Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Problem of Evil -- Whose?

Right in time for my own Ash Wednesday meditations and Lenten prayers in general, Anthony Esolen over at MereComments has some wonderful thoughts (as usual) on the evil that is our very own..

A benevolent God would not allow so much evil to be in the world -- so I hear from people who take neither God nor evil seriously. I don't ask just how much evil would be incompatible with the benevolence of God. Presumably the objectors mean that people do evil things, and people die. I've already cast doubt upon those who use the term "evil" as a counter in an argument which they hope will lead to the conclusion that neither good nor evil exists in reality -- while they hope that their opponents fail to notice the contradiction. For now I'd like to ask, "Who are you talking about?"

"Do you believe," I ask, "that a benevolent God could not possibly have created me, or could not possibly allow me to remain in existence?"
"Well, no, I will concede that it is imaginable that a benevolent God could have created you."

"Then who are you talking about? Yourself? Do you mean that a benevolent God could not have possibly have created you?"
"No, I'm not talking about myself, either. I'm talking about the evil in the world."

And there you have it: talk about something vague, something extrinsic to myself and perhaps to my lunch companions. It is unreal. People who have a palpable sense of the presence of evil do not bandy the subject about in this way. They understand, sure, that some people commit murders. They also understand their own hardness of heart, and do not so readily dissociate themselves from killers. They see people steeped in debauchery; but they know too the promptings of the flesh. People who have really meditated upon moral evil will not wave it about like a talisman, crying, "See here, God does not exist, and therefore we may do what we please!" They will sense the evil inherent in that very rationalization. They know that they themselves are the cause that other people doubt the goodness of God. They will at least glimpse what Dostoyevsky was getting at, when Sonia tells Raskolnikov that he must lie down upon the earth in full sight of everyone, and kiss it, and cry out that he has sinned against the earth and against all people, and that he and he alone is responsible for all the evil in the world. That is what people are like, who examine their consciences, and the vanity of their imaginations.
I once knew a woman -- was passionately in love with her, in fact -- who asked me why Catholics go to confession. "To confess their sins," I answered, not understanding the question. "But what if you have no sins to confess?" she asked. That astounded me. "Everyone has sins to confess," I said. "I don't think I do," she replied.
Had I had any sense at all, I'd have run away from this scene as fast as I could. But when I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid. Setting aside the sins she and I were committing together -- that was a touchy subject, and I myself wanted to put it out of my mind -- I suggested that, for instance, everyone tells a lie now and then. "But I've never told a lie," she said, with a straight face. She was, not surprisingly, the most dishonest woman I had ever met, as I well knew at the time. I could (and did) recount a few lies she had told -- which she promptly rationalized away....

...So if you are talking to me about the problem of evil, and you are not talking from the depths of your sorrow, for the evil you yourself have committed, then I say you are not honest; you are not interested in the truth. People as innocent as children -- even they do not bandy the issue about. They, and self-convicted sinners, have good reason not to. For the problem of evil is ineluctably the personal burden of evil: and the materialist response is brutal. It is not that you will carry that burden to your grave. It is worse than that. It is that your burden in itself means nothing; and that there is no one who can lift it from your shoulders. That is, if they ever descend from their pedestals to speak to people whose consciences are so burdened. They seldom do so, lest their shoulders begin to ache. More soon on a world with "compassion" but no sin and no forgiveness...(read the whole article here)

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