WILLPOWER, PART 2

What Do You Want?


BY: Frater Bovious

“Tell me who your friends are,
and I will tell you who you are.”
“Tell me whom you chose as your friends,
and I will tell you who you chose to be.”

(CARROLLTON, TX, Cradle of Civilization) This is a follow up to the previous post, The Truth About Willpower. In that post I argue that our wills function as designed, and that when we sin, it is not because we have weak wills, it is because, on the contrary, we have wills that function as designed, and that we sin because we will to do so – because we want to do so.

I thought of a couple of objections to this idea that should be addressed. One objection is potentially valid, and the other is just wishful thinking. I will deal with wishful thinking first.

This objection is dependent on a fundamental dishonesty in ourselves. This dishonesty is simply stated: “I don’t sin because I want to, I sin because ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.'” This objection would seem to have Biblical support, both from Jesus himself and from Paul. It seems to say, “I don’t want to sin, I just can’t help myself. It’s not my fault.”

But there is a problem. Mortal sin is defined in the Catechism:

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (Emphasis mine)

Here is the kicker:

Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

That’s probably worth reading again.

Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

If it was really an issue of ‘willpower’ then there would be no mortal sin. Personal choice is an act of will. Pretending it is not increases culpability. So, what to make of this idea that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”?

It’s sort of just right there – a breakdown in what is supposed to be a unity of spirit and flesh. The soul knows what it wants. Not being material, it does not want for material things. It wants for God. But we are embodied spirits.

Our bodies, being material, have legitimate material needs. Our will, a power of the soul, is supposed to seek out those things which are desirable – but this is a properly focused and ordered desire. The sensible things, the things we can see, taste, touch, there is nothing inherently wrong with these things.

It is a question of integration of body and soul such that the will is focused on it’s true end. We are body and soul – what is good for one should be good for both. Thus we eat when we are hungry – it is good for body and soul.

“But,” one can object, “We were damaged by The Fall. Our wills have become disordered.” For me this was a potentially relevant objection. However, scripture does not support this objection:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. – Gen 3:6

This was before The Fall. Was Eve suffering from a lack of willpower? No. Note that the tree was “good for food”, a “delight to the eyes”, and “was to be desired to make one wise.”

Was to be desired…

The big lie about willpower is that it is some sort of power over the will. It is not. Willpower is simply the power to choose. Choosing is a proper exercise of the will. It is a power of the will. And we all retain this power in apparently full force. Eve had the power to choose before The Fall. We retain the power to choose after The Fall.

In order to blame our peccadilloes on our weak willpower, we have to pretend that we don’t have the power to choose. This is a lie, from the father of lies. We have to accept the fact that we choose to sin. Which requires that we have a sense of sin, something the Accuser has been pretty successful suppressing in our culture. But, from the Catechism:

1848 As St. Paul affirms, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”118 But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our hearts and bestow on us “righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin:

Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man’s inmost being, becomes at the same time the start of a new grant of grace and love: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Thus in this “convincing concerning sin” we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption. The Spirit of truth is the Consoler.

Our wills focus on what is in front of our faces. What we need is a properly formed conscience. We don’t suffer from weak wills. We suffer from nearly inert consciences.

In order to benefit from the grace which abounds, we need to stop feigning ignorance, and hiding behind a lack of willpower. Every time you think or hear “willpower” think and hear instead, “power to choose.” And recognize you are making those choices. And ask for Grace and a properly formed conscience.
Addendum – there remains one more area for discussion. Addiction. How does will fit into addiction? How does a heroin addict overdosing square with this idea that the will pursues the good? To be discussed in Willpower, Part 3.
This entry was posted in Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to WILLPOWER, PART 2

  1. Relax... says:

    Well and clearly stated!

Let me know what you thought of this post!