Free will means we won’t see utopia this side of heaven

The other day I woke up and realized something: my daughters are growing up. I’m not sure why it hit me so hard, but it did. Every once in a while I have revelations like this as I gaze at the two young ladies I remember as babies. I revel in who they are as girls, and who they are becoming as young women. When those moments come, I’m usually struck by two main emotions: pride and fear. I beam with pride — but sometimes I’m struck with a little fear.

What am I afraid of — that my relationship with them will change? It will. That they’ll want to spend less time with me? They will. Maybe what I’m afraid of is the fact they have free will, and I’m just beginning to realize it. Gone are the days when they listened to everything my wife and I said just because we said it. Here are the days when they’re starting to discern, challenge, and decide for themselves.

It’s difficult being the parent of a child with free will. Yet at her deepest core, the Church teaches us that free will is a gift that’s given all of us. The Catechism reminds us, “Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own (CCC 1744). Moreover, “Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent.”

But free will is a gift that comes with a bit of apprehension. If our children possess it, they can use it to spend less time with us — they can walk away from their faith — they can do things that may embarrass us. That’s the bad. And that’s what we fear. But there’s a lot of good they can do, too. I see that in the kids I teach — and I see that in my daughters.

In today’s culture it’s easy to cast aside the idea of free will altogether and blame parents for all the sins of their children. While family environments surely do predict success of children, the part of the equation our progressive media loves to eradicate — and influences us to do — is free will; in fact, human nature.

In his article entitled, “The Left vs. Human Nature,” lawyer and scholar James Kalb highlights this when he points out that many (not all) “progressives” hate the idea of free will. He states: “(I)t tells them they are not free to do what they want.” From a factual perspective, it suggests that human nature doesn’t change much, so their idea of a utopian world is thwarted by that unchangeable nature. From a moral perspective, it suggests there is a standard for what is good — a standard other than satisfying desire. And naturally this leads to self-proclaimed “dogma” that states our “preferences” substitute for the good. Now, instead of talking about what is truth, we talk about satisfying preferences.

Today, when someone commits a horrendous act, it’s “not their fault.” We’re now told that our actions are results of stimuli and culture, effectively eliminating free will from the equation. To me that’s robbery.

How often have we looked at young adults who make poor choices, and thought, “Their parents must have done something wrong?” While environments can necessarily affect our decisions — and may, in fact, make it more difficult to make good ones, those environments don’t take away the idea that at some point, we must use our free will to overcome that pesky human nature; that we all have that divinely planted seed within us that prompts us to know the difference between right and wrong.

So how does this play in with my fears? Perhaps I’m just a symptom of our culture. Free will is a scary thing. But it can be a wonderful thing when it’s united with God’s will. There’s a reason I send my kids to a Catholic school — nor is it an environment without struggle. But the more I can introduce them to a Will that’s higher than theirs, the more likely they’ll be to share that part of themselves with others — and with my wife and me. I may not see that for some time. But when I do, it’ll be worth the wait.


Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory High School and is a former police officer.