This evening, I went out with two of my (many) nephews for coffee; we had a wonderful conversation about the utility of philosophy. I asked them a question that came to me from an answer by a priest whether there are children in hell, as suggested by some saints (Our Lady of Fatima comes to mind). The priest unabashedly proposed that free will doesn’t really occur until one is twenty five years or older, in order to avoid the unpleasant revelation that possibly there are even children in hell! https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAPriest/comments/z7lm6m/do_children_go_to_hell/
Funny, because in my day, the Church taught that one was culpable of mortal sin (i.e., had free will) at the age of reason, which by and large was proposed as being at the age of seven. Apparently, freedom disappears with an abysmal increase of ignorance about the faith and reality in general. I mean, have you ever chatted with a two year old who has learned the word “no”? If that isn’t incipient reasoning and the use of free will, I don’t know what is. Or consider that society holds teens under eighteen accountable for serious crimes, which would indicate an accurate reflection of social values and consciousness about those values in light of one’s ability to choose. So, how does a Catholic priest get so confused as to suggest that free will escapes us until we have arrived at his predetermined age of freedom? I have an idea, and it takes place within the context of a story I find fascinating.
A man happens to be out hunting in the wild, and comes upon a makeshift camp, with a young boy standing there holding a rifle. Surrounding the boy are bottles and cans scattered about everywhere, some 100 or more yards away, and each of them has a bullseye, shot through dead center, perfect marks, each dead on, leaving holes in the middle of every can, bottle and target available.
“Son,” the man asks, “who’s the marksman?”
“I am sir,” the boy smiles.
“You mean to tell me you hit every one of these bulls eyes by yourself? That would make you the best marksman the world has ever known!”
“Oh, I didn’t actually hit the bulls eyes, sir, the boy continues frankly. I just stand here and shoot, then I go out and draw circles around wherever I hit something.”
Let that sink in. Too often, people who don’t really know the faith exchange what their conception of it is for the truth itself. That is what I believe is the case here with this badly misinformed priest who does not recognize free will if it bit him. So much of theology nowadays is exactly this: shooting wildly and then drawing your own circles around the answer you find most favorable. But this is not the faith as revealed by God; it is rather a presumptive interpretation one conjures up to suit their own interest and needs. Which, I suppose, is to be expected in an age dominated by relativism. One can always substitute their own truth if objective reality doesn’t suit them.
But how do we know truth? Please! It is the objective reality that corresponds with what we grasp with our minds--not some created figurative representation. If we are ignorant or worse, refusing to see things as they really are for the sake of some preconceived agenda or value, one gets all sorts of misconceived Catholic theologies that accept abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage—on and on. People are drawing circles around their favored notions of what is real because there are some realities they simply cannot or will not accept. I am reminded of the adage: there are none so blind as those who will not see.
So, it is back to the drawing board of reality we must take our fellow man in hand and lead him, however unwilling, to help him and her see what is true apart from the fantasies which one is readily willing to substitute for reality these days. The advantage of seeking truth over one’s willingness to compromise is that, even if you have been a terrible shot at reconciling with reality in the past, there is no reason you cannot begin today to redraw circles around what the Church under the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit has already clearly marked out for us in order to help one zero in on our heavenly goal.