Is it we, or a higher power?
To this day I am still a Christian, though I have changed churches and have become slightly estranged from the community. My perspective on people’s ability to use independence for the general good has been “reality-checked”, and I have no idea what the answer is, but this is what I have so far:
The prospective teenage atheist or believer will give you a similar answer. Let him live life by himself, experience the world on his own, and form his own opinions, and he will probably give you a more concrete answer. I’m not completely sold on the idea that my future, my death, and how I will live for the rest of my life has been set in stone and is foretold in the stars, just as I’m not completely sold on the idea that everything occurs spontaneously without any sort of precursor, but I have the rest of my (predestined/ self-made) life to figure it out.