Most theodicies (defences of God) occupy themselves with the problem of how an all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing deity can allow evil to exist. In this series of articles, N.T. Wright takes a different path, starting with the fact that evil is a problem and then showing what God has done and is doing to deal with this problem. Further, Wright warns against the attempts to “solve” evil simply as a philosophical problem. “…there is a noble Christian tradition,” he writes “which takes evil so seriously that it warns against the temptation to ‘solve’ it in any obvious way…. For the Christian, the problem is how to understand and celebrate the goodness and godgivenness of creation and the reality and seriousness of evil. It is easy to ‘solve’ the problem by watering down one side of this or the other, either saying that the world isn’t really God’s good creation or that evil isn’t really that bad.”
In his first article, “Evil is Still a Four-Letter Word”, Wright addresses the problem of evil as it exist in our own times. He argues that there has been the tendency in the West to ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face and then, when we are suddenly confronted with evil, we are surprised by it and tend to react in immature and dangerous ways as a result.
Here are some notable quotations from the article.
“…when people say that certain things are unacceptable ‘now that we’re living in the twenty-first century’, they are appealing to an assumed doctrine of progress, and of progress in a particular direction. We are taught, often by the tone of voice of the media and the politicians rather than by explicit argument, to bow down before this progress. It is unstoppable. Who wants to be left behind, to be behind the times, to be yesterday’s people?”
“Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, has a haunting passage in which he considers the possibility that the world might advance towards perfection at the cost of torturing a single innocent child to death; and he concludes that the price is already too high.”
“The nineteenth century thought it had got rid of Original Sin; of course, it had to find replacements, and Marx and Freud offered some, producing explanatory systems and offering solutions to match, new doctrines of redemption which mirror and parody the Christian one.”
“When you pass beyond good and evil, you pass into the realm where might is right, and where anything that reminds you of the old moral values - for instance, a large Jewish community - stands in your way and must be obliterated.” (A point that should be pondered by the contemporary relativists I have heard who are quick both to deny the objective status of evil and equally quick to condemn the intolerance of fascism.)
“Indeed, to this day the word ‘control’ is spoken with a sneer, as in the phrase ‘control freak’, as though the basic moral norm was for there to be no control, just as the basic slogan of large McWorld-type companies is that there should be ‘no boundaries’. We live in a world where our politicians, media pundits, economists and even, alas, some late-blooming liberal theologians, speak as if humankind is basically all right, the world is basically all right, and there’s nothing we should make a fuss about.”
“Having decreed that almost all sexual activity is good and right and commendable, we are all the more shrill about the one remaining taboo, paedophilia. It is as though all the moral indignation which ought to be spread more evenly and thoughtfully across many other spheres of activity has all been funnelled onto this one crime. Though child-abuse is of course stomach-turningly disgusting, we should beware, I think, of the unthinking moralism which is so eager to condemn it on ill-thought-out grounds. Lashing out at something you simply know by intuition is wrong may be better than tolerating it, but it is hardly the way to build a stable moral society.”
“The moral imperative left over from low-grade existentialism (that one should be true to one’s deepest self) collides with the postmodern claim that one’s deepest self is a fluid, unstable thing…”
“To shoulder responsibility is the last virtue left open to those who have forsworn all other kinds. To have even that disallowed is to reduce human beings to mere ciphers…”
“…to recognise the flaw in our automatic western assumption that our type of democracy is perfect, complete, the climax of a long process of wise and noble libertarianism stretching back to Magna Carta… For myself, I still agree with Churchill that democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all those other forms that are tried from time to time. …simply waving a flag called ‘western democracy’ doesn’t actually solve the problem of evil as it presents itself in our corporate and social environment.”
“… there is a great deal to be said for the view that all corporate institutions have a kind of corporate soul, an identity which is greater than the sum of its parts and which can actually tell the parts what to do and how to do it; and for the view that in some cases at least some of these corporate institutions, whether they be industrial companies, governments, or even (God help us) churches, can become so corrupted with evil that the language of possession, at a corporate level, becomes the only way to explain what is going on.”
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