Friday, March 01, 2024

Wholeness and its discontents...


Theodicy is the name given to the discipline which aims to explain the presence of evil in our reality. We can call it theo-idiocy when it stands for the conclusion that it’s all just a matter of perspective, and that if we could only see the big picture…

Mani's position was that Good and Evil are there from the start, unconnected. Darkness, rather counter-intuitively, spills over into the Light, effectively causing a cosmic level environmental disaster which has to be cleaned up using spiritual ‘mestizo’ beings such as ourselves.

This soteriology was odd, because the salvation going on has more to do with cleaning up the system level evil-spill than with individual salvation.

St Augustine was into Manichaeism first and never really shook off the dualism. His swerve towards Christianity was influenced by an important ‘pagan’ precursor, the Enneads of Plotinus.

In this neo-platonic system there is only one true being, self-identical and unchangeable. Us lot live on a sliding scale below this absolute One, removed from full participation in Being by degradations like the need to think, move and engage with matter.

The more we collaborate with the external world, the more we slide downwards. Evil is thus the final notch on this scale, the furthest distance from perfection — but we possess a native buoyancy arising from the innate tendency of our inner being to lift itself up towards full reunification. (Sin and Grace are notably absent from this game of snakes and ladders for souls.)

Yet like Augustine after him, Plotinus struggles to explain precisely why these degrees of imperfection and multiplicity in general might exist, albeit contingently. He talks of it all starting with an overflow of Good, resulting from a superabundance, but fluid dynamics of this sort require the presence of Time to make proper sense.

Augustine comprehended that his God cannot precede His universe, nor can it have come about as a result of creative thoughts (or potentiality) in the deity, for cognition would encumber Him with the knower-known duality of our own intellectual experience. An Absolute creator is thus a bit of an oxymoron.

If Gnosticism feels like a 'work around', the term 'cop-out' comes up more readily with Christian theodicy. Augustine ultimately settled on the idea that it is "fitting” for God to be associated with good things, such as making universes. 

Slightly more appealing is the notion that without us, goodness would ‘always’ remain virtual rather than actual. It's the only way the One could be said to have had needs. Materialisation has a few negative outcomes, but maybe they were always factored in as acceptable.


1 comment:

norm said...

I've known two judge and jury men, they thought they were good men but how can you be good if you can't live by societies' play book? They are both dead, one natural, no not so much. Evil? I want to say no but very very scary to any one who wanted to take undue advantage. As you infer, it is complicated.