Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Free Will: Chosing Not To Chose?

I just finished watching a movie, which once again moved me on so many different levels. It is a movie about a rumor that a number of inmates in the Auschwitz concentration camps put God on trial for "breach of covenant". Arguing back and forth about how God could allow the Holocaust to happen to his chosen people, very interesting arguments were brought forth. Even as a Non-Theist I have to say that it was a very inspiring and heartbreaking movie. The most interesting issue discussed by the inmates while waiting for the results of the selection procedure, that will lead some of them into the gas chambers in order to make room for the new arrivals. People from all corners of Europe, and with all kinds of backgrounds, from the physicist from Paris via the engineer from Germany to the glove maker from some remote Polish village came together to discuss and argue the atrocities around them. The most moving part to me was when the issue of "free will" was discussed.

The argument stated that evil exists, because God granted people free will. One inmate told the story of how his three sons were taken away when the soldiers raided his village. He ran after the truck, pleading for the return of his three sons; one of the officers asked him which of the kids were his sons, and agreed to return one to him. All this happened in earshot of the kids. As a mother, I cannot even begin to imagine the torture a parent has to go through choosing among their kids. I know I could not. Who should I choose, how could I? Should I choose Lily, who has been the center of our life for over 2 years, and who now proves more than ever how full of love she is? Should I choose her because Violet is still too little to be able to figure out what is going on? Or should I choose Violet, since she is the younger one, and at the moment oftentimes easier; the one who would never stand a chance to survive by herself? No parent in full possession of their wits could ever make such a decision, and neither should any parent ever be forced to choose between their children. In the movie, the man refused to choose, and all three of his kids were taken away.

I know that this particular story was probably fiction, since the whole account of the trial is not proven, but most likely a similar story happened some time during all those atrocities. It moved me to tears thinking about it. How has a person in this situation free will? They don't, because free will is not limited to options. Free will means I can do whatever I please. If I am given a multiple choice test, my options are limited to the answers provided (unless I feel the urge to add additional choices, which would not be smart but express free will). Our free will is to consider our situation, weigh the pros and cons of various options, and make an informed decision. Being forced into a decision that has you lose no matter how you decide does not constitute free will. The men in the movie came to a similar conclusion, stating that the officer had the free will to chose to return all three kids, but rather chose to torture the father in the most cruel way possible. Without it being explicitly said, the man managed to make a decision as close to free will as possible, by not making a decision and having all three sons taken away.

The movie ended by God being found guilty of the charges, after many philosophical and theological arguments being made for both sides. In the last minutes, it is shown how an elderly father bribes guards to take the place of his son, who vehemently argued for God's guilt, while the father, convinced he would be selected for the death chamber, stood with his argument that God's will and purpose cannot be known to men. Seeing all men, no matter their stand during the trial stand together in the gas chamber praying was a very powerful and moving finish. Taken back to the present time (the movie occasionally switched between scenes of a tourist group visiting the Auschwitz memorial and the actual inmates staging the trial), an elderly man, who had told the story to his granddaughter, answers her question about how it ended by telling her that "we are still here, aren't we?". It is never explained whether he was one of the young men in the barracks, but is certainly felt like it. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie, if possible not right before bedtime, it's way too much to process. My preliminary digestion is herewith done, I'll head to bed to contemplate some more. If you chose to watch it, I'd appreciate your thoughts and opinions on it (discussion, anyone?)

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