This is one of those speculative posts that are primarily for generating conversation. Dreams are very strange. We still do not know much about them, what causes them, or what they mean. There are plenty of theories, but we still have nothing concrete. From a Christian perspective, to what degree, if any, are we culpable for the substance of our dreams? What about the actions we do in our dreams? If I sin in my dream, do I need to repent of that sin upon waking? If the substance of my dream is plainly unpleasing to God, will God hold me accountable for the substance of that dream?
My feeling on this has always been, “No”. I think that even in the non-Christian world, people would not tend to believe that they should be held accountable for what they dream, or the actions their “dream-selves” might perform in that dream world. And why not? For me, it is because I do not believe that I have any real control over what I dream. I have no control over the substance of my dream, nor do I have control over my actions in a dream. I do not feel the need to repent of a dream that is less than pleasing to God simply because I do not feel like I had any control over that dream. I may ask God to help me not to have such dreams in the future because of the lingering affects those dreams may have on my thoughts, but I do not see the dreams themselves as sinful. What do you think? It seems to me that this is also tied to the intuitive belief we all seem to share that we should not be held morally accountable for those things which we cannot control.
I recently read someone arguing that the power of contrary choice could never be a basis for arguing guilt in a court of law because of the difficulties involved in proving that someone could have done otherwise. I understand the point, but I think the courts essentially presuppose that people, in general, do have the ability to do otherwise, and should therefore be held accountable for their actions. Therefore, it is not something that needs to be proven.
However, if someone can mount a fairly persuasive case that in a particular instance the crime committed was committed in such a way that the person could not have done otherwise, the courts tend to be very forgiving, lessening punishment, or alleviating responsibility altogether. It needs to be remembered, however, that the courts are also concerned about protecting the innocent, so demonstrating that someone could not have done otherwise doesn’t mean that the individual should not still be removed from society in order to protect people (as in the case of those with mental disorders, etc.).
Imagine that someone was on trial for committing a crime and it was demonstrated that the person was actually being controlled by another to perform the actions by way of a drug and radio signals sent to a device implanted in the ear. By combining the drug’s effects with various sound frequencies, the controller was able to get the person to do whatever he wanted the person to do. This was true to such an extent that the person being controlled had no idea that he was being controlled, but believed that he was acting freely in committing the crimes. Who would suggest that the courts would hold that person accountable once the facts came out? And who would suggest that the courts would not hold the controller accountable once the facts came out? I think we would all agree that the courts would hold the controller accountable while considering the one controlled to be innocent of the crimes, even though he personally performed the crimes and believed, at the time, that he had performed them freely.
Therefore, I think it is rather obvious that the courts do see the ability to choose and do otherwise as under girding moral responsibility to a great extent, even if the courts do not place a burden of proof on demonstrating that one could have done otherwise in every particular case. That is because our courts are largely based on the universal human conviction that moral accountability is directly tied to moral free agency.
For similar reasons, I think we do not tend to hold ourselves accountable for the substance of our dreams, believing that we were not in control of what we dreamed.
I think it is rather basic to our God given constitution to see accountability tied to free moral agency in the libertarian sense, based on the idea that freedom is inherent in control and control is needed for responsibility and culpability. Language seems to presuppose it. Our institutions of justice seem to presuppose it. The Bible seems to presuppose it (e.g. the language of the Bible and the assumptions that seem to under gird its basic teachings). Perhaps, even the way we view our dreams seems to presuppose it.
This may not constitute proof for free will or the connection between free will and moral accountability, but I think it demonstrates that those who reject free will in favor of strict determinism have much to overcome in order to convincingly make their case.