Are you familiar with Calvinism? It's one of the tens of thousands of denominations of Protestant Christianity. Calvinists follow the theological tradition of John Calvin, a French reformer. They broke from the Catholic Church in the 1600s, and the belief most frequently linked with their brand of Christianity is Predestination.
Predestination is the idea that God "predestined" some people to be saved and others to eternal damnation. This belief holds that nothing we do can change our predestined future; in other words, nothing we do matters! Our actions in this life are completely meaningless, as God has already predetermined whether we will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell.
Yikes! Sounds like a pretty bleak worldview, right? Thankfully, we believe differently. But that worldview is central to Steven Spielberg's excellent 2002 Sci-Fi film The Minority Report. Free will vs. predestination is the central thematic conflict of the film, and it gives us an excellent opportunity to examine these concepts in depth. As always, consider this your spoiler warning.
The Minority Report is set in the year 2054, in a world where flying cars and other such technologies are widely available. The most striking technological advancement that we see is the "Precrime Program." It's a pretty crazy concept, so stay with me here. The Washington, DC government has given three people a cocktail of drugs and enhancements that has given them "Pre-cognitive" abilities. Basically, they can see the future in small spurts.
These "Precogs" are kept in a sensory deprivation chamber and essentially mined for their prescience. The Precrime officers view and interpret these visions, using the data they've gained to arrest criminals before their crimes have even been committed. Sounds pretty crazy, right?
When the Precog visions differ, the dissenting Precog's vision is filed as a "Minority Report." Okay, that's enough background. Let's dive into the plot! Our protagonist is the ever-convincing Tom Cruise's John Anderton, Commander of the Pre-Crime division of the DCPD.
Anderton is the consummate company man, following through on his missions with ruthless intensity and rising through the ranks with ease. He also has some skeletons in his closet (he's addicted to neuroin, a fictional drug, his wife has left him, and his son Sean went missing 6 years ago). All that changes, however, when the Precogs predict that he will kill a man named Leo Crow in 36 hours. This is the film's inciting incident, when our protagonist's whole world is turned upside down and he's forced to go on the run.
This is where that whole predestination vs. free will argument comes in, as well. Anderton has never heard of Leo Crow, and he has no intention to kill anyone. Should he really be arrested just because some Precogs say he's going to commit murder? How do we know that their visions are reliable?
Unfortunately for our hero, the Precrime unit turns on their leader without hesitation, hunting him down relentlessly. Anderton eventually tracks down Crow, who commits suicide. This invalidates the Precogs' vision (because Anderton didn't kill him), proving to Anderton that the program is not the perfect crime predictor that it was made out to be!
He's eventually captured by his former colleagues in Precrime, put in jail, and accused of the murder of Leo Crow. While in prison, Anderton learns that Precrime Director Lamar Burgess (he has a similar role to the head of the CIA or the FBI) has done some horrific things to prop up the Precrime program and hide its lack of certainty.
Anderton confronts Burgess, exposing him for the liar he is. Burgess commits suicide, and the Precrime program ceases to exist in the aftermath. Our hero reunites with his wife, all Precrime prisoners are released, and the Precogs are moved to a remote farm to live out their days in peace.
I'll be honest, the plot of this movie isn't the main reason I'm writing about it today. It's that central idea, that tenuous conflict between free will and predestination, that really gets me going. Imagine a world where you could be arrested for something you hadn't even thought of doing yet.
That would be bad enough with a system that could predict those crimes with 100% certainty, but with a flawed system? One with a margin of error? That would be a dystopian nightmare. Free will is the very essence of what it is to be human, one of God's greatest gifts to us.
Calvinism's doctrine of Predestination, shared by the Precrime program in many ways, is fundamentally flawed. The Lord doesn't see this world as meaningless or without purpose. A dim reflection of Heaven, sure, but not meaningless. If it was, why would He have sent His Son here? Doesn't make a lot of sense.
Much good is done here, and we all have a purpose on this earth. We are called, through our free will, to use our gifts and talents for the good of others. We are called to bring those around us closer to Christ. And, most importantly, we are called to be saints who will spend eternity with the Lord in Heaven!
John Anderton learned that predestination is a poor replacement for free will. Will you? Will you live your life in a way that shows gratitude for the wonderful gift we've been given? I hope the answer is yes.