Thursday, 9 July 2009

The problem of evil ...

As always over on Ben Myers Faith and Theology blog there is an excellent discussion on the question of evil beginning as a result of Kim Fabricius posting his vote of thanks following a lecture on “Horrendous Evils: A Theological Problem of Evil and its Solution” at the University of Swansea by Marilyn McCord Adams.
I've been thinking alot about evil recently, its banality, its horrendousness, its attractiveness. That terrible phrase "for evil to triumph all it takes is for the good to say nothing" rings too often in my ears. Evil requires countering.
I don't believe in a theology of meaning in suffering - certainly not in a theology which imposes meaning on those who suffer. I also don't at all believe there is meaning in either banal or horrendous evil.
One of those commenting on Kim's post mentions Hans Jonas' Theology after Auschwitz. This made me once more remember the work on a similar theme of my friend Alain Blancy, the tentative final version of his paper (written a few days before he died) on theology after Auschwitz seemed to indicate it might be possible to blame God as the only theological way through impossible, unthinkable evil.
I'm still not sure about this, though the Psalms often have no such qualms!
But as I think this evening of news received in recent days from Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, China, the local women's refuge ... I somehow do not feel it is "enough" to simply blame God and so get over the problems of evil.
After all in the play God on trial, after God has indeed been found guilty, those who have judged God turn around and say the morning prayer.
What I sense I may be groping towards myself has something to do with grace existing powerfully despite horrendous violence and the silence that imposes. I can see what is meant by McCord encouraging a reaquaintance with mortality outlined in the second quote below. But I wonder about the sometimes prurient focus on evil. Is it possible to find a Grace Jantzen way through the minefield of horrendous evil, a way of of valuing natality and creativity despite evil? Perhaps a narrative theology that takes both evil and resistance to it seriously would be one possibility, a way of honouring that "suffering is without explanation or compensation" but is still part of our human and divine story. After all Jesus the Riddler threw down questioning, parabolic stories of hope, which did not offer simplistic answers to the ambiguities of life in first century Palestine. The complexity of the narrative of our lives linked to the divine may be my way towards living despite evil.

Anyway here is an extract from Kim's original post and from one of his comments in the discussion, and Bishop Alan's thoughts triggered by the same post:

Professor Adams, firstly, fully acknowledges the irreducible horrendousness of horrendous evils, the meaninglessness as well as the pain. Second, she knows that a moral taxonomy is insufficient to account for the sheer intensity and scale of suffering, and she knows that the free-will defence fails because of its overblown account of human agency (not to mention its competitive account of divine and human freedom). Third, if Professor Adams speaks of the participatory suffering of God, it is, quite unlike the process theologians, only in connection with a robust two-natures Christology: it is the crucified and risen Jesus who is the horror-bearer and-defeater. Finally, Professor Adams consummates her theodicy with a robust faith in universal salvation, not because all must win prizes but because God is good and resourceful, the maker and re-maker of meaning, and because the penal options (as she puts it) of “liquidation or quarantine” are hardly a satisfactory quid pro quo for hell on earth. And all so tightly argued: Professor Adams is, after all, a philosopher in the analytical tradition.

"Perhaps it is time for philosophers of religion to look away from theodicy - not to appeal blandly to the mysterious purposes of God, not to appeal to any putative justification at all, but to put the question of how we remain faithful to human ways of seeing suffering, even and especially when we are thinking from a religious perspective. Part of the task of a good theology and a candid religious philosophy is, I believe, to reacquaint us with our materiality and mortality. And part of that is the knowledge of suffering as without explanation and compensation" ("Redeeming sorrows: Marilyn McCord Adams and the defeat of evil", in Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, pp. 271-72).