In his famous distopian novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess submits his philosophy of the meaning of free will in an evil world. The novel centers on the young Alex, a teenager who leads a gang of delinquent thugs. These boys every night take hallucinogens and go out into the streets, pillaging as they please. Alex does not burden himself with any notion of morality; rather, he views his causation of human suffering as a sensual art form, and actually derives erotic pleasure from the pain he inflicts. The government decides that normal punitive measures will not solve Alex’s brutality and cruelty, and decides to take radical measures to eradicate the evil that festers within him. Using a series of torture methods and Pavlovian conditioning, they strip Alex of his free will, causing him to be capable of only actions that the government deems morally “good.” Upon learning this, the chaplain in the novel expresses Burgess’ outrage at the denial of free will when he demands of the government agents who experimented on Alex, “what does God want? Does God want goodness of the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him” (Burgess 2.3)? Burgess uses this character’s indigence to express his theme that free will is the definitive aspect of humanity. Without the ability to discern good and evil, humans are not humans. They are robots. God did not create a world of robots. God created the world out of love and for love. If there is no choice of love, then the love is invalid. Burgess essentially claims that the potential for good outweighs the reality of evil. This claim echoes the theodicy of Alvin Plantinga, who famously said a world with evil is better than a world without freedom. Yes, Burgess admits that humans are capable of terrible things. But still, our ability to choose evil does not overshadow the glimmer of hope that humans will choose good.
Fear and Freedom
Finally meet the man
In his novel Here There Be Dragons, James A. Owen claims via the words of a character in the work that “Our weaknesses are always evident, both to ourselves and to others. But our strengths are hidden until we choose to reveal them-and that is when we are truly tested”(Owen 191). This idea directly contrasts the societal norm that people reveal themselves in moments of weakness. Legendary, perhaps fictional Chinese warrior poet Shan Yu wrote “Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.” Owen’s quote suggests that people define themselves by their triumphs, but the cultural ideal expressed by Shan Yu argues that people are defined by their weakest moments. The hero of Owen’s novel, John, receives this advice from his father figure and mentor, Professor Siggurdson, in his moment of true weakness. John has been destined to defend the world from falling into darkness, and has failed every test presented him thus far. But the professor refuses to give up on John, knowing that despite the weaknesses that everyone around him sees, there lies within him strength to save the world. I have always liked the way Owen presents the idea that the true measure of a person lies in his or her successes. I certainly agree with him. I’ve always considered it ludicrous to let a single moment in time, regardless of how negative that moment is, define a person. This passage resonates with me. In addition to being an excellent fictional work, it presents such themes as the above passage.
The Third Theme of Illuvitar
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the famous masterpiece The Lord of the Rings created a fantasy universe that has become widely regarded as a definitive basis for almost all fantasy literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, not within his well-known trilogy does he explain how this world came to be. No, for the story of the origins of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien published an entirely separate novel; The Silmarillion. In the Silmarillion, Tolkien illustrates the great God Illuvitar, who creates the entire world in song; and he tells of the birth of evil in the perfect world Illuvitar fashions. In Tolkien’s Genesis, Illuvitar, or Eru as the elves call him, creates a race of angelic beings known as the Valar, and they participate in the glory of creation with him. All of them, save one. Melkor, chief amongst the Valar in power and splendor chooses to defy Illuvitar. Melkor despises the glory and majesty of Illuvitar, and through his pride and vanity sows evil into the newborn world. And through this tale, Tolkien demonstrates his Catholic influences. Given the presence of numerous god-like beings, many who read Tolkien do not perceive his work to be a Biblical allegory. However, Andreth Laiqualasse on the website http://www.councilofelrond.com/litarticle/the-catholic-influence-in-jrr-tolkiens-mythology/ argues that Tolkien’s works have numerous direct parallels to the Judeo-Christian Bible. Illuvitar is God, Melkor is Satan, and Arda, the land eventually to be known as Middle Earth, is the creation that human beings live on today: Earth. Illuvitar declares, “No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me” (Tolkien 17). Despite all of Melkor’s attempts to cause evil, at the very root, Melkor cannot defy the ineffable will of Eru. This is consistent with the Catholic belief that ultimately, every event in this life serves the will of God. Tolkien’s Catholic influences are all but obvious in his genesis story, The Silmarillion.