Why do good things happen to bad people? And why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? These fundamental challenges to the existing of a benevolent, all powerful deity are often dismissed by theists with the often espoused, and always misguided “free will” argument. The salient point apparently being that even though the creator deity creates us inherently good, we have the choice to be bad.
Now I’m all for choice, but this doesn’t really feel like a free choice to me.
It’s clearly laid out for us, theists will tell you. You can subscribe to their particular brand of religion, which will result in a fantastic eternity of loveliness, or not, which will result in an eternity of torture. There’s no middle ground here, it’s bliss, or torture. The best possible thing, or the worst possible thing.
The rewards, or otherwise, are important when it comes to deciding whether or not one truly has free choice. If I put a gun to your head and said “sing Happy Birthday or I’ll shoot you”, would you consider that I gave you the free choice as to whether or not you sang Happy Birthday? What if I said “if you sing Happy Birthday I’ll give you a dollar”? Would that be free choice? What if I politely asked you to sing Happy Birthday?
In the hypothetical scenarios above we’re talking about a minor inconvenience (unless you particularly enjoy singing Happy Birthday) being put up against a range of incentives and disincentives, some of which are rather severe. However, neither the incentives nor the disincentives can be said to be anywhere near as severe as those that bind theists (is there anything as severe a disincentive as an eternity of torture?).
With such severe disincentives, it would be logical to assume that the actions which might trigger such disincentives are also severe. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Fundamentally, the differences between the major religions are fairly minor. Slavery, worshiping, suppression of any dissenting voices, oppression of women, genocide, torture – all aspects of the main religions. And while some have moved away from their roots in recent years, Christianity, Islam less so, one would have to question whether the deity that allegedly wrote the key works that guide these religions would be happy with the changes.
Essentially, you have to worship the right fairy and make sure you understand the minor matters of rule imposed by said fairy. So if you’re a Christian, make sure that when you beat your slave they can get up after a day or two. If you’re not a Christian, please see the applicable rule that applies to you. When you’re driving down the road of life, make sure you don’t break the particular speed limit that applies to you.
But I digress. The central question I’m positing is this. Given the severity of the incentives and disincentives, can you really consider yourself to have a free and open choice as to how to live your life? If a deity existed, the only way they could truly provide free choice would be to keep their existence hidden. Or as an absolute minimum, keep the incentives and disincentives hidden. Otherwise, when assessing a person’s validity for entry into “heaven”, it is not their morality that is being judged but rather their ability to suppress free choice and conform to rules. And if it is the suppression of free choice that’s being assessed, does free choice really exist as a viable option for anyone who believe in any deity whom imposes these rules?
The third choice is to embrace free choice, and choose to not believe. This completely nullifies the incentives and disincentives that affect theists, allowing for a more pure brand of free choice (one can argue whether or not free choice exists for anyone, determinists would argue not, but this is not the purpose of this article).