An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I really cannot escape Darwinian Genetic Determinism, or at least so I am told. I have argued round in circles with my "beloved atheist" in favor of freewill, but they cannot fathom how such a thing exists unless they grant the existance of a soul or spirit. The argument denies "selflessness" and says in essence that I am genetically and environmentally predisposed to be a religious person and therefore anything I do that "appears" to be selfless actually has some benefit or “pay-off” (perhaps even subconscious). Not that I am a great worker of selfless deeds…ahhh, thank God for determinism!
And so Mother Theresa did what she did because she derived some pleasure from it. And so those of us who would derive NO pleasure from working in leprous slums can sleep better at night, I suppose, knowing that we “just don’t have it within us.”
In any event, I cannot win this argument. No matter where I go with it I am always trumped by some higher form of pleasure a person would derive from the act supposed to be “selfless.” But, I do not grant that the argument is therefore true because it seems its very nature is slippery and fluid, adapting in true Darwinian form to fit just about any given mold. It cannot be proven…but seems to arise from a cynical set of presuppositions.
Presuppostions that I have always argued simply CANNOT be accepted and lived in real life. Indeed, we humans (deluded as we might be) wrestle everyday with decisions and we live our lives under the illusion of freewill. We as a society design our laws also with the illusion of freewill. We hold people responsible…as if they really could have chosen NOT to molest the little boy, NOT to have “sex” with the intern, NOT to steal the candy bar, and NOT to have yelled at their children for a minor offense.
A discussion last night with my wife and with Basil revealed a deep truth I think. A truth that arose when I talked about a duty I fulfill with seemingly NO “pay-off.” An example being this: As I type here, one of my kids begins asking me for a drink. I tell them to wait until I am done. They come back and ask again and I lose my train of thought and again I tell them to wait until I am done (getting a bit perturbed). AGAIN they return and ask again, whining now. Angrily I say “NO!” Tears and screaming and they haul off and head down to the playroom and begin to take out their frustrations on a brother or sister. I am forced to get up and act…and quite pissed off about it. Having handled the situation I feel much beeter, right? Heck no…I’m still mad and even now don’t feel all that great about having to do that sort of thing – about having to have my (MY!) life interrupted by the needs of these children all the time. But what if I CHOOSE to feel good about it?
What if we actually had the freewill to choose to find joy in labors that we’d normally be grunting and moaning about? Is that even possible? Can one clean dog crap out of a child’s shoe for the thousandth time after having told them to watch where they step while singing and whistling happily? Can you truly choose happiness? Am I able to change my attitude based on certain beliefs about goodness, rightness, and beauty? Can I choose based on the outdated concepts of virtue and vice?
It seems to me that genetic and environmental determinism robs the world of real beauty. Sacrifice, duty, honor, and selflessness become empty because ultimately only those who derive some form of pleasure from them accomplish these things. But can we CHOOSE to derive pleasure from these things? Herein lies the crux of the matter…such that I can say YES I do derive pleasure from certain actions and for those actions that I don’t, I can CHOOSE to. I believe it is here that we are able to see the paradox of joy and selflessness, the denying of oneself and carrying a cross along with the peace, which passes all understanding.
"Yes, honey, I will get you a drink…right now. Oh look, how cute someone painted the rug with their peanut butter sandwhich...oh hehehehe...isn’t life joyous!"
Isn't it amazing how simple it becomes when we discover that all of life consists of choices? Sin is a choice; virtue is a choice; obedience is a choice; suffering is a choice... We are free to choose because we have free will; and now the "trick" becomes to choose to be happy in the face of adversity (and your example of the child's shoe and the dog feces is a brilliant illustration!); to be blind to the faults of others and see only our own; to be patient in the most trying of circumstances, while retaining the peace of God.