1st in the LOST in Theology series.
I was fascinated with the Free-Will/Predestination debate as a young Christian, but now I see it as silly and trivial. (I conflate a lot of ideas here intentionally, namely Determinism, Fatalism, Predeterminism, and Predestination. Wiki them. I will use ‘fate’ and ‘determinism’ interchangeably for brevity’s sake, except when I talk about ‘Social Determinism’.) But the debate between Free Will and Determinism is popular, used in many pop cultural medium, specifically in our case, LOST. In short, it’s a highly marketable theme.
Locke is the biggest proponent of ‘fate’:
“We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason, all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason.”
Locke’s fate helps open the hatch. Locke’s destiny blows up the submarine. Locke returns to the mainland to convince the Oceanic 6 that it is their fate to return to the island. In the end, within the story, it appears that Locke was correct, for Jacob had indeed ‘fated’ them all to the island. But herein lies our problem, the gap between story and life. Stories have ends, but in life, ‘the end’ is a relative and moveable marker, somewhat determined by one’s religious views. So while fate is internally verifiable within a narrative, fate is scientifically unverifiable, because there is no last word in life. None of us know to what extent our actions are fated or determined, nor to what extent we have free-will.
Free Will too is problematic, and a bit misunderstood. One is free to will as one pleases, but this is not the same as the freedom to choose, nor to act. And while one may be free to will, how one’s preferences are determined is up for debate, and certainly they are not created in a vacuum within an individual. And at the moment of choice, choices are manipulated and limited by forces external to the individual. Locke can will to remain on the island and will to have others stay with him. But when he meets the group of survivors by the radio tower, he cannot simply choose those options. The whole community of survivors is there limiting him from carrying out his will (although he does kill Naomi in his strongest enactment of his free will), and this limitation is a form of social determinism, a category of invisible social forces that press back against the will of the individual, evidenced by advertising, herding, market engineering, etc. So, it appears that neither Free Will nor Fate/Determinism have much to do with the lived experience of everyday life.
A better way to think, in my opinion, is this: if a scientifically unverifiable faith claim is stated (i.e. ‘We were brought here for a purpose), then its function (rhetorical force) is far more important than the so-called “truth” of the statement. Locke vs. Jack, Fate vs. Free Will: what is important is not which side is correct or more truthful, but that the competing claims force us to choose. The survivors are consistently forced to choose between Locke and Jack, it drives the early narrative. So forget about the Fate/Free Will debate, and ask yourself what each side is fighting for: there you will find the real argument.
The irony is this though: in making competing claims between Fate and Free Will, and forcing individuals to choose, one is actually participating in a form of persuasion that is akin to social determinism. The competing claims are part of a social framework that limits the choices of an individual. Was Locke meant to remain on the island–then why did he leave? Was Peter destined to deny Jesus? Judas to betray him? Pilate to kill him? What are the real motivations that drive those questions?
Questions that we are fated to find definitive answers for?