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?"


Lee Keele said...

Sorry I can't be in this class on Sundays. It looks very interesting.

I like the concept. It agrees with what God does for Abraham in the context of his ancient Sumerian background. The ancient gods being rather capricious and not prone to communication with other human beings - God rescues Abraham first and foremost from this horror by communicating with Abraham, which in and of itself was part of this rescue from horror. Secondly, Yahweh communicates that he is not like other Gods - who were apparently in some cases actually calling for child sacrifice.

For a god to demand child sacrifice on the part of a worshiper was probably not foreign to Abraham. A horror to be sure, but not foreign. And yet, God in his own majestic and mysterious way, through the event with Isaac on Moriah communicates to Abraham, and even to the rest of the world, that he is not a God to be feared.

No child sacrifice is necessary after all. In fact, God even provides the animal to be given.

Over and over again, God communicates that he rescues us from fear. And in fact, it may be fear that is the antithesis of faith and not unbelief after all?

What do you think?


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