It is with pleasure that What's Wrong With the World presents a guest post by Peter Johnson of the Acton Institute. (Bio at the end of article.)
(Intro. by LM.) This essay is especially timely in light of the breaking news that the SCOTUS has given homosexual "marriage" its own Roe v. Wade, another vast abuse of the Constitution to further the ends of the "Church of Sexual Liberation" represented by Fr. Fatalism. There is no question that today's decision will further the demise of Free Will in America, both by the suppression of the freedom of those who dissent from the Church of Sexual Liberation and by the further enslavement of men, women, and even children to the passions and fads represented by that Church.
Our thanks to Mr. Johnson for providing us with this essay at such a timely moment.
Free Will: A Eulogy
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Free Will. I am Father Fatalism, pastor of the St. Sanger's Sexual Liberation Church here in New York City.
Although it had been many decades since Free Will set foot in my church, I maintained a close relationship with him and have come to deeply admire his idealism. His optimism never faded, even as he suffered greatly in his last years.
I met Free Will many years ago. He was an old man when I met him—more than 3,000 years old—a crotchety, stubborn guy who still spoke with a Greek accent so thick that one might think he had only recently left the land of his birth.
I was a young pastor, just out of Masters Johnson Seminary, ministering to a group of young hippies in San Francisco. As I recall, I was explaining the importance of sexual indulgence when Free Will wandered into our drum circle. At first we thought he was one of us. He had an unimpeachable pedigree—a strong supporter of Civil Rights—and said all the right things about being a revolutionary. In fact, he called himself a freedom fighter. He said the Movement was a matter of conscience and human dignity. We enthusiastically agreed with him.
But it wasn’t long before he began to sow discord among us. What exactly did he mean when he said “conscience” and “dignity” anyway? Didn’t he mean that it ought to be our right to love whom we wanted to love, when we wanted, how we wanted, without fear of stigma?
He would say strange, troubling things like, “freedom is not the ability to do what you want, but the right to do what you ought” and “liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” All of it sounded very judgmental. Who was he to say what we ought to do anyway? Who was he to say what constituted a mature civilization?
But we tolerated him. After all, our movement is about tolerance.
But the good will didn’t last long. The Church of Sexual Liberation was becoming more formal and we produced our first creed: Liberty is power. We thought this was a simple, universal truth—one on which we all could agree. But Free Will objected, saying it sounded too much like John Dewey’s misguided positivism. At this point, we didn’t bother to argue because—I have to admit—we were tired of fighting against his self-refuting sophistry.
So we expelled him from our community. I am still sad that I did not do more to keep him in the Church, but it was a different time. How was I to know that his expulsion would lead to his untimely demise? I will forever regret that I did not do more.
But in my defense, it was a busy time for the Church of Sexual Liberation. We had grown from a small gathering of likeminded people to the most powerful movement in America. I had risen in the ranks and was working in our headquarters overseeing a number of new ministries: the Mission of Reproductive Freedom, the Order of Humane Pregnancy Termination, the Society for Decree Nisi, and The Hollywood Proselytism Project. I simply did not have the time to mediate a solution for a widely disliked apostate like Free Will.
For many years after his expulsion, Free Will ran his own community outreach, slowly earning a cult following among a small group of extremists. Moral theologians and philosophers tried their best to defend and promote Free Will’s weltanschauung, but their apologies fell on deaf ears. Of course, we all now know that these misguided academics suffered from the same fatal conceit as Free Will: a tautological, a priori adherence to a preternatural code or—at the very least—some degree of implicit acceptance of a “Creator” or “transcendence.”
And for a time it seemed as if Free Will might be content to live among a small community of religious fanatics and cranky secular Libertarians. I remember I would see him from time to time during this period of his life. Usually he’d come find me when some faction or another of his community left him to join my Church. He would come by the rectory and calling for me from the street, refusing to enter a church, calling me all sorts of pejorative names and accusing me of subverting reason and order. I guess I should have seen this as the beginning of his escalating mental illness. But I told myself that he was just being dramatic.
And this is the way I want to remember him forever: the cantankerous, diminutive man in the street calling me a “cult leader” and “slave master.” He was still mostly sane then, and the anger fueled several long debates between us.
On one such visit, I remember we argued long into the night, the streetlights making his wrinkly face look even more severe than normal. We had exhausted ourselves arguing about the merits and deficiencies of the criminal justice system, and he lit up a cigarette. That was the thing about him: He was full of contradictions and inconsistencies. I feigned shock that he would openly smoke cigarettes, and said that it was a perfect example of why his community continued to splinter.
He told me that I sounded like his old critics, David Hume and Karl Barth, who he said were both obsessed with peccadillos. I laughed at this and told him that we didn’t believe in “peccadillos” at the Church of Sexual Liberation, but that we did believe in science. And the science was clear: cigarettes are bad for your health.
He seemed truly perplexed by my position. He asked me why I cared. I don’t know what I told him—surely it was some sort of lie. I couldn’t tell him the truth, which was that I pitied him. He was just a crank: a stodgy old traditionalist, clinging to his long-debunked neo-Platonic philosophies, dreaming of a renaissance.
Things got much worse, as you all now know. I don’t like to think about the loneliness he must have experienced in his final years. First the libertarians left him en masse when they joined my Church’s oldest ministry: The Convent of Comfort Women and Recreational Pharmaceuticals.
Soon afterward, large groups of his religious adherents began to leave him. One after another, large denominations began to leave their faith traditions for my Church’s newest ministry: The Fellowship of Orthodox LGBTQ. The ministry advanced the common wisdom that homosexuality is not a choice; and more importantly, it made a compelling case that human dignity requires the expression of one’s innate desires.
It wasn’t long before Free Will was all alone. Homeless and rumored to be insane, he was sometimes seen on street corners yelling incoherently about how bisexuals by their very nature embody his philosophy of non-determinism and that simply choosing to satisfy an appetite did not necessarily constitute a reasonable choice. More of the same tired self-refuting arguments. But no one listened to him, anyway, because we all knew he was insane.
I occasionally visited him in the psychiatric hospital after he was committed. I thought the Church could bring him some peace. But he was quite delusional by then and had convinced himself that the Church of Sexual Liberation would somehow kill him. I tried to explain that we were just a community—a fellowship—not unlike the many communities that he had lived in throughout his life. But he was steadfast in his refusal to join us. He died in a padded room, tied to a hospital bed, gnashing his teeth at the nurses who had to force him to take his drugs.
But that is not the way I want to remember our old colleague Free Will. I choose to remember him differently. I choose to remember him as the small, vibrant, pugilistic old man who gave everyone fits. And if that isn’t a fitting homage to a wise, though ultimately misguided soul, then I don’t know what is. Thank you.
Peter Johnson studied English and philosophy at New York University. His understanding of neo-Marxist egalitarianism made him an exceptional candidate for the Peace Corps, where he taught beekeeping to subsistence farmers in rural Paraguay, despite having no previous experience keeping bees. After the Peace Corps, he lived in Senegal for a year where he cavorted with a bunch of Fulbrighters who enjoyed a yearlong subsidized vacation abroad in return for writing obtuse academic papers reaffirming a postmodern worldview. He now works for the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is being vigorously deprogrammed by natural law philosophers, theologians, and a Catholic priest. You can find him on Twitter at @ActonPete.