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Thursday, December 19, 2013

God, Good and Evil

Listening to a 2012 podcast from ABC Religion & Ethics on theodicy. Some interesting people taking part ... Kevin Hart, John Milbank, Susan Neiman, Marilyn McCord Adams, and others. You can listen to it here and read the transcript here. Here's a bit from poet and theologian Kevin Hart ...

Scott Stephens: The great Augustinian moral revolution was to demythologise "Evil," to strip it of any power of fascination by reducing it to the mere perversion or distortion of what is otherwise good ...

Kevin Hart: I think you're absolutely right about the problem with Augustine, sympathetic as I am to Augustine. Augustine's view about evil, as you know, is that evil was a kind of absence or lack of the good, so it was somehow insubstantial. What happens with the Holocaust, the Shoah is it's very hard for people of any religious persuasion, or no religious persuasion, to see this as merely a lack; it seems that evil there took on a positive face. The Holocaust, Auschwitz was the great passion of the Jews, as Emmanuel Levinas says, and in completely agreeing with that I would add that it is a passion also, or should be, for Christianity. The most horrifying thing for Christians, it seems to me, the twentieth century, is the thought that the people who murdered Jews in a mechanical way at Auschwitz all knew their Catechism. Somehow the positive historical and theological knowledge of Christianity among people who are probably like you and I, did them no good whatsoever when it comes to making fundamental, and we would think, from this vantage point in history, quite elementary moral decisions.

So, the Holocaust, which remember, it took the Jews some 20 odd years to be able to write about, it was such a shock and felt to be such a shame, so it's only really been in the last 30, 40 years we've been able to digest this, with the death camps and the labour camps. Sometimes it's not even the murder of the Jews which is the most piercing thing; the most extraordinary book I've read on this is by Robert Antelme, called The Human Race, which to my way of thinking is the most extraordinary exposé of evil which we have in the 20th century. He tells about his incarceration in one of the labour camps. This is not the worst, this is not Auschwitz. Even so, the account he gives of each level of that society in the camp, of how the desire for food, the more primal desires for authority, to escape punishment, to escape disease, all of these things, how they brought out the absolute worst of people. Not just the SS, who it's easy to say are evil, but ordinary people, probably you and I, if we were there. Under these conditions, human beings immediately lose a grip on the Good, with a capital G, and start moving for the bad, with a lower case b at every opportunity ...


Anonymous Richard said...

Survival of the worstest

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Oh there it is. I was pretty sure I made a comment. It's interesting, I was just thinking about how since began reading the Gift of Spiritual Intimacy, I have been thinking about evil in the positive sense as Hart uses the term. I guess it feels safer to think about it as an emptiness or lack of goodness.

11:20 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

The first comment went to the spam place - had to rescue it :)

Yeah, evil as just the absence of good seems not quite enough, but the other extreme of evil as personified badness is scary. The Ignatian view tends to see evil as personified, because, I guess, that's how the discernment of spirits makes sense ... the 'bad spirit' influencing people.

8:07 PM  

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