One who is more dear to me than breath said she had left the church behind because it has too many rules that kept her from enjoying her life. I hear that from many people, young and old, and from all religious and philosophical backgrounds.
I say to my beloved and to all others that God has not given us rules. He has given us choices.
A rule is something that says, “You must do this, period.” A choice is something that says, “If you want this reward, you must fulfill that condition.”
Even in the atheistic universe, there are natural laws: gravity, thermodynamics, motion and energy, and, most relevant, identity. The law of identity is much despised by those who would love to convince us we don’t really exist, and it is therefore of no consequence that they take from us our possessions and our freedom. But the law of identity is immutable and inescapable, even for them. It says, simply, that everything is what it is, and that nothing can exist as something other than what it is.
If something exists, it must have some identity – features, characteristics, etc.. Otherwise, how would we be aware of it, in the first place? That’s not nearly as abstract as it sounds. If something did not have the characteristic of reflecting light, we could not see it. If it did not have characteristic of emitting molecules that stimulate our olfactory nerves, we could not smell it. If it did not have the characteristic of mass, we could not lift it.
If something exists, it must exist as something, which means it must have the characteristics that identify it as whatever that something is. If it had no characteristics, how would you know it was there, anyway?
There is a second part of the law of identity: nothing can exist as whatever it is and as something else in the same way and at the same time. I love it when nihilists smirk, “But what about something that is hot to me and cold to you?” and then rear back with their arms crossed as if they’d really said something intelligent. Here’s the answer: the definition says, “…in the same way…”. Your measurement of temperature and mine may be different; there is no violation of identity. Quote the contrary, the object has the very specific and measurable identity of, “That which, when perceived by the nihilist is hot, but when perceived by the Mormon is cold.” And that, friends and neighbors, is what I’d call a specific identity.
Or, the slightly better-educated nihilist loves to say, “Well…[that’s when you know you’ve got ‘em – their eyes flicker around and their voice changes pitch, and they whine…] Well, what about light? It is both a particle and a beam!”
Wrong again! If measured by method A, light has the characteristics of a particle, but when measured by method B, it appears to be a beam. In order for the nihilist position to be valid, it would have to appear simultaneously as both a particle and a beam when measured by method A, and that ain’t the case!
“Well… well… [more eye flicking and stammering…] what about wood! If you take a log, it is hard and heavy, but if you burn it, it turns into ash. It’s not the same as it was, but it’s still the same log!” Well, you say, with more patience than this dreck deserves, “You have measured the log at different times, so, yes, it has changed. Your position could be true only if it were both solid and ash at the same time.” In fact, a log has the very specific and measurable identity of, “That which is combustible, and when burned, transforms from heavy and sold into ash.”
(I might get more into Heraclitus later, but for right now, sufficeth it to say that he was a freakin’ idiot.)
So how does this relate to the choices God gives us? Bear with me; we’re almost there.
The law of identity applies to action, too. By the same principles just described, how do you know when something has happened? When you are aware that something has changed – that is, when you perceive change – by one of your senses. When the basic law of identity is applied to action, it is expressed as the law of cause and effect. How do you know something happened? You can see the results. You can see the baseball flying out of the park; you can see the flowers blooming; you can smell the match burning, and feel the heat from it.
Nothing happens unless it was caused, and nothing happens without an effect. Period. We may not know or understand what causes something, but that doesn’t mean it was causeless. Here’s the natural law: “There is no causeless effect, and there is no effectless cause.” You better get used to it. If you want the effect of having your belly full, you better get hopping and cause that effect. If you want the effect of having that good lookin’ person next to you to like you, you better figure out how to cause that effect.
The welfare state that so many people want today consists of a fundamental denial of the law of cause and effect. They want the effects – food, clothes, nice cars, nice vacations, etc – but they don’t want to do what’s necessary to cause those effects. [Let me clarify that: they don’t want to causes those effects themselves. They want someone else to do it for them.]
The laws of identity and cause and effect are merciless! They can’t be ignored or subverted! The good news is, though, that they can be obeyed! If you want food, you can enact the cause of that effect; you can buy food – you can work to get the money to buy food – you can ask a friend for a loan to buy food. However you cut it, it is really cool that you can know exactly what you have to do to cause a full belly. Do you have to do it? Nope. And that, friends and neighbors, is called “agency.” If you enact the cause of a full belly, you’ll get it, but if you don’t, you won’t.
Believe it or not, this is GREAT news! Cause and effect is not a limiting rule; it is the key that unlocks the universe to you… if you have the guts to make it work. You have the choice: cause the desired effect or do without. But guess what? God has agency, too. He will not give you anything unless you have enacted the cause of it, and that cause is, invariably, obeying his commandments.
Our agency is the second most priceless of God’s gifts to us. He does not require us to do anything, but He gives us the opportunity to choose what we will get from Him. He has agency, too; otherwise, He would not be God.