Evil as proof of God’s existence?

Christopher Benson draws attention to a statement by literary critic Terry Eagleton, a Marxist who has recently started attacking the “new atheists,” who has written a book on the reality of evil:

Evil is a form of transcendence, even if from the point of view of good it is a transcendence gone awry. Perhaps it is the only form of transcendence left in a postreligious world. We know nothing any more of choirs of heavenly hosts, but we know about Auschwitz. Maybe all that now survives of God is this negative trace of him known as wickedness, rather as all that may survive of some great symphony is the silence which it imprints on the air like an inaudible sound as it shimmers to a close. Perhaps evil is all that now keeps warm the space where God used to be.

via What if the problem of evil isn’t a problem? » Evangel | A First Things Blog.

The world of teenagers

More from David Mills on what he has learned from studying today’s teen fiction:

That [see the previous post] describes in outline what these books teach about the teenage life, but they also teach a lot about the world in which teenagers live.

• The good life requires having the things you want, whether you want straighter hair or a boyfriend or a car of your own or just a higher opinion of yourself. The books assume that the wealthier you are, the happier you should be, except when some sentimental lesson about the real importance of friends or self-respect is being taught. Their blissfully unquestioned materialism is astonishing.

• Politics doesn’t exist, history doesn’t exist, high culture doesn’t exist. The main character may have a friend who’s involved in some charity or relief effort, or maybe even a political cause, or who reads a lot of difficult books, or who plays a musical instrument or writes poetry, but she (again, usually a she) is only narrative color. If a political cause is mentioned, it is almost certainly environmentalism.

• Business, if it is thought about at all, is greedy, rapacious, uncaring, and environment-destroying, and produces conformity and monotony. The main characters feel this despite their desire for luxury items. Wealth, and indeed everything needed even for the simplest life, just appears, except when the story is about a poor child or a middle-class child who became poor. Gratitude is not encouraged.

• There is no question that can be solved only by rigorous, disciplined thought. The kid who reads philosophy may be a “brain,” but he is not to be imitated. All questions can be solved by a teenager thinking like a teenager.

• God doesn’t exist for any practical purpose. If you believe he does, you may ask him to bail you out, but you would never think to follow his rules, because his rules are really your parents’ and society’s irrational standards, which will make you unhappy.

• Religion is always formal and impersonal and the parents’ thing. (Although, interestingly, some stories show a sneaking respect for Catholicism and its mysteries, though that respect may be expressed through a particularly notable hatred. Just try to find a wise old priest in one of these stories.) Spirituality can be really cool, though, especially if it’s Eastern or Native American.

• Nevertheless, youth should sometimes think about the ultimate questions, though no one ever seems to come to a conclusion other than high-school-level existentialism. Life is probably meaningless, but you can make your own meaning and create an authentic life by an act of will. Accept your limitations, don’t look for the big answers, don’t submit to tradition or authority, and do what feels most natural and right to you.

• The answer to the kids’ problems is always some form of growth and reconciliation, even resignation: of learning from the experience, accepting it, and getting tough enough to get through it. The answer is rarely any kind of heroism or self-transcendence.

• The hope presented in these books is one of two kinds: In the lighter, sillier books it is merely getting what you want, particularly a new boyfriend or better skin; and in the more serious ones it is surviving until college or adulthood, when you will finally be free to live in a world you want and to make yourself what you would like to be. The hope is never external or transcendent.

via Touchstone Archives: Bad Books for Kids.

Party our way to extinction

Ethicist Peter Singer–he who believes in the killing of the handicapped and unwanted but born children but not animals–takes up the question of whether living is worth it.  He is reviewing, in the New York Times, a book by  philosopher David Benatar entitled Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Benatar . . . argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.  Notice how quickly contemporary thought turns nihilistic.  And notice how those who believe it can no longer even sustain  the ordinary joys and pleasures of living.

Science and moral decisions

There is a new morning after pill that prevents a fertilized embryo from attaching to the mother’s womb, an abortifacient that pro-deathers want made available over-the-counter.   What I’d like to concentrate on, though, is this reporter’s framing of the issue.  Consider especially this last sentence:

A French drug company is seeking to offer American women something their European counterparts already have: a pill that works long after “the morning after.”

The drug, dubbed ella, would be sold as a contraceptive — one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days after unprotected sex. But the new drug is a close chemical relative of the abortion pill RU-486, raising the possibility that it could also induce abortion by making the womb inhospitable for an embryo.

The controversy sparked by that ambiguity promises to overshadow the work of a federal panel that will convene next week to consider endorsing the drug. The last time the Food and Drug Administration vetted an emergency contraceptive — Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill — the decision was mired in debate over such fundamental questions as when life begins and the distinction between preventing and terminating a pregnancy. Ella is raising many of those same politically charged questions — but more sharply, testing the Obama administration’s pledge to keep ideology from influencing scientific decisions.

via New ‘morning-after’ pill, ella, raises debate over similarity to abortion drug.

That last sentence betrays staggering  ignorance about both science and morality.  Science can tell us how the chemical works.  But it can’t tell us whether or not to sell it over the counter.   With any drug it studies, the  FDA has to make a decision about whether it “should” be made available.  This is never just a scientific matter.  A drug might prove harmful or ineffective.  Therefore it “should” not be sold, on the moral principle that we should not harm or defraud other people.   Anytime we are in the realm of “should,” we are in the realm of ethics.  “Keeping ideology from influencing scientific decisions” is a dishonest formulation, not to mention in practice an exercise in imposing pro-death ideology in virtually every case.  A “decision” involves the will, and the will, of its very nature,  will tend to engage the moral realm.

Apple vs. Porn

Steve Jobs, the mind behind Apple computing, is making a stand against pornography, even though that happens to be one of the online world’s biggest business!  Comments from Pete at Grace-City:

Jobs has argued that he wants his portable computer devices to not sell or stock pornography.

When a critic emailed him to say that this infringed his freedoms, Jobs emailed back and told him to buy a different type of computer.

Steve Jobs is a fan of Bob Dylan. So one customer emailed him to ask how Dylan would feel about Jobs’ restrictions of customers’ freedoms.

The CEO of Apple replied to say that he values:

“Freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.”

The interlocuter replied:

“I don’t want ‘freedom from porn.’ Porn is just fine! And I think my wife would agree.”

In the most revealing line, Steve Jobs dismissed the critic thus:

“You might care more about porn when you have kids.”

Pause for a moment and consider what the above emails represent.

The CEO of one of the wealthiest, most successful international companies, responds to the email of a customer. Business prospers on the mantra “The customer is always right.” Business wants the customers’ money.

But in this case, over the moral issue of pornography, Jobs is happy to tell customers to buy a different product. He argues that children and innocence ought to be preserved – and that trumps the dollar.

Google (with their motto “Don’t be evil”) rake in billions through pornography. Ranks of employees spend their time categorising and arranging advertising for pornography. (I know, I spent some time discussing the difficulties posed to a Christian who worked in their UK HQ) Pornography is huge business, yet here is the CEO of Apple telling the pornography businesses to take their dollars elsewhere.

Now Steve Jobs cannot actually stop pornography being accessed on the devices he sells – indeed you can jailbreak a device and run any pirated software on it. Neither can he necessarily set the ethical bar as high as a Christian may want it – but what he is doing is significant and commendable. He is taking responsibility for doing what he can. He is trying to not profit from pornography. Those deeds are important for the sake of his own soul. Matthew 18:7 comes to mind: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!”

For the souls of other people, his public statements are valuable in that they permit consumers to identify with and commend his resistance to pornography. Our generation is saturated in pornography; a public statement from Steve Jobs resisting that, encourages others to believe that the secular-liberal-capitalist agenda is not the only show in town. Jobs’ comments are important for the manner in which they shape public cultural discourse.

via Grace City: Apple & Porn.

Shakespeare and sexual morality

The notable scholar and Catholic commentator Anthony Esolen–whom I have had the privilege of hanging out with at a classical education conference at Our Savior’s in Houston–has written a fine essay on Shakespeare’s consistent theme of chastity, not just for women, but (rare in his day) for men.

There is an abundance of evidence to show that Shakespeare was a profoundly Christian playwright—and far more thoroughly concerned with the theology of grace, repentance, and redemption than any of his contemporaries. Here I should like to note one characteristic of his view of the world that seems to spring from his Christian faith—for it certainly does not spring from any recrudescence of paganism in the Renaissance, nor from the worldly laxity that sets in with the fading of western man’s assurance of Christian dogma and morals. For Shakespeare, chastity is as near to an absolute value as it is possible for a virtue to be.

via Desires Run Not Before Honor | First Things.

Esolen then makes his case by examining play after play, noble character after noble character.  Shakespeare does not ignore sex.  Far from it.  But his heroes, however ardent in their love, reject having sex before marriage.

HT: David Mills


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X