Thursday, September 07, 2006

Response: Hart's Comments on Theodicy

(I'm pulling these comments up into posts because I think the articles and issues mentioned deserve posts of their own.)

Crystal links us to an article on theodicy by David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian. It's an excellent article, and eloquently communicates the problems implicit in certain Christian responses to evil:

"these attempts can span almost the entire spectrum of religious sensibility: they can be cold with Stoical austerity, moist with lachrymose piety, wanly roseate with sickly metaphysical optimism."

But Hart's understanding of how the world works is apparently quite different from mine. He talks about creation's fallen state, but this is a problem for me: how can we accept evolutionary theory and also accept the idea that creation was once perfect and then became corrupted?

Similarly, his discussion of Aquinas makes it clear that he thinks there are spiritual beings pushing and pulling on the visible world, and as I've said earlier, this doesn't work for me.

The theodicy i'm hoping to end up with will probably rest some of its weight on the panentheistic idea that God is present in all creation, and so fully rejoices in the good, and fully suffers in the evil, but for one reason or another, doesn't personally act on the world. (Instead, God's agency seems to be expressed through people, and most perfectly in Jesus.)

But coming from the tradition I come from, first I have to deal with the Bible. The modern/premodern move is mostly an attempt to salvage the Biblical text by translating it into terms that I (and maybe a few other materialists) can accept; to understand what seem to be blatant falsehoods as mere differences in language.

4 comments:

Connor said...

"how can we accept evolutionary theory and also accept the idea that creation was once perfect and then became corrupted?"

I've been thinking about this and it seems to me that it would be hard to reconcile these two ideas. Of course liberal mainline churches just kind of toss it but I wonder how the Catholic church sees this issue since it generally accepts evolution but still demands the whole original sin and perfect creation stuff. (me not a Catholic expert nor claim this information to be factual)

Anyways, how was creation perfect in Eden anyway if that stinkin snake was there sowing his evil?

"but for one reason or another, doesn't personally act on the world"

In regards to evolution, I wonder if we could even tell if God "guided" the process or not. Might what appears as a bunch of random happenings be the way that are amazing God went about his creation? Instead of the top down approach of God busting in, maybe its a more of a bottom up approach that in the end may not even be perceptible to us.

Matthew said...

connor said:
"In regards to evolution, I wonder if we could even tell if God "guided" the process or not."

Certainly we can't prove God's involvement one way or another, but there are several different ways of looking at God's involvement. One is to continue to cling to god-of-the-gaps theology by saying that God acted to push human evolution over this or that seemingly insurmountable barrier.

Another would be to say that God personally introduced certain benefical mutations to help the creation along; while this seems a little more acceptable to me, it still postulates God's point-action involvement when there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to do so.

A third way would be the pantheistic or panentheistic approach, saying that God is mysteriously involved in evolution in the same way God is mysteriously involved in every physical process. God is involved in evolution because the universe is immersed in God.

I prefer the third meaning.

connor said...

I think the third meaning was mostly what I was trying to describe. I think that view actually puts in place a necessary humility when it comes to ascribing things to God that is often lacking. Instead of holding to some high degree of confidence that God specifically stepped in at this point or that in our lives, we praise God for the good because we know he is present and we let God know about the bad because we also know that he is there along with us.

crystal said...

Matthew, I thought of you when I saw the panentheism in Hart's stuff :-).