A student commented the other day that Berdyaev reminded her of some utopian summer camp in the Adirondacks she had gone to in high school devoted to ecological wonderfulness. Why? God is your friend, and never your judge or king. Like any friend, his offer of friendship comes with no threats and no consequences, delivered by Him at least. Any “friend” who said “Be my friend, or I’ll blow your head off,” or, even worse, “Be my friend, or I’ll condemn you to eternal torment” would be a psychopath, without doubt.
Today, after having time to think, and after today’s Avicenna reading, I replied that there is an awful (awe-ful) aspect to Berdyaev – complete freedom means complete moral responsibility. Humanity continually searches for escape from this. We dream up ever new escape routes and “get out of jail free” cards.
Hedonism – we are all selfish S.O.B.s in pursuit of pleasure, so if I am a selfish S.O.B in pursuit of pleasure, it is through no fault of my own. That is how I am programmed. How dare you find me morally responsible for my own actions?
Physical determinism – we are all automatons programmed by the Big Bang. Every thought and every action is the result of inexorable physical processes. I am not a locus of thought and decision making. The Big Bang is the only Agent who ever existed or will ever exist. We are effectively mindless silver balls in a Cosmic game of pinball. Human agency is an illusion.
Scientific materialism – minds do not exist. Consciousness does not exist. All are clumps of atoms arranged by the chance effects of evolution. All is random mutations and “natural selection.” Nothing means anything. Morality does not even exist – it’s all just a survival mechanism for propagating genes. And, oh yes, you are a lumbering robot for the transmission of genes – so says the lumbering robot for transmitting genes that calls itself “Richard Dawkins.” But I never listen to lumbering robots if I can help it.
Nihilism – morality is just what “society” says is “right” and “wrong.” Neither actually exists. Life is a sad, meaningless, unfunny joke. Why worry?
It occurred to me in class that it might be possible to actually meet an honest to God nihilist if you met him between the moment of his conversion to nihilism and his finding a sharp knife, a loaded gun, or a tall building with which he would end his life. They have very short lives, nihilists. Perhaps thirty minutes between their conception and birth, and their brutal end.
Moral responsibility is a serious business about which humans prove quite ingenious at trying to avoid. Maximal freedom means maximal responsibility. No punishment is needed other than that provided by your conscience and the consequences of being the person you are.
 Students exist who will scare quote “right,” “wrong,” “good,” and “evil,” as though one were talking about gnomes, trolls and “‘cultural’ studies.”