The Devil’s March—Part 1

famineThe opening paragraph of David Bentley Hart’s contribution (“The Devil’s March: Creatio ex nihilo, the Problem of Evil, and a few Dostoyevskian Meditations”) to Creation ex nihilo: Origins, Developments, Contemporary Challenges (eds. Gary A. Anderson and Markus Bockmuehl). I’m committed to slowly reading through everything this man writes.

Beginning and End
Within the bounds of our normal human experience of nature and history, no claim seems more evidently absurd than that creation is—in any but the most qualified, conditional, local, and inconstant sense—something good; and no piety seems more emptily saccharine than the one that exhorts us to regard our own existence as a blessing, or as a grace, or as anything more than a sheer brute event (and a preponderantly rather horrid one at that). Yes, lilacs are lovely, puppies delightful, sexual intercourse (ideally) ecstatic, and every pleasure of the flesh and mind an invitation to delirious dance of life. But all the things about the world that enchant us, viewed in proper proportion to the whole, are at best tiny flickers of light amid a limitless darkness. The calculus of our existence is quite pitilessly exact in the end. Children die of monstrous diseases, in torment; nature is steeped in the blood of the weak, but then also of the strong; the logic of history is a gay romp through an endless abattoir, a succession of meaningless epochs delineated only by wars, conquests, enslavements, spoliations, mass murders, and all the empires of the merciless. The few happy savages among us whose lives pass in an unbroken flow of idyllic contentment and end in a final peaceful sleep are so rare that their good fortune, posed against the majestic immensity of the rest of humanity’s misery, looks like little more than one of fate’s more morbid jests. Everything we love vanishes, and so do we; every attachment is merely the transient prelude to an enduring bereavement; every accidental happiness terminates in an essential sorrow. And, if the teachings of most religions are correct, even death offers most of us no respite from our misery, but only new dimensions and amplitudes and ages of suffering—ceaseless karmic cycles of transmigration, interminable torments in hell, and so on. The conatus essendi [‘struggle of living’ or ‘struggle for life’] or tanha or whatever else it is that binds us to this world has plenty to feed upon, of course, as many good things are contained within the compass of the whole; but certainly the whole is nothing good. If, as Thomas [Aquinas] and countless others say, nature instructs us that we owe God our utmost gratitude for the gift of being, then this is no obvious truth of reason, but a truth more mysterious than almost any other—rather on the order of learning that one is one’s own father or that the essence of love is a certain shade of blue. Purely natural knowledge instructs us principally not only that we owe God nothing at all, but that really we should probably regard him with feelings situated somewhere along the continuum between resigned resentment and vehement hatred.

(“Famine” by Bernice Davies).

3 comments on “The Devil’s March—Part 1

  1. I’m absolutely desperate to read the rest of that essay! Alas, none of the university libraries near me have the book in which it’s collected…

    Liked by 1 person

    • What specifically seems so interesting about this essay, in contrast to his amazing talk about how creatio ex nihilo requires universal salvation, is that it also confronts the pessimistic aspects of the dharmic religions. I have just been reading an anthology of some basic texts from the Pali Canon, and came away quite disheartened with the emphasis on the infinite aeons of suffering in samsara we have been all condemned to endure…

      Liked by 1 person

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