Category : Theodicy
Fleming Rutledge’s Talk at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama on the problem of Evil
You may find the mp3 there–take the time to listen and ponder it all.
Fleming Rutledge’s Talk at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama on the problem of #Evil https://t.co/15l6IcbIhf #theology #adulteducation #parishministry #theodicy pic.twitter.com/RRFJqhjC7k
— Kendall Harmon (@KendallHarmon6) March 27, 2018
War broke out in August and in September 1914 Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy wrote these words in his parish magazine:
“I cannot say too strongly that I believe every able-bodied man ought to volunteer for service anywhere. Here ought to be no shirking of that duty.”
This from the man who would, before long be writing this, “Waste”:
“Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of glory, Waste of God–War!”
[Kate] Bowler tells how while she was still in hospital a neighbour came the door and told her husband ‘Everything happens for a reason’. ‘I’d love to hear it,’ the husband replied. ‘Pardon?’ said the woman. ‘The reason my wife is dying,’ was the response. The neighbour said nothing but handed over a casserole.
Bowler lists three life lessons that people try to teach her. The first is that death is just the gateway to heaven. The second is that suffering is ‘an education in mind, body and spirit’. And the third is that attitude determines destiny; just have faith and you will survive. Even atheists find a lesson in suffering. It can show us that we live in an uncaring world and should give up any search for meaning.
Bowler finds no explanation for her suffering but this does not destroy her faith in God. She tells of a ‘free-floating feeling’ that stayed with her for months and conveyed God’s presence to her.
“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.”
Read it all (requires subscription).
A tragedy is like a fault line. A life is split into a before and an after, and most of the time, the before was better. Few people will let you admit that out loud. Sometimes those who love you best will skip that first horrible step of saying: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” Hope may prevent them from acknowledging how much has already been lost. But acknowledgment is also a mercy. It can be a smile or a simple “Oh, hon, what a year you’ve had.” It does not ask anything from me but makes a little space for me to stand there in that moment. Without it, I often feel like I am starring in a reality program about a woman who gets cancer and is very cheerful about it.
After acknowledgment must come love. This part is tricky because when friends and acquaintances begin pouring out praise, it can sound a little too much like a eulogy. I’ve had more than one kindly letter written about me in the past tense, when I need to be told who I might yet become.
But the impulse to offer encouragement is a perfect one. There is tremendous power in touch, in gifts and in affirmations when everything you knew about yourself might not be true anymore. I am a professor, but will I ever teach again? I’m a mom, but for how long? A friend knits me socks and another drops off cookies, and still another writes a funny email or takes me to a concert. These seemingly small efforts are anchors that hold me to the present, that keep me from floating away on thoughts of an unknown future. They say to me, like my sister Maria did on one very bad day: “Yes, the world is changed, dear heart, but do not be afraid. You are loved, you are loved. You will not disappear. I am here.”
Professor of Christian History at Duke University Kate Bowler talks to Time Magazine About Her Cancer Diagnosis and Her Faith
You are an expert in the history of health, wealth and happiness in American religion. Why do Americans see tragedies as tests of character?
It is one of the oldest stories Americans tell themselves about determination and some supernatural bootstraps. The double edge to the American Dream is that those who can’t make it have lost the test or have failed. The prosperity gospel is just a Christian version of that.
Did Christianity fail you?
Sometimes it felt like that, in part because of the stuff people said using the Christian faith to be incredibly trite. Christianity also saved the day. You really want a brave faith, one that says, in the midst of the crushing brokenness, there is the something else there, the undeniable, overwhelming love of God.
You’ve said one of the hardest things about being sick is other people trying to explain your suffering. What would you prefer?
People who hug you and give you impressive compliments that don’t feel like a eulogy. People who give you non-cancer-thematic gifts. People who just want to delight you, not try to fix you, and make you realize that it is just another beautiful day and there is usually something fun to do.
Kate Bowler talks about her cancer diagnosis and her faith https://t.co/NMwuSemgbR
— TIME (@TIME) January 25, 2018
In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.
Read it all. Be warned–this is not short and it is not light bed-time reading; it is, however, well worth the time–KSH.
Any dispute over the propriety of exorcism is particularly sensitive in the British context, because it recalls a dreadful religious and racial confrontation at the start of this century. In 2001, a sensational child murder case indicated the practice of witchcraft on British soil involving ritualistic killing and a trade in human body parts.
Obviously, such extreme criminal behavior demanded a strong and effective official response. But the media soon attributed such horrors to Pentecostal and charismatic churches themselves. In the sensational coverage that followed, the press launched shrieking exposés of immigrant churches that believed in spiritual warfare or practiced exorcisms. These came to be known as Witch Churches.
A potent racial theme pervaded this coverage, with a classic Heart of Darkness scenario portraying African primitivism and violence. Media accounts segued from reporting on exorcisms undertaken to fight diabolic forces to depicting the rituals themselves as a form of primitive jungle savagery dressed in Christian guise. Rituals designed to combat witchcraft were presented as a singularly dangerous manifestation of witchcraft and ritualistic child abuse. The regular conduct of immigrant churches involving exorcism and healing—without any abusive or violent element—was seen as deeply problematic and demanding police intervention.
The government responded by enforcing far stricter rules for African clergy and ministers seeking to enter the United Kingdom, a draconian sanction introduced well before any like restrictions were imposed on extremist Muslims who flagrantly preached hatred and violence. In retrospect, the Witch Church affair was a grim example of religious intolerance— and in this instance, one directed against Christians.
(Washington Post) Peter Candler–How an ancient African saint named Augustine helped me make sense of 9/11
I had nothing grand for them. I just told them about Augustine. I told them that “City of God” was written in response to a trauma: the collapse of the Roman Empire. Granted eternal dominion by the gods themselves, Rome was supposed to be the Empire without End. So, naturally, it came as a bit of a shock when it fell to pieces overnight, when, not with a bang but a whimper, Rome became just one more empire of dust. Some at the time were blaming Christians for the catastrophe, because Christians worshiped a dying God, seemed to celebrate weakness and claimed as their highest virtue not duty to the nation or force, but love of one’s enemies.
So Augustine set out to write a defense of the “city of God” against these accusations, but it soon swelled into a “giant of a book,” as he called it. “City of God” is a study in opposites: the city of God in contrast to the human, terrestrial city. Augustine’s argument throughout the early books is that, contrary to the high praise Rome lavished upon itself for its commitment to the virtue of clemency, Rome had spectacularly failed, and its temples were not the sanctuaries of humility and mercy Romans wished them to be. In the Roman temples of Juno, he writes, “men were forced into slavery as the property of the enemies who had overcome them”; but in the shrines of the martyrs and churches, “they were conducted to freedom by the merciful…”
This was what the students came to hear from Augustine. They came to hear him argue that when the common interest of a public is not grounded in love for its own sake, and when human rights are not grounded in a universal human calling to love God and one another, then we inevitably serve some other god than the God of Love. We worship at some other altar than that of true mercy and freedom, and above all we end up worshiping an idol whose shifting forms disguise his one name: domination. In our desire for mastery over others, we will merely become slaves to the lust for domination that we mistakenly call freedom.
The more complete portrait of Eichmann that has emerged in recent years validates Scholem’s impression. From the descriptions and interviews of Nazi functionaries he himself has read, Scholem reports, it appears, “The gentlemen enjoyed their evil, so long as there was something to enjoy. One behaves differently after the party’s over, of course.”
The enjoyment Scholem refers to is not simple sadism, but the thrill of experiencing a wild inflation of personal power — power over others, power to do as one privately wishes quite apart from any larger, theoretical ideology. What Scholem identifies in Eichmann is the excitement of feeling oneself to be a god.
There are plenty of directions we can turn our eyes today to test the respective theses of Arendt and Scholem about the mentality of the characters crafting policies that cause suffering to the innocent and harm to the planet. Are we seeing conformist functionaries mindlessly carrying out their nefarious duties? Or are we watching numbers of highly self-motivated individuals eagerly, sometimes even gleefully indulging an unconscionable greed for power in all its earthly forms? In Arendt’s schema, given enough basic intelligence, the person who doesn’t know how to think can be taught to do so. But the problem presented by someone in a self-centered passion is different. The person who thinks himself a God has to be removed from power before the contradiction of their fantasy becomes a capital offense.
During 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Now flash forward two decades to the publication of “A Grief Observed,” which Lewis wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, Lewis described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”
Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.
My response was the opposite.
Here are three things that will stay with me:
First is the way that the perpetrators at Auschwitz tried to dehumanise their victims ”“ in a way that actually cost the humanity of both. It worked to some extent. Prisoners killed others in order to live ”“ and were then killed themselves. Others gave their lives, like St Maximilian Kolbe and St Edith Stein.
Second, these atrocities were committed by ordinary people. When one of the priests leading our retreat was asked who was to blame, he said: “People did it to people.”
Third, it was idolatrous and demonic.
When the early Christians wrote about Jesus, this was the story they believed themselves to be telling. They didn’t see him as simply a teacher, a moral example, or even as one who saved people from a doomed world. They told his story as the point where the dark forces of chaos converged, in the cynical politics of Herod and Pilate, the bitter fanaticism of the Pharisees, the wild shrieks of diseased souls, the sudden storms on the lake. They invite us to see his death on the analogy of Jonah’s being thrown into the sea, there to be swallowed by the monster called Death. They insist that in this death God has taken upon Himself the full force of the world’s evil. As a sign of that, the final book of the Bible declares that in the new world, now already begun with his resurrection, there will be no more sea.
Saying this precisely does not give Christian theology an easy explanation (“Oh, that’s all right then”) for the continuing presence of evil in the world. On the contrary, it tells a story about Jesus’s own sense of abandonment, and thereby encourages us to embrace the same sense of helpless involvement in the sorrow of the world, as the means by which the world is to be healed. Those who work for justice, reconciliation and peace will know that sense, and perhaps, occasionally, that healing.
This isn’t the kind of answer that the Enlightenment wanted. But maybe, as we launch into the deep waters of another new year, it is the kind of vocation we ought to embrace in place of shallow analysis and shrill reaction.
“The Beauty and The Horror ”“ searching for God in a Suffering World” spawned an interview by Piers Plowright and in deep discussion with an attentive audience Lord Harries noted on the holocaust at Auschwitz, the question was not “where is or where was God?” but “where was man?” in those very dark days of history.
Oscar Schindler was not a man of faith but he did help to save Jews. God is the source of all goodness, Lord Harries believes, and we are not in a post-religious world, with more believers in Christ, especially growing in China.
On science and medical ethics and religion:- is there a clash? He said that while science gives us results we feel confident in, people can’t feel confident in religion in the same way. Camus and the Karamazov brothers are both sources of allusions to the human condition ”“ much of suffering is debatably made from making the wrong choices.
“I don’t think there’s a good answer..”
He realises what he’s just said, and, respectful of God and Aquinas, hastily moves to qualify, mindful that his previous spontaneous musings have been broadcast around the world and unhelpfully interpreted by a largely unsympathetic media.
“..in an intellectual sense..”
The media won’t do Thomistic philosophy.
“I don’t think there’s an answer which says, ”˜That’s it.’”
“I’m not a good enough theologian,” he justifies, before going on to expound the Book of Job…