Augustine’s Moral Dilemma: Unraveling Free Will, Sin, and the Shadow of Sexual Desire

Augustine’s moral doctrine revolves around a question that pains him, that is, why do people tend to sin uncontrollably, and how can they be saved? His conclusion is almost pessimistic, believing that although people have free will, their nature has been corrupted, so they will inevitably abuse their free will and tend to sin. Therefore, salvation cannot depend on free will, but only on the grace of God. There is an obvious contradiction between his denial of human moral ability and his admiration for reason and emphasis on inner experience. His pessimism about human nature was largely focused on sexual desire. The Christian theory of original sin regards sexual desire as original sin, and he experienced from himself how difficult this sin is to eradicate. If he had not received God’s revelation, he would have been stuck in it and would never be able to extricate himself.

1. Free Will and Sin

In ethics, free will is an important concept, which refers to the ability of people to decide whether to do good or evil. Augustine confirmed that human beings have free will, and he defined the meaning of this concept as: will is completely within our ability. Birth, aging, illness and death are all due to necessity, not our own will, and so on. However, it would be absurd to say that the decision of the will does not come from our own will. If the will is not within our power, it is not will; but since it is within our power, it is free.

However, there are situations where the will gives orders but no action is taken. What’s going on? Augustine explained that this is because the will does not issue complete commands. The scale of the command is completely based on the scale of willingness, and the scale of non-execution is also based on the scale of unwillingness. To the extent that the will is strong, the actions initiated by the will will be to that extent. If the will itself is half-hearted, action will inevitably be hesitant.

So, what is the relationship between free will and morality? Augustine’s basic point of view is that free will is given to people by God, and the responsibility for using free will is good or bad. The reason why people commit crimes and evil is that they abuse free will. In the context of theology, there are many issues worthy of discussion. Augustine discussed these issues in a dialogue manner in “On Free Will”. In fact, he was responding to criticisms that may or have already occurred.

First, is free will given by God? Question: We will sin by misusing free will, so why does God give us free will? If God had not given it, we would not have sinned. By extension, wouldn’t God be the cause of our sin? Therefore, God should not have given us free will.
However, it is not conceivable that God would do something that he should not do, so it is questionable whether free will is a gift from God. Response: God gave us free will so that we can use it to do good, not to sin. Therefore, God is not responsible for people’s sins.

Second, do people really have free will? Question: God can predict all future events, including human sin. Everything God predicts will definitely happen. Therefore, it is inevitable for people to commit crimes. How can we say that the will is free? Response: Just because we have foreknowledge that someone will sin does not mean that we force him to sin, or that we are the cause of his sin. In the same way, God foreknows that certain people will sin, but He does not force them to sin. God is not the cause of all the actions He foreknows. Man has the ability to do good, and this ability is not taken away because of God’s foreknowledge.

Third, why didn’t God make man incapable of sin? Question: God is almighty and can completely make man so that he will not sin. He is also supremely good and will not be unwilling to do this. So why doesn’t he do this? Response: Everything is so perfectly arranged from the highest to the lowest that everything in it, including some human sins, is part of the perfect whole and is necessary for the whole of God’s creation.

Fourth, both are created by God, so why are humans different in good and evil? Question: God also gives everyone free will. Why do some people use it to do good, some people use it to commit crimes, and some people coexist with both? What is the reason behind the will? Response: The reason lies with the person himself. It is not a sin for people to be born ignorant of the truth and incapable of doing good. However, if a person does not strive to gain the ability to know the truth and do good, but is willing to remain ignorant and incompetent, this is sin. And ignorance and incompetence are already punishments for him.
The central issue in the above discussion is the relationship between free will and sin. If people do not have free will, there is no reason for people to be morally responsible for their actions, so Augustin wants to believe that God has given people free will. However, if a person has free will, he may commit sin and do evil, so he must abdicate God’s responsibility for sin. His entire argument is an attempt to reconcile these two aspects.

2. Sexual desire and original sin

The Bible says that Adam and Eve, the first pair of human ancestors, ate forbidden fruit and knew the shame of sex, so they covered their private parts with leaves. This is the so-called original sin. Augustine attached great importance to this plot and believed that the fall of mankind began with sexual desire and was passed on to all generations of mankind through sexual desire. Among all human instincts, sexual desire is the strongest, craziest, and most irrational. The terrible thing about sexual desire is that it is not controlled by the will and is the greatest threat to free will. In Augustine’s view, the free will given to humans by God was abused by Adam, leading to the corruption of human nature and making it impossible for most humans to make good use of free will.

If human beings want to reproduce, they cannot live without sexual desire, so it is necessary to morally clarify the boundaries of permissible sexual desire. Augustine believed that sexual desire must be strictly for the purpose of reproduction, and anything beyond this purpose, which is erotic impulse, is morally sinful.

Erotic impulses are fueled by impermissible objects, certainly sins, such as adultery, including the idea of adultery. A person does not have the opportunity to commit adultery with another person’s wife, but he has this desire. If he has the opportunity to do so, then his sin is no less than being caught in adultery. The golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not apply when it comes to adultery. A man who wants to commit adultery with someone’s wife and therefore is willing to let someone have the same relationship with his own wife does not do anything he would not have others do to him, but he still commits a major crime. evil. Erotic impulses kindled by a lawful wife are equally sinful. Sexual intercourse in married life should be for the purpose of reproduction only and should not be pornographic. Polygamy was practiced in a certain era, and a man was moral if he had sex with multiple wives just to reproduce, just as a wise man eats and drinks just to keep himself healthy. On the contrary, to have sexual intercourse with her lustfully even though you have only one wife is to commit fornication and debauchery.

The line lies in the presence or absence of erotic impulses. The absence of erotic impulse means that sexual organs are under the control of the will and people have not lost their free will. Augustine believed that such a person could easily abstain from sexual desire and lead a holy monastic life if necessary. However, it is difficult for us to imagine a sex life without erotic impulses, even in marriage. Even if it can be achieved, it does not seem worthy of praise, because it is just an indifferent mechanical behavior that makes the marriage itself lose its vitality. and fun.
Augustine was originally a person with too much sexual desire. Because of his firm conversion, he regarded sexual pleasure as the most stubborn enemy of faith and attacked it. His doctrines had serious consequences. During the long Middle Ages, sexual repression and punishment became the harshest shackles on countless men and women, for which Augustine bore a great deal of responsibility.

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