What Choice Is a Free Choice? And Why Religion Destroys the Freedom of Choice.

What Choice Is a Free Choice? And Why Religion Destroys the Freedom of Choice. September 18, 2014

When we talk about freedom of choice we usually mean that in a legal sense, but we can argue that there are many layers and aspects to what makes a choice truly free, when we think about this concept in terms that are not legal. Freedom is a concept which takes different forms in different aspects of life. We say that people are free to disagree with the scientific evidence, in the legal way. If I “choose” to disbelieve evolution, the government has no right to censor me or to demand me to believe otherwise. But I am not “free” to publish my opinions in a scientificn journal, even if that journal is not owned by private sector. Although I am a taxpayer, I am not free to publish my creationist thoughts in a journal funded by my task money. However I am still free to find evidence against evolution and if my creationist article conforms to scientific standards I will be published in the same journal. So there is freedom among the scientific community to dissent, but that freedom is not the same as civil freedom to dissent. I assume that the reader will agree with this, and I use this as an example merely before bringing up the main topic of this post.

If we agree that freedom means different things than legal freedom as a human right, we must be careful not to conflate the legal freedom with other types of freedom, especially not to allow oppressive ideologies to use this freedom to distract from their oppressive nature.

When I ask you to choose between an apple or a banana, you are free to choose the fruit that you prefer. But if I put the apples in box A and the bananas in box B, and you are not aware of the contents of the boxes, and ask you to choose between one of the boxes, you have not really made a choice of your snack, but you have gambled, mete chance decided your snack.  Therfore you need to be informed of your options, otherwise it is not a real choice.

This sounds very obvious, but let us go further.

Now imagine that I will benefit if you choose an apple and I will lose money if you chose a banana. I will tell you that eight apples a day will keep the doctor away and that bananas cause cancer. You trust me, and you believe my falsehood, so you choose the apple.

Your choice is still not a free choice. It is free in a sense as I have not strapped you down and shoved the apple forcefully down your throat, but it is not free in the sense that it is a slightly subtle way of putting them in the box.

So it can be argued that in one of the many shapes freedom takes, no choice is free unless it is an informed choice.

But the same is true if I have not deceived you intentionally, or directly. Imagine we live in a society which shuns bananas and glorifies apples, or worse, considers eating bananas a moral perversion and considering banana eaters worthy of discrimination, your choice between apples and bananas becomes even harder to make, and you might not be aware about the reality of apples and bananas. You might think that the choice of apples is an obvious choice, while it’s not.

So really, your choice is simply not a free choice. For a choice to be really free, knowledge of the options is mandatory, and if the society you live in, distorts your choices, then unless you go far beyond the ordinary bounds of social norms and taboos you are not really free to make the choice, because you make that choice with wrong information.

So we need to make a distinction between a “voluntary” choice and a “free” choice.

Many times Muslims argue that we are wrong to call hijab a repressive social system, because Muslim women “choose” to wear hijab. But even if that is true, how much of that choice is “voluntary” and how much of it is “free”? If it would be possible for women to come into choosing to wear hijab without the influence of culture, why there are no (or so rare) non-Muslim women who choose to wear hijab?

The same can be said for all dominant cultural systems, such as religion, nationalism, tribalism, etc. Their hegemony and dominance is so overbearing that it clouds the choices of people who live under those systems, presenting everything in stereotypes and lies, and although they might make many “voluntary” choices, it’s very questionable whether or not those choices are “free”.

Is it impossible for a religious person to freely choose to abide by their religion? Of course not. However, the effect on the society as the whole cannot be ignored.

And that is why religion is inherently an enemy of freedom in the real sense of the word.

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