Thursday 3 December 2020

Freedom (spiritual and physical) in 2020: The importance of our agency to God

In these times of astonishingly rapid reductions in our 'physical', bodily, personal freedom - the matter of spiritual freedom becomes ever more important. 

Important not merely because the spiritual is the proper emphasis; but because (as 2020 has shown) without individual spiritual freedom then people cannot/ do-not care for their personal or societal physical freedom. 

Lacking spiritual freedom; people invert Good and evil; fail to notice when they are being physically enslaved, lack the inner conviction that sustains courage - and have become the passive dupes and servants of evil.


The Christian understanding is (or ought to be!) that our personal freedom is vital to God. 

In particular, we must be free to in order that we can choose to follow Jesus Christ to eternal resurrected life in Heaven. Heaven is not a default state - Heaven is 'opt-in'; therefore Men must truly be able to 'opt'. 

And we are.


It was one of the important insights of Mormon theology that incarnation - i.e. being embodied, having bodies - is an important aspect of human freedom. Or, better, human 'agency'; because 'agent' is the term for a self-motivated entity, and that self-motivation probably a clearer conceptualisation than freedom of what is required. 

The essence of freedom is agency, which is something like the 'ability-to-choose from one-self' - and freedom is not (as sometimes mistakenly supposed) a freedom-from compulsion, nor the availability of many options. It is this agency which makes Man also a god; because agency is a divine attribute.

But agency is not categorical; it is a matter of degree. My understanding is that every-thing (i.e. every individual Being) has agency - including the 'mineral' and 'plant' worlds - because all things are beings; and agency is a part of being an individual and alive.  But the degree of agency in a tree is much less than in a child, and a child less than an adult Man


So, the purpose of creation is, in part, the development of agency. God wants more agency in creation, and especially in Men; because God wants Men (or, more exactly, some men) to become more divine, to be raised closer and closer to God's level of divinity and agency; so that Men may increasingly - and with greater individuality - participate in the world of creation.

My understanding is that incarnation is a concentration and boundedness of the spirit. The body, to a lesser or greater extent, is a concentration of our being, and the body is a (partial) boundary against our perception of the spiritual world.  

Before our life on earth, we were spirit beings; and on earth we attain a temporary incarnation of mortal life, our body being made of earthly and material things (which are prone to 'entropy'; hence are always changing). 

Even to be born in a body is itself a partial separation from the realm of the spirit - although as young children we are still spontaneously and naturally aware of the spirit realm. But as we develop and grow, we increasingly separate from the spiritual realm including the divine; until, typically with adolescence, we become fully separate from God and the spirit - and that point it requires our agency to re-acknowledge the reality of God and the spiritual.  

In other words, God wants us consciously to choose to believe in his reality - and not for this belief to be unconscious and unchosen. If we make this choice we are theists - God-believers - but not (yet) Christian; it is by the further choice to follow Jesus Christ to resurrection that we become Christian. 

This is why we must die to attain Heaven - the temporary mortal body must be replaced by a permanent Heavenly body. But it is this temporary mortal body that grants us the agency to make that permanent choice (and commitment) for God, divine creation and Heaven.


In our mortal incarnation we are uniquely 'located' in time and space; we have an unique experience (an unique experience that is continuously 'managed' by God through the continuity of creation); we are in a world of continual change (indeed, an entropic world of net decay, disease, degeneration - tending towards death). 

Thus our experience of mortal life is one of constant and unstoppable change - and this provides the continuously-varying experiences from which we can learn.  This learning is why some of us live as mortals for extended periods; while other individuals, who do not need this learning, experience relatively brief lives - and die after conception, in the womb, or soon after birth. 

When this mortal learning is (Christianly) orientated towards our eternal resurrected life; this constitutes that spiritual development that is variously termed theosis, sanctification, or deification; we are becoming more god-like (although this learning will not become permanent and fully effectual until after resurrection). 

In sum: this mortal body is derived from the earth; while our resurrected body is derived from Heaven. Our mortal body provides the freedom, or agency, required to choose Heaven; and our lived experience in this entropic world provides potentially valuable experiences that may enhance our agency in Heaven.

We are free to reject God, and beyond that - having accepted God to reject Jesus Christ. Or, to put it more exactly; it is necessaryfor Christians that we first actively choose to believe in the reality of God, and then actively choose to dwell eternally in Heaven. 

For Christians, the current rapid destruction of our physical freedom is therefore an experience; but the relevant experience is that which is from the exact perspective in time and space which we each - as individuals - inhabit. 

Loss of physical freedom does not reduce our agency; it simply provides experiences from which we need to learn. However, we cannot learn from these experiences unless we acknowledge and deploy our agency - which is itself a consequence of the divine within us. 


All of the time we are alive, we are being-confronted-by experiences which (for a Christian) need to be met by our personal agency. Our agency needs to be acknowledged and deployed; which means that we each need to take responsibility for our knowing and learning, and for our choices concerning God and Jesus Christ. 

I would hazard that a particular, general, lesson of these times, is related to this; in the sense that it is being made more-and-more difficult for a Christian to be unconscious and passive and remain Christian. 

It is becoming increasingly obvious that one who accepts external guidance is accepting the demonic (i.e spiritual powers that are anti-God, anti-creation) - since this external guidance is almost always (and more clearly) corrupted, and increasingly inverted in its values.  


My point here is that what we physically do in mortal life, about the events of 2020; need to be grounded in a conscious apprehension of our personal divine agency; which is itself the basis for discerning guidance from external divine agency - the Holy Ghost. 

The fact that we have physical bodies is an advantage. Yes, they make us vulnerable to physical intimidation; but they are also what enables us to be agents who can choose from-our-selves: from our True Selves. 

And that - whatever happens physically, and however we may choose to support or resist the various (better or worse - much and increasingly worse) powers of this world - our primary task is to learn from the exact situation in which we are placed - which situation is continually being shaped by God for our best learning in this mortal context.

Which is why we must remember to Trust in God, now more than ever; so that we are not afraid - and are able to retain our necessary focus on the spiritual. 


James said...

I spent almost the entirety of my life understanding freedom as freedom-from external constraints. It was a bit of a shock when I came across church teachings that this was just licentiousness, and that liberty is more of a freedom-to to do the right thing.

I need to disentangle both of these concepts of liberty from agency, for if someone asked me, I would have said my sense of personal agency is decreasing. Is our agency in choosing how to react or more about being open to discerning guidance from divine agency?

And thank you - I found "I would hazard that a particular, general, lesson of these times, is related to this; in the sense that it is being made more-and-more difficult for a Christian to be unconscious and passive and remain Christian." very clarifying.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James "Is our agency in choosing how to react or more about being open to discerning guidance from divine agency?"

Yes, but remembering that our True Self is itself divine, and that we are chidlren of God - so 'guidance' is internal (from our best self) as well as external.

Nathan said...

Great post.

Stephen Macdonald said...

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Proverbs 3:13-20

LugNuts22 said...

Being embodied is indeed an important part of human free will; pure spiritual beings (angels) can only choose once due to their nature while embodied humans, due to their nature, can make choices until death.

However, this is not a new insight of Mormon theology. Thomas Aquinas articulated the details of human and angels' ability to make choices extremely clearly in the 13th century, and the idea was likely not completely new to him.

Bruce Charlton said...

LN - The context of Mormon theology includes that we all had a pre-mortal life as spirits; and that this mortal incarnation (which we volunteered for) provided an increase in agency.

Also that not only Jesus Christ, but also God the Father (and Heavenly Mother, his spouse) are embodied; and this is necessary for full agency and fully creative ability (specifcially the procreative ability for our Hevanly Parents to have spirit children).

A bit different from Aquinas!

If you are interested, I have an archive blog on the subject:

Albeit I am not and never have been a Mormon church member, and my own theology is somewhat modified in details - I am essentially a believer in Mormon theology; which I regard as a first rank, world historical theological achievement - as well as sublimely beautiful and true!