What do other religions than Christianity think about free will?

As I understand it, Christian theology (with the caveat that “Christian” covers a multitude of different beliefs, and I don’t know all of them) depends on the belief that we have free will, or else the whole concept of (original) sin and salvation wouldn’t make sense. Now, I think that this belief is in conflict with that in an omnipotent god. What do other religions, especially the big ones like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism (thoughts about other religions are of course also welcome) think about free will? Are there similar conflicts like in Christianity?

Buddhism (Ill Won) is somewhat similar to Christianity in this, our free will has us serve our desired which causes suffering. But here our desires are of our creation of a illusion we created as a reality for ourselves. Realizing that and ‘removal of self’ removes desires and suffering.

The conflict you mention is solved in the parable of the prodigal son, we will return when we realize that our ways don’t work and can’t work - whatever way we chose outside of the way of God is destined to fail, and always will be accepted back - not because God made it this way, but because we realize there is only ever 1 way that can work, which is something we will chose because we want it.

Hinduism says there is complete free will.

Our present circumstances are a result of past actions, either in this life or past lives. Whatever our present circumstances may be, we have 100% free will to act in the present within the constraints of those circumstances, and so improve our future circumstances.

The supreme God doesn’t do anything to anybody.

The House of Atreus part of Greek mythology has an interesting take on free will. Essentially, you have free will, but no matter what you do, you’re fucked.

If Orestes avenges his father’s murder by killing his mother and her lover, he is doing wrong. If he doesn’t, and leaves his father unavenged, he is doing wrong.


I always find statements like that curious. If an omnipotent, good, God made people’s decisions for them, all their decisions would be good. So if you believe in an omnipotent, good, God and take one look at the world and the decisions people actually make, then there logically must be free will. You can of course challenge the premise that there’s a good God, but assuming you believe in one, free will is the only corollary belief that’s not in conflict with believing in that God in the first place.

Judaism and Islam, believing in the same God as Christianity are logically required to have the belief about free will, which they do. God is good but does not choose to make everyone act righteously or else the world would be 100% full of righteousness.

Religions or religion-like traditions which don’t believe in a single Abrahamic-like God, or don’t specifically believe in any God (or not) could disbelieve free will without the same basic logical problem the Abrahamic faiths would have if they disbelieved free will. But I don’t know of any significant ones that don’t believe in free will. Buddhism and Hinduism were mentioned. Besides debating if Confucianism is really a ‘religion’ or just a philosophical tradition, it’s based on the idea you’re listening to Confucius’ teachings because you might choose to apply them in your life. Why should you read them if you have no choice how to live your life? Which I think would be the fall back reason no organized religion or religion-like philosophical tradition is likely to disbelieve free will. If there’s no free will to act on what they say, why listen to what they say?

We need to define what we mean by “free will,” because I would agree with what you said here, but I also think that libertarian free will is impossible.

I think the emphasis in Judaism and Islam is that you have free will but you should work on overcoming it in order that you can more fully obey God’s will. This is more directly expressed in Islam, where the central idea is submission to God. In Judaism, you’re supposed to obey God indirectly by obeying the laws he set down.

My understanding of Buddhism and Daoism is they regard free will as an obstacle. You should set aside your free will in order to accept things the way they truly are.

To me no free will is that other forces than your own consciousness really make you do what you do. You only at most think you act by ‘your own free will’, in general. Which in a framework without a God can make sense as an idea.

In Abrahamic faiths God gives you the will to decide to follow his laws: you choose to submit to Him, he doesn’t just make you submit. None of the three major Abrahamic faiths are basically different from one another in that respect, certainly not relative to the basic quandary in Western atheism of why free will would exist and what it would it even mean. In the Abrahamic framework it’s pretty simple to define what it means, and logically necessary that it does given the premise of their good, all knowing God.

Also in Buddhism until you’ve negated yourself, it’s still your own will seeking that end. Again to me ‘no free will’, would mean that the universe impels you to that goal without even learning about or accepting Buddhist teachings. Buddhism doesn’t say that. You need to decide to accept its teachings, of your own free will.

I’m not sure where you going with this. If you as an individual don’t have free will and God doesn’t exist, then who or what is making the decisions in your life? Is this an argument for machine thinking with post-rationalization?

I check Wikipedia on free will and see sections on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, and Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and “Other” theologies. I thought not all the thousands of self-declared Christian sects share common ground there. A few zillion other religions exist, too. Do multi-cultural studies on free will exist? I don’t recall seeing it mentioned in The Birth of the Gods which looks at links between society and religion.

We’re always free to start a sect with desired beliefs. Or maybe we’re forced to. :smack:

The devil made him do it. :eek:

You know, in Greek mythology, everybody is fucked anytime, anywhere. Even the gods ;).

This isn’t about “overcoming” free will, but about exercising free will in a particular way. The idea is that you submit freely to God/to God’s laws.

I think some Jewish sage once said something about King David (as an example) being “born under a red star”, and thus destined to spill blood; it was his choice whether to be a murderer, a soldier, a butcher or a mohel (someone who performs ritual circumcisions). In other words, we’re not responsible for the hand we’re dealt, only how we play it.

Maybe or maybe not. From my bible studies I have done I take that free will may not be free choice, but instead what emotion to react in. It is an act of the heart (if you will allow such a term), not a decision of the head. God judges the heart (1 Sam 16:7x + others) is a good supporting verse of this.

As such any act in itself is not a determining factor of ‘good or evil’ or even choice, only the intention or ‘emotion’ behind the act.

I use emotion because it’s more understandable then the word ‘spirit’, but one can make a good case biblically that emotion is spirit, or a affect of sprit. God is love. In that spirit one acts, one choses the path of God. Other spirits greed, envy, etc are spirits also one can chose to align one self with. And this is where the acts of a person comes with. For once you align yourself with a spirit, it is not you but you and that spirit acting in unison, committing the acts. The free will decision was made as to what spirit to act in, then things will play out from there.

Thus one can shed blood and be found blameless by God, or not, one can refrain from shedding blood and be found blameless by God, or not - it all depends on the heart, the spirit behind the act, at least to God.

I think that’s a slippery slope, and not a generally accepted Christian doctrine in any brand of Christianity.

What you are saying, in effect, is that only good intentions matter, not good actions. I don’t believe for an instant that’s true. Everyone has good intentions, which may be misguided or otherwise, but only good actions matter.

That may get into the whole question of ‘faith and works’ in Christianity, but it doesn’t really have much to do with free will.

Edited to add:

As someone who has personally suffered a LOT in my life from other people’s stupid and misguided good intentions, this is a sore point with me.

In case of no God* an arguable end end point is that what you do is simply a cumulative product of each chemical reaction in your body and all external physical circumstances and stimulus to those reactions. There isn’t really a ‘you’ to begin with in any other sense, that’s just an illusion. A recent thread discussed this, hardly my invention. But of course people are free to believe there’s no God but a meaningful concept of ‘free will’. I was just pointing out here that what free will even means gets complicated in the Western atheist framework (a true underlying non-chemically determined ‘you’ that makes decisions? the illusion of one that we can nevertheless speak in terms of a meta-‘free will’? etc).

In the Abrahamic framework the meaning of free will is simple: the all good and all knowing God created you, and circumstances (in creating the whole world) and gives laws over which you have no say, but does not make you accept or apply those laws to those circumstances. As was said, you play the hand dealt as you choose. There’s no fundamental difference in that respect among Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

*in the sense of much of Western atheist thought, which tends to defines itself as a counter to Christianity, as opposed to traditions like Buddhism or Confucianism which while they don’t rely on a specific God necessarily but also don’t think of themselves as much as being counter to Christianity, so don’t start with ‘OK (assume) God doesn’t exist, so therefore…’ lines of thought as Western atheists tend to.

Humans have invented zillions of gods, devils, occult supernatural beings who may consider humans positively, negatively, or not at all. Even under the rubric of Christianity are many depictions of invisible friends, and many ideas of their relations with humans. As if a single creator and manager of a universe tens of billions of light-years diameter bothers itself with sexual and power games of one hairless ape species on a minor planet - right.

Humans promote their interior states as cosmic realities. “I feel and do [whatever] because [invisible friend] made me. Thus what I feel and do is holy and the rest of y’all are fucking doomed to eternal torture because a literate priest says so.” Depending on which sky pilots you attend, you might have choice, or not - or maybe the invisible friends are just playing games with us for their own amusement and we’d better go along or we’re fucking doomed to eternal torture.

There fortunately exist enough sacred texts (and more can always be written) that passages can be chosen to support any position or issue we wish. Something in a bible or koran or sutra or tablet or apocrypha reads more or less like my prejudices so I’m blessed. “I have free will if I use it right!” or “I’m predestined for heaven and the rest of y’all are fucking doomed to eternal torture. Nya nya nya!” or “The devil made me do it!”

Of course if there ARE deities floating around, you might pick the wrong one. Oops. Baal is not pleased. Yikes. Where is your free will now?

@OP: There’s no agreement on free within all the Christian sects, let alone all other belief systems. Sorting them out is an encyclopedic chore. Seeing if and how their notions fit into observable reality… that’s a project. Can we get a grant?

It’s not just that it’s complicated, the concept of contra-causal free will is non-sensical. And it’s not just in an atheist framework, it’s non-sensical in every framework. Even if you think there’s a non-material soul, then what causes that soul to make its decisions other than cause-and-effect and/or randomness? Those are the only two choices, and neither is compatible with free will.

Those are the only two choices… if you believe in materialism, or imagine the soul to be only a ‘ghost in the machine’.

On the other hand, if you see consciousness as being primary and matter (and causality) as emergent properties of consciousness, then there is no logical barrier to free will.

Even more in Norse mythology, at least in the version where Ragnarok is the end of all things.

The Aesir and the bravest warriors from Valhalla will battle against the forces of evil and chaos, and they will be destroyed.