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The God Squad: Free will not a theological trick

March 11, 2011|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Question: It's amazing how you "learned theologians" always toe the party line: God is always responsible for the good things that happen, but good gosh, never responsible for the bad things because of "free will." And God doesn't make garbage.

Bunk. Hitler, Bin Laden and too many more names to fit on the page are all bad because of their environment? When a product is junk, you blame the manufacturer. I'd have more respect for you guys if you'd say God can and has been a screw-up, instead of the way you all tap dance around very valid questions with that "free will" nonsense. — Anonymous, via godsquadquestion@aol.com.

Answer: OK, let me see if I understand you. You say that God makes evil people who are evil from birth because they're morally defective "garbage." Do you actually believe that Hitler came out of the womb as a genocidal murderer? This is both obviously untrue and unhelpful. Even if it were true that there are "garbage people," how would we recognize them and what would we do with them? The obvious truth is that we are accountable for what we freely choose to do.

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Free will is not a theological trick to get God off the hook for evil. It is the truth of our moral lives whether God exists or not. We are free moral agents, either because God so loved us as to give us the gift of moral freedom, or because we evolved this capacity all on our own. Either way, people are free to choose, and people are not garbage.

Those who freely choose to do radical evil must be stopped so the world can be free and so that death and oppression can end. Hitler should have been stopped in 1933 when he rose to power, or in 1939 when he invaded Poland, but our choice to be weak in the face of radical evil helped him gain and solidify power. His ultimate defeat finally came, but at a high price: The world ran with blood. All this is on us, not God.

God didn't "screw up" by giving us moral freedom. People without free will are like ants or robots, unable to make the choices for good that help us all live virtuous lives. God did the best thing and the hardest thing by saying to us: "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The evil in the world is not the work of our Creator, who loves us and wants us to choose the way of salvation, happiness, compassion and hope. And that belief is not garbage!

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