Sunday, 1 August 2010

Being edified by thoughts about evil ...

Thanks to Nick Baines I recently came across Terry Eagleton's book On Evil and until a copy arrives in our household I've been posting some of the quotes that Nick has on his blog to my facebook page. For starters here's a bit from the blurb:

For many enlightened, liberal-minded thinkers today, and for most on the political left, evil is an outmoded concept. It smacks too much of absolute judgements and metaphysical certainties to suit the modern age. In this witty, accessible study, the prominent Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton launches a surprising defence of the reality of evil, drawing on literary, theological and psychoanalytic sources to suggest that evil, no mere medieval artefact, is a real phenomenon with palpable force in our contemporary world. In a book that ranges from St. Augustine to alcoholism, Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Mann, Shakespeare to the Holocaust, Eagleton investigates the frightful plight of those doomed souls who apparently destroy for no reason. In the process, he poses a set of intriguing questions. Is evil really a kind of nothingness? Why should it appear so glamorous and seductive? Why does goodness seem so boring? Is it really possible for human beings to delight in destruction for no reason at all?
As I was reading Nick's original post I realised that I hadn't thought much about evil - perhaps not something a theologian should admit. However the parts Nick Baines quoted really brought a smile of understanding to me. I felt strangely edified by thinking about evil in the way Eagleton seems to be suggesting - oddly heartening. Beginning to think about evil also led to a friend sharing an interesting quote from Karl Barth with me:
"Die Torheit des Toren verbirgt sich mit sicherem Instinkt und Griff in ihr Gegenteil, sie gibt sich als Weisheit aus." Karl Barth, in KD IV/2 §65 Des Menschen Trägheit und Elend 2
Anyway for now here is part of what Nick Baines originally posted - I think these quotes are just brilliant!

[Evil] is boring because it keeps doing the same dreary thing, trapped as it is between life and death. But evil is also boring because it is without real substance. It has, for example, no notion of emotional intricacies. Like a Nazi rally, it appears spectacular but is secretly hollow. It is as much a parody of genuine life as the goosestep is a parody of walking.

Isn’t that perfect? He goes on:

Evil is philistine, kitsch-ridden, and banal. It has the ludicrous pomposity of a clown seeking to pass himself off as an emperor. It defends itself against the complexities of human experience with a reach-me-down dogma or a cheap slogan.

Wonderful! And then:

Hell is not a scene of unspeakable obscenties. If it were, it might well be worth applying to join. Hell is being talked at for all eternity by a man in an anorak who has mastered every detail of the sewage system of South Dakota.

I think I’ve met him!

But Eagleton, taking in Aquinas, Augustine and Blake, goes on to conclude:

…evil is a kind of spiritual slumming… The evil, then, are those who are deficient in the art of living.

You can find further reviews of Eagleton's book here, here and here - that final one is a review both of Eagleton's book and of one on Pessimism by Roger Scruton.

1 Comment:

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