Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Thought - touching, once again, on evil

If we are a bit careful about distinguishing "greater good for God" from "greater good for me" then it seems pretty clear that God has brought about greater good for me - starting with my own existence - from suffering. I don't think the phrase "greater good for God" means much of anything, but it is fairly straightforward to talk about "greater good for me." So again, God's permissiveness with respect to evil is a manifestation of His mercy and love for me (and the rest of y'all, and every child actually conceived who will ultimately enjoy eternal life too, of course).

That is part of the point: it is better to have been conceived, died horribly in a tsunami, and spend eternal life in the Beatific Vision than it is to never have been conceived at all. Bill is right: I think that this "God doesn't make a greater good (for us) from suffering" proposition is essentially nihilistic.

Part of the trouble with the problem of evil is that it tries to start from God's point of view, not our own point of view. But building a tower to Heaven in an attempt to be exactly like God will always result in a confusion of our language: in an inability to say anything meaningful at all. Speaking as ourselves, for ourselves is another matter entirely, and it could not be more clear: God has brought about greater good (for us) from suffering...

A corollary is that evil doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with God. Literally. The fact of evil (I won't say existence of evil because that will freak out the evil-as-absence crowd) is an insult to God, at least, again, from our perspective. But it is an insult that He tolerates, and indeed has directly endured Himself personally by becoming one of us -- for our sake.    ----    Zippy

And from a review of a new book by Leszek Kolakowski :

Kolakowski is unique among contemporary social philosophers and intellectuals in recognizing and confronting the notion of evil: "[E]vil is a real characteristic of life and...we carry in us a kind of moral intuition that enables us to recognize it as such...

Evil...is not contingent, it is not the absence or deformation, or the subversion of virtue...but a stubborn and unredeemable fact."

Neither reform, nor revolution, nor education, nor material progress will eradicate "the evil in us." Such a tragic view of life is alien to Americans, products of a culture of high expectations, optimism, and good cheer, and inclined to believe that all good things are compatible and all problems have a solution. Kolakowski's belief in natural law and "moral intuition" sets him apart from most modern, secular intellectuals...a pragmatic or purely functional morality is inadequate:

"Mankind...would not survive if the only instrument to prevent us from following our desires and indulging our passions was the fear of legally inflicted suffering...To be totally free from religious heritage or historical tradition is to situate oneself in a void...The utopian faith in man's self-inventive capabilities, the utopian hope of unlimited perfection, may be the most efficient instrument of suicide human culture has ever invented."

5 comments:

alicia said...

right now I'm in the "why do bad things happen to good people" part of dealing with the evil in the world. Once I am freed to (by those most intimately involved) I may blog on some of the details, but right now I am rather ticked off at life, the universe, and all.
Lent is coming - and that is probably a good thing. It will force me to face things that I would really rather ignore.

William Luse said...

Yes, I read about it at your place. I hope things turn out better than it seems they might.

zippy said...

I started reading the quote and thought "man, Bill has found someone else who talks just like me." But then it turned out to actually be me, from some archived comment somewhere I am sure. Ah well.

Part of the problem with my approach to the PoE is that it doesn't provide any human comfort. It does I think make a complete hash out of the anti-theistic claims it is intended to address: that is, as an arid logical argument it shows conclusively that the complaint is inherently nihilistic, in my view. But an approach to the PoE that provides no human comfort is clearly missing something essential.

William Luse said...

Maybe I'll try to provide that next Sunday. Everything has its place, arid logic included. Ironic that we feel compelled to use it against people who don't know how.

William Luse said...

Looking at it again, there's nothing arid about this: "it is better to have been conceived, died horribly in a tsunami, and spend eternal life in the Beatific Vision than it is to never have been conceived at all."

Or this: "But it is an insult that He tolerates, and indeed has directly endured Himself personally by becoming one of us -- for our sake."