Christ & Horrors–Part 2

McCord_Adams_Horrendous_EvilsMarilyn McCord Adams argues that the explanatory power of standard “free-will” approaches is impotent in the face of “horrendous evils”:

“Since incorrigible ‘ignorance diminishes the voluntary’, it follows that we cannot be morally responsible for the horrors we perpetrate. I am not saying that white segregationists who set German Shepherd police dogs on African American or fire-bombed churches or lynched and shot activists did not know enough about what they were doing to be seriously wicked. My claim is that there is a vast surplus left over…

“Traditional free-will approaches – with their move to shift responsibility and/or blame for evil away from God and onto personal creatures – are stalemated by horrendous evil. Human radical vulnerability to horrors cannot have its origin in misused creational freedom… Even if Adam’s and Eve’s choices are supposed to be somehow self-determined, the fact that the consequences amplify far beyond their capacity to conceive and hence to intend – viz., to horrors of which ex hypothesi they had no prior experience and of which they could therefore have no adequate conception – is not something for which humans are responsible. Rather it is a function of the interaction between human agency and the wider framework within which it is set, and God is responsible for creating human beings in such a framework!”

I might quibble over whether and when the notion of “morally responsibility” is applied. Where she denies that agents cannot be morally responsible for unforeseen horrors they perpetuate because they could not have conceived and thus intended them, I think we are at least sometimes responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions. There is a responsibility to be borne by people like Pol Pot and Hitler for the millions who suffered because of them though they were not personally present to pull every trigger or close every oven door in spite of the fact that they could not have conceived (and so intended) all that followed from their choices.

But we’ll leave that aside, because Adams is right that morally innocent people do sometimes perpetrate unintended horrors on others. Adams suggests as an example women who took thalidomide drugs during pregnancy on then up-to-date medical advice and bore children without arms and legs. And there is natural evil (mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis) to consider as well, for these precipitate crises in personal meaning-making and the loss and even ruination of personal meaning. Point is, “horrors” understood as “crises in personal meaning” may or may not be morally perpetrated, and to that extent free-will approaches are stalemated.

Adams adds:

“…the fundamental reason why the human condition generally and Divine-human relations specifically are non-optimal is that God has created us radically vulnerable to horrors by creating us as embodied persons, personal animals, enmattered spirits in a material world of real or apparent scarcity such as this. Sin is a symptom and a consequence, but neither the fundamental explanas nor the principal explanandum. The real roots of our non-optimality are systemic and metaphysical.”

Those familiar with Boyd’s theory of natural evil will notice immediately that this contradicts Boyd’s view that natural evil isn’t ‘natural’ in the traditional sense (i.e., not an ‘agentless’ perpetuation of suffering) but is in fact ‘moral’ because it’s caused by malevolent demonic agents at work in the material creation. Adams doesn’t take this approach:

“There is a metaphysical mismatch within human nature: tying psyche to biology and personality to a developmental life cycle exposes human personhood to dangers…The fact that human psyche begins in groping immaturity and dependence, stumble-bumbles by trial and error towards higher functioning, only to peak and slide towards diminishment – makes our meaning-making capacities easy to twist, even ready to break when inept caregivers and hostile surroundings force us to cope with problems off the syllabus and out of pedagogical order…

“Human psyche is so connected to biology that biochemistry can skew our mental states (as in schizophrenia and clinical depression) and cause mind-degenerating and personality-distorting diseases (such as Alzheimer’s and some forms of Parkinson’s), which make a mockery of Aristotelian ideas of building character and dying in a virtuous old age…

“Metaphysical mismatches are metaphysically necessary, in the first instance, a function of what things are and not what anyone does. Yet, it is God Who decided to include such mismatches in the world as we have it. We may ask: whatever for?”

Where Boyd argues that these mismatches (and thus all suffering) are a function of the misuse of creaturely freedom (demonic if not human), Adams argues for a kind of suffering that isn’t reducible to such misused freedom but which is instead the inevitable consequence of the limitations built into our finite, created existence per se.

(Picture here.)

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21 comments on “Christ & Horrors–Part 2

  1. Jacob says:

    So then, she would say that even if our world were not demon-infested, these structural features that give rise to meaning-diminishment would still be a part of our world. That’s what I’m gathering. Or perhaps she already does think our world is not demon-infested.

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  2. tgbelt says:

    Right. Her point is that you can have crises in meaning-making without demons or any other agents making morally significant choices at all.

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  3. tgbelt says:

    Is there something inconsistent with God’s existence and our experiencing crises in meaning-making without being victimized into such crises through the sinful choices of others (human or demonic)? Her example is apropos — women who took thalidomide drugs during pregnancy on then good medical advice and bore children without arms and legs. The parents and the children in question are thrust by no evil agency whatsoever into suffering and crises of meaning-making. That’s her point.

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  4. tgbelt says:

    As far as I can tell, Greg never even considers such suffering. He’s got two categories of suffering evil–moral and natural evil. He collapses the latter into the former. So there is no ‘natural’ (i.e., amoral) suffering for Greg. That kind of easy division is possible because Greg insists ‘suffering’ be understood exclusively as things willed upon us by others. It only takes one example to disprove his thesis,

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    • Jacob says:

      Right. I kinda figured he might explain this kind of suffering by reference to the demonic mucking with the initial conditions of the cosmos, though. I know he doesn’t address this particular ype of evil we’re talking about specifically, but it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable that he would given that accidental evils are a matter of the metaphysical structure of the world in a similar way that sometimes-harmful laws of nature are (which he explains by reference to the demonic in that essay in “God in an Open Universe.”)

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  5. tgbelt says:

    That may be his take on it, Jacob. True. After all, he feels ‘entropy’ is of the Devil, and it takes entropy for a baby to gestate and be born deformed. But then again, it takes entropy for the baby to be born healthily. But you’re right, he probably credits all such suffering to entropy which is the devil’s work.

    And yes on Adams re: theodicy. It’s not a book on theodicy per se. It’s Christology. But her for, Christology IS theodicy).

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    • Jacob says:

      “And yes on Adams re: theodicy. It’s not a book on theodicy per se. It’s Christology. But her for, Christology IS theodicy).”

      Interesting. Is this because Christ is the cause of the eschaton? Or shall I wait for you to explain this in another post?

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      • tgbelt says:

        It’s because (I’ll get to it as I post through her book) of God’s purposes for creating (they include the kind of vulnerability to horrors inherent in creation. And here she (I think) ends up where Greg does. God creates for love and that purpose requires the kind of epistemic distance permits this vulnerability. But Christ saves by becoming our “horror defeater” on the Cross. Good stuff.

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      • Jacob says:

        Gotcha. So she would understand the epistemic distance involved to pertain to the possibility of an experiential distance, which is a necessary precondition for agape. Something like that?

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      • tgbelt says:

        That’s how I’m reading her, yeah.

        Enjoying Texas? Dude it’s unbelievably cold here in Minneapolis. -40/-50.

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      • Jacob says:

        I always enjoy Texas. Great place. It is 20 or so degrees though, which is crazy cold for me.

        I’d die in -40/-50. Geez.

        Gonna get dinner in a little bit with some open theists though. Looking forward to that!

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      • tgbelt says:

        Say hi to Chad for me! Tell him we’ll get together in October in Dallas at Tom Oord’s OV Conference. I’m attending.

        Tom

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      • Jacob says:

        Will do.

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      • Jeff says:

        T: But Christ saves by becoming our “horror defeater” on the Cross. Good stuff.

        J: How does Christ’s life benefit those who lived before him? Or those who lived contemporaneously with him and after him but knew/know nothing of him. Does Adams address that? Or does he save us independently of us knowing anything about him, per Adams?

        On the other hand, if God meant for those who lived before him to come to know about him post-mortem, what was the purpose of all those lives prior to the incarnation? Was their form of meaning-making somehow “worse” even though it couldn’t have been informed by Christ’s life? And if so, whose fault was that? Wouldn’t she have to say “No one’s?”

        But then what was the point of it? Why, too, such a long wait to get down to the putatively “real” business? Why even now does God leave so many people ignorant of Christ’s life. Scripture explains why this problem doesn’t exist.

        Taking the seemingly obvious scriptural claim of propitiatory redemption, Christ can redemptively affect those before him in a similar way as those after him. All that is required is that scripture is true in saying that death for HUMANS is the wages of sin.

        This need not be some metaphysical principle of reality. It can be something as mundane as what Genesis says, “I will not always strive with man, for he is FLESH.” I.e., because man’s life is in his nostrils (unlike angels), there is no reason to change the metaphysics of human nature to have him die from his perpetual sinning as might be necessary for, say, angels. For maybe angels aren’t capable of dying given their created nature and, therefore, God would have to CHANGE that nature to cause them to die.

        Moreover, if universalism is true, death allows more people to BE redeemed, ultimately. For otherwise the earth would fill up and the living would have to kill or prevent the birth of (due to resource problems) those who could otherwise grow into adults capable of “meaning-making.”

        But, apart from propitiation, those who came after Christ, and believed on him, are also given MORE and are therefore REQUIRED of more, as well. But that’s not merely because we have in him an example, but because we also have the Spirit that empowers us to do all that Christ strengthens us to do, however much Spirit-grown self-control that requires.

        But the fundamental issue is that it makes no sense for us to care that God requires of us UNLESS He is benevolent in recompensing such that to disregard His requirements (whatEVER they are) is ultimately less satisfying than meeting them. This is why Solomon could say “all is vanity but to fear God and keep His commandments.”

        The minute you take away the notions that God requires as He gives and that the recompense is associated with an age-abiding life that can only be attained by propitiatory redemption (because the “wages” of sin is death), it is hard to imagine how or in what sense Christ had any meaning-making relevance to the vast number of PAST human lives. And that’s a strange Christology.

        But scripture explains why Christ is necessarily relevant to all human lives. For Christ is him, as is the Father, FOR whom all things exist. Thus, all teleological purpose for creation is logically related to the existence of Christ and the means he took to render creation MOST satisfying for himself.

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      • tgbelt says:

        Great questions Jeff. I don’t know that Adams ever discusses how Jesus’ horror-defeat is mediated to those who lived before Christ or to those who die without ever having heard of him. She’s a universalist (not a religious pluralist, just a Christian universalist) so she believes that post-mortem God will make-good for every person who is still trapped in sorrows the fullness of Stage 2 and Stage 3 horror-defeat.

        While I agree with her basic approach (i.e., viewing sin as the consequence of a deeper existential despair brought on by suffering), I think she comes up short on integrating that perspective into other biblical concepts (like expiation, propitiation). And her downplaying the explanatory value of ‘free will’ (and she has a certain point to make) practically turns into an abandonment of it. I get the feeling that since we’re created by God and placed in this God-awful vulnerability to horrors, nobody is “really” responsible or blameworthy for their choices. She makes one statement to the effect that this is not what she’s implying. That’s it. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion—when you marginalize free will, you marginalize responsibility, and when you marginalize responsibility you end up dismissing just accountability.

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  6. Jeff says:

    T: Where Boyd argues that these mismatches (and thus all suffering) are a function of the misuse of creaturely freedom (demonic if not human),

    J: Well, I would say Greg’s view is a bit more nuanced than that. I think I remember him admitting to the necessity of epistemic distance, but not the current degree of it. Greg, I think, would see the seeming inevitability of infant death, etc, as inexplicable in terms of a “personal meaning-making” explanation for “horrors” unless that personal meaning-making was intended by God to not always occur in the same world one is born into. Alternatively, infant death is not inevitable at all. But that seems quite implausible.

    Tom: Adams argues for a kind of suffering that isn’t reducible to such misused freedom but which is instead the inevitable consequence of the limitations built into our finite, created existence per se.

    J: But doesn’t she also believe that we’ll always be creatures having limitations of finitude? And if so, are the horrors to continue for all our existence in her opinion? Isn’t that what an “inevitable consequence” of a unchangeable condition (creature-hood and finitude) means?

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    • tgbelt says:

      J: J: But doesn’t she also believe that we’ll always be creatures having limitations of finitude?

      T: No. Stage-3 horror-defeat (our glorification) spells the removal of this vulnerability to horrors from the created order.

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  7. Jeff says:

    Well surely we can’t cease to be creatures, right? So does she think glorification entails a change from finitude to an infinitude for either ourselves or the created order or both?

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    • tgbelt says:

      She wouldn’t agree that finitude itself, by definition, necessitates vulnerability to horrors since we’ll be both finite (non-divine) and horror-free after glorification.

      Tom

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