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The Free Will of Fate

For millennia, and into modern times, religious scholars and philosophers continue to hotly debate the issue of free will versus fate as though the two positions mutually exclude one another.

According to traditional thinking, either:

You believe that you govern your own destiny, or

You believe that your destiny is preordained.

While rigid ideas like this make for tidy philosophical arguments, spirituality rarely conforms to neatness or order.

Strangely, no one seems to give any thought to the notion that both fate and free will coexist without contradiction.

Let’s start with fate.

No reasonable person denies that our physical bodies die fatefully.   Whether we were preordained or willed into existence, whether the choices we make are destined or of our own making, and whether or not we like it, all our lives eventually end in death.  Period.  This benchmark alone makes an irrefutable case that at least one aspect of life (death) is a predetermined certainty—-or “fate.”

From here, things get murky.

It is more of a leap to say that other moments in our lives are also “fated”—-and it’s hard to say which moments these are.  Perhaps your fate includes meeting the love of your life, making a significant contribution to the field of physics, or becoming a parent.

In a way, to believe that fate already predetermined every moment of your life makes living easy.  From this standpoint, there’s nothing to do but float along the shifting tides, drifting hopelessly from one inevitable event to the next.

And yet, to believe all events in life excluding death are the result of your choices is to hold you and everyone around you is personally responsible for all that befalls them.  Which seems pretty uncharitable to me.

What about the middle ground?  Where does it exist?

Let’s presume, for the sake of our discussion here, that death does not stand alone as the only predetermined event in any given person’s life.

Let’s say that other moments also preordain our course.

And let’s make room for the possibility  that unlike the movies, these moments aren’t always especially significant.

Maybe you weren’t fated to meet the love of your life, kissing cinematically in the rain like two fools in a poorly scripted romantic comedy.

Maybe you were simply fated to step on a train at 6 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday of no particular consequence just because fate chose that benchmark for you.  And let’s say that no matter what you did after you got on that train, three months later you were fated to eat breakfast at a particular diner for no particular reason.

Where does free will come into play?

The answer is, if free will exists, it exists in the time between fated events.  Fate says you step on the train at 6 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday of no particular consequence.  Fate says you eat breakfast three months later at a particular diner for no particular reason.

But you say what happens in between.

Did you get off the train and jump on the first flight to Paris?  Enroll in college?  Paint a canvas?  Go to jail?  Join the circus?  Learn conversational Turkish?

Or did you live every day of that three months going back and forth from your apartment to the job you’ve hated for ten years, so consumed by your routine that every spice of the world around you evaded your taste for living?

Even if death really is the only moment in your existence that binds you to fate, free will still exists within its fated perimeters.

The acceptance that some things happen, and will happen, no matter what, does not necessarily confound the notion that one is free to negotiate the path leading to these events any way one sees fit.

Negotiate, people.



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