Free Will in Religion

You may wish to read my post called “Walking Away from Religion” before analyzing the level of respect in your religious institution. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being honest and open with yourself. Here are some questions about free will in religion to ask yourself:

Free Will Includes Arbitrary Nonsensical Rules?

  • Is critical thinking allowed? In other words are you frowned upon if you have doubts and questions? Are you afraid to voice your uncertainties because you may be judged as a “doubting Thomas” or as a “weak one”?
  • Are you allowed to choose for yourself what to wear, without being influenced by pre-determined rules? For example, must women wear dresses (no pants); is the length pre-determined (nothing above the knee/ankle)? Head coverings are considered to be a show of submission. At any time, are head coverings a requirement (at all times/on certain occasions)? Hair length is determined (some religions do not allow women to cut their hair). Women are not the only victims to be easily swayed. Some religions instruct men to wear only white shirts — no colored shirts allowed. I used to belong to a congregation where my teenage son was counseled by an elder, “you are not allowed to wear colored shirts.” Does your religion have rules about beards/no beards? No beards were allowed by male members in any congregations that I attended.
  • Are certain personal-choice activities frowned upon (dancing, gambling, smoking, buying lottery tickets, playing chess, playing contact sports)? Do your church elders frown upon members joining community clubs (sports, dancing, etc.) because you would be having association with “outsiders”/”worldly ones” who are not of your faith? Does your church frown upon higher education because, “Armageddon is coming and you don’t need it”? (That is what my father told me.) Do these imposed rules truly represent your free will in your religion?

Clockwork? — or Free Will?

  • Are meetings and other special events held more than once a week? The Jehovah’s Witnesses hold five meetings a week, not counting the time members spend in field service, knocking on doors. Looking back, I now realize the religion wanted to keep people tied to the group. It helped to isolate members and not be influenced by “outsiders” — people of other religious denominations. Additionally, while engaged in field service, members were not allowed to accept literature from householders in trade.
  • Are members provided directives about “givings”? If you have family members who are not “of the faith” are you encouraged to cut them out of your will and instead “give to the Lord’s work”?
  • Are you required to take on financial debt for your religious group? A congregation I attended took a vote on re-mortgaging their bought-and-paid-for Kingdom Hall and sending all monies to the head office in New York to “further the preaching work”(???) coffers. No one dared say no. A mortgage became a hardship for many seniors who were retired without a company pension. “Armageddon is coming and you do not need a pension,” they were told.
  • Are members advised against attending social events with workmates (end-of-the-year, weddings, funerals, Christmas, or birthday parties) because you could be influenced by “outsiders” and may be encouraged — or tempted — to leave the faith?
  • Are certain customary occasions rejected and judged as “pagan” (Christmas, birthday parties, Easter, Thanksgiving, New Years’ Eve, Halloween, etc.)? Do these imposed rules really represent your free will in religion?


  • If a member becomes depressed are they instructed to confess “secret sins” to the religious elders? Does any sickness mean you have been secretly sinning and are being punished by God? Are members discouraged from seeking guidance from a secular therapist because, “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for setting things straight” with God. Is reading the bible, reading religious publications, or being “more regular in door-to-door service” the only requirements needed in order for you to be well? Are there many people in your congregation on anti-depressants?
  • Are members who wish to leave the faith subsequently marked, shunned, or avoided even if they were a best friend or close family member? I received a letter from an elder who ordered me — upon threat of expulsion — to shun my mother when she left the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • Does your religion peer into adults’ bedrooms and provide instructions on what is appropriate/inappropriate bedroom behavior? The Jehovah’s Witnesses forbid oral sex, for example. Also, they disfellowship/expel homosexuals from their congregations. I personally know of a woman who was advised on how to behave toward her husband when the couple was experiencing sexual difficulties, even though the elders were not trained in sex therapy. Arbitrary rules about personal private activities within your own home — is this really about your free will in religion?

Protection of Criminal Behavior?

  • Have elders and other members of your religion ever been accused of sexual misconduct? Most of the accusations have been buried under the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal department rugs, unfortunately. Yet, the Silent Lambs website shows story after story, exposing the injustices done to children in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. They are no different than other religious organizations that have found themselves in the news with respect to sexual abuse allegations — religions they condemn for “sexually deviant behavior.”Their official response to the issue is “[sexual abuse] is a societal ill.” Yes, it is indeed a societal ill from which their organization is not immune. I respect the religions that admit to their human failings, rather than continue to enable such behaviors by their inaction. Jehovah’s Witnesses are even accused of “protecting” sexual abusers of children. If you knew of criminal activity such as pedophilia and you were instructed to not report it to secular authorities, is that truly free will? Or is it something more akin to being an accessory to a crime?

Is Religion Remotely Close to Free Will?

  • Are members commanded to “make disciples,” or “give testimony” to “non-believers”/“the world” before they are considered members in “good standing”?
  • Does your religion teach fear? — fear God, fear the Devil, fear outsiders, fear pagans, or fear apostates/infidels/non-believers? Does your religion teach belief in hell, Armageddon, or another apocalyptic end to our earth or wickedness on earth? These are “punishing belief systems” only found within dogmas of world religions — very fear-inducing. I for one, as a child, had nightmares about the coming destruction of the world, after seeing pictures in a family bible study book called, From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, New York: International Bible Students Association, 1958. Did you know that fear is the opposite of love? “Perfect love throws fear outside.”—1 John 4:18
  • Is there an “us against them” mentality — a persecution complex — whereby anyone who is not “for you” is “against you”? Have you ever said, or have you ever heard, “We are being persecuted because of our beliefs.” “We need more freedom to practice our beliefs. After all, we are the only true religion.” Black and white/dualistic thinking is a characteristic of religious cults.
  • Is/are your leader(s) believed to be infallible (The Governing Body, The Pope, Imam, Rabbi, Prophet, etc.)?

Conclusion about Free Will in Religion

Life of BrianIf you say “yes” to any of the above, it is possible you have been stripped of your free will — the ability to think for yourself.

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a Monty Python movie called “Life of Brian” you may remember the occasion where “the people” decided that Brian was their messiah. In a moment of utter frustration, Brian told the mesmerized people, “You must learn to think for yourselves!” and all the people nodded, and — in perfect head-bobbing unison — responded, “We must learn to think for ourselves.” To me it demonstrated the astonishing gullibility of people to turn over their free will to a charismatic leader.

I believe free will is a precious “gift” that must be cherished and used, not given away for someone else to tell us what to do with it and how to do it. I don’t believe religion allows for free will. Free will in religion is a paradox.

Perhaps I have missed some points. Wherever possible, I used examples to illustrate the kinds of scenarios one may encounter. Sadly, religious leaders can be brazenly invasive into the personal lives of people.

Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir.
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