Recently, I ended up spiraling through a wormhole of BBC and National Geographic documentaries rather than relaxing with a good, reliable sitcom. The latest was a documentary series called “The Story of God,” hosted by Morgan Freeman in which he discusses God, justice, and morality (amongst other things) while traveling to landmarks for various religions and cultures around the world. You can imagine what sort of dynamic that has created for me while reading Dante’s Paradiso. To even further it, my Humanities class was reading the Christian Bible. So it has just been a whirlwind of big concepts in my head.
The one most compelling right now for me is that of morality. In “The Story of God,” Freeman meets with inmates at a maximum security prison, some who have committed murder. One of them is able to admit that he knows society wouldn’t be safe if he were to be released, but that if offered the chance to be free he would take it. The issue, they conclude, is that he does not have the capacity for remorse. Psychiatrists explain to Freeman the prominence of psychopathy and sociopathy in society. Freeman is stunned when they tell him that this particular prisoner, due to his inability for remorse, is “one in a million.”
A topic that Dante discusses in his Paradiso is predestination. This is something that my group contemplated last week: predestination versus free will. In Canto XX, the eagle says to Dante that “whatever God wills we will too” (XX, 138). The idea, however, challenges the Christian teachings throughout history that have argued that unless you do good, good will not happen to you. You will not be able to enter the gates of Heaven. But if you have been predestined to end up in Heaven, then how does that affect our free will as human beings? The National Geographic series got me thinking about these ideas in the text because it almost seems that this man has been predestined to end up living the life he lives. Because he, supposedly, does not possess the ability for remorse, does he not have the choice to do good when he is tempted to do evil? Does he have free will? Is it possible to have both predestination and free will? In trying to work our minds around these concepts, the group wondered whether or not one cancels out the other. The only conclusion that I was able to come to was that, for there to be both predestination and free will, an individual is allowed free will within the scope of the God-willed destiny. Even that, though, doesn’t seem quite convincing enough for some reason.
What are your thoughts after reading Paradiso?
And, to take it a step further, where do you see the conflict between free will and predestination coming into play in Toni Morrison’s novels?