Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is God the Author of evil?

Why evil? Why does it exist, and if God is the First Cause & the ultimate cause of all things, is God the cause of evil?

My sister Marguerite posed this question last night at Outreach, when the rest of us were sitting around gabbing and playing Freecell (that would be me). Marguerite has been grappling with the question of late.

"That'll keep you busy for a week or two," I told her. :-)

She doesn't quite buy the idea that evil is a necessary consequence of free will. Under that theory, if we were forced to always choose the good, then we have no choice at all and hence no freedom. That doesn't answer the question of evil for Marguerite.

This morning I was thinking about Augustine's definition of evil as the absence of good. Evil is not an actually existing "thing", he says, but only the absence of the good.

But evil appears to the casual observer to be a truly existing thing -- there is a force and a solidity -- a substantiality -- to the evils human beings do to one another, that appears to bely Augustine's definition. Auschwitz, for example, seems to have been quite an existant entity of evil, what with its substantial infrastructure, all the apparatus of killing and disposing of bodies, the smoke and the selections, the actions and interactions of persons.

It occurred to me this morning that Augustine's theory does not require evil to have a passive quality, as the phrase "absence of good" has heretofore conjured up in my mind. Created in God's image, we are dynamic, creative, acting beings. We exert tremendous influence over our environment, both other living creatures and inert material things.

The essence of Goodness is love. When love is present, all of those energies and influences act creatively as God acted in the six days of creation - God's days not our 24-hour ones. As persons created in His image and likeness, our intellect and will - spiritual faculties which are capable of "moving mountains" in the material world - function correctly and sanely in conjunction with love.

In the absence of love, they still function mightily. The energies and influences of our spiritual faculties of intellect and will still work powerfully to change and mold the physical universe. But the power is not tethered to its purpose -- love -- and so the energies go wild and result in Auschwitz and other insane creations of human powers absent their proper ties to goodness.

So we can say, as Augustine does, that evil is the absence of good (and not a real creation) while still recognizing that it is not passive but intensely powerful and capable of wreaking destruction and inflicting suffering.

And is God its Author? Insofar as he gave to us our powers of will and intellect, and with them the capability of changing and molding physical reality, He is the First Cause of all that we do, even those things done in the absence of good. But the reason "God draws good out of evil" so readily is that the evil done by absence of good is an aberration, it is intellect and will untethered to good. When good is added, when God or we add love to that mixture, He is able to draw good out of it in a way that is true to its own nature as created physical reality.

He un-does the absence of good. Suffering does not disappear, but suffering which is endured yields its own nuggets of gold if it is mined with attention. Meaning, if we live examined and not unexamined lives, we grow in wisdom and grace through the evils we suffer as much as through the good that we do.

Or so it seems to me this morning.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Landenberg muse

My daughter Reetie revealed today that she has begun blogging, as The Landenberg Muse. The news makes me light-hearted. We have talked about collaborating on a writing project. It might be wishful thinking to hope that this news brings that closer to happening. I enjoy every opportunity to collaborate creatively with my children. Three weeks ago I participated in a live action role-playing game (LARP) that my son Ish created;daughters Reetie and Emily, nephews Robbie and Ernie, and granddaughter Ruth took part in it also, along with a number of Ish's gaming friends. Playing is ever so fun when your fellow players are people you love.

In a week or so Bill and I head out to Alabama to visit #2 daughter Gabriel and her family. On the way we'll spend time at son Dave's. All told I'll be hanging out with all six of my grandkids within the next two weeks. And grandchild #7 is on the way via the baby of the family, Emily, who with husband Scott is expecting their first child in December.

I'm cresting a wave of happiness at the moment. Troughs are doubtless in my future. God is good. Life is good.

Friday, June 20, 2008

NPR looks at battles over aspects of same-sex unions

National Public Radio (NPR) has an article about the various legal battles being fought across the country due to the legitimization of same-sex unions and the legalizing of same-sex marriages.

If I were a wedding photographer, and asked to render wedding services to a same-sex couple, what would I do? I have had to make that decision in a personal capacity, but I am puzzling over what my obligations would be as a business person. I sell used books. I have never had reason to consider not selling a particular book to a particular person. I can't envision any such instance happening.

I do choose not to sell certain books, mostly occult works that purport to channel the communications of non-human intelligent beings. Also Jack Chick-like works referring to the Catholic Church as "Whore of Babylon" and that ilk. I will sell some books on divination, such as the I-Ching, but not others like The Magic Mirror of Nostradamus.

But that's all a matter of me deciding what I want to stock and sell. I can't imagine a circumstance in which someone would sue me for not stocking certain items.

I really feel for the wedding photographers in the NPR article who were sued by a lesbian couple and lost. It seems to me that they should be able to legally say no to requests to photograph a same-sex union ceremony.

The world gets stranger day by day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pulse: unexpectedly good, low-budget horror flick


Pulse, with Kristin Bell as the star, Samm Levine in a secondary role, Brad Dourif in a 2-minute cameo, and nobody else I recognized. A horror movie that really creeped me out. Techno-horror. The last half hour could be condensed into about 10 minutes with no big loss. Still, a wonderfully effective creeporama.

UPDATE: I read the reviews after posting and see that I am in the minority in lauding this film. Apparently Pulse is a remake of yet another Japanese horror film, one purportedly with a much better meditative take on modern alienation. I stand by my opinion. The alienation came through loud and clear in this Americanized version. The things that the critics did not like about the film, I did: the characters are hard to relate to (check), there are too few BIG BOO moments (check), the lighting is morose (check).

I dunno. I really liked this movie. It disturbed me the way horror movies ought.

Film School Rejects has this to say about the film, and I concur:
Is Pulse scary? Depends on what your looking for. If you are a big fan of the jump scare type films, you will be disappointed, likewise if you are looking for gore, you’d best look elsewhere. What this film does succeed at is creating an atmosphere, there are a few jump scare moments, but they aren’t terribly frightening. The story centers on our overreliance on technology and the possible consequences therein. The film is more frightening in the build up and the implications than anything that is overtly displayed in the movie.