Monday, March 15, 2010

In Our Stars or in Ourselves

Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings

Cassius from Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2

Often times I have wondered about the nature of destiny and predetermination and I find it curious that I never arrive at a consistent conclusion every time I do. Certain situations have inclined me to the belief that a person’s fate is nothing more than the outcome of a series of choices he made before that point. But, no sooner have I grasped this conclusion than I feel my hands been prised open by other ideas when I hear of certain experiences that make me wonder if there is an unseen puppeteer who pulls at the strings and that we, helpless humans that we are, are compelled to nod, dance and even scratch our buttocks, when the puppeteer bids us to.

The more I think about it however, the more it is impressed on me that it (fate or destiny, whichever is your preferred label) might actually be some curious mixture of both predetermination and choice. But, how? You might ask. Are predetermination and choice not mutually exclusive? Aren’t they for all practical purposes diametrically opposite? The short answer to these questions is “yes” and the long answer is “no”.

First, the short answer: Yes, taken literally, "predetermination" and "choice" are opposites, like “up” and “down”, “short” and “long” and “yes” and “no”.

Second, the long answer: No, predetermination and choice are not opposites; it is a trick of our minds, conditioned by our own sensory experiences in the natural world that compels us to make that assumption; we simply do not have enough information from our sensory apparatus of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell to arrive at the correct conclusion. Humans are so used to their senses and have come to rely on them so much that often times we forget that there are a lot of other modalities around us that we simply cannot sense and that concerning the sensory modalities that we can perceive, we cannot be absolutely sure of what our senses tell us.

I will give examples:

Everyday, we all see the sun rise in the east and set in the west, but anyone who has paid attention in a high school geography class knows that this is not really true; the sun does not rise and the sun does not set; it only gives the illusion that it does. The truth is that, it is actually the earth (which our senses tell us is immobile) that actually moves (rotate) on its axis. This may sound so very obvious to many people now, but don’t forget that not quite three centuries ago, men like Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno were tried by the Inquisition for heresy and were put in prison and in the case off Giordano Bruno burnt at the stake for espousing such “obvious” ideas.

So, put succinctly, we cannot be completely sure of what our senses tell us no matter how believable it appears– we may only sense things as “they appear to be” but not really “as they truly are”.

If we didn’t know any better, I bet everyone alive today would swear to it that the sky actually touches the ground at the horizon – but we know it doesn’t, though our sight still continues to insist that it does. As usual, I digress; what constitutes reality as adjudged by our senses is a whole new topic of its own.

So, how is destiny both by Choice and by Predetermination? I see two possibilities:

First, all that will happen in a man’s life has already been predetermined by the Creator, but if that predetermined fate is to be played out exactly as it has been scripted, it will depend on wether that man validates that destiny by the choices he makes or alters it (for better or for worse) by making a different set of choices. In other words, what is fated is not necessarily inevitable – a man can, quite literally change his predetermined fate (again, for better or for worse) by his choices.

The second scenario is actually a bit subtler and more difficult to explain. In this case, a man does not have a predetermined destiny, so he is more or less writing up his destiny as he lives out his life but, there is a catch somewhere though – in this case, the man has no predetermined destiny, however there are certain events in history that are predetermined and unalterable and those events, depending on when they happen, may directly or indirectly by their ripple effect, influence a man’s destiny depending on how he responds to them or irrespective of how he responds to them. These predestined and unalterable events I believe are mainly associated with the birth of specific individuals into the world or some natural events. These predestined events would nudge subtly or overtly, directly or indirectly, the lives of everyone who comes under their latitude of influence.

I speak and write in English today largely because my country was colonized by Britain. I probably would be writing this essay in French or Portuguese if it were colonized by France or Portugal. However, I can choose to learn French or Portuguese and write in these languages but I have chosen not to, largely because my anglophone upbringing and environment did not require me or make me see the need to do so. If it was predetermined that my country of birth would be colonized by the British ( I am not saying it was, I am only using this as an example to make a point) that event has influenced the lives of countless individuals and the choices they have made years after the actual event – these individuals are more likely to live in English speaking countries (UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Parts of Canada) and most of their academic choices and by extension, life choices will always be influenced by the language they speak.

Another way to look at this is to ask, “What would the world be like today if say, Jesus and Alexander the Great were not born?” You would agree with me that it would be a very different world indeed. The birth of Christ was foretold, that we are certain of but here is where it becomes tricky; though Christ was destined to be born, He still had a choice to make as to the path He would take. He Himself said that he laid down his life willingly and that He can take it up again. He could have chosen not to go to Golgotha. Do you remember the travail He went through in Gethsamane and His prayer? “Father, let this cup pass over Me” the good news is that He did not end the prayer there, He added “not My will but let Your will be done”

In the case of Alexander the Great, we have no way of knowing if his birth was destined, and that is the tricky thing about this second scenario, we actually have no way of knowing which events are destined and which ones are not – the birth of Alexander the Great may not have been destined, rather it could be that, his becoming a pupil of Aristotle was the fated event – in other words, Alexander the Great may not have influenced the world the way he did even if he was born but did not come under the tutelage of Aristotle. He would have been just another man from Macedonia who was born and lived out his time on earth and passed on.

In this second scenario, there is no way of knowing which event is a critical or a destiny-defining event; something as trivial as waking up at 6.30 a.m. instead of 6.32 a.m. could be a predestined event while something as globally news-worthy as Angola winning the world cup might not be fated even if it happens.

Ultimately, whichever scenario you look at, the choice of the individual still takes centre stage – it may sound like a paradox but the one thing that I believe is fated for all humans is Choice – all humans are destined to choose – they must choose whether they like it or not, - and choosing not to choose, in itself, is a choice.


  1. WOW! This is so deep and well thot out - and well written. You never lost me throughout the entire post! I love the ending. That was exactly my next thot - just before I saw it in print!

    you wrote:

    "all humans are destined to choose – they must choose whether they like it or not, - and choosing not to choose, in itself, is a choice."

    The other statement of TRUTH I grasped was :

    "what is fated is not necessarily inevitable – a man can, quite literally change his predetermined fate (again, for better or for worse) by his choices."

    Eyitemi, I used to write and think almost this deep. it takes too many brain cells now - I'm getting much older :)

    But the TRUTH is - yes indeed - we have been given CHOICE - and that has made all the difference!! I CHOOSE Christ JESUS - not just a man - but the only Son of God the Father - creator of Heaven and Earth and everything therein - who gave His life that I might live eternally with Him and Father God! CHOICE offered - CHOICE received!!

    Very thot provoking! Thanks for sharing.

    Patrina <")>><
    His watchman on the wall

  2. Hahaha.. There's just so much sense in this post Eyitemi. Lots of digression though but I still loved it. I love the way you put in scenarios to explain predestination and choice. Yes, they are not mutually exclusive however, what I have come to discover is that at any given point in a man's life, one often prevail over the other - choice of predestination or predestination over choice. Saul was fated to become King of Israel for as long as 'till death' but his choice saw it cut short. Samson made a choice too that made a difference in his life.

    I like these words of yours "one thing that I believe is fated for all humans is Choice – all humans are destined to choose – they must choose whether they like it or not, - and choosing not to choose, in itself, is a choice." Absolutely true. Our choices, not only defines how path in destiny, it practically, defines us - who we are.

    - LDP

  3. Thank you Patrina for you encouraging words. Blessings.

  4. @ LDP: Thanks for your comment. Choices are a strange thing when you think of the implications- I am still trying to understand the nature of Choice and Freewill. A subsequent post will address this issue.