History of religion

Predestination and freedom

(Published in GralsWelt special issue 16/2005)

When a stroke of fate hits people, when the death of a loved one is to be lamented, or even severe material losses, then the question inevitably comes: "Why?"
Everyone then seeks explanations for such confusing events and wants to calm himself down with answers that are plausible to him and give him the strength to go on living.

These answers are usually based on religion, because one of the tasks of religions is to explain the "incomprehensible", which in turn means to find the causes of events in the transcendent that elude human understanding.

On the other hand, the modern sciences have developed into an antipole of the religious worldview. In the scientific worldview, human fate can be seen as a game of chance that is determined by genes. Since chance has no meaning, purpose or goal, it seems idle to ask about the meaning of existence or the influence of fate on human life ...

The answers to the question about fate oscillate between extremes: between predestination and “all chance”.

Predestined or Accidental?
Every religion has to deal with the question of the origin of man, his fate and the meaning of life. The answers found are varied, not infrequently contradicting, and it is not easy for any seeker of truth to find his own personal path in the broad field of religious ideas.

Only religious fundamentalists can make it easy for themselves: They take over written traditions literally, forbid themselves to question the statements that are called “holy”, and look for answers that are valid in the context of their denomination in scriptures and dogmas.

Who does not assume that religious traditions are the inviolable word of a Most High; who admits that religious books can contain errors and contradictions; Those who want to think for themselves and feel the truth cannot avoid personal responsibility. He has to find his own way between the many points of view. He will experience that religious extremists condemn him for his undogmatic search for truth.

Some believers believe that the Almighty and All-Wise Creator must know the past and the future; that nothing can happen that does not correspond to his will, and accordingly the fate of a person is already largely determined at birth.

Different religious or esoteric groups assume more or less the predestination of human fate:

· In Christianity the question of the election of man, his predestination for salvation, plays a central role. In Protestant theology in particular, the possibility is partially denied that a person could reach paradise on his own through his works. The only way to salvation is divine grace or redemption through Christ's death on the cross.

· For classical astrology, future and fate can be read from the star constellations and predictions are possible. A person's life would be roughly programmed, leaving little scope for free decisions.

· In Islam, many believers live in the idea that Allah knows and determines everything. He knows everything that has happened and knows everything that will happen. So Muslims believe in divine predestination: everything that Allah wants it to happen also happens that way; and anything that Allah does not want to happen does not happen. One often hears the word “God willing ...” from Muslims, which corresponds to the Christian saying “Man thinks and God directs”.

Such assumptions restrict a person's freedom of choice. Depending on how extreme the idea of predestination is represented, the human being is wholly or partially subjected to a fate that is unfathomable for him, the cause, meaning, purpose and goal of which remain a mystery that is based on the inexplicable counsel of God ...

Chance as a development principle
The word chance plays an important role in the scientific worldview of our time.
The evolution theory founded by Darwin explains the development of life with two simple principles: Minor differences within a species, and selection, which favors life forms that adapt better to their environment and can reproduce more successfully.

The differences between living beings arise primarily from random, sudden changes in the genetic make-up. Accordingly, chance determines where a form of life develops and which of its individuals have the best chance of passing on their genetic makeup to offspring. It would be thanks to the interplay between genetic chance and the conditions on our earth that the forms of life we are familiar with arose; and nobody knows how they will develop. Evolution could also have taken completely different, for us hardly imaginable ways, or stopped with the bacteria ...

Many people agree to see themselves as a chance product, which is controlled by their genes, environmental influences and countless coincidences, and which has little scope for self-determined decisions and causal action. In doing so, they are shifting responsibility for the course of their lives.

For others, this scientific conception of man falls short, and they are looking for deeper insights that are often not satisfied in the churches; hence the widespread interest in esoteric teachings.

Human freedom
The awareness of self-determination is an essential part of a child's wellbeing. And if the responsibility of man is demanded by famous philosophers, then man must be able to decide for himself. Free will may seem restricted by environment, upbringing, personal experience; but the responsibility of a person - z. B. in criminal law - is inseparable from his ability to make decisions. Nobody should be held responsible for decisions that they could not make independently. (Hence the modern forbearance with criminal acts as "illness").

However, the required freedom of choice for people collides with the doctrine of predestination, which leaves little room for independent action.
Different religious approaches try to combine both: God's omniscience about the past and the future, and human freedom of action:

· According to Christian opinion, the possibility of sin and guilt is based on free will, which can decide against divine commandments against better judgment. However, there is heated debate in Christian theology as to whether a person can achieve salvation by resolving to do good. Luther strongly advocated the point of view that salvation cannot be earned and spoke of the sole effectiveness of grace. He denies any human participation in the event of salvation because the human will is too corrupt and unfree to do what is good on its own. This point of view provokes the question of why man should strive for a just life if his election or rejection were certain from the start; further, mostly complicated or subtle explanations are then necessary ...
The Catholic Church is more flexible. It avoids the extremes and allows free will, which by the grace of God is not eliminated but liberated. Then one has to ask whether the Creator is all-knowing and to what extent he must know all the future in detail ...

· In Islam it is said that people have their own free will, with which they can choose between right and wrong and are therefore responsible for their well-being. A teaching that, in my opinion, does not really fit the omniscience ascribed to Allah, including the knowledge of the future. There are then additional explanations.

· In Asian religions one assumes that a person does not only live once on earth, that he is not condemned immediately after a botched earth life, but goes through cycles with many lives on earth. Then there is the explanation that man shapes his own spiritual and material progress with his intentions, his decisions and his actions. So he would be “the smith of his luck” on earth and in the transcendent, in this earthly life and in the following being.

Divine intervention in world events
It is not only taught in monotheistic religions that the Creator (or the gods) follow events on our earth and intervene directly in earthly developments. Various religious groups are so convinced of the correctness of their ideas that they expect, perhaps even demand, the help of the Most High to achieve their goals. Many success stories - e.g. B. the founding and the rise of the USA - were supposedly only possible through divine help. However, it takes a great deal of self-confidence, if not hubris, to believe that one's intentions are fully in line with God's will.

In the Middle Ages one might imagine a powerful ruler in heaven above earth, whose protection and help the believer could trust himself to. With today's knowledge of the size of the universe, such childish ideas of God cannot be reconciled.
An inconceivable Creator who exists above and outside the universe that is visible to us, on the other hand, would also be conceivable in the present. He does not - like an earthly ruler - intervene directly in the events. But as the creator he anchored his conditions as eternal laws in his work of creation from the beginning. These omnipresent laws provide the freedom for developments without specifying individual events in advance. The many forms of life that developed in the universe did not have to be fixed in detail from the start; they could develop freely within the framework of what was possible. This approach does not seem dissimilar to the “space of possibilities” of modern quantum physics. The space of possibility does not contain any predictions for the future, but it shows that much, but not everything, is possible.

Numerous natural or divine laws work together harmoniously within the framework given by the Creator. These laws of creation set goals, set limits, promote building and prevent undesirable developments. One may then recognize a part of Providence in a diverse weaving of creation that extends far beyond the space that is visible to us.
Direct interventions by the Creator in earthly developments are - if at all - to be expected only in extremely rare special cases of global importance. Nobody should expect the Creator to intervene in individual destinies. For this, people have a lot of freedom in which they can shape their own personal path. However, in the awareness that he can make his decisions freely, but naturally has to experience the consequences. In the longer term - not only during an earth life - man then experiences the justice that can be expected from a perfect Creator through the automatic working of God's laws.

This idea of the broad development path of the human spirit and its self-formed fate presupposes an incomparably longer existence on different levels than just a stay on earth.

(1) Drehsen et al., Dictionary of Christianity, Orbis, Düsseldorf, 1988.
(2) Outline of Faith, Catholic Catechism, Kösel, Munich, 1984.
(3) http: // www.