Wednesday, January 05, 2005

goddamn you, God!

A lot of theists and atheists in the blogosphere are bringing up the theodicy question thanks to the Indian Ocean disaster. A small-minded part of me feels this rumination is in poor taste to the extent that now really isn't the time for theologizing about the suffering. There are more urgent matters at hand.

At the same time, I know the theodicy question is perfectly natural (hell, I just wrote a post on middle knowledge; the question of divine foreknowledge is tied to the moral question of God's responsibility for human suffering), and not only for theists: if you accept Peter Berger's opinion, then a theodicy is any attempt, theistic or otherwise, to make cosmic sense of human strife. Here's what I wrote earlier about Berger's opinion:

Back in the late 1960s, Peter Berger published his classic work, The Sacred Canopy, a book that tackles religion from a sociological point of view. Perhaps the most disturbing chapter in the work is Chapter 3, on theodicy. Berger defines theodicy loosely enough to include more than theistic attempts at resolving the problem of evil. For Berger, any complex rationalization of our suffering is a form of theodicy-- anything that both puts suffering in cosmic perspective and makes it somehow seem either "right and proper" or "understandable." Berger's conclusion is that the various theodicies are all a type of sickness in the human condition. The image he uses is that of the abuse dynamic, in which the abused party comes to reconcile himself/herself with the abuser, perhaps even coming to love the abuser. Humanity, faced with the mysterium tremendum of the divine, learns simply to cope with suffering rather than attempting to eliminate it. Maybe in a later blog post, I'll relate how I've dealt with Berger's perspective, with which I only partially agree.

I found Berger's formulation disturbing for a long time, because it seemed to hit so close to home. But then something occurred to me: theodicy, as Berger defines it, is such a widespread human phenomenon (indeed, it's pancultural!) that it's not plausible to view theodicy-making as perverse or deviant or otherwise sick. I might as well look askance at breathing.

Since I'm not above recycling old material, here's a link to my own post on theodicy.

And on a totally unrelated note: here's an old foodblog of mine from way back.


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