Ridgefield native Stephan Grozinger is challenging the fundamental religious principle of free will in his new book, Faith on a Stone Foundation: Free Will, Morality and the God of Abraham.

“Many believe that we have free will — the ability to make choices from something other than our nature and our nurture. We believe that our free will distinguishes us from animals and from computers and gives us dignity,” Grozinger said.

But after years of religious and theological study, Grozinger said, he came to a startlingly different conclusion.  

“Free will seems like the focus of faith. But science and philosophy are increasingly asserting that we don’t have free will and that our decision-making process is exclusively the result of nature and nurture,” Grozinger said.

An attorney by trade, Grozinger provides well-researched arguments on both sides of the subject of free will in his book.

“I strive to answer whether human dignity is possible if we don’t have free will, and does belief in the Judeo-Christian God make sense if we don’t have free will,” he said.

Those aren’t easy questions to tackle. Grozinger takes on the challenge by citing examples in theology, Greek and moral philosophy, existentialism, evolutionary psychology, and pop culture.

He also reviews familiar biblical stories, such as the Garden of Eden, Noah, Job, and Jonah and concludes that scripture is entirely consistent with the idea that human beings do not have free will.

Labor of love

Grozinger said the book was a labor of love that took him eight years to write.

A graduate of Ridgefield High School and a member of St. Mary’s Church, Grozinger practices law in Weston, where he lives with his wife, Claire Ingram, and their daughter Zoë.

“I first came up with the free will argument while standing on the sidewalk of Catoonah Street in Ridgefield. I then started taking notes while walking in the Trout Brook Valley nature preserve in Weston. At first I thought what I had would become a blog post, then perhaps a long article. Eight years later it has evolved into a book,” he said.

Grozinger has many interests. He is a member of the board of directors of the Aspetuck Land Trust, a volunteer firefighter in Weston, where he was twice named Firefighter of the Year, and a former member and chairman of Weston’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

He also has a deep interest in theology, and for the past six years has delivered a lecture on the subject of theistic existentialism to the senior class and faculty of the Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Greenwich.

Grozinger said his life in Connecticut has given him much to think about on the topic of free will.

“A central idea in Christianity is that you have to believe in God or in Jesus in order to be well regarded by God,” he said. “But it’s obvious some of us are born and raised with every advantage in this regard. I myself grew up so close to St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield that it literally filled my bedroom window. Meanwhile, many others are born and raised in situations where they might never hear a compelling faith story or that are outright hostile to faith. If God is fair, how can He reward believers and leave non-believers out?” he asked.

He applied the same analysis to morality. “Even people who have left religion entirely say they are doing what God requires because they are a ‘good person.’ But every parent would acknowledge that how good you are has a lot to do with how you are raised. We don’t raise our children hoping their free will is good — we form them and reform them. And whether you commit a terrible crime can be traced back to whether you were born with a violent temper or were raised in an abusive household,” he argued.  

This led Grozinger to conclude that lack of free will was compatible with faith and human dignity.

“If we take an individual’s nature and nurture into account when we think about their bad behavior, we’re led away from anger and hate and into understanding and forgiveness. That this is a central idea in Judeo-Christianity is no accident,” he said.

He said when he looked at the Bible with this new perspective, he discovered it was completely consistent with the idea that human beings don’t have free will. “I realized that I had been misunderstanding some of the most important narratives in the Bible for decades, especially Jonah, Job and the Garden. Once I looked at them with new eyes, the message was unmistakable,” he said.

Grozinger said he hopes his book will spark interest in the subject of free will, and he encourages readers to share their thoughts with him by email at stephan@stephangrozinger.com.

Faith on a Stone Foundation is available locally at Books on the Common and the Ridgefield Public Library and online at Amazon.com. Grozinger blogs on the subject of faith at faithonastonefoundation.com.