I have had reason of late to consider the idea of “free moral agency” as it pertains to several people close to me. Free moral agency…the right to make choices and decisions on one’s own, provided it is deemed that no harm is being done. Deemed or determined by whom and against what measure remain questions to me, but that is a whole other theme.
The expression came to the forefront of my mind and heart while talking to a social worker who was bandying it about while explaining someone’s legal rights. I began to imagine a sliding fulcrum that teetered loosely between the rights of one to their agency and the obligation of others to intervene when those rights to choose result in a lack of care, a lack of whatever well-being is within their means, and pain for those who love them.
There is an undeniable and certain obligation to allow for free moral agency. I understand that, believe that, and also know that the results can be both beautiful and achingly tragic. One person I care for happens to fall closer to the latter end of that spectrum, but he is at least not hugging the border of danger quite so firmly as he once was. Sadly, not so with all.
I think that aside from issues of legality, the call to love is partly a call to allow that agency--to allow for free will while fully aware of the possibility that the full-flowering of that might lead to unfortunate results and sad situations for those we love. But, the nature of love is that it “pervades all things” (as Wisdom) and continues on through, bearing the challenge of watching someone live with the circumstances that arise from the exercise of their agency--being with someone, not condoning a poor choice or trying to pretty-up a mess…not abandoning the ones we love, while also understanding one’s own human limits, one’s own responsibility to personal well-being and healthy self-agency.
This gets me thinking about the concept of obedience….and the vow of it. My experience and this musing are leading me toward describing it, this vow, as something that radiates from a point (the individual), not a force aimed at a point from a larger, more powerful swarm of points who seek to absorb or consume as many other points as possible, and are only able to do so once those points have “obediently” conformed their thinking and way of being to that of the swarm. I believe obedience is something offered instead of imposed.
Obedience to whom or what? To the responsible exercise of my own moral agency because it is best for the larger group that I do so. That larger group might be family, religious order, church, society…however you want to look at it. My responsibility, well-exercised, frees me to focus outward and eases the burden of others as well, thus freeing them.
With this line of thought, a whole new light is shining on the primacy of the individual conscience in Catholic theology. Within all of this, we each remain a unique image and likeness of God, are given a conscience by God, are endowed with the freedom to listen to revelation or ignore it, to choose wisely or not. Removing this primacy would seem to negate the idea of agency in the first place and without that, we are not really free.
God is an invitation, not a command. So is, then, by faith-filled extension, well-being. Perhaps the best that can be done is to interpret the invitation to wholeness when others seem confused by it.
All assuming that no harm is being done along the way…
Hmm. Yes. Now, as to that...