From Divine Spark to Free Will and Beyond

Based on article originally published in Portuguese by Paulo Henrique de Figueiredo at: Translated to English and adapted by Rodolfo de Oliveira.


St. Augustine  officially converted to Christianity on the year 386, when he became a priest in Milan, Italy. After living quietly in a farm, with relatives and some disciples, he suffered with the death of his mother caused by a fulminating disease. While awaiting the arrival of the ship that would take him back to his native land, which currently corresponds to the geographic location of Algeria, North Africa, he wrote the book “De libero arbitrio” (The free will). The concept of “free will”, which in the future would become a fundamental term of the Spiritist doctrine, was then born.

Augustine had in mind his own experience of life, a contrast between a youth filled with earthly excesses, particularly with women and night life; and now his dedication to the life of a monk. He pondered about the fundamental cause of evil. This was for him a key point of meditation.

At first, the manicheist hypothesis seduced him. An ancient idea, born from Zoroaster’s thoughts in the Arab world.  There would be two great forces, one for good and the other for evil, competing in the universe for supremacy and influence. But this current of thought was considered a heresy, false teaching, being opposed fiercely by Augustine himself.

In this period of history the doctrine of the church was in formation, and there was no place for diverse debates and opinion. The aim  was to establish undeniable dogmas. The problem of evil, hence, posed some fundamental points than ought to be observed. Firstly, God cannot be the creator of evil as this would contradict his infinite goodness. Secondly, evil couldn’t be an opposing force either, a power capable of putting at risk the divine supremacy in the universe. The whole of the understanding of reality cannot contain contradictions that would erode it, destroying its logic.

In his work, Augustine established that evil must proceed from the choice of man; a wrongful choice, different from the determination of the divine good – therefore evil. The cause of sin, then, lies in the free will of people, which is the potential to choose. Liberty, in turn, is the right choice. That is the difference between free will and liberty in his book.

The goods to which people are exposed in the world can be divided between superior goods, which are the virtues, and inferior goods, which are the pleasures of the body. Something’s are intermediary, middle goods, so to speak. Free will, for instance, was in this middle category. Augustine built a logic to classify the experiences of human beings, considering it as a union of two substances: the soul and the body.

When we are under divine grace, Augustine proposes, our choice is oriented to the higher goods, hence the good and the happiness, and later the divine rewards. This is the condition of liberty. On the other hand, when we act without grace, we choose inferior goods, exercising free will, and thus creating sin, the cause of misfortunes, sufferings and eternal punishment.

A millennium and a half later, the teachings of superior spirits, in the dialogues with Allan Kardec and other spiritist researchers, led them to a new explanation, adequate to modern times. The key point to comprehend the new understanding is that Augustine analyzed the issue considering that human life is one, and in it will be resolved its destiny. He also believed, as most of the ancient world, that the soul had been created perfect by God, with all virtues, and degenerated by sin. For the church, every human being is born with original sin, degenerating its essence.

Spiritism, however, was founded when mankind lived the awakening of a new era, determined by freedom of thought and freedom from systems and dogmas. It was not believed that the world would be destroyed by God to give way to paradise. Instead, it was believed that united and determined, it would be possible to regenerate humanity, creating a new world, in the path of happiness. The means would be education and acts of duty, which was the determined use of reason and free will. People choose only what they understand, so free will is subordinated to the use of reason. This is the fundamental importance of education in transforming humanity according to rational spiritualists, free-thinkers of the XIX century.

Society, studying morality independent of religious dogmas, was identifying a new place for free will, now associated with rational thought. But other doubts took place in the debate. Physical pleasures being also “good”, why would their pursuit be an evil? Nature could not oppose divine laws, after all God created both the material and the moral worlds. God would not establish a contradiction, a trap, a trick to submit humankind to error by deception. Pleasure is a natural impulse, everyone feels it, even animals.

The answer of the rational spiritualists, who dominated the moral sciences in Kardec’s time, was brilliant, as Paul Janet explains it in his Elementary Treatise of Philosophy (1879): “Pleasures are good, but they are not the principle of good.” It’s an idea to think about carefully! The materialists who regards pleasure as the fundamental impulse of good are confusing things. Pleasure is a natural good, for it leads human beings to their self-preservation, as well as the species. However, it is not the principle of moral good. The individual acts for the moral good when he freely and rationally chooses what is best for all, based on the moral laws present in its consciousness. Interesting, solves a lot, but does not explain everything properly.

An even better solution lies in spiritism. According to Kardec, spiritism is a complement to rational spiritualism, which was a dominant philosophical movement in the university of its time. The spirits teach, solving the question, that the soul is a progressive, evolving being, elaborating its potentials in three phases of its existence: soul (or spirit), intellect-moral and finally co-creator. Let’s explain this better.

The animistic phase goes from the atom to the higher animal. In this period, the spiritual principle is developed naturally by the impulse of the pleasures and pains, then governed by the instincts and passions, elaborating itself through the evolution of species. It passes through trillions of lives, experiencing the mineral, vegetable and animal states, without ever being conscious of this trajectory.

Then comes the human life, when the intellectual-moral evolution occurs. The soul, at this stage, begins simple and unlearned, that is, without morality and intelligence. In the first few lives, not much change is affected, Kardec explains, continuing the spirit under the infallible command of the instincts. After hundreds or thousands of lives, reason starts to bring forth the understanding. Only then does free will develop the capacity for rational choice, that is, with an understanding of the options. Only then the spirit becomes responsible for both the mistakes made and the progress made. It is important to stress: According to Spiritism, free will is a capacity that the spirit achieves progressively, sustained by reason.

 Finally, when the spirit awakens its virtues and overcomes all imperfections contracted over time, it begins to assume missions in the universe. It assists other spirits overcome their difficulties; become the protector spirit of someone; help a family, a group, a nation, a planet. It can then participate in the creation and evolution of the species of a planet, then acquire responsibilities to an entire solar systems, then galaxies and so forth. The co-creative spirits assist God in the establishment of universal harmony, voluntarily and cooperatively.

The reality of free will, thus understood, shows all its logic and purpose in divine creation. All developed spirits have come to this condition by their dedicated effort in thousands of lives, conquering each of their virtues, and overcoming any imperfection they may have experienced in their past. Like them, we are forgers of our own destinies and ability to act in the good.

We have already overcome the almost endless animistic evolution in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms. We have overcome the thousands of first lives aimed solely to awaken intelligence and free will. We now must make use of these instruments of the soul to overcome attachments and imperfections, facing the challenges of life, and awakening the qualities that will be the tools to act in the universe in favor of universal harmony, our reason for being and source of true happiness.


Awakening for a Future Society


While philosophers such as Karl Marx imagined to reform the world through bloody class fights as to arrive at a new social structure, both Rousseau and Kant recognized that a renewed and better world could only come from a different and morally superior humankind, able to revert the state of submission of a vast majority of unprivileged men and women to a small elite. This exploration has been maintained since the beginning of civilization, thousands of years ago, and is to this date sustained by rigid social structures, political systems and religious doctrines. But how could (and can) this powerful and privileged minority keep the largest portion of the world’s population suffering in poverty and disgrace for so long?

The major religious traditions of the past were all founded on the concept of heteronomy (research this word!), as if god acted through punishments and rewards, and the principle of the degradation of souls – with obvious differences from religion to religion. For instance, Adam and Eve were reprehended for eating the forbidden fruit and punished with expulsion from heaven, conception with pain, mortality, etc.; transferring the original sin to all of their offspring. According to this tradition, to escape eternal condemnation, it is required to blindly surrender to god’s will. Those laws called divine are all external to the individual. In this conception, the greatest human virtue are obedience, loyalty and meekness; values that are conditionally maintained for fear of sin and condemnation. In many Eastern reincarnationist doctrines, the mythology is different, but the intrinsic values are mostly the same. In their narratives of traditional religious texts, the soul is originally good when conceived by god, but contaminates itself through multiple failures and errors made over a physical life. Such failures render the soul deserving of punishment through successive reincarnations as a plant, an animal, an insect, etc. depending on the severity of the crime.

But it wasn’t only the religious traditions that propagated the heteronomous moral. The materialist theories emerging on the 19th century abandoned mysticism and superstitions to some degree, but maintained the concept of heteronomy by keeping men submissive to the external laws of society – more precisely, the law of the survival of the fittest (also known as the might is right) determined by biologic and circumstantial differences. According to Auguste Comte, for example, the great masses of workers and all women didn’t have adequate brain development and were therefore organically prevented, by nature, to make adequate use of their intellectual faculties. They should therefore surrender to the command and dominance of the minority of men privileged with a better nervous system able to make them scientists, leaders, commanders, etc. Those sickly fantasies of the positivism of Comte were well accepted on his time and still persist in our present society even if disguised in other more modern and politically correct formats.

But what are the ideas that could revolutionize the world and build a better society? The Swiss philosopher and psychologist Jean Piaget can give us a clue. Piaget, studying the moral judgment of children, established an association between  – heteronomous morality, coercion and submission – and – autonomous morality, cooperation and mutual respect. According to Piaget, it is possible to apply to society this natural psychological process observed in children, fostering, generation after generation, a natural (although complex) change from coercion to solidarity; from a heteronomous morality to an autonomous morality. As he indicated, in conformist societies, where the population is vastly explored, coercion determine submission and passivity. Where freedom is embraced and promoted, fraternal attitude arises and the individual assume responsibility for the well-being of the collectivity (and vice-versa).

Now, if well understood, isn’t the autonomous morality the cornerstone of the original teachings of Jesus (before being manipulated and misrepresented over the centuries)? If you pay attention, words such as “you are gods”, “you can do all I can do and much more”, “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword” and “my kingdom is not of this world” doesn’t quite fit the merciful Jesus the churches sell you today. Indeed, if studying his words, as well as those of other morally distinguished men, it is possible to observe their moral autonomy, the presence of compassion but also a sense of unbreakable justice. Perhaps this is the last teaching the master of the Galilee left us before dying – do not surrender your will, your reason and your morals  to others. Socrates was arrested and murdered for being loyal to his moral values. Giordano Bruno was burned for not surrendering to the church’s authority. Countless examples of those luminaries that changed our world for better indicate the clear presence of an autonomous morality and freedom of thought. To bring a contemporary example (and I hope you agree with me), wasn’t Edward Snowden acting from a moral autonomous perspective when getting involved in the NSA spying scandal?

                Freedom of thought, acting morally according to the values of one’s own consciousness (even in detriment of self interests and independent of conventional rules and religions); this is the sign of the awakened man ready to build the society of the future. When we have enough of them, we will have a new world as the external projection of their moral and spiritual values. A sustainable future society invariably require individuals capable of mutual collaboration, founded from the autonomous fraternity they feel for each other. So, it is not through scientific development, economic growth, politics or wars that we will build a new society. It is through our own inner reform, arriving at a true and innate understanding of the law of love, preached by way too many and practiced by way too few, that we will be able to find peace and happiness. As noted Allan Kardec on his Posthumous Works, “The social matter doesn’t have, therefore, as a starting point the form of this or that institution; it is completely related to the moral betterment of individuals and their collectivities. There is where one can find the beginnings, the true key to the happiness of humankind. Because then, men will no longer conceive mutually harming each other. It is not enough to cover corruption with varnish, it is indispensable for it to be extinguished” (free translation).

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