Why does God allow evil? You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason. It is the absence of what should be there. God cannot have a reason for it. It cannot be good that evil be. It cannot be that good relies in any necessary way on evil. That would mean that good isn’t entirely good and can’t be self-subsistent; it means that God, Who is Subsistent Goodness, doesn’t exist. If you think you have thought of a good reason for God to put sin in the world, repent and put such wicked thoughts aside. It is not better that Satan fell and Adam sinned.
Two visions of a perfect language:
- A perfect language should be spare and clear. Ambiguity and obfuscation should be made impossible or at least very difficult. It should dissipate word game-induced confusion and allow reasoning in a straightforward, almost mechanical, way.
- A perfect language should be expansive and evocative. It should provide the resources to capture every experience and intuition, every shade of meaning. Far better to allow the possibility of confusion than to linguistically cut oneself off from a genuine aspect of the world and the human condition.
Analytic and Continental philosophy are divided by adherence to the different visions. Do we dissolve philosophical puzzles by linguistic therapy, like Wittgenstein? Does this mean removing pseudo-problems or just taking away the tools for expressing real problems? Or do we, like Hegel, seek a grand synthesis in which every conflicting intuition can find its home? This also has dangers, because attempts to “eff the ineffable” (as Roger Scruton once put it) often fall back on vagueness, and it really is possible to lose oneself in a fog of metaphors.
Liberalism is an attempt at a spare political language, one that cuts through problems by eliminating words and the ideas that go with them. Politics is indeed simplified when one is not allowed to talk about anything other than equal preference satisfaction. Justice becomes for Rawls a constrained maximization problem, no different than the ones engineers solve all the time. There is the price that one may only have arbitrary, private preferences, but liberalism disallows the language one would need to criticize this, making it an elegantly closed system. Russell Kirk’s conservatism of prudence, on the other hand, may do a good job of evoking certain political virtues misplaced by the modern world, but it is too vague to be used as an impartial analytic tool. (For example, has any traditionalist ever given a criterion, one that could be applied by any third party to give the same result, as to when a proposed reform is prudent vs. a utopian effort to build heaven on earth?) It’s application is next to arbitrary.
Scholasticism attempts a compromise practice between the two schools of modern philosophy: openness to the whole of reality–even though it means dealing in subtleties–while demanding the sort of clarity needed for the laws of logic to operate. It attempts to do this by making very fine distinctions, even at the risk of being cumbersome. In theology, the students of Aquinas and Scotus–and, for that matter, Calvin–have an austerity to them, a refusal to be carried along by pious sentiment past where their “data” will go, that I find beautiful. They strike me as being men of firmer faith than their more extravagant contemporaries, because they act like they care about what is actually true. Did Balthasar really believe that Christ descended into an otherwise-empty hell, or was it just for him a good story that expressed his own religious enthusiasm? The ratio of real evidence gathering and reasoning to opaque verbiage does not inspire confidence.
One might say that we at the Orthosphere are attempting to practice a scholastic politics.
Allow me to wrap this up.
Universalism, we’ve seen, goes way back. The ideas of universal brotherhood, a universal natural law, and even of a single ultimate God were known to the pagans. Far from a sign of spiritual advance, the separation of God from one’s people and social order has often marked spiritual decline. In Voegelin’s terminology, the compactness of the world, the sense that local rituals and duties connect to ultimate reality, is lost. The world’s Axial Age, and Israel’s Prophetic Age, were the time when people started to intuit God’s transcendence but didn’t know how to handle it. They could no longer see God’s presence in the ancient theocracies and vaguely imagined Messianic kingdoms in which this tension could be overcome. In the moral order, the question was how one could justify particularity in light of this new universalistic perspective. Having mentally “risen above” the tribe, how does one get back down?
What is the other solution? Imagine the predicament of man who loves his tribe or country but has come to accept that this love, loyalty, and piety are rationally and morally indefensible. His highest moral principles condemn his noblest sentiments. In fact, you don’t have to imagine this–you’re living it–but I’ll get back to that. How can he live with such a spiritual wound? The problem, as he misconstrues it, is this: how, from a universal perspective (shedding, as he imagines he must, his own “empirical ego”) can it be justified to favor this group in particular?
The group must be special in some absolute, objective sense. The only quality that really matters is morality, and the heart of morality (as he understands it) is universalism. And here is the solution! His group is the one to have discovered universalism. That doesn’t, of course, mean that they own it, that they can hoard this treasure for themselves. Quite the opposite! They have a duty to spread their light to those still in darkness. This is, indeed, the very essence and reason-for-being of the group: to spread universalism. A group dedicated to the abolition of groups. A universal, a propositional people. So our man lays down his natural loyalty, and in return he is allowed to pick up a new unnatural loyalty. His new love, for an idea rather than a concrete people, is a cold and inhuman thing compared to the love he left behind, but it is the only thing his cold and inhuman morality of universal brotherhood will allow him, so he makes due with it.
From this morning’s first reading:
“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
Today begins the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the official beginning of what promises to be a two year campaign to destroy what little of the Catholic Church has managed to survive thus far the dark and terrible springtime of Vatican II. Nothing that lay Catholics can do will influence the outcome of this process, even if that outcome hasn’t been rigged from the beginning (and the quite striking omissions in Instrumentum Laboris do nothing to allay my worries on this). Nevertheless, I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a strange urgency to say something. I keep thinking that years from now I’m going to look back on this time, and that it will be some comfort to know that when the Gospel was under assault from the hierarchy itself, I didn’t fail to…I’m not sure what exactly. So I’ll do what I always do: remind people of the stakes.
This is part 4 of a 6 part series. (Yes, the planned length has increased.)
Among those who accuse Christianity of universalism, much is made of its Great Commission to spread the faith and convert all peoples. (I will make no distinction below between “proselytizing” and “evangelizing” because there isn’t any. Since this is a historical-theological study, I will also ignore the current Bishop of Rome’s emphatic rejection of the Savior’s command, which, assuming he has the authority to do such a thing, presumably satisfies anyone concerned with Rome’s universalism.) Undeniably, a conversion of the whole world to Christianity would mean the end of a certain kind of diversity. However, proselytism is not unique to Christianity or monotheism. Every person has some idea of truths that it is important for everyone else to know, meaning naturally that as great a unanimity in favor of such truths should be achieved as possible. Which beliefs should inspire evangelical fervor can be surprising, at least to me. I can understand the practical reason why the believers of anthropogenic global warming should think it important that others believe as they do, but I cannot fathom why evolution by natural selection should be such an aggressively proselytizing faith, while no one feels the same zeal to eliminate unbelief in Kirchhoff’s circuit laws or the theory of plate tectonics.
However, this doesn’t make AGW or Darwinism universalist faiths, in that they don’t necessarily undermine loyalty to non-universal groups. They may accidentally undermine a group if it has a contradictory ideological component, but particular group identity and loyalty is not ruled out in principle. To be a Darwinist doesn’t necessarily mean one is allowed loyalty only to “mankind” or a universal Darwinist Church. That is, AGW and Darwinism are proselytizing but not homogenizing faiths.
Liberalism is an interesting case, with its claim to represent ideological neutrality, and thus be acceptable to peoples of all different beliefs and loyalties. As we have often argued, this neutrality claim is a sham. To reduce religions and communal identities to private hobbies allowed no influence on public life is to destroy them. Liberalism’s demands for freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness, which ultimately mean the delegitimation of anything other than itself, make it the ultimate homogenizing faith.
What about Christianity?
The existence of liberal Christians is an important piece of evidence in the neopagan-neoreactionary indictment of Christianity, but such people are in the obviously anomalous situation of rejecting their own tradition to follow novel doctrines invented by explicitly anti-Christian groups. What are we to make of them? Our own JMSmith, among others, identifies them with Puritanism, whose essence he identifies with “sanctimonious browbeating“, the ideological justification for the Puritan’s self-righteousness being accidental. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon, but I’d like to fill out the picture. Since nobody calls himself a “Puritan”, that word’s use is mainly polemical rather than neutrally descriptive, or at least that’s how someone using it will be understood. I like to let people define and label their own beliefs. What do liberal Christians call their program? “Prophetic“, of course!
In my years as an Episcopal activist, I duly read all the “progressive” magazines and newsletters and press releases and sat through dozens of “progressive” sermons, lectures, press conferences, and literally weeks of General Convention meetings, covering the debates both of the house of bishops and the house of deputies (which included clerics and laymen both). I was surprised, after a while, to notice not only how often the progressives used the word “prophetic,” but how un-ironically they used it.
“Inclusive” language liturgy was Prophetic! and “gay marriage” was Prophetic! and support for illegal immigrants was Prophetic! and legalized abortion was prophetic and so was that and that and that! Nothing they said or did was non-prophetic. Nothing, or almost nothing, was just a good idea or the right thing to do or simply useful or helpful.
This is the second part of a four part series. Part I is here.
Malise Ruthven, in discussing why capitalism arose under Christianity rather than Islam, identifies a core difference between Christian and Muslim societies. (See here for a more extended quote.)
The key to the seemingly anarchic or ‘irrational’ growth of the Muslim city may lie in a singular fact of the Shari’a law: the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’. In Europe, the public right is an abstraction which can be upheld by defending it in law as a ‘legal person’. Litigation between the public and private interest can therefore–for civil purposes–take the form of an adjudication between two parties…The absence of juridicial personality in the Muslim law may not have been an oversight: it is certainly consistent with the uncompromising individualism of the Shari’a. Many aspects of Roman-Byzantine law and administration were taken over by the Arabs…This absence of a juridicial definition of the public sphere had far-reaching consequences. Islamic law did not recognize cities as such, nor did it admit corporate bodies…
To add a few links to this argument I suggest that in the West the Church, the ‘mystical body’ of Christ which alone guaranteed salvation, became the archetype in law of a whole raft of secular corporations that succeeded it during the early modern period. The mystic qualities of fictional personhood originating in the Body of Christ were eventually devolved to joint stock companies and public corporations with tradable shares.
– from “Islam in the World”
This is the first of a 4-part series.
The reactionary blogosphere is largely a debate between Christians and secular or pagan antiliberals. Thus, we argue a lot about whether Christianity is to blame for unleashing anti-cultural universalism and egalitarianism on the world. The related but deeper question is what spiritual forces, whether or not they are distinctly Christian, have driven these movements. I’d like to start this little investigation by inviting a couple of interesting outsiders to have their say, reserving my own arguments for later.
First, here’s historian David Levering Lewis lamenting the victory of Charles Martel at Tours:
Had [Muslim general] ‘Abd al-Rahman’s men prevailed that October day, the post-Roman Occident would probably have been incorporated into a cosmopolitan, Muslim regnum unobstructed by borders … one devoid of a priestly caste, animated by the dogma of equality of the faithful, and respectful of all religious faiths … [T]he victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.
How about that? Islam=equality, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance. Christianity=particularism and hierarchy. That’s the common wisdom among historians. Not all monotheisms are the same, and if group loyalty is what you care about, you’re much better off with Christianity. For their part, Muslims seem to be proud that their faith and its law teach individualism and equality, that it dissolves national and ethnic boundaries.
Of course not. And yet the claim is often heard from groups that otherwise agree on very little. The neo-pagan and neo-reactionary Right say that Leftism is just the working out of noxious elements present in Christianity from the beginning. Some say that these were temporarily offset by other, positive, elements of Christianity; others are under the impression that Christianity itself is pure Leftist drivel but only seemed otherwise because of its “Germanization”, i.e. a borrowed veneer of pagan virility. (Remember, most people don’t know anything about the pre-Constantinian Church or the Christianized Roman Empire, so the idea that Christians were a bunch of pacifist, egalitarian hippies until the conversion of the Germans actually sounds plausible to them.) On the other hand, we have all encountered Christian apologists eager to claim that, on balance, Christianity has been on the side of “progress”, that democracy, female equality, and anti-racism really are in some profound sense our ideas and could never have taken hold without the Gospel.