Free will and felines

It was the cat’s fault—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. Most of them are psychotic serial killers, but they have their moments, like when they drop a gift of bird entrails on your front porch. Cats are adorable.

Even by cat standards, “Manson” was weird. (I’ve changed the name of the cat in this essay so as not to slander others of the feline species.) He acted as if he’d been smoking crack out behind the tool shed. We were packing up my friend’s worldly belongings, moving him to a new home, and the time had come to capture the cat.

Manson was lurking somewhere on the second floor, and my friend warned me that cornering him would make a wounded water buffalo look tame. My job was to keep Manson upstairs. I was the trip wire, the Maginot line. So I positioned myself at the top of the stairs, got down into a crouch, and waited for the fury to begin.

I didn’t have long to wait. There was a terrible squall and an instant later a blur of tan and white fur was streaking my way. I spread my arms, but Manson was already airborne. I lunged and got a firm grip on a hind leg. And that’s when the awful realization hit me: this cat had played me perfectly. Sure, I had him by the leg, but I was now off-balance and falling backwards down a flight of stairs. Manson turned his head and gave me an evil grin, knowing that if I wanted to save myself, I’d have to let him go.

Events at that point began moving in slow motion, which gave me some time to ask the question, “Why me?” As I was bouncing down the stairs like a sack of potatoes, I realized that this wasn’t happening because I had bad karma, or because my great- grandfather was a horse thief, or because I’d broken the laws of feng shui, or because God was finally punishing me for that pumpkin I stole in the 8th grade. No, I was on an express ride to the nearest hospital because of one reason and one reason only—free will. I am a free moral agent, and anytime I want to I can make a stupid choice that ends in some really crummy consequences.

And this wasn’t the first time.

Free will is quite a remarkable gift, really. Liberty is rightfully one of humanity’s most cherished political values.

But as I thudded and tumbled my way down the staircase, I realized once again that every choice we make—every single one—has consequences, and they’re not always pretty. In a society so inter-related and interdependent as ours, there is virtually nothing that we can do that doesn’t have some intended or unintended effect on others. Like a game of Jenga, moving a single block at any point can collapse the whole tower.

We often prefer not to think about the consequences of our actions. We minimize and downplay, we make deals with God, we head-fake and hope by some miracle to dodge the bullet.

For example, every family study done in recent years concludes that divorce has terrible consequences for children. And yet, the divorce rate keeps climbing. Knowledge isn’t enough. We want what we want, and free will gives us the power to take it, consequences be damned.

The American College of Pediatricians just released a position paper entitled Homosexual Parenting: Is it Time For a Change? The conclusion of that paper reads:

The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science.

In the superheated political debate about gay civil rights, the issue of the health and well-being of the children of gay parents is being shoved under the carpet. The mantra we hear is “it makes no difference what sort of parents a child has as long as there is love in the home.” But that ignores the well-documented damage done by no-fault divorce. Gays and lesbians are embarking on yet another experiment, and nobody can say what the consequences will be to children and the institution of marriage. We simply want what we want, at any cost.

Homosexuals are not unique in this respect. They are not behaving any differently than the rest of us—they simply want to exercise their free will to make their own moral choices. Since the time of Adam and Eve, humanity has preferred its own wisdom to God’s. Free will and self-centeredness is in our genes.

If there is no God, all choices are morally ambiguous, and the consequences of our choices are of no consequence at all. But if the Judeo-Christian God lives, every choice we make has moral significance. The post-modern world has embraced moral relativism because it frees us from responsibility for our actions. But we can’t simply wish God out of the picture.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? —Galatians 5:13-17, The Message (Paul speaking).

Cats live a charmed existence. We say they have nine lives because they seem adept at escaping the consequences of their actions. When I finally thudded to the bottom of the staircase, I found that I, too, had escaped. I was bruised but not broken. Perhaps God, in his mercy, had saved me from the consequences of my own foolishness. A great blessing, but it would be presumption to assume that he should always do so.

When we freely turn to God in worship and love, when we freely limit ourselves to the things that bring honor to God, and to each other, then we are free indeed.

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  1. i had something to say, but then forgot it. so this is more of a comment to say i read your post. good stuff.

  2. Really good post. You have a great writing style. By the way, did you ever catch “Manson?”

  3. Stacy: Thanks for the compliment and for taking the time to visit. After the truck was packed and all of us strangers left the house, Manson calmed down and his owners caught him. He is now living happily in his new home.

  4. Kathy Lehardy says

    Great article! Thanks


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