Religion and Free Will

Each religion has doctrine that would guide its followers when making choices.  For example in Christianity, there is the Ten Commandments.  In Buddhism, followers are encouraged to give up attachment to material things.  In Taoism, followers are encouraged to avoid extremes, excess and complacency.  Thus in a way, each religion seems to restrict free will.

The Need for Consistency

However on deeper thought, each religion restricts free-will so as to enforce consistency.  For example if we were to have absolute faith in God, then it would be inconsistent to seek wealth with another god, seek health with yet another one, and seek solutions from a third one.  It may seem that free will is restricted: "Why can't I 'freely' choose other ways of practice which seems to work so well for others?"  The answer is, because each religion is a 'package' way of life, one cannot accept only part of it and avoid inconsistency.
Consistency in behavior and beliefs is very important to us.  If our actions are based on inconsistent beliefs, we shall face contradictions and regret very often in our lives.  For example if our faith tells us not to kill, but yet we find an excuse to kill someone whom we dislike (say the religion does not support this particular kind of killing), then we would create an inconsistency within us.  As our brain tries to rationalize our actions, we face contradictions like "Why did I do it?" or regrets like "I should not have kill him" or insanity like "It is my purpose in life to kill him" etc.  All these states are not good for us, and consume us.

Three Ways to Diminish the Free Will Conflict

Every religion has an aspect which is most important to it.  For example faith in God is important in Christianity, ending suffering is important in Buddhism, and achieving harmony is important in Taoism.  From each of these focuses, the respective religion has an entire doctrine that supports the focus.  Through the test of time (centuries), the test of diversity (culture), and the test of intellect (human reasoning), I believe that each religion is 'optimized' for each's focus.  When the follower's objective is perfectly in sync with the religion's focus, then the follower's choices would also be in sync with the religion's doctrine.  When the follower's objective is not in sync with the religion's focus, the follower will soon find mis-alignment in choices.  This is when the follower finds 'restrictions' in free will.
It is important at this stage for the follower to go back to his religion and seek his religion's focus, what I call "find the treasures".  By re-aligning his focus with that of his religion, such conflict in choices will disappear.  Alternatively, the follower could study the doctrine and find out why the doctrine is as such, and what inconsistency it is trying to avoid.  After discovering the rationale, the follower would also align his specific choice with that of his religion's.  Finally, if the follower is not intellectual enough to follow through all these reasoning, like perhaps the follower is a young child or mentally troubled at the moment, then a third method would be to use the religion's fellowship to encourage the follower into the 'right path'.  For example a drug addict cannot muster enough control and determination by himself, hence the encouragement and support of his fellowship are needed.


Religion and free will is really an important issue, because the mis-alignment of free will is a symptom of a much larger problem - that of inconsistency within a person's beliefs.  It is important for the dedicated follower to clear his inconsistency quickly before it piles up and becomes almost impossible to clear.  An inconsistent-belief follower is dangerous to his religion as well as to his society, because his actions become irrational.  If help is needed, the follower should sit with his religion's councilor to confront such problems.  In the worst case, if the follower's objective simply cannot be aligned to that of his religion, then the follower should explore the possibility of adopting another good religion instead.  A happy follower is a source of positive energy to the society.
May all find bliss and happiness in their religion.
-By Lee Hon Sing, Oct 4 2003.  All ignorance is mine.

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