Monday, 11 January 2010

evil and god - under construction

God, Philosophy, Universities: a history of the Catholic philosophical tradition
Alasdair MacIntyre - reviewed in the Tablet 9.Jan.2010

"Alasdair MacIntyre lists three problems that are inescapable for theism. The first is how to reconcile the goodness of God with the evil in the universe. The second is this: if God is the cause of every happening, it seems that finite agents have no real powers. The third is that it seems doubtful whether one can speak meaningfully in human language of a God who exceeds the grasp of human understanding. MacIntyre sets out the problems bluntly and fairly, but he does not set out to solve them. Instead, he urges that the history of theism shows that a thinker can maintain faith in God while treating his existence and nature as philosophically problematic. "

"the evil in the universe" - I can never understand why people have such a problem with this, except as a way of beating up on the idea of god i.e. if God exists why does (he/she/it - how about heshit for a non gender specific pronoun?) allow evil to exist? Which begs the fundamental question - what is evil and does it exist at all? Professional churchmen and theologians always seem to fall in to the trap of conceding that evil does exist, after which point they get more or less muddled and lose everyone but the true believers.

define evil - spectrum from ultimate natural disaster e.g. a supernova or the Big Crunch to at the other end, the Holocaust, or the two boys torturing the other two little boys in Yorkshire. We don't really think supernovae are evil, although we probably would if one destroyed our little blue planet with us on it. Similalrly for most natural disasters - it's only when human beings are wiped out that we define them (and therfore their progenitor - discuss!) as evil. It seems much more clear cut when we look at the terrible things human beings do to each other.

In the case of 'natural' disasters the problem arises from our relativistic judgement - it's because we or people we empathise with are affected that we see them as evil. But the supernova in exploding creates the elements that actually form our planet - we would not exist if the supernovae didn't happen first. The tidal waves, earthquakes, storms and volcanic eruptions are all part of what makes this dynamic planet liveable and would happen whether we were here or not. And secondly in these cases it's a matter of scale. We will all die, and some of us will die 'before our time' - in that sense because 180,000 people died all of a sudden is no more tragic or evil for each of those individuals than it would be had they died individually of natural causes over a much longer span of time.

In the case of harm or death inflicted by one human on others, our concept of evil arises out of our judgement of the perpetrator. Many in the West would not consider the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as evil even though the trigger for these deaths was the death of less than 3,000 people in New York. Many Iraqis and Afghans do think our actions are evil.

The case of Hitler, the Nazis, the Germans and the Jews seems mor clear cut. But if we ask what made the two boys who tortured two other boys, we can see that their parents and their upbringing made it almost inevitable. And what made the parents the way they were? In the end we can see that we aree all responsible in that we particpiate in a society that allows these things to be done - teh social deprivation and unobserved neglect and abuse that builds and eventually leads to the aberrant behaviour of the two boys - the end of a long line of cause and effect. The saem process can be applied to the Germans and the Nazis. We can see that we are all capable of behaving moreor less badly, of failign to put right small wrongs, that in the end lead to terrible harms. And equally we are each capable of not ignoring the wrongs, of being Good Samaritans - th epoint being that we are each and all of us reposnsible for how humanity behaves, butonly too ready to deny this and blame "evil" or the Devil or our apparently impotent God for waht in fact we are the agents of, immediate or remote, potential or actual.

So its not the case that bad things don't happen, or that all things are for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but that we are responsible for the pain and suffering inflicted on our brothers and sisters. Demonising others is simply us projecting out there what we know is really in here.

cf Terry Eagleton on Evil - extract in Church Times w/e 23.jul.2010
"it seems doubtful whether one can speak meaningfully in human language of a God who exceeds the grasp of human understanding" - it's not doubtful at all - it's true. As Wittgenstein said "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should remain silent" - unfortunately this does not stop theologians filling reams with their ideas about god.

Any statement one makes about god is by definition untrue

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