Humans are very interesting, and it is curious how easily we fall into disgusting acts of violence. But we are all capable of carnage. Indeed, it has nothing to do with gods, who aren't nearly as concerned in the affairs of men as we narcissists might suspect. If an all powerful, all knowing god existed, I would hate him - but there is no reason to believe in such a being.
Instead, we can believe in the dead butchered body of a poor African boy. We can believe in the good in all of us that feels sick at the sight or thought of such a horror. We can move on and enjoy our dinners because we are, for now, civilized…capable of creating a better world.
Why is it that Man thinks God can only be God if just good is the answer. Take Jesus, he came to absolve us of our sins by being crucified. He did not start a charity for the downtrodden. Does that story tell us something. Man is afraid of the evil side, and maybe this is good. God it is quoted, said he is a jealous God, does that say anything to us. Man, is part of the evil and it cannot be denied. Forgive me, Man does feel anything can be denied, maybe the problem lies there. One thing for sure, God never denied evil was with us he spoke directly to us, it is in the Lord's prayer.
I know how you felt about that picture. The picture that had the same effect on me was the dead mother clutching her dead child lying on the ground, victims of Saddam and his gas. I'll never forget that picture as long as I live. Whenever a Galloway or someone else of that ilk appears on stage defending the likes of him, that picture appears fresh in my mind, and I dismiss them as people who believe in nothing.
Thanks for the great personal essay, Gerard. I read it with great interest, since I've long since thought of you as someone who seeks and knocks like one who truly wishes to find what he looks for. Keep knocking.
Like the song says, "I have been through to the bitter depths of my soul". Thank you for the glimpse into yours.
It's strange that God does not hate us back. Another of the reasons that He is God and we are not.
We can seek whatever we want to in the world, and find it. Hence, what we seek is more important than what we find.
Or something like that. ;)
It sure is inspiring to see you discovering your own personal act of heroism by finding God once again, after shunning him for years. Some day I hope to lay eyes on that magical photograph myself, so I can be blessed with the splendorous wave of divine self-righteousness you felt that day.
To jm, posted above:
It was the Pride we received from The Bastard's Bible, that conveniently abridged edition, that allowed us to turn on our neighbors. You can dismiss that your opponents have morals, opinions, or motivation for what they so desperately plead, which is that we stop the killing. You think we haven't ended the lives of ten times the civilian deaths as Saddam? Do you honestly believe that? Do you honestly believe Jesus told us to vanquish our foes? He died on the cross because he could just could not kill any more Romans?
This is the New America: dismantled democracy and the hedonism of a bath of blood.
This is some of the deepest, most personal, and most real work I have come across. Grateful thanks to you for sharing it.
Stephen in South Africa.
"You can dismiss that your opponents have morals, opinions, or motivation for what they so desperately plead, which is that we stop the killing."
That's what we were doing in April 1994: staying away from the rest of the world, so that our opponents could "stop the killing".
Only, it turned out that what they wanted to do was massacre hundreds of thousands in Rwanda.
Until Bush invaded Iraq, I used to hear numbers batted about for how many Iraqis had died in the U.N. sanctions from 1991 to 2003. Those numbers were in the hundreds of thousands. After Bush overthrew Hussein, and leftists seemed to realize that such huge numbers made a moral case for removing Hussein from power, the estimates shrank -- massively.
Now, it just might actually be true that Hussein's reign was relatively bloodless. (I say 'relatively' because even the Left dimly acknowledges his butcheries, by such wan admissions as "Of course Hussein was a bad man.") And it might also be true that the Lancet's most inflated estimates for the war dead in Iraq since 2003 (estimates much higher than the U.N.'s own) are valid.
But, even granting both of those points, that would not change the fact that many of us who slept through the Rwanda massacres in 1994 later found ourselves morally compelled to support removing Hussein from power -- precisely because we had lived through the sleepwalking 1990s, and had decided that those years had been ethically and politically inadequate.
Right now we seem to be heading back to a time when our country's isolated torpor of the 1990s will again be in fashion. But I feel very safe in predicting that that won't last. For the world is not, in truth, simply waiting for America to "stop the killing". I wish it were.
I was ready to email you about halfway through reading this to tell you exactly what you concluded - God gave us freewill. Glad I finished the essay before I started writing. What we do with it constitutes the evil in the world. Evil is the absence of God, not the making of God.
My memory of Lake Victoria is buzzing the shore in a US Navy A3D - 1963. Flamingos took flight. Thousands? Millions? At least five miles of birds in action. Glorious!
Deeper meanings? I've been thinking about that for more than 60 years. No real good answers. I doubt that there are any. Mysterious. In the mean time I'm going with the Judeo-Christians. I'd like to think them right.
Hating God and loving God (and fearing same) are simply two different manifestations of the same illness; Acquired Cultural Delusional Disorder.
Interesting that a common response to the inexplicable is to conclude supernatural agency. Whatever madness that compels men to slaughter children, it is no less anthropogenetic than the inspiration to compose symphonies. It is impossible to explain either, but I refuse to lean on a divine crutch, whatever excuses the human beings involved may invent.
In subsequent posts, Gerard properly despises the catechism of the new Church of the Earth. It is a grisly shuck perpetrated on gullible dull-normals, by invoking fearful fates for those who do not drink the Kool-Aid(R).
And it is just like that Old Time Religion. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. I don't hate God; I just outgrew him.
This was a comment on Wretchard's piece on the Bombing in the Bagdad Pet Market - which makes the point on Good, Evil and Free Will.
Yes, the eternal question of why Evil is allowed to exist in this world. I've come to believe that God allows it to exist in order that we can understand Evil for what it is. And by understanding the difference between Good and Evil, we can exercise our free will to choose.
And I have to believe that it is part of Gods plan that we, as sentient beings of free will, must consciously make our own choice between Good and Evil. Were Evil to be eliminated from this world, we would lose our ability to know the value of Good, and the devalue the choice that God wants us to make.
Without the existance of Evil, Goodness becomes banal.
...or it could be that there is no such thing as God.
Really? How would we know?
What had disturbed me was only the abstraction of a child snagged out of the world with photographic film, transmitted across the oceans via orbiting satellites. printed up on sheets of flimsy paper, and delivered to me and millions of others on a weekly basis.... to what purpose?
To thank God that we, as a nation, have the means and will to protect our children from such things and to ask God to never let us have to.
You are correct about 'the purpose' of that image, and the role of that purpose in "(teaching me) the one thing I really needed to know to live the life we are expected to live as fully paid-up members of today's "advanced and enlightened" society."
When I see a picture like that in the glossy pages of some vapid 'news' magazine, I know the purpose (as you wrote), but I always think:
"There. Right there: That's why I'm not one of you (vapid news magazines). That's why I joined the Army. That's why I own guns. That's why I Believe. I'll die before that happens here. I can't save 'em all, but I can make a difference around me. Thank God."
Thank you, Gerard, for posting this again.
God gave us free will. With it, many will do evil. Others will try to prevent them from doing it. Others will stand by, oozing humanist platitudes and excusing themselves from the battle. Thank God for giving you the ability to discern the differences and to choose which group you want to belong to.
Suit up and get to it. Civilization, and your own soul, are at stake.
There's a new approach to Catholicism on catholicfundamentalism.com Looks as God as "The Unprogrammed Programmer" and He can program in three dimensions, make particles, compile them into structures and beings, andthe high point of it is us.
The fundamentalism part comes because He could do it in a week, and make everything look old so we'd have free will.
Demons, in this theory, are analagous to computer viruses.
I had to face the problem of the destruction of children and childish innocence when I first encountered my brother's mental illness (schizophrenia). It's true that this is less dreadful than losing someone you love to horrific violence - but on the other hand, mental illness is in a sense a natural condition, and certainly not one directly caused by human evil. As a result, it brings you face to face with the question of why God permits such horrible natural evils, without the possibility of blaming them on human malice.
I don't know the answer to that question. I do know that the only possible response is to stand by and be ready to do what we are called to do when others are in need. That's all, really.
Hatred must precede any other feeling. It is the nature of our broken condition that this be so. And the white-hot hate is a salve, a balm against injustice.
When I was about 7 or 8, halfway through my sojourn at a Catholic orphanage, one of the nuns was reading a book whose title I could see: The Man Who Got Even with God."
I lusted for that book. I wanted to know how he did it so I could perform the same feat. When I asked to read it, Sister Isabel told me I was too young..."someday...", she said.
Many, many years and rivers later, I came across the book in a monastery library (I was researching the earliest histories of monasticism, the ones before Benedict).
I could feel the electricity coming off the cover as I pulled the book from the shelf. But maybe that was simply the layers of dust. I wiped it with my skirt and walked to the window to see it better.
Dare I open it? What if the secret to getting even (getting revenge) was too costly? I sat to read...and found that I was holding a book about taming the will, about a man who met every crisis in his life with anger..."doesn't everyone?" I thought.
A hour later, I'd finished the book. Sister Isabel was wrong. It wasn't that hard to understand at all, just impossible to fulfill.
Anger is inverted pride, as hatred is inverted love. Implicit in them both is the accusation: "but you *promised*..."
And then years after that, I typed out the euology I'd written for my mother and closed it with
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will...
That will be my epitaph. In the grave I will learn to be still...
Yes, why is it that the evil we see we attribute to God? I too have seen the photograph, not of the child you mention but another one, this one with a name, the name of Melissa. How could God abandon her so? I could not believe in such a God. But later, God came to me in my own dark night. And I knew He had nothing to do with the evil that was / is perpetrated in this world. This is a remarkable post. Thank you.
alias clio, you raised the specific example of schizophrenia. Perhaps if you commit acts usually thought of as evil and you were caused to do so by schizophrenia, you should be excused the consequences of those acts. But there are two points; first that various types of mental illness can be simulated, at least well enough to convince a witness inclined to believe it. And second, that it is well known that ingesting certain illegal substances can eventually make you schizophrenic.
So if you stab someone to death because of schizophrenia caused by your voluntary smoking of skunk, should you still be excused? My answer is NO. Especially since that side effect is so well known. Equally, "I was drunk at the time" should never be considered either defense or mitigation. People very rarely have funnels stuck down their throats and whiskey poured in.
That was an eloquent essay. Yet, while it properly absolves God of the moral evils committed by mankind, it does not address the problem of natural evil. Are men responsible for viruses, earthquakes and hurricanes? Who, if not God, is responsible for the tragedies caused by such things. If it be said that he does not actually cause these things, I don't think it could be gainsaid that He permits them and their consequences. But that's not a problem, right?
John, as far as I know it, since Man is the fulfillment of Creation, his fall pulls everything down with him. We can see this literally, i.e. 19th century London and its smog and disease from rampant greed and carelessness; but from a poet's standpoint this is a reflection of something greater. When there was only one man and one woman, their kingship supreme; if they fell, the whole kingdom came down with them. Shattered, broken, twisted. What prevents us from understanding natural evil is the horror of it. But in the lives of holy men and women, we have seen paradise return, even if for only them and around them.
It is strange and perhaps hard to comprehend, but our connection with our world - which is alive - is more than just that of an eye observing a canvas. Even the stones are alive, one might say, they just live very, very slowly.
Milton, Freidman, Theodore Dalrymple, and Oliver Sacks always come to mind when I think of atheists, because their natures are so very exceptional by any measure, and more so because they escaped the curse so common to atheists--as much as those bothered by this essay generally did not.
Bold, enforced sterility.
Goethe saw that the unnatural, that too was natural. Perhaps the Creator did not make man, but only his soul. But then we could not blame him for our horror.
A part of growing up is in not blaming our parents any longer.
Omniscience. Omnipotence. Omnibenevolence. Pick two.
Just curious Fletcher. Do you ever doubt yourself? Given that great minds past and present - some presumably greater than yours - were/are believers? I know, I know - some great minds were/are atheists too, but when I hear them speak or read their writings on matters of faith, they seem so foolish. Sorry I can't provide the attribution, but someone said "people of religious faith have to account for natural evil - non-believers have to account for everything else."
Another profound, and deeply moving piece. Thank you, Mr. Vanderleun.
Interesting how any mention of the "G" word brings out the atheist trolls, and sets them yapping like so many hysterical chihuahua dogs trying to chase the postman away. Made any converts, guys? Have you convinced anyone to abandon their faith yet? No? I wonder why. Here's a clue, though. The postman will return. And what he has for you isn't junk mail. But no one can force you to look. You have to do that of your own free will.
Once again, thank you for your honesty and your eloquence.
I'm your age or a little older, and like you I've seen endless evil and ugliness, much of it real personal. When I read the venom spewed by the atheist trolls who respond to posts like these, it's always notable to me that the dichotomy is seen as God vs man, and always seems to ignore totally the existence of Satan, evil personified.
Like angry atheists, Satan and his angels were convinced that their envy of God was the equivalence of enlightenment, and that the absence of humility constituted wisdom. The recognition of Grace in my puny life has left me with more responsibility than I could often bear, but finally accepting that there is evil in the world has relieved me of the necessity of atoning for the bad that was done to me.
In a way this is like the attainment of adulthood, which was once described to me as the sudden awareness that there are in fact people who don't have your best wishes at heart. And I'm only 64.
The pivotal question raised in this heartfelt essay is, for me, how we the privileged, live our lives, with the knowledge of, or intentional avoidance of knowledge of the evil that exists.
I think of the parable of the "good Samaritan", and how the privileged of that day, made a circuitous route around the victim of evil.
Suffering is everywhere all the time. Life is suffering. Especially now, in the time of Obama, and I fear it's about to get much worse. I think we must do what we can when we're aware of the suffering.
-"so when you see your neighbor carrying something, help him with his load"...
I seem to recall (from college years)
Eliot reciting, in dry and dusty voice
the verse you cite.
I kept my cool
(For youth, the coolness must be kept...)
But later, alone, at night
Then, then was when I wept.
Yowzah Mr.VdL! I hadn't even gotten to your lines about 'coolness trumping' before posting my clumsy but heartfelt lil' ol' verse above. A tight engagement 'tween reader & writer can be moving indeed...
Most of us feel clumy and oafish in the face of writing like this.
At one time I was profoundly unconscious in my belief that my casual and indifferent god was the God of goodness and mercy I've since chosen to follow - however imperfectly. When the subject even came up in conversation with what I had considered to be peers back then it was always "yeah, I believe in a god". Mind you, I couldn't quite bring myself to ever outright defend my faith -such as it was- when my "spaghetti monster's" existence was attacked by my 'friends'. I nevertheless silently and passively hedged my cowardly little bets in his existence.
It wasn't until many years and more than a few peers had been passed by that I discovered that the strength of what I had understood as my benign indifference to God actually existed in direct proportion to my utter disbelief in the reality of Satan's hand in shaping the horrors and suffering on this world.
Curiously enough the images that opened the floodgates of my heart and started me on my journey toward our Father in Heaven were also of a Rwandan girl who had suffered under the edge of a machete...I saw her in an interview on an HBO documentary about the children of war. Her words and the beautiful visage that evil men had tried to destroy changed me forever and to this day tears well up in my eyes just thinking of her. Tears of rage and pity that have since become tears of love and hope.
In that little Tutsi girl I saw not only God but also the works of the nemesis of his love. As I remember her, she couldn't have been more than five or seven at the time but her eyes showed that she had already seen more of the works of the deceiver than I pray I or any of my own ever have to see.
She spoke of how she was made to watch as her entire family was hacked apart and thrown down the very well in which she was eventually found crumpled and bleeding amidst the meat of what had been her family. She too had fallen under the men's devilish blades, but this miracle child had survived. She spoke softly and with grace I had never imagined existed about the day the bad men slaughtered her family and everyone she had known. She spoke although nearly half of her head was literally gone...Carved flat to little more than half its intended size; but in my heart since healed over to twice its original beauty.
In the end, because of her, when I leave this earth I will at the very least leave with a smile knowing that it was the grace of an unknown little girl and the work of the devil himself that has showed me the way to God.
Maybe spending all eternity alone in a vast universe did something to his mind, though.
Maybe we all experience reality from a very limited perspective, being mere mortals.
Perhaps God's reality is all that matters: God, after all, makes the rules.
Personally, I don't hate God but I'm not sure I really like him. He keeps killing my dogs.
When I imagine God on one side and Satan on the other, I think to myself, "God, what a choice!".
On one side God, and apparent indifference to all this worlds' suffering, and on the other, Satan, pure evil and hatred of God and all creation.
God, so indifferent, apparently, to the suffering of man(Christians, look what he did to his Son!)
and on the other hand Satan, despising God and all creation.
I feel like a kernel of wheat thrown to the winds, along with millions of other seeds, to land where we might and survive as best we can.
But what choice is there, really?
The game is rigged at conception.
We might have free will but in reality there is no freedom of choice.
God's way or the highway.
Many of the deciever's lapdogs seem to do well in this world (the battle ground). We all get to chose sides.
The rewards for our choice to follow a path and live a life that leads toward God are not necessarily of this world.
Thanks for this disturbing and challenging essay. Those of us that believe in God are often asked to explain the presence of evil, and lately it seems harder to answer than I remembered. But as I've heard explained, it's the atheist and agnostics that need to explain any good in the world. There need not be any good, at all. We could easily have not one tender moment in our lives. Yet, we've all had more goodness than we deserve if we are without a purpose. We may some day know the reason for the pain.
That was good reading..even for this atheist.
It appears to me that the current pos in the house of white, having a breast without a heart, sees the absolute barbaric bastards he is essentially supporting just doing their job for their religion of peace. He being a member of that sect of course.
So glad you shook that darkness. I've been angry with Him for the same reasons since I was a child. I can't separate the Almighty I know is there from the evil He allows. I've longed for my jester for some time. If I wait much longer, I may start to pray for it.
You are a light in the world, Gerard. So blessed to know you, brother. BTW: What are your plans for Lent this year?
"That we are, each and every one of us, capable of the darkest evil?"
This is impossible for some to believe, especially when applied to themselves.
Gerard, thanks for sharing this again.
I came across a comment at Father Stephen's blog last night that seems apropos here:
"Tolkein chronicles in the Silmarillion creation account that the Satan figure attempts to mar God’s creation song intentionally with the interjection of bum notes. God does not respond by producing a 'big eraser;' rather, He takes the notes into the Song, where they fit perfectly, of a piece with the Beauty. (Much to the Devil’s chagrin).
Lewis also alluded to this in Narnia when the white witch cast the lamp post at Aslan (creating the world by singing), only to have the lamp post, upon contact with Aslan and the Song, become part of the living landscape.
What does the book of Revelation actually…'reveal'?
It seems rather obvious that what what it does NOT reveal is a Progressive god producing his 'big eraser' to 'fix' our errors. Rather, what IS revealed is the transformation/transfiguration of our sin/weakness/failure/error.
They are not removed, but rather redeemed."
There is more to the comment, well worth reading. And the post which inspired it as well, naturally.
May you and all your readers have a blessed and fruitful Lent.
Its a real battlefield, there are real casualties. The traitor passes from man to man like shadows in water. Its scary as hell.
It is free will that allows us to recognize good and evil and free will that allows us to embrace good or evil. Without the free will we would be Islam...forever following the cue cards without conscience intervening.
The great Christian theologian Augustine claimed that evil is not the opposite of good but the privation or corruption of the good.
Nearly all of the best Protestant theologians of the Christian age say that we indeed live in a world of evil men, the apparent absence of God and a corrupted natural realm of death because that was exactly what our first parents in disobedience to a single command of God wanted.