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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creation



This week's movie rental was Creation, a 2009 British film about Charles Darwin, starring Paul Bettany (Dustfinger!) and Jennifer Connelly, and based on the book Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-great grandson.

The acting was good, the cinematography was really well done with lots of arresting images, the story quite interesting - it told of the relationships between Darwin and his family, his friends Huxley and Hooker, and God, and the stresses on those relationships due to the writing and planned publication of On the Origin of Species. Having said that, I found the movie sad and disturbing. The pathos of Darwin losing his daughter to death was really painful, there were scenes (like the killing and skeletonizing of pigeons) that I wish I could erase from my mind, and the characters seemed to divide up into two polarized groups - Darwin's wife and the h minister (John Brodie-Innes) were on religion's side, and Darwin's daughter and his friends were on the science side (an anguished Darwin seemed almost caught in the middle between them).



I found the pov of religion as expressed in the movie to be pretty awful. The minister prayed ... Dear God, we know the world is governed by thy plan, extending to the merest creatures thou hast made, such that even a sparrow falls not to the ground without thy will. Teach us that all misfortune, all sickness and death, all the trials and miseries of which we daily complain, are intended for our good ....

I wasn't any more consoled by the science pov in the movie, offered by Darwin's brightly smiling daughter explaining away the killing of a rabbit by a fox as not worth tears because it was simply the way things were.

Somebody please tell me there's another way of looking at all the suffering in life that doesn't explain it away as a grotesque object lesson, or as a reductionist interpretation of the inevitable equaling the good.




25 Comments:

Blogger Matthew said...

Hey, there's another way of looking at all the suffering in life that doesn't explain it away as a grotesque object lesson, or as a reductionist interpretation of the inevitable equaling the good!

In fact, I suspect there are infinitely many ways of doing so. (Suffering is visited upon us by the angry ghosts of penguins ...) The more pressing question to me is: Is there a story about suffering that I find both convincing and comforting?

Current answer: I dunno. Still hunting.

7:04 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Matthew,

Yes, I was hoping for one that was convincing and comforting, though the penguin solution is tempting :)

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one still hunting.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

So what've you got so far? Anything promising?

11:11 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

No, not really. I guess they don't call it the "problem" of evil for nothing :)

David Hart at least does acknowledge the awfulness of badness, which a lot of Christians won't do, but he ascribes it to a fallen world and free will, which I can't accept.

Marilyn McCord Adams doesn't buy the free will defense and she seems to believe bad stuff is really bad (Christ and Horrors) but somehow she decides Jesus makes it all ok in a way I don't understand - must read that part over again.

My spirirual director thinks each person has to try to work out the problem on a personal level with God. I haven't been able to so far. I think of suffering, from the Holocaust to my cat Kermit's when she was sick, and I cannot imagine a way to justify it, given God's goodness and power. So I'm still on the hunt for some answer because it's making my relationship with God seriously limp.

Have you found anything promising?

6:37 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I keep meaning to read Christ and Horrors ... I'm pretty sure I even have a copy.

My response to the problem of evil has been to stop believing in the God of traditional theism. I just don't think it's coherent to believe in a good God who can stop malevolence toward children, but fails to do so. And I'm more willing to give up "powerful" than I am "good". So what I'm doing with my idea of God is essentially turning up the volume of metaphors that talk about God's goodness and presence, and muting the ones that talk about God's intervention and power.

Today, if I were to make a movie about the universe, the soundtrack would be devoid of triumphal martial music and glorious orchestration, preferring the off-key voices of children singing simple, hopeful songs.

7:13 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I think that's kind of the way the guy who wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People saw things. His son died of some wasting diease if I remember correctly and he came to the conclusion that God was good but not all powerful.

Someone who went a totally other direction was Thomas Talbott ....

Now I find it easy to believe that the universe as a whole is a better place because of the suffering of children. Pictures of white racists attacking innocent black children virtually guaranteed the end of segregation of this country; pictures of mangled children in Vietnam brought home, in a way nothing else could, the sheer horror of modern warfare; pictures of children buried in the rubble of Mexico City and of children starving in Ethiopia brought the world together in compassion and melts the hearts of the arrogant and the powerful.... I believe that every innocent child who suffers will one day look upon that suffering as a privilege because of the joy it made possible: the joy of knowing that one has been used by God in the redemption of others.

Yikes :(

8:16 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Yeah, I can follow the cold utilitarianism of that argument, but you would have to work hard to convince me that in each of these cases, the best option available to an all-knowing, all-powerful God was to allow children to be crushed and then publicize their deaths.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Allisurd said...

I believe that every innocent child who suffers will one day look upon that suffering as a privilege because of the joy it made possible: the joy of knowing that one has been used by God in the redemption of others.

Crystal and Matthew, why can't you accept that suffering is caused by the misuse of our free wills? By sin? Why are you convinced suffering is inevitable?

Why would God not use children, in all sorts of ways including allowing them to suffer and die, to bring about "the glorious liberty of the children of God"? (Romans 8:21)

I am working on a piece about this particular subject and am interested in your responses. Thanks.

Drusilla
http://heirsinhope.blogspot.com

2:36 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I can only speak for myself, of course.

> Crystal and Matthew, why can't you accept that suffering is caused by the misuse of our free wills?

Because our wills are not "free" in any meaningful cosmic sense. Considered carefully, the whole idea of "free will" is incoherent. If your will is entirely unconstrained by your own desires and values, then who can you say is doing the choosing? The choices we make are contingent on the people we are, and this is contingent on a billion billion things that came before us, over which we had no control. Preferring this illusory freedom to stopping the torture of children seems ... evil.

> Why would God not use children, in all sorts of ways including allowing them to suffer and die

I find it troubling that you can even ask this question, but I know where you're coming from, because I've been there.

So to answer the question: I don't think God would do this, because I believe that God is good. Better than you and I, not merely as good; certainly not worse. And what good person would sit and watch a child suffer and die, knowing that he could prevent it?

To put it another way: allowing a child to suffer and die, on the possibility that some good /might/ come of it, is simply evil. And make no mistake: If you /are/ right and people really do have meaningful free will, then this plan of God's to torture a child and make good come of it is by no means guaranteed. It has only a /chance/ of succeeding.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Allisurd said...

If you /are/ right and people really do have meaningful free will, then this plan of God's to torture a child and make good come of it is by no means guaranteed. It has only a /chance/ of succeeding.

What does "free" mean?

Do right and wrong exist?

Can one choose between them?

If one can choose, what does that mean about human beings? About God?

Do you really believe God could have a plan to torture children?

What do you think is the thing God values most?

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Allisurd said...

PS: Thanks so much for responding to my questions.

3:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

A really good answer by Matthew - I agree with him both about free will amd about the idea of God using children as object lessons or as means to an end.

I saw an interesting post at the NYT philosophy blog recently on free will that expresses well the reasons why some people don't think it's very 'free" .... Your Move: The Maze of Free Will

5:48 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

> What does "free" mean?

I don't really want to take over Crystal's comment thread, but quickly:

The meaning of "free" depends on its context. Right and Wrong do not exist (although I believe we all have ideas of what's right and wrong). People can choose between them, sort of, but the choice is a very limited affair and not, in itself, worth the death of even one person. I do not believe God has a plan to torture children, but I do think that is the logical implication of believing that God planned and manages the world. I think the thing God values most is love.

10:05 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oh, I forgot about the questions. I like Matthew's answers, but here are mine too ...

What does "free" mean?
- I think it's the ability and opportunity to make uncoerced choices, but I think our choices are still pretty determined by facotors beyond our control.

Do right and wrong exist?
- I'm not sure if there are universals, but some things just do always seem wrong to me, like torture.

Can one choose between them?
- I'd say yes, within certain perameters.

If one can choose, what does that mean about human beings? About God?
- I don't know.

Do you really believe God could have a plan to torture children?
- No. , which makes me believe there basically is no plan, since children are being tortured.

What do you think is the thing God values most?
- Love.

The problem for me with this idea ...

I believe that every innocent child who suffers will one day look upon that suffering as a privilege because of the joy it made possible: the joy of knowing that one has been used by God in the redemption of others.

,,, is that the children do not have a choice, they aren't ecercising free will, they're unwilling victims who later, after the fact, give joyful assent to thei suffering. I think the word "used" is the important one in that statement. What kind of God treats people like objects? If it's wrong for us to justify the means with the end, it should be even more so for him who's better than us.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Drusilla said...

Thank you both for your responses. I've just now had an opportunity to read them and don't want to answer too quickly so I'll wait a bit.

http://heirsinhope.blogspot.com

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Drusilla said...

Another question, do you know Christ as a personal friend? Is He real ti you?

9:58 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

The hope of knowing Jesus as a personal friend is mostly why I try to stick with religion. Sometimes it does seem like I do know him that way, other times it feels like I'm making it up.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Drusilla said...

How do you feel you are making Him up? When you were prepared for confirmation, was knowing and loving Christ discussed?

12:46 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I was an adult convert and went through RCIa. They didn't really discuss Jesus much at all and after a few years I stopped going to church. A while after that, though, I ended up taking an online Ignatian retreat which was really all about getting to know Jesus. What I know of him I mostly learned through that retreat and other ingo from Ignatian spirituality.

What I mean about making him up is that sometimes I think I'm "making up" his participation in my prayer, or sometimes I just wonder if God really exists at all.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Drusilla said...

I'm sorry you (and so many others) were so badly catechized. Christ is real. God is real.

Unfortunately it's not enough for me to tell you so -- at least not in that way. I can say God has cared for me my entire life, that I would be dead if He had not. My current imagery, which has changed over time, is that I'm a child sitting on Christ's foot, holding on because He loves me, I love Him and I want to take the ride. Also, there's no other place to go, no other place I want to be even though I'm not always as good as I ought to be and I don't deserve to sit on that foot. I just hold on and trust Him to get me through.

His Church is the surest route to an eternity with Him and I'm not much of a gambler so here I am, though I spent some time on Anglican shores (not a good place to be, no authority). But not every priest is holy and not every person in the Church knows and/or loves Christ. So we must pray for each other.

Keep up w/ the Spiritual Exercises. Christ has given us many ways to come to know Him, that is one. You also might want to find a Communion & Liberation School of Community in your area - Henry can direct you. It's important to have companions who will cheer you along the way. (Cursillo is another possibility.)

There are difficulties in following Christ. Accepting that He didn't come to fix everything is probably one of the biggies. Another is that human beings actually have enormous freedom - we can choose to follow Christ or to try to be our own gods. Our choices have consequences but we're not always the ones, at least not the only ones, who suffer them. Others often suffer for our sins, especially children and those who can't protect themselves. You see it is our job to protect children and God will not take that job away though He does provide comfort and help in so many ways to children who are in need. But it is not love God values most but our freedom, our ability to decide for ourselves whom we will follow. Freedom, above everything else, is what makes us human.

God bless you.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

> But it is not love God values most but our freedom, our ability to decide for ourselves whom we will follow. Freedom, above everything else, is what makes us human.

Aha! Now I see! Thanks for clearing that up.

4:08 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Mathew :)

5:31 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Drusilla,

I think we see things pretty differently - I do think Protestant churches are as ok as the Catholic Church, some of what I've read about Communion & Liberation School seems a little scary, and I hope God doesn't value free will more than love - but I appreciate your kind interest. Difference is good . :)

5:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Sorry for the typo, Matthew.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Allisurd said...

I do think Protestant churches are as ok as the Catholic Church...

A friend sent me this and I thought to pass it on to you. The Kingdom isn't bigger than the Church, we don't know how big the Church is -- yet. You might also find that Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love speaks to you right now.

Pax Christi.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w1S5xbeSO0

7:56 PM  

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