The Etiology of Evil

Commenting on my recent post on sin as enacted falsehood, Lydia asked a tough question:

Kristor, here’s a question: If sin is always enacted lying, what about people who love to do evil because it is evil? What about a torturer of the innocent, for example? He isn’t saying that torturing is “the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances.” He’s torturing because it _isn’t_ the appropriate thing to do, and because he loves the perversion. Some people love perversion for being perverse–love to read the universe backwards. I take this to be the essence of the demonic, if the demonic can be said to have an essence. Since we can imagine such a thing as a demonic will which truly adheres to evil for evil’s sake, it seems that this must be possible, and indeed (more’s the pity) we do know of monstrously evil human beings who have enacted the demonic will in our mundane world.

This is an especially important question, it has always seemed to me. I’d be a long step closer to being convinced that there is an a priori argument (or nearly a priori argument) for the existence of an omnibenevolent God if I didn’t have a rather vivid sense of the possibility of an extremely powerful (all-powerful?) but truly evil will.

I responded:

Ugh. That’s a really tough question. I mean, it’s about fifteen tough questions. Thanks! I think …

I do have a response. But it’s too long for a comment. So, I’ll post it as a new entry.

This is that post.

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Apokatastasis

Lydia McGrew has posted a great-hearted and generous essay on Heaven, The Glorious Liberty of the Children of God, which I heartily encourage you to read. The following started out as a short comment thereto, but became too long, and thus too presumptuous to post as such on someone else’s site. So, I inflict it on you! Thanks, then, to Lydia. I loved that post. Some reactions, beginning with a quote:

We don’t know what [a new Earth] will be like. Will there be germs, while we are simply resistant to them? If there are dogs, cats, and horses, will they have puppies, kittens, and foals, and how will the animal population problem work if they do? Where will our food come from, and how will we acquire it without the “sweat of our brow”? Bugs certainly have their place in the present ecosystem, but a new earth containing ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers sounds a bit problematic, so how is that going to work? We have no idea of the answer to any of these questions.

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Women & the Draft

Lydia McGrew points out that now that the US Military is set to open all its combat roles to women, it is only a matter of time before young women are required to register for the draft. She wonders whether, or how, a woman who objects to military service for those of her sex might establish an efficacious objection of conscience to her own military service. The prospects are not encouraging.

Bread of Heaven

The eucharist is different from the other sacraments. Jesus never said, “Friends, this water [of baptism] is my spittle,” or “this nard [of chrismation, ordination, and unction] is the oil of my brow.” But he did say that the Bread is his Body, and the Wine his Blood. Nor did he say that the Bread is “sort of like” his Body. He could of course have done so, if that is what he had meant to say. But instead he stated a straightforward, in your face identity between the Bread and his Body, and between the Wine and his Blood; and, since Jesus is identical with God, we are not at liberty to interpret his statement in any other way. The many disciples who instantly abandoned him on account of this “hard teaching” certainly didn’t; they figured that he was a lunatic because he said:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world …  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him … This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. (John 6:47ff)

Is there any way he might have indicated the identity between the Body of his Incarnation and the Bread of his Presence more explicitly? Whatever the undoubted metaphysical difficulties of the Real Presence, if Jesus is Really Present in the elements, then they just are him, and it behooves us to grapple with this fact. It is, indeed a difficult teaching. How may we understand it?

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Who do you trust?

Two excellent essays:

  1. Alan Roebuck’s Why do people believe what they believe?  Because of the authorities.  Yes, it’s absolutely true:  people believe what they’re told to believe.  Liberalism’s uncontested hegemony itself disproves the liberal belief that people naturally rebel against established orthodoxy.  Even what passes for rebellion in the Western world (e.g. teenagers) is in fact people doing what they are told is expected of them.
  2. Lydia McGrew’s Picking our models carefully.  It’s not that Wendell Berry is wrong about something that makes him an unfit guide; it’s that he’s wrong about the most important things, and wrong in not even realizing that they are the most important.  See also the comments where Lydia ably defends herself from the usual “but commercialism is bad too” objections and convinces me to add Thomas Fleming to my list of “Worthless Pseudoconservatives”.

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Naming our Adversary

Taking demons seriously is not optional for Christians. Jesus – that is to say, God – believes there are demons. He believes that they are after us. He can’t be wrong – I mean, He’s God, right? So there are demons. That’s all. What more do you need to know? Do you believe the Creed, or not? If you do, then you believe what Jesus believed. So, you believe demons are real. They are as real as the flu you got over just last Wednesday, as real as the car door you slammed on your finger back in ’98. And they are after us. That’s it. Get over it.

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Credo: Before all Worlds

For most of my life I’ve been trying to make sense of the Nicene Creed. I started at age seven, when (thanks be to God) I became a choirboy, and was forced by the high discipline commonly expected of boys in those halcyon days to sit like a statue and listen to the sermon, or at least pretend to listen, but anyway to sit stock still. Sitting still all the way through a 20 minute sermon is hard enough for grownups, but for a seven year old boy it is sheer torture. Yet somehow we all managed to learn how to do it (it was that or an enraged dressing down from our dear old choirmaster, God rest him), and I have been grateful for the lesson ever since.

Anyway, I found the sermons impossible to track. This is still generally the case. I thought when I was a boy that the problem was in me – that I was just too young and uneducated to understand all that grown up talk, and that when I grew up I’d be able to follow the sermons. It didn’t happen. I am now pretty sure that the problem is not in me.

But, to return again to the point: because I couldn’t follow the sermon, I would spend that time thinking about the Nicene Creed, and trying to make sense of it. I’m still working on that project. I’ve figured out a few things, though, and perhaps it makes sense to share them. In the first place, I’m likely to be schooled in my errors by commenters, and that will be salutary for my spiritual health, if only by knocking me down a peg or two.

In the second, I have found that my difficulties with the Creed engendered difficulties with my faith. So much so, that often in my youth I found my faith and my reason operating on wholly different and antagonistic tracks, the latter churning along analytically (and skeptically) in my cortex, the former making itself evident in my physiological responses to the numinosity undeniably effulgent in the music I sang, and in the liturgies I helped enact. I could not gainsay the Holy, for I experienced it in quite concrete fashion – indeed, in quite spooky, ravishing fashion – several times each week. It is awfully odd, oddly awful, always hair-raising and somewhat terrific, to hear almost completely pure Platonic Forms issuing from one’s mouth (such sublimity in music is the high privilege granted to boy sopranos). And singing for hours and hours about God, for God, and to God cannot but form a boy toward God. But my analysis could not penetrate far enough to provide me with a way to say the Holy, by which I mean the Sanctus, without gainsaying it at least a bit. I said the Sanctus, and that in good faith; but always with a bit of mental reservation, and not in perfect, unrestrained faith. For that I longed, as I longed also for understanding. I wanted my faith, and my understanding, to be as close to pure and perfect as the music I sang.

Christian faith is crucial to that rightly ordered society whose restoration is a palmary concern of the Orthosphere. As confusion about the Creed is an impediment to faith, so then is it an impediment to justice. And most people these days are pretty confused about the Creed. Indeed, it is entirely scandalous to moderns, from beginning to end. Almost every word of it can be somehow a stumbling block. Stravinsky is reported to have remarked, after he finished composing the Credo of his Mass, “It is much to believe.” In other words, “I don’t believe much of it.” His attitude is not uncommon even among devout and erudite Christians.

For a while now, I’ve been able to say the Credo, and a fortiori therefore the Sanctus, without the least bit of mental reservation, and indeed with joy. The reason? Mostly, I’ve learned what the Creed is actually saying, what it means. That has made me a better Christian, and also therefore a better and more efficacious Traditionalist. But I keep learning more about what the Creed means, and growing in faith. It gets better and better, more and more joyful. I doubt these days, not that the Faith is true, but that there is a limit to its truth, or to the understanding and enjoyment thereof. Increase of joy without limit: what a thought, no?

I am forbidden to hide under a bushel basket, and my presence here at the Orthosphere seems to me entirely an expression of gratuitous grace in my life – as with those pure Platonic tones of my boyhood, I myself have, really, nothing to do with it. My bushel basket has been kicked aside, I find. I am therefore obliged. So I shall keep on with my life’s Magnificat, and post from time to time on some of the things I have learned, that have turned stumbling blocks into cornerstones.  

This is such a post.

In the Credo, we say of Christ that he is begotten of the Father before all worlds. What do we mean by “before all worlds”? We mean, “in eternity.” OK, but what does “eternity” mean? 

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