10 12 2019

One of the most convincing challenges to Western monotheist theodicy that I can think of is one I will term the “finitude of the good.” That is, how can people we love end up doing evil things, or on the “wrong side” of morality? This question poses itself starkly when a loved one dies “outside the faith”, or if they were not a particularly pleasant person, but may have been dear to us. This person did some good, they were not an absolute waste of humanity (people seldom are). The cliché of the serial killer’s mother protesting that he was a “good boy” once rings hollow to both his victims and decent people alike. Where did that good innocent smiling boy in the photograph go? What of any of the good acts he did? Do they merely magnify the turpitude of his later actions, as Catholic theology claims when the mystery of the world is laid bare at the Last Judgment? Are they the result of karma which keeps the spirit-soul in the cycle of birth and death as the Vedas and Puranas of India indicate? Or are love and kindness just a temporary illusion of synapses flashing in the brain as the atheists proclaim? Just chemicals sloshing around in the skull…

If consciousness is ipso facto outside the material, as I believe, I don’t think any good is wasted. A Hare Krishna devotee told me recently that if we envy someone because of their beauty or intelligence, really we’re just envying Krishna. Or if you want to be less accurate and less sectarian, we envy God or the creator. Leonardo da Vinci I believe stated that beauty is merely frozen grace. In that sense, our sensation of any good in the world is a fleeting glimpse of the Eternal Good frozen in an instant. Yes, that loving moment, that support, or that small sacrifice we remember of that person means something, and will always mean something. It didn’t really belong to them, and yet it did. That is because while that person isn’t God or part of God simply put, they were part and parcel of God, or a servant of God (just as a finger is a servant of the hand which is the servant of the body). We are all part of something greater than ourselves, and we are trying to get back to it, back home (exitus-reditus, as the title of the blog states).

I will admit, as I have been repeating too often recently, that the Western monotheist view makes this long-held belief of mine rather difficult, but not altogether impossible. If we can say, “Cheer up, you are not this body, and you are not merely this particular material existence,” we can look at the deeds of our wayward loved ones as a reflection of things they may have done elsewhere that we never knew about, and a reflection of far greater things that they will do on their journey once they have left us. But to squeeze all of that into one lifetime, that’s difficult. The reasoning goes that none of the good they did mattered, at least not to them, if they didn’t persevere as they should have. Indeed, they sink deeper into the realm eternal suffering if they knew the truth and did the good but later turned their back on them. What of all the benefit they brought to those around them? Does God not take that into account? Shouldn’t God “grade on a curve”? For the Christian, Muslim, etc. perhaps they should keep in mind that this material life is only a sliver of their created existence, and they have no idea what God sees. It may have been Fulton Sheen who said that if and when we get to Heaven, we will be surprised by who is there and who isn’t. In all of these systems in varying degrees, our perceived material existence is temporary, and far from the final say.



One response

28 02 2020

The only reason one would suffer for another is because one loves them. But love has certain unexpected or unintended side-effects or consequences.

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