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The devil made me do it [Jan. 10th, 2005|10:53 am]
[Current Mood |contemplativedisturbed]

I heard an interesting and disturbing news story on NPR's Morning Edition this morning entitled Reconciling Religious Faith and Natural Disaster. The reporter interviewed clergy and religious from a broad scope of faiths, from Hindu to Buddhist to Jewish to Fundamentalist Christian, asking how people of faith are coming to grips with the question of why God would allow such a natural disaster.*

My first reaction was, why are they dragging God into this? It's just a natural phenomenon. The responses made me realize that my view was certainly not shared by a lot of people who believe in a higher being.

It was fascinating to me to hear from such a wide spectrum of people the belief that, for reasons we don't understand, the 150,000+ people who perished deserved to die. Whether because of karma in this life or a previous one, or because their deaths somehow show the rest of us that we are unworthy and must come humbly before the Lord, or because God controls every molecule and therefore no one who didn't deserve to could have died (meaning, therefore, that all who died deserved to), there was a prevelence of belief that such things don't happen by accident and God did it.

What a strange and twisted logic this requires to make the world accomodate ones faith.

I liked what the rabbi said best: that G-d probably knew about the tsunami, but couldn't do anything because he just doesn't work that way; he doesn't interfere with the rules of physics that he has laid out. Innocents died, and it's tragic, but it has no impact one way or the other on G-d's love for his people.

So much healthier a view than one that embraces the notion of the deserved deaths of children and families and entire tribes.

I don't get why people have this need to reconcile the workings of the world with the will of God. It strikes me as disrespectful and lacking faith - unless I can twist you around to a way of thinking that I find acceptable, God, I'm not going to believe in you. And twist they do. Twist and torture interpretation like a prisoner on the rack. Until they wring an acceptable answer out of their imaginations.

To the Christian Fundamentalist, we are sinful creatures deserving punishment and only skating by on God's good will and if he decides to get medieval on our asses, well we didn't really deserve any better, did we. The Islamic interpretation was hauntingly close to this one, and the switch from monotheistic God/Allah to karmic retribution serves only to put more responsibility on the individual soul.

Why is it so hard to think that shit just happens, and it sucks, and that's the way of the world?

*Yes, I know there are generalizations here and not everyone of every religion looks at it the same way. I'm talking about general trends. Please don't try to engage me in the "but I'm a Hindu and I don't think of it that way" arguments. This is about trends. ("I'm a Hindu and I don't get it either" is, however, an acceptable response, and is "I'm a Hindu and this is why we feel this way." )

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[User Picture]From: hel_ana
2005-01-10 04:04 pm (UTC)
You might appreciate this essay on the subject:

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[User Picture]From: stone_
2005-01-10 04:28 pm (UTC)
Aish =]
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[User Picture]From: xforge
2005-01-10 04:05 pm (UTC)
My first reaction was, why are they dragging God into this? It's just a natural phenomenon.

A lot of folks, unlike me and apparently you, feel that God is a micromanager and governs every last tiny thing that happens to anyone and everyone in all of Existence.

I'm more the "He set it in motion and sat back to see what happens" or maybe even "He set it in motion and moved on to other projects" sort of guy.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 04:09 pm (UTC)
I'm more the "He set it in motion and sat back to see what happens" or maybe even "He set it in motion and moved on to other projects" sort of guy.

Me, too. I am always baffled when people say things like, "my wife/child dying completely destroyed my faith in God." Um, why? Did you miss the memo that everyone dies? It's tragic that you lost a loved one so early, but hardly unique. I don't mean this to sound harsh, just to point out that faith needs to be based in the reality of how the world works or it's gonna be easy to shake.
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[User Picture]From: demiurgent
2005-01-10 04:12 pm (UTC)
Before anyone else mentions it (of course, now someone will be typing this even as I am), I'm reminded of my favorite Marcus Cole speech from Babylon 5:

You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

To me, this is telling. Now, I'm an agnostic -- I don't have a belief pro or anti. But I hope that if there is a divine power out there, he subscribes to that philosophy.

Things happen. Some of them suck. We come together when it does, and we move on. End of sermon.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 04:23 pm (UTC)
I relly like that quote. A lot.
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From: drooling_ferret
2005-01-10 04:14 pm (UTC)


Why is it so hard to think that shit just happens, and it sucks, and that's the way of the world?

As someone who does think that way, I wonder why people bother with any sort of "god" at all.

I suppose it's like asking junkies why they keep up their habits: "yes, I get that it feels good, but is that good feeling actually worthwhile?"

I suppose the answer is yes, from their perspective, but I can't help thinking that it's a dangerously skewed one to have.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 04:24 pm (UTC)

Re: As...

I do have faith, though it's not conventional. But I can't see how their faith makes them feel good - maybe smug, that they weren't killed, but not good.
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[User Picture]From: meihua
2005-01-10 04:21 pm (UTC)
Why is it so hard to think that shit just happens, and it sucks, and that's the way of the world?

Why, if shit did just happen, I'd have to accept the chance that it could "just happen" to me!

Fortunately, it won't. It will just happen to all those bad sinful people while I reap the fruits of a virtuous life.

Hand me that remote control, would you?

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[User Picture]From: hel_ana
2005-01-10 04:26 pm (UTC)
Good point, and this may be at the root of the "shit happened and it destroyed my faith in God" people that zoethe mentioned in reply to xforge.

If the basis of your belief is that it won't happen to you because you've got God's favour, when it does happen to you it may be easier to abandon belief in God than it is to keep the belief with the attendant idea that you're a crappy person who deserved it.
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[User Picture]From: adjust_56
2005-01-10 04:29 pm (UTC)


It seems to me that we as humans ( and not everyone) often try to pass the buck. Like you said it's the devil that made me do it or Adam pointing the finger at Eve for the apple. To me part of Growing up is accpeting things for the way they are, even when natural disaters make us cringe. The masses seem more comfortable blaming someone else for their woes because it takes responibility away from them even when there is no responsibility to be had." Enlightened beings" like the Buddha saw thing as they were without opinion of right or wrong and apparently lived much more at peace in the midst of earth's natural changes. Apparently this way of thinking is harder to do than blaming.... what's up with that?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 04:38 pm (UTC)

Re: blame

Iraq blew up the World Trade Center. Doesn't matter how many times you tell people otherwise, they find their scapegoat and they hang on tight.

I think part of being civilized, intelligent beings is the need to organize and understand the world, and that we are compelled to look for justice and fairness. For some people, it's really hard to understand that you can't always find it.
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[User Picture]From: warlordkittens
2005-01-10 04:36 pm (UTC)
oh, that's a terrific answer. and i don't even believe in god!
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[User Picture]From: samwize
2005-01-10 04:55 pm (UTC)

2 cents

Well, this is just a variation of the classic theological question of "The Problem of Evil". ie "Which of these statements is false: God is all powerfull. God is all loving. Sin exists." When confronted with this problem in the abstract, most believers say that there's no logical contradiction and then make a lot of noises about "free will" and generall just confuse themselves to the point where they think they've answered the question. But when confronted with unmistakable, undeniable reality of a big-ass wall of water moving 400 miles per hour come to squeegee their civilization off the planet, such circumlkocutions lose their comforting power.

In the words of the immortal Bill Hicks: "How could anything, ever, throughout the ENTIRE UNIVERSE, _oppose God's will_? The question's ridiculous, just on the face of it."

Humans are really, really bad at dealing with the concept of randomness in every incarnation. We're neurologically wired to 1) find patterns and 2) ascribe _meaning_. (Seems to me that this is one of the psycholinguistic root causes of the entire religious impulse.) Hell, if you don't believe me, go to Vegas, or your local church's bingo night.

As a profound agnostic, I make no claims about the existence of God[s] (though I do think it likely that that there's _something_ out there) and am even less willing to venture an opinion on him/her/their/it's motivations and capabilities. But it seems to me that 1)even within the judeo-christian mythos God is perfectly free to think "You're all dead in the long run anyhow, what difference does it make when?, or 2) what seems more likely to me, God doesn't _run_ the universe anymore than my outlet runs my computer. It keeps it all going, but doesn't actively change the way it works (usually, barring the occaisional "miracle" caused by a brown out or power spike).

Which is all a longwinded way to say: the tsunami happened for the same reason that we don't ever see hot snow fall up: because F=MA and that's just how the universe works. If you live on a planet made of matter that has tectonic activity and water, you're just GOING to have the occaisional big splash.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
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[User Picture]From: lyssabard
2005-01-10 05:03 pm (UTC)
When I hear this stuff, I am reminded of the fact that most Christian's don't get the story of Job.

Job got the same deal--He was *innocent*. Yet, shit happened. Lots of shit. Bad shit. And his wife says to curse God and be done with it. His friends say, "Surely, you screwed up BAD, dude." However, Job knew he was innocent--and adhering to that, he wants an accounting from God.

It is only when he sees and hears the Voice from the whirlwind that Job is overwhelmed and it smacks him on the head: God does not follow human morals, giving good for good and evil for evil. God is creative and destructive, all those laws of physics and the very dynamism of the universe itself. (Lyssa inserts her own thoughts and interpretations here.) Or, as Steven Mitchell put it, "If you want a God who is a bean counter...you will have to make him yourself. For that is not MY law."

Me, I like the book of Job because it is about faith and strength in the midst of adversity, and realizing your small-and yet, I think, great--place in the pattern of it all.

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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2005-01-10 05:19 pm (UTC)
I love the book of Job and doing studies on it.

Stein Auf!
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2005-01-10 05:09 pm (UTC)
As I'm sure you've guessed just from some of my comments, I am very Christian, and I indeed find those answers disturbing! I'd have to agree most with the Rabbi as well.

God made physics and ordered seasons. . .and well, the people were there, and it's tragic. I don't think God ever looks down and says, "these people deserve to die more than these people do."

When Christians get like that, it really gets on my nerves.

Stein Auf!
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[User Picture]From: leanerbean
2005-01-10 05:25 pm (UTC)
Now you've strode into my particular minefield. If you'd like to discuss it further or ever have a question about religion, particularly concerning monotheistic ones, I'm your person. I don't ascribe to any of them (at least not anymore), but used to, and have spent a decade studying them. At this point, I consider myself both deeply sympathetic and deeply averse to all 3 major monotheistic religions.
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[User Picture]From: springdew
2005-01-10 05:27 pm (UTC)
There are some strains of Christianity wherin adversity and disaster are seen as a means of change, that God has a special plan that requires great strength or courage from a particular people, so they have to first be tempered like steel so they'll be ready for the mission. When combined with an idea that innocents are automatically "saved" such a worldview can be a comfort in a world of grief. It allows the survivors to move on and grow strong, while feeling comforted that their deceased loved ones are happy in the arms of a loving God.

It also introduces the idea that the people are being chosen for something special, rather than cursed or somehow sinful. It means that God has faith in -them-, that they are worthy to take on something big and important. Certain Christians see Jews in this light.

I find the idea somewhat attractive, though I don't personally subscribe to it, except maybe in a generally all-over concept of natural selection.
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[User Picture]From: greybeta
2005-01-10 05:27 pm (UTC)
My dad is one of those people who believe that anyone who died in the tsunami deserved it. I think it has to do with superstition, a large part of the culture he grew up in. There's good and bad karma, and people pay for their bad karma, either in this life or from previous ones. So he would say that it would be bad luck that killed the tsunami victims.
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[User Picture]From: tfcocs
2005-01-10 05:38 pm (UTC)
I agree with you wholeheartedly on this matter. Some people on my reading list commented that they (okay, one person, s/he) believed that the tsunamis were a means of population control. To me, that sounds dispassionate and clinical. My take, on the other hand, is more akin to yours, People perished in the tsunami because---of nothing. There is no rhyme or reason for what happened; it just IS.
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[User Picture]From: sarahshevett
2005-01-10 05:39 pm (UTC)
Well bottom line for me.
I can't go for any god called "he".
If men are godlike and women are not, I want nothing to do with any thinking along those lines.
Talk to me about they or it, and maybe I'll listen.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 05:43 pm (UTC)
I specifically used "he" in this because male is the prevalent godform for the major religions.
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[User Picture]From: zero_design
2005-01-10 07:25 pm (UTC)
The stone thing *grin*

Best answer I ever heard to that:

To create the stone is a logical impossibility.
So, once it is created, there is no reason that God couldn't proceed to do a second logical impossibilty, and lift the rock.
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[User Picture]From: force_of_will
2005-01-10 06:00 pm (UTC)
Knowing you as a pagan, well, you're take seems a bit...interesting. I don't know how other to put it. I guess I had just thought you in a tad different place in the natural to supernatural circle. But then that is always a troublesome link...

This whole line of thought revolves around "deserve". It is to think that the devide of those who died to those who lived is somehow special. Over time we know that it is not. Or, "in the end everyone gets what they deserve", a death.

The Carnival of Paradox manifesto item one is...

"It is a perfect world which allows us room to improve on our imperfections." This is about the set up of this world that allows response. Many may have died in this tragedy, but many more are going to respond with kindness. The latter cannot happen without the former. I think this is the best explanation as to explain why bad things happen in a religious, or even a quasi religios or philosophical way. Without bad things, how do we know the good things? If God wishes to give us a chance to do good things, then bad things have to happen and exist. This of course is no novel approach. Eastern philosophies do this well and I'm reminded that some of the first responders were Buddist monks who are neither judgemental nor horried to be dealing with dead bodies...

Now, to me, it looks certainly foolish to add in "deserve" over time. Over time those people certainly deserved to die as much as they certainly deserved to live, which they did.

Some good posts here. I too, tend to focus on the story of Job when dealing with Christians in these sorts of situations. Any God is a mysterious God and you are just fooling yourself if you have any inclination to judge (to deserve or not deserve) in relation to such. God is only moral in terms of human response, not in terms of nature. There, outside of human response, his is as amoral as a wave crashing harmlessly on the shore as happens every day.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 06:44 pm (UTC)
I'm curious as to how you are surprised about my reaction.

And I think your worldview has merit. I was just surprised by the "they all deserved it" attitude of so many people. I can't get my head around that.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-01-10 06:17 pm (UTC)

The Way of the World

Why is it so hard for so many? I don't know, although I have my guesses. To search for meaning in this (or any other) circumstance is in many ways demanding that the meaning be there at all, simply so that its existence may comfort us, even if we can't grasp it. If a person can say that God has a plan, or that events such as the tsunami are of his doing, then he can be comforted that God exists. Of course, then he has to shrug and say that while he doesn’t understand why God’s plan involves such massive pain, suffering, and death, there must be a good reason for it. And to question the reason is often regarded as blasphemy.

Personally, my view of existence can be pretty well summed up in a one-sentence quote:

"If I didn't believe that existence was totally meaningless, I think I'd go crazy."

--John DeChancie, Paradox Alley
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 06:34 pm (UTC)

Re: The Way of the World

I can even understand that way of thinking. It's the "everyone who died deserved it" attitude that I can't get my head around. "God had a plan for all who died" I can manage better, though I regard it as a facile way of looking at reality.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2005-01-10 06:19 pm (UTC)
I believe that Free Will is the greatest gift God gave us. If God acted in an obvious way - to miraculously save people, or to make the world a completely safe place - He would strip us of Free Will. If everyone knew for absolute sure that there was a God, and for absolute sure that we would burn in eternal Hell (or whatever) if we didn't do exactly what he said, who could exercise any Free Will at all? We'd all follow the word of his law like automatons.

Horrible things allow the best and the worst of humanity to be displayed. God acts on us by inspiring us to do our best, by giving us the strength to move on when things seem their darkest, not by smoothing our way and making sure we never skin our knees.

The best parents do the same.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 06:35 pm (UTC)
An attitude that I can definitely understand and respect.
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[User Picture]From: happydog
2005-01-10 06:26 pm (UTC)
I can't remember the origin, but there's a story about someone who asked angrily, "Where was God?" after a disaster like this, and the answer was that God died with the people who died, God suffered with those who were suffering, and God came in helicopters and trucks to help the survivors and bury the dead. God exists and lives in this world through US. The tragedy itself happened; God manifests in what we do in response to the tragedy.

For some people, the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient God is not tenable. In Shinto, it's said that there are no Kami (roughly equivalent to gods) without flaws; they turn their heads, they forget, they get distracted, and they are not all-powerful. The processes of nature, such as the shifting of tectonic plates, simply happen, and perhaps not even the gods expected it.

I note something else. Some of the more "primitive" tribes survived simply because they headed for the hills when they saw the tide drop radically. It was part of their tradition that if the tide dropped radically, it was time to hightail it out of there, because it was going to come back as a tsunami. Basically, they survived because they remembered and were more in tune with nature than those of us in "modern" society. Something worth considering.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 06:38 pm (UTC)
Actually, they had no idea that tsunami would follow, but they had the memory/instruction of earthquake=head for the hills. Had they waited for the tidal drop, they probably wouldn't have made it.

(Can you tell I read an article on this this morning?)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-10 07:12 pm (UTC)

That requires, however, an acceptance that God is not the only real force holding everything together. And for a lot of people that is anathema.
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[User Picture]From: apostate_96
2005-01-10 08:01 pm (UTC)
Why do people do that? My guess is that it has to do with dealign with anxiety. If you believe that "shit happens," it makes the world kind of a scary place. It freaks people out that really bad things can happen that are totally out of their control. It makes 'em wonder why they're following all the rules and living like good people if they can get royally screwed over. So it's a lot easier/more comfortable to believe in a God that would have some kind of twisted logic for doing horrible things like this. 'Cause if God's got a logic for it, and you live by God's rules, then you're somehow safe/immune. You don't have to be scared, and you actually get the ego-boost of knowing you're one of the "righteous" or "saved" or "enlightened."

Then again, I think too many people lose sight of the point that religion is about spirituality, about development of the soul. It's not about possessions or worldly events. It's about who we really are, not whether we get hit by a bus or a tsunami or a meteor....or probed to death by curious-but-well-meaning aliens.

When it happened, I remember talking with me darlin' wife and saying I was just waiting for some asshole Born-Again preacher to get up and say that those who died deserved it because they hadn't accepted Jesus as their savior. It sickens me to have been right about that.

I think if Jesus were alive today and heard of what happened, all he'd do would be cry for the children and parents, brothers and sisters who died or are suffering.
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[User Picture]From: ccr1138
2005-01-10 08:33 pm (UTC)
Well, don't paint all us Fundamentalist Christians with the same brush. I do believe God has the power to intervene in natural disasters. He created the world after all, and can do what He wants. But I also believe He does not micromanage the universe except in rare circumstances.

As for whether those people deserved to die: PFUI. When asked why a tower fell on some workers -- were they greater sinners? -- Jesus replied that they were no more deserving than anyone else, and that they should remember that something similar could just as easily happen to them.

Yes, sometimes suffering comes to people because they deserve it, as a lesson or a consequence. Sometimes it comes because *other* people are evil. Sometimes it comes not as a consequence of sin but as a consequence of righteousness (blessed are you who are persecuted for my name's sake). But a great deal of suffering is random and has no meaning at all, other than the warning we can take from it that life is short, and fragile, and we must always strive to keep that in mind and live accordingly.

I vehemently disagree with some people who seem to think it was Karma or some kind of judgement from God. I believe God has and does bring about judgements and punishments from time to time, but not without warning. Every single instance where a nation got wiped out or enslaved in the Bible, a prophet came, sometimes for years, to try to warn everybody to straighten up their lives. We haven't had that sort of revelation. I don't think Jerry Falwell counts. :-) Why would Sumatra et al be more deserving anyway?

It's a human tendency to try to find meaning in life's events. But sometimes things just happen, and there is no hidden meaning, other than "bad things happen, deal with it."

From a spiritual standpoint, our life here is compared to a vapor that quickly dissipates or the brief bloom of a flower. Compared to eternity, the length of life on earth is insignificant. So, while it may seem horrible and tragic to have life cut short (and it is!), viewed from the perspective of eternity, it loses some of its sting. "O Death, where is thy victory?"
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[User Picture]From: brujah
2005-01-10 09:55 pm (UTC)
tinhuviel's words: "People seemed amazed that animals avoided the tsunami in Asia. Why can't folks see that it is we who are the aberration? We've disconnected ourselves from the ebb and flow of the natural world. We've outcast ourselves."

That about sums up how I feel, too.
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[User Picture]From: cathawk
2005-01-10 10:38 pm (UTC)
I had the same reaction to this story. The natural laws of the universe can be at work without the idea of micromanaging God who dictates each tiny event. I think this is consistent with the idea of free will.

But it was interesting to here the wide range of perspectives.
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