Later in this essay, I take up what may be the largest piece—the fact that, at a very abstract level of logic, freedom of the will is closely tied to a world with death in it: If nothing really dies, then we have no freedom of choice; if we lack significant freedom of choice, then death will prove unreal. ~Joseph Bottum
This sounds like pretty heady stuff, and at first it gives you the impression that this is a deep and powerful claim about the nature of existence. Then you realise that it is utterly and in all ways wrong.
There is a very important sense in which death confirms the existence of free will, just as Dostoevsky said that evil and suffering confirm the existence of free will. Scripture and the Fathers tell us that death entered into the world through sin, which was an exercise of man’s faculty of will for aberrant, autonomous purposes, turning away from God and the Source of life. In willing separation from the Creator and seeking deification pridefully and hastily, rather than receiving it in communion with God, man departed from immortality into mortality.
Death is man’s self-inflicted punishment (“In the day wherein ye eat of it, ye shall die”), but it is also permitted as a gift to limit the effects of sin. Men die because Adam freely chose, but men do not freely choose because they die. Free will pre-existed death and is not really dependent upon the existence of death. To the extent that mortality entails corruption, weakness, pain and hunger and all of the effects of the necessities of survival, we can say that death is not simply the privation of life and the separation of soul and body, but the frustration of human freedom as God intended it to be and the subversion of free will here in the fallen world. Mr. Bottum’s claim suggests that Mr. Bottum either does not understand what death is, or he does not understand what freedom is. Either way, it is an unfortunate turn in what had started out as an interesting and instructive essay on the social significance of death.