September 9th, 2012A Little Bit More About Evilby Dena Hunt

Recent Convert (R.C.), Abigail, and I had a brief discussion about this topic a few days ago on another post. This is an addendum. Surmising evil to be without reason (without justification), and therefore chaos and disorder—the absence of God, I speculated that it might be what hell is like. In the same way that darkness is what it is only because of the absence of light. Two things happened after that—rather, two phrases I heard that became “neon.”

The first was during a homily—I don’t remember the context—in which the priest used the phrase, “abandoned by God.” I know there has been some argument about the words in our Creed: “He descended into hell.” Some people say that “hell” really only means “scheol” (sp?), the word for “the land of the dead” in Hebrew; they say “descended to the dead” instead. Others say no, it means hell as we understand hell. I don’t know who’s right. But when the priest said the phrase, I remembered the words Christ uttered from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” about which a lot of other argument goes on among theologians (How can God abandon God, etc.). But I think I remembered those words from the Cross because of the recent discussion of evil as the absence of God, of reason, of order. It made me more acutely aware of Christ’s suffering than I’ve ever been before: He bore our sins, our evil deeds, the evil within us all. Yes—I think he “descended into hell,” into the absence of God. And he asks WHY? He asks a reason—there is none—and that is hell, which he endured in our place. I don’t think I will ever recite the Creed again in quite the same way. 

The second thing that happened is less theological. On EWTN’s program, Apostolate for the Family, Cardinal Arinze made a reference to the sale of children for purposes of abuse. That horror was the impetus for my friend John’s demand for a reason for evil (which, as we’ve established, is oxymoronic, since evil is the absence of reason). Cardinal Arinze followed up with, “Christians must involve themselves in such injustices.” At first, I heaved a sigh. I’m no activist. I’ve tried—but it’s like a fish trying to fly. Yet we are all, as members of the Body of Christ, to “involve” ourselves—because as the Body of Christ, we are to bring God to the places where He is not. That’s our job. We can’t descend into hell as Christ did (and as the Christ-figure Frodo did), but knowing that darkness can’t occupy totally any place where even the tiniest light arrives, we should “go there.” I could, I realized, go there in the way my saintly Baptist mother did: via prayer. Once when she was visiting me in New Orleans, we passed a terrible accident. A man was being rushed into an ambulance on a gurney. My mother blurted out, “Lord! Please help that man!” I smiled at her and she said, somewhat defensively, “Well, I’m a prayer warrior. That’s what you do when you can’t fight evil any other way.” I never forgot that. And if we can’t be activists, we can, as Cardinal Arinze said, still “involve ourselves,” perhaps in some way other than John’s demand for a reason that evil exists. We aren’t supposed to justify it—so that we can “accept” it. What we wind up justifying then is our own non-involvement. 

Anyway, that’s the two things that happened.

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  • September 9 2012 | by Colin Jory

    Dena --

    When Christ said "My God, my God, why have you foresaken me" he was simply praying the 22nd Psalm, which begins thus. It was the same as if one of His Christian followers when being tortured said, "Our father who art in Heaven", signifying another prayer. Psalm 22 was especially apt, as it contains the well-known words which in Christian tradition are held to prefigure the Crucifixion, "They have pierecd my hands and my feet, They have numbered all my bones". The psalm begins with a statement of despair of God's care, but ends with a triumphant affirmation of faith and hope in Divine justice and protection.

    Re the problem of evil: Blake's The Tyger is subtly directed against the position that evil is simply an absence of good, as darkness is an absence of light. It proposes that evil in the world, in the sense of harm, as represented by the merciless Tiger, must have been wilfully designed and forged by a supernatural entity, and makes the dualistic/Manichaean suggestion that a good God, the maker of "the Lamb" (capital "L" -- suggesting Christ as the Lamb of God), is "balanced" by a primal evil "creative" force: "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" This is especially evident if one reads his final draft of the poem, which survives.
  • September 10 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    I know it's the 22nd Psalm, Colin, but I don't think he was just reciting it to be reciting it. I think he meant the words--as he meant "they have pierced my hands and my feet," so did he mean "why have you abandoned me?" Just so, I think the Christian martyrs probably really meant "hallowed by thy name" and "thy will be done." To recognize the source of a quotation does not somehow signify that the quoter therefore does not mean what he's quoting. That's nowhere more true than Christ's quotation of the 22nd Psalm from the Cross.

    Blake's "Tyger" and his notions of a "balance" ("marriage") of heaven and hell never impressed me much. Had he been more familiar than he was of Church teaching (and how could he be?), he would have recognized the heresy in his own thought--which he believed to be original.
  • September 12 2012 | by Abigail C. Reimel

    Dena,

    We seem to be going circles...

    Here is an article that I feel sums up the best of what all of us have been trying to say:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/09/why-its-okay-to-speak-religiously-in-the-face-of-tragedy.html.

    And, as an aside, it is important to remember what Colin pointed out about Psalm 22, as a misuse and misinterpretation of this declaration from the Cross has led to many erroneous thoughts and interpretations.

    God bless.
  • September 12 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Dear Abigail,
    I don't think I understand your comment. Colin said that the line was from the 22nd Psalm and I replied that I knew that. I don't see how anyone is "misinterpreting" the 22nd Psalm, neither Colin nor I.
    You said "what all of us are trying to say" -- who do you mean by "all of us"? If there is some group that takes issue with my post, I'm not aware of it.
    But--though I don't understand it--thank you for commenting.
  • September 13 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    p.s. to Colin,
    I’m reading a new book, The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Mystic, by Fr. Robert Wild (which I highly recommend, by the way), and by coincidence came upon Fr. Wild’s discussion of Chesterton’s commentary on Blake the day after I read your comment, citing Blake’s “Tyger.” I won’t attempt a synopsis of Chesterton’s thought here; the attempt would be an assured injustice. But, as I mentioned, Blake lived in a time and place with no access to Catholic doctrine, and no recourse for his vigorous mind save the gnostic spiritualism of his day.

    As Fr. Wild says, the advent of the Enlightenment saw the waxing strength of theosophic societies, such as the Masons and others. “Without that [the Catholic] order, visions are dangerous. There is no such thing as neutrality in the supernatural world. It is not just a morally indifferent matrix. Spirits, good and evil, inhabit it. Evil spirits were mixed up with Blake’s visions. That is Chesterton’s conclusion.”

    Wild’s quotation of Yeats’ assessment (“He [Blake] was a man crying out for a mythology, and trying to make one because he could not find one to hand. Had he been born a Catholic of Dante’s time he would have been well content with Mary and the angels.”) would seem to sum up Chesterton’s view quite well (and mine as well.)

    The discussion further affirmed for me that evil (noun, abstract; not adjective; e.g., evil spirits or evil events) must be the mere nothingness, the darkness, the absence of God, for to give evil substance of its own, a reality of its own, would be to take a step, however small, toward that Manicheanism of which you spoke.

    Of course, I hope I don’t need to point out that I’m not talking about one’s response to evil events, but about a definitive comprehension. One’s response should be as Cardinal Arinze says. So the "definitive comprehension", or "reason" for evil remains *no* reason--the absence of reason.
  • September 13 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    p.s. to Abigail,
    Yes, I always enjoy Patheos, whenever I get the chance. Thanks for this link--great, as always.
  • September 16 2012 | by Abigail C. Reimel

    Dena,

    Concerning the Psalm, I was referring neither to your nor to Colin's interpretation, but the misinterpretations of our Protestant brothers and sisters (and Catholics also). I just wanted to point out that, though you may have known what Colin said already, others reading your post might not have, so it is important to make sure you do not take such things out of context for the purpose of making a point, as it could mislead others not as informed as you.

    I do not think anyone has taken offense to your posts, I simply meant that the article I linked to (and, more specifically, the article linked to at the end of my link) addressed this problem exceptionally well, and seemed to sum up our thoughts in a way that all of us could probably agree upon.

    I'm happy you enjoyed it, and sincerely hope you read the article that the author linked to at the end, as I thought it was even better.

    God bless!
  • September 17 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Hi, Abigail,
    Thanks. I think I probably was feeling a little "under siege" because elsewhere, I really was!

    Yes, I read the link to the link, so to speak, all of it, and found it both enlightening and comprehensive--one of those things you want to copy and save somewhere.

    You know, I'm always hesitant to make a post of this type, probably because, even after all these years, I have that convert's kind of reluctance to say anything at all that might even resemble a theological statement. Cradle Catholics always seem to be much more assertive. Maybe we converts feel a little like foster kids, so happy to have found a home, we scared of messing up. Outside the Church, in the secular world, I am quite outspoken--even almost fearless when it comes to expressing an opinion. But in Church matters--I'm a timid mouse.

    Every now and then, however, I have such a clear thought about something that it seems almost luminous, so I tentatively put it forth. The definitive comprehension of evil was that way. I was glad to see that the links you sent me to did not disagree with me, but they were more focused on evil as in terrible things that happen, tragic events, etc.
  • September 17 2012 | by Abigail C. Reimel

    You're welcome. I can totally understand that. Having to handle online debates while juggling other "real life" difficulties is never an easy thing.

    I felt the same way; I actually copied part of it down and saved it so I could return to it when needed.

    It does take courage for anyone to write a post of this kind, as it is personal and addresses a "larger than life" issue. It's wonderful that you do try to write posts like this, as exploring these subjects in light of the Church's teachings is an excellent way for you to grow in knowledge of the faith. And, believe me, while you are admiring the assertiveness of the Cradle Catholics, we are longing for the enthusiam of the converts! smile Thank the Lord that within the Church we have the both of these strengths combined!

    Once again, I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the links, and that they helped to create common ground between us. May God bless your continued growth in the faith; thank you for beginning this discussion.

    And, in light of your conversion (though it may have been a while ago), welcome home!