Sep 18, 2007

At the beginning of class I contrasted two different kinds of psychological needs that emerge as we approach the problem of pain and evil. The problem of evil presents us with a mess that needs some structure, some way to think about the situation. But what we find is that people need different kinds of structure. First, some people require non-specific structure. That is, all they need to make sense of the problem of evil is an answer, any answer. For some, this non-specific structure is enough. But for others, we require what is called specific structure. Specific structure demands a particular answer given the issues an individual considers most important and vital. That is, many people get hung up on particular issues regarding the problem of evil. Thus, broad, sweeping answers (non-specific structure) don’t tend to work for these people. Rather, what is needed is an answer that hits all the right spots for a particular person, spots that can differ from person to person.

I noted that I was drawn to Christ and Horrors because I am a person who has gotten “hung up” on different aspects of the problem of evil. And, to date, only Christ and Horrors has offered me answers to those particular hang-ups of mine. Of course, people will hang up on different issues (or none at all) and, as a result, Christ and Horrors is not going to scratch their itch. But Christ and Horrors does scratch my itch. And I proceeded to outline why.

As I have wrestled with the problem of evil I have tended to get hung up on the following issues:

1. I’ve always felt that horror, rather than sin, was the fundamental predicament of the human condition.

2. I’ve always felt that God bears the lion’s share of responsibility for our vulnerability to horror. Consequently, the burden is on God to get the situation fixed.

3. I think the issue of moral luck must be dealt with. That is, we all start in different places in life and death happens arbitrarily, ending the moral development of the person. In class I read a quote from Eric Fromm to highlight this point: “The tragedy in the life of most of us is that we die before we are fully born.” I feel that God has to somehow make up for this situation.

4.I think death, its sheer existence, is a horror that needs to be defeated. Not just ended, but retroactively dealt with on an individual basis (see #3).

5. Finally, horror defeat must be realized at the personal level. It does no good, in my mind, for God to defeat horror for the Few at the end of time. God must defeat horror in the lives of all horror participants, whether they are Christian or not.

Again, not everyone places these very particular demands on a proposed theodicy. However, many people do. And, to date, Christ and Horrors is the only theodicy I’m aware of that addresses each of these issues. The point is, if you, or someone you care about, does get hung up on any of #1-#5 then Christ and Horrors is an important formulation to work with.

With those issues out of the way, we outlined the basic proposal of Christ and Horrors. Specifically, with Christ as horror-defeater the horror defeat will move through three stages:

Stage 1: Divine Solidarity
In Stage 1 God's presence and participation in horror allows for the possibility for moments of intimacy/union with God in the midst of horror whether we know it or not. Stage 1 horror defeat was accomplished in the Incarnation. That is, by entering into the horrors, God has built a route for personal horror defeat. That is, due to the Presence of God the ability to make meaning out of horrors becomes, theoretically, possible.

Stage 2: Healing and Mothering
Although Stage 1 implies that, post-Incarnation, it is possible to find meaning in the midst of horrors, many, due to ruin inflicted by horror, will not have the capacity to make that move. Thus, in Stage 2 God must work within the individuals developmental history creating meaning-making capacities from the inside out. This involves intensive Divine healing and coaching. Or, as the church mystic Julian of Norwich says, mothering.

Stage 3: The End of Horrors
During the final Stage all the prior work in Stage 2 must be brought to fruition for every person and the entire cosmos must be reconfigured to allow for an existence that no longer is radically vulnerable to horrors.

We should again note that Stage 3 horror defeat is not at the level of the group, where horrors end for the few. Recall #5 above: Horror defeat must occur on the personal level and for all horror-participants (which, given the human condition, means all of us). Here are selections from Christ and Horrors that get after this point:

"I insist, God will be good-to each created person by weaving up any horror-participation into an unending relationship of beatific intimacy with God. In my judgment, grim realism is not inappropriately derogatory of human dignity, but rather serves to magnify the miracle of God's making good on God's cosmic project by benefiting each and every human being. (p. 51)

"Nevertheless, for an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good God, a future just society isn't good enough. What about the countless individuals sacrificed on the slaughter-bench of history? An omniscient and omnipotent God Who loved human beings would make it up to them, would guarantee that there was enough positive meaning in it to defeat their horror-participation and make their lives great goods to them on the whole and in the end!" (p. 207)

"Traditional doctrines of hell err again by supposing either that God does not get what God wants with every human being ("God wills all humans to be saved" by God's antecedent will) or that God deliberately creates some for ruin. To be sure, many human beings have conducted their ante-mortem lives in such a way as to become anti-social persons. Almost none of us dies with all the virtues needed to be fit for heaven. Traditional doctrines of hell suppose that God lacks the will or the patience or the resourcefulness to civilize each and all of us, to rear each and all of us up into the household of God. They conclude that God is left with the option of merely human penal systems--viz., liquidation or quarantine!

Traditional doctrines of hell go beyond failure to hatred and cruelty by imagining a God Who not only acquiesces in creaturely rebellion and dysfunction but either directly organizes or intentionally "outsources" a concentration camp (of which Auschwitz and Soviet gulags are pale imitations) to make sure some creatures' lives are permanently deprived of positive meaning.

My own view is that ante-mortem horror-participation is hell enough. Horrors constitute the prima facie destruction of the positive meaning of our lives; a destruction that we lack knowledge, power, or worth enough to defeat; a destruction that reasonably drives many to despair. For God to succeed, God has to defeat horrors for everyone. We have all been to hell by being tainted by horrors ante-mortem. We all meet the horror of death at the end. For some, life has been one horror after another between the dawn of personhood and the grave. In millions of cases, these horrors have been spawned by the systemic evils of human societies. To be good-to us, God will have to establish and fit us for wholesome society, not establish institutions to guarantee that horrors last forever in the world to come!"
(p. 229-230, emphases in original)

Obviously, this last bit is not a common move in Christian churches. That is, Christ and Horrors will ask us to alter our notions of hell and its function. And yet, however controversial this move might be, we must note that if a theodicy is to satisfy #5 above then this is the only move available. And, given that some people do trip up on #5 it seems worth the effort to make the move made in Christ and Horrors available to those who need it to maintain theological coherence.

Sep 6, 2007

The class began with me handing out an essay from John Hick entitled An Irenaean Theodicy. An abstract of Hick's ideas can be found here. I shared Hick’s essay because his argument shares a family resemblance to the theodicy of Christ and Horrors.

Specifically, we compared an Irenaean theodicy with an Augustinian theodicy. The general structure of an Augustinian theodicy is to posit an initial perfection of man that is subsequently corrupted by The Fall. Thus, in an Augustinian theodicy the movement is from good-to-bad with the responsibility falling heavily on human free will (i.e., Adam’s choice and our own in his wake). That is, the evils of life are the fault of humankind.

In contrast, an Irenaean theodicy posits a bad-to-good movement. That is, humankind’s past is steeped in Darwinian selfishness and aggression. But God is slowly working with Creation, redeeming it, moving it toward Perfection at the eschaton. In an Irenaean theodicy, the burden falls more heavily on God as God’s efforts are required to pull all of Creation toward a state of grace.

Schematically, then, we can compare the Augustinian and Irenaean theodicy positions:

good-to-bad movement
burden/responsibility is on humans
(evil is the product of human free will)

bad-to-good movement
burden/responsibility is on God
(to perfect Creation at the eschaton)

In broad outline, Christ and Horrors follows the Irenaean rhythm.

After these preliminaries we dipped into Christ and Horrors.

At Highland, we tend to begin conversations about salvation by defining our predicament as sin. Thus, the work of the Christ is to save us from our sin. But Christ and Horrors begins in a different place. Specifically, Christ and Horrors begins not with sin but with our vulnerability to horror. Horror, rather than sin, is taken to be the Fundamental Human Predicament. Thus, the book is preoccupied with the question: If salvation is to be rescued from horrors what would Christ have to do to accomplish that work?

To begin to understand how Christ might defeat horror, we first must understand Adams’ definition of horror.

What are horrors? Adams (p. 32) centers them upon existential concerns about meaning: "horrors as evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole."

Just to be clear, Adams (p. 32-33) gives examples, "Paradigm horrors include the rape of a woman and axing off her arms, psychological torture whose ultimate goal is the disintegration of personality, schizophrenia, severe clinical depression, cannibalizing one's own offspring, child abuse the sort described by Ivan Karamazov, parental incest, participation in the Nazi death camps, the explosion of nuclear bombs over populated areas, being the accidental and/or unwitting agent in the disfigurement or death of those one loves best."

These events are horrors because they furnish "reason to doubt whether the participant's life can be worth living, because it engulfs the positive value of his/her life and penetrates into his/her meaning-making structures seemingly to defeat and degrade his/her value as a person" (p. 33). Adams summarizes (p. 34): "the heart of the horrendous, what makes horrors so pernicious, is their life-ruining potential."

Two further comments about horrors are in order. First, even if we do not participate in horrors (either as victim or perpetrator) we are all complicit in horror. Adams (p. 35-36, emphases hers) makes this clear: "Virtually every human being is complicit in actual horrors merely by living in his/her nation or society. Few individuals would deliberately starve a child into mental retardation. But this happens even in the United States, because of the economic and social systems we collectively allow to persist and from which most of us profit. Likewise complicit in actual horrors are all those who live in societies that defend the interests of warfare and so accept horror-perpetration as a chosen means to or a side effect of its military aims. Human being in this world is thus radically vulnerable to, or at least collectively an inevitable participant in, horrors."

A second point that Adams makes later in the book (p. 207) is that "death itself is a horror!" She continues (p. 208-209): "Death proves that there is not enough to us to maintain integrity, to hold body and soul together...It is in our nature and our calling as human beings to strive against the forces what would undo us, and it is in our nature surely to lose...Death mock our personal pretensions...If death is a horror, and death is natural to human being, then to be human is to be headed for horror. In cultic conceptuality, human being is a prima facie cursed kind of thing to be."

In sum, this is our Condition: God made a world where we are radically vulnerable to or complicit in horrors. The world is saturated in horror. Thus, the Work of Christ must be, fundamentally and foundationally, involved in horror defeat (p. 52): "If non-optimality is construed in terms of God's setting us up for horror-participation by creating us personal animals in a material world such as this, then the Savior's job is to be the horror-defeater. Our next question is: Who would Christ have to be, what relation to God and humankind would Christ have to have, to accomplish this saving work?"

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