Do the gods have free will? It’s a question that occurred to me while I was joining my local Quaker community in silent worship this morning. I didn’t share it with that community because my thoughts were somewhat inarticulate.
I think it’s been pretty well established that humans have free will. Many religious scholars argue that free will is an essential part of the human condition. Maybe it’s a gift, maybe it’s a test, maybe it’s both or neither. However it came to be, the very need for things like a code of conduct or ethics, or laws to live by, springs forth from the free will of humankind. Much of the evil done by our species upon itself has entailed trying to break that will, or strip it from people to make them submissive and obedient.
In Hellenismos, the Moirae, the aspects of fate, guided humans but did not bind them. Conscious choice could lead to a new destiny, as could intercession by Zeus, or perhaps others of the gods — my research is incomplete.
But what of the gods themselves? We know that an oath sworn by a god upon the river Styx could not be broken. That’s a lot more restrictive than any oath ever sworn by a mortal tongue. So too, I have not found any prophecies about the gods which they averted.
What came to me in a moment of prayer and mediation was that the gods, unlike humans, are irrevocably bound to their fates. We, as the sole holders of free choice, drive that fate through our actions. Gods can languish and be forgotten, as they are in the novel American Gods. When they are honored and worshiped, the offerings and requests they receive literally shape their identities and actions.
By our worship, we create our gods, and define how they may affect our lives.
This is a new way for me to look at my religion, and I think it probably applies to any path. Atheists give no gods power over their lives. Agnostics and lapsed Abrahamics don’t allow much divine influence, if any. Pagans, many of whom have consciously chosen their faith, are often swept away by the competing influences of various deities. Some people find their way back to the faith of their heritage, or that of their childhood, or that of their heart; these are people who have unconsciously decided that they desire some divine relationship.
The paradox of belief seems to be that no god can exist without it, and close inspection quite easily brings all the doubt needed to dispel a god’s power. Sometimes.
I still don’t know fully what I think of what I’ve written here, but I’m putting it out to the Universe for consideration.