What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Sebastian Saw the Face of God

My teenage nephew came back from seeing Avatar, the other day, all afire with enthusiasm.

So I did my best to apply the wet blankets: "ah, I cried: three hours of jejune, Disneyesque, pantheism plus the usual anti-American/anti-white-male/anti-business stereotyping - what's not to scoff at, here?"

So now he's really mad at me. Teenage boys do not like having their passing enthusiasms scoffed at.

* * * * *

But seriously: what is it about gooey circle-of-life nature-mysticism that exercises such a hold on the imagination of modern man (and especially modern youth)? I just don't get it. Is it because so few these days have any actual exposure to the natural "circle of life," which, in all its multivariate horror, might more aptly be called the "circle of suffering and death?"

We were not always so sentimental. Schopenhauer, I'm told, defended his doctrine of the essential evil of existence by inviting us to compare the pleasure of the animal that eats to the pain of the animal that is eaten. Or think of Thomas Hardy's memorable lines:

"A time there was - as one may guess
And as, indeed, earth's testimonies tell -
Before the birth of consciousness,
When all went well...

"But the disease of feeling germed,
And primal rightness took the tinct of wrong;
Ere nescience shall be reaffirmed
How long, how long?"

If there is no God but nature, then I think that Tennessee Williams got things just about right in this - easily one of my top ten choices for Greatest Scene in Movie History:

Alas, it's black & white. So the nephew won't be watching.

Comments (54)

"Is it because so few these days have any actual exposure to the natural "circle of life. . .?"

In a word, yes.

Kamilla

Kamilla - I have very mixed feelings about agrarianism - but I do think it might be a good thing for just about everybody to spend at least a year or two in early youth working on a farm.

I'm not sure that they feel sentimental about animals...when I describe William Rowe's example of the fawn slowly burning to death, I've never noticed a student being troubled by that, and many think it's justified because other animals get to eat it, etc.

But there are a complicated, and perhaps bizarre combination of attitudes to animals we moderns display. Many of us are troubled by factory farming, but not troubled enough to stop eating the products of factory farms; many of us lavish love and affection on our cats and dogs, but feed them chicken, cow, and pig. And finally, lots of us feel enraged by animal cruelty, and often display the most draconian attitudes to people who engage in it, while also (sometimes) the criminals who commit extremely violent crimes against other humans.

Bobcat - I think there must be a word or phrase missing toward the end of your last sentence.

Oops. Here's the corrected sentence:

"And finally, lots of us feel enraged by animal cruelty, and often display the most draconian attitudes to people who engage in it, while also (sometimes) CLAM CHOWDER the criminals who commit extremely violent crimes against other humans."

No, just kidding. Here it is:

"And finally, lots of us feel enraged by animal cruelty, and often display the most draconian attitudes to people who engage in it, while also (sometimes) EXCUSING the criminals who commit extremely violent crimes against other humans."

But seriously: what is it about gooey circle-of-life nature-mysticism that exercises such a hold on the imagination of modern man (and especially modern youth)?

Much of it is the callowness and immaturity of youth. The rest of it is that sense, often inchoate or protean, present from the creation of modern society as its doppelganger, that modernity privileges quantitative values over qualitative ones, which results in an an inextirpable undercurrent of alienation.

So I did my best to apply the wet blankets: "ah, I cried: three hours of jejune, Disneyesque, pantheism plus the usual anti-American/anti-white-male/anti-business stereotyping - what's not to scoff at, here?"

I've not seen the movie, but since so many commentators are saying much the same thing about it, I'll assume this characterization to be accurate. Hackneyed and jejeune though it may be as a plotline, can we agree that it would be wrong if, in reality, some quasi-governmental corporatist entity did the things that the corporation/military does in Avatar? The common-sense intuition that it would be wrong to do these things, however much, in its social context, the movie may be political agitprop, is what renders the tortured cliche so appealing. People are suckers for the repackaging of obvious moral intuitions.

Bobcat -- funny!

Steve,

I have mixed feelings about agrarianism as well. I don't advocate a sort of naive, back-to-the-country movement - something such as you suggest would help. I don't even think it need be as drastic as a "summer on the farm" program that would be akin to the "study abroad" or "exchange student" sorts of programs. Come to think of it, the solution may be even more radical - no video games, no Wii, shove the little kiddies outside and let them learn to entertain themselves. I sometimes think I had a remarkably privileged childhood as I grew up on what was essentially three acres (between us and my grandmother, who lived next door). There were several little hideaways, apple trees to climb, a swing set in the back, neighbors with a duck pond, etc. Plus, I did have farmers on both sides of my family.

Beside being expose to the grim realities of life, such as one might be on a farm - playing outdoors and eating a bit of dirt from time to time is also good for the young uns' immune systems. Moreso than hunting and milking and slaughtering, I think our children who are closeted indoors with their electronic entertainments -- well, I firmly believe this sort of life is the perfect set-up for what we are seeing now in our health - the prime example of a 21st century disease is the whole constellation of multiple allergies/multiple chemical sensitivities/chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia.

It's just not healthy - for either body or soul - to be raised in an environment hermetically sealed from anything other than a stray dust mite.

Kamilla

Steve, it seems to me probable that your nephew is a sucker for that kind of plot-line because it's the religion he has been taught in school since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Think of this analogy: You get a devout, fundamentalist Christian girl, you raise her without any exposure to good literature, and when she's a teenager you give her a saccharine, Christian romance novel. (There are such things. You don't want to read them. Take my word for it.) Is she going to recognize that it's pablum and of no literary value? You've gotta be kidding. It fits with the worldview she's been taught all along. It's slickly done. It entertains her. What else would she look for?

Same with Gaia-stuff, hating white males, cliche-ridden, circle of life, etc., etc., and your nephew. It's what he hears at church (aka school) five days a week. And he isn't given good stuff to compare it with, in terms of quality. So what else would he look for?

Hackneyed and jejeune though it may be as a plotline, can we agree that it would be wrong if, in reality, some quasi-governmental corporatist entity did the things that the corporation/military does in Avatar?

That was one of the major problems with the movie. The humans were so evil and the Navi so perfect and good that there wasn't really anything to do but wait for the inevitable conclusion to play out. Avatar bore so little resemblance to any situation that could be encountered in the real world that the moral lesson was lost.

The other side of the coin is that Avatar also speaks to a simpler and perfectly normal desire to defend one's home from invasion. With the Navi being so perfect and noble along with it being their home that is invaded, it's an easy payoff at the end of the story when they fight off the invaders. That's the fantasy; for the justice of the cause to bring about victory, but it rarely happens that way in real life.

That was one of the major problems with the movie.

Fine. Can we agree that it would be unjust if, in reality, a quasi-governmental/corporatist entity did the things that the quasi-governmental/corporatist entity does in Avatar, even if philosophers and intellectuals can identify ethical flaws in the culture of the 'savages'?

There are, for example, a couple polyandrist cultures in the vast Amazon basin. Would it be licit to obliterate their cultures and expropriate them?

As it happens, Maximos, we have any example of straightforward imperial corporatism happening in front of us right now: China in Africa.

Anyone who thinks that kind of ravenous acquisition of resources is a thing of the past should take a close look at the suction China is applying in the sub-Sahara. The region is now the scene of one of the most sweeping, bare-knuckled, and ingenious resource grabs the world has ever seen.

No doubt various academics and savants are already penning their tomes blaming America for this.

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/126/special-report-china-in-africa.html

Can we agree that it would be unjust if, in reality, a quasi-governmental/corporatist entity did the things that the quasi-governmental/corporatist entity does in Avatar, even if philosophers and intellectuals can identify ethical flaws in the culture of the 'savages'?

There are, for example, a couple polyandrist cultures in the vast Amazon basin. Would it be licit to obliterate their cultures and expropriate them?

For crying out loud, Maximos, KNOCK IT OFF. I can't believe it. Here's a piece of cultural tripe, which you very nearly admit is probably cultural tripe, and yet you still have to go trying to find some valid point to argue that it is making. If there were a movie about Christian heterosexuals murdering and torturing kitten-loving homosexuals, you would recognize perfectly well the propaganda going on. You wouldn't say, "But don't you admit that it would be wrong if a bunch of heterosexual Christians _did_ do that?" As though this were a point to consider with furrowed brow. No. You would realize that the "perfect evil" portrayed in the Christians was itself part of the shallowness of the picture. What's happening to you? You used to care about American culture. Now, it seems, American culture can go to hell as long as it says nasty things about the corporatists and nice things about other cultures being allegedly hegemonized by the West on the way down!

Maximos,

Thanks for linking to the re-worked "Pocahontas" script -- it is classic. I myself, being a big fan of science fiction and fantasy and hoping for a long time that "Avatar" would be worth seeing, can no longer work up any enthusiasm for spending my time and money. For me, it is not just the elements of the film that Steve (and many others have criticized), it is the fact that when evaluated on its own terms as a fun, sci-fi popcorn escape, the film is so mind-boggling stupid:

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/43429

Finally, as to your comment concerning the noble savages living in the Amazon, the answer to the question "would it be licit to obliterate their cultures and expropriate them" depends on the methods. If Brazilian Christian missionaries slowly began working with those tribes and teaching them about Christ, about the modern world, educating them in Portuguese, etc. so that in 100 years from now those tribes were no longer using their indigenous languages, were going to church instead of worshiping their pantheistic gods, were working in Amazon rain forest mineral mines (just had to throw that in especially for you) -- then I say bring on the obliteration.

Paul, I'm cognizant of Chinese imperialism in Africa, as well as its human costs. I've not heard of anyone attempting to attribute to America responsibility for these costs, though I don't spend much time perusing the blogs of development economists, so it's entirely possible that the charge has been made.

Lydia, I cannot publish here what I want to to say, so this will suffice: I WILL NOT KNOCK IT OFF, BECAUSE IT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO ACKNOWLEDGE SOMETHING AS PROPAGANDA; ONE MUST ALSO UNDERSTAND WHY THAT PROPAGANDA IS SO APPEALING. And, as I have argued, without a single cogent demurral, one reason that such propaganda is so appealing to a large segment of the population is that normal, morally sane people recognize that IF

some powerful entity did what the entity in Avatar does, that entity would be wrong to do it. These morality plays, however hackneyed, and however much they might be bathetic exercises in agitprop, strike many people as being good storytelling, because normal people reflexively identify with unjustly put-upon underdogs.

I'm sick unto death of the almost-robotic conservative impulse to ferret out instances of anti-conservative or anti-American propaganda, when few explanations other than, well, "The Other polluted the minds of our children" are ever admitted. Not to mention the fact that actual instances of, ahem, complexity in the motivations for American foreign policy are also dismissed as propaganda. The overreaction of conservatives to flicks like Avatar reinforces the propagandistic intent of the filmmakers.

And not polyandrous anymore, either. I'm sure Jeff Singer meant to include that. :-)

Finally, as to your comment concerning the noble savages living in the Amazon...

I generally hate posting successive comments, but this one is too good to let pass. Of course I'd be in favour of missionary activity in such regions. What I'd not favour would be attempts by a government, allied with corporations, to expropriate the territories of these peoples, so that they can be logged, cleared for ranching, or mined for resources. Some people familiar with the region say that this is happening to some of the indigenous tribes, though not, to my knowledge, to the polyandrists. Regardless of the identities of the victims, it is wrong. It's wrong to steal, even when the victims are retrogrades.

Bring on the missionaries, and leave the governments at home.

"It's wrong to steal, even when the victims are retrogrades."

But dammit, Max, you just don't understand! We'd be stealing from them for their own good! ;-)

Um-huh, Maximos. Gimme that old time "root causes analysis." How's about we do that with all the nasty leftish propaganda in the world? Break out the violins: "But _why_ do people find propaganda against moral conservatives so appealing??? Isn't is because you people who advocate what you call traditional sexual morality really are nasty and really have done terrible things? Wouldn't it be a good idea to engage in some _self-criticism_? Shouldn't all the junk baloney on television be an opportunity for deep self-examination about homophobia, etc.?"

Please. You only do this kind of stuff with your pet projects. In some areas you remain a conservative. I suggest you pull back and stop trying to excuse shallow eco-lefty propaganda and brainwashing for the young on the grounds of the "root causes of its appeal."

Of course _if_ somebody did such-and-such, it would be wrong. How is this worth saying? Some junky kids' movie that portrays stereotypes of the corporatists et. al. doing bad things tells us exactly nothing about whether there is any accuracy to the stereotype. The hypothetical ("well, _if_ somebody did this it _would_ be wrong") is no more enlightening here than a similar if...then statement that begins, "Well, _if_ American conservatives who oppose abortion really _were_ out to murder all their opponents..."

And so forth.

I don't think Steve's nephew's reaction at all surprising. Young people are (though they'd hate to be told it) pretty naive. And _of course_ if the movie makers are going to demonize a group of people, they're going to have them do _bad things_. No kidding. That's why the "if they did do this, it would be bad" point is so trivial.

I imagine that there are also teenagers in Egypt who believe that Jews kidnap Arab children and mix their blood with matzos. This is easily explained by the popularity of the blood libel in Egyptian culture, including on public television. It would be pretty darned pointless to say, "Well, IF they really did do that, it would be bad. Doesn't this help to explain the appeal of the propaganda?" I mean, um, yes and no. The propaganda is just plain lies, but of course the people making it had the Jews be terrible bad guys, and of course young people hate the bad guys in the movie that they are being told to hate. And so? There would still be something extremely creepy about asking for the root causes of the appeal of the blood libel in Egypt, talking about "normal people" who identify with "unjustly put-upon underdogs."

Let's talk about what's true, instead.

Shallow, manipulative story-telling is not good story-telling. If, Maximos, you want to come out openly and say, "The reason Avatar appeals to people is that there really are nasty corporations who do that stuff, or stuff relevantly similar to it, and the kids know it," we can all laugh. Because the kids wouldn't know whether it were true or even almost true or mostly true or not to save their lives. They haven't been given the wherewithal to evaluate. They're just reacting to a movie.

Debating the "accuracy of the stereotype" is a)a waste of time in the absence of any understanding of the underlying moral psychology, and b)a waste of time even where American foreign policy does have complicated motivating factors, because most conservatives are at pains to deny the complexity. So, it's doubly a waste of time. It's merely a manner of discriminating between in and out-groups, a way of identifying the Other, and of portraying the conservative - and anything the conservative valorizes - as the Eternal Victim.

Count me out.

Count me out, especially, from anti-root-causes dogmatism, which is, generally speaking, a way of saying that one doesn't like another causal narrative, but has one of his own. Curiously, explanations of the appeal of the lefty narrative always distill down to 'false consciousness'. There's irony in that.

But you wouldn't do this if you didn't think there were some legitimacy to the stereotype, Maximos. I've brought up example after example where you would just dismiss the propaganda as such and move on. What it seems to come to is that you prefer insinuation over open statement and debate. You prefer weird, pointless statements that "if they did this, it would be wrong"--which obviously can apply to _any_ demonizing propaganda and are therefore trivial--to clear statements that you think Avatar has a point because American corporations really are evil, or whatever.

You must recognize, because you aren't stupid, the legitimacy of my points about the creepiness and oddity of saying the things you are saying if the subject were something else--abortion, homosexuality, or even a Jewish blood libel. Yet you don't address those comparisons. I say that you don't address them because you know that the real difference is that you think the _stereotype in this case is at least somewhat accurate and justified_, but you prefer not to debate that. You prefer just to say vague, po-mo sounding things about "valorization" and root causes and what-not.

And if you don't think kids are brainwashed with eco stuff and noble savage multiculturalism in the public schools nowadays (which I take it has something to do with your would-be-snide remark about "false consciousness") then I think you are just lacking information. To put it mildly.

Maximos, conservatives aren't objecting to the complexity of Avatar's moral template, but its ham-handedness and crudity. In other words, its total absence of complexity, its flat and Manichean presentation of whites, America, etc. It's the sheerest pretense to pretend that you're defending simple-minded leftist garbage because of "complexities" that exist out there in the real world. You're defending it because the story it tells appeals to you and rings true. May as well just say it.

And by the by, Avatar's popularity has exactly nothing to do with people's basic moral intuitions, and everything to do with its packaging. If the story were completely different, people would line up to see it anyway, just as they do with nihilistic films (like Sin City or the Kill Bill series) that violate the most basic moral sensibilities available to us.

And just to be clear, I am foursquare against genocide committed in the name of corporatist expansion and such-like. Even against savages. (Years of Catholic education have sharpened my moral sense to razor keenness.)

Yet you don't address those comparisons.

Because, among conservatives, there is nothing controversial in the slightest about opposing such things. However, opinions about imperialist actions are not nearly so uniform. Moreover, I dare say that the issues themselves are disanalogous, with abortion being uniformly wicked, and certain types of foreign-policy adventures wicked, or not, depending upon circumstances, hence, the conditional statements in my earlier comments, which are a rough way of getting at (some of) what it such interventions would be, or should be, found illicit.

You prefer weird, pointless statements that "if they did this, it would be wrong"--which obviously can apply to _any_ demonizing propaganda and are therefore trivial--to clear statements that you think Avatar has a point because American corporations really are evil, or whatever.

That's just cheap, emotive rhetoric. One could just as well state that the conservatives hyperventilating over the plotline of Avatar cannot come out clearly to avow their love of empire. I don't believe that those conservatives are propounding such an esoteric discourse, and neither am I propounding such a discourse. What I say is exactly what I mean, and nothing more.

And if you don't think kids are brainwashed with eco stuff...

I believe that there does occur that sort of thing, and I regard both it, and the dogmatic conservative riposte to it, according to which virtually any sort of 'environmental consciousness', or belief in peak oil, or opposition to disposable consumer culture, as grave misperceptions of reality - maybe even forms of false consciousness.

Maximos, conservatives aren't objecting to the complexity of Avatar's moral template, but its ham-handedness and crudity.

Conservatives, including some of the intelligent ones, are objecting to more than simply the manifest crudity of the moral template; they are objecting to the substance, which implies that they'd recoil from even a complexed, nuanced portrayal under a similar template.

And by the by, Avatar's popularity has exactly nothing to do with people's basic moral intuitions...

I hate the entertainment-junkie aspect of American culture as much as the next guy, but this strikes me as a stereotype. Different genres of film appeal to different facets of the American character. And Americans love underdog stories, even ones like Avatar. Americans contain multitudes.

What I say is exactly what I mean, and nothing more.

Then exactly what you mean and nothing more is that kids buy into the plotline of Avatar because it makes the bad guys bad. In which case I have _no idea_ why you are bringing up stuff about empire or corporate actions in South America. In fact, I have no idea why you are saying this trivial thing at all, as you could just as easily say it about any movie with bad guys, however slanderous in terms of its real-life implications, that succeeds in getting its audience to dislike the bad guys. Sage is completely right:

You're defending it because the story it tells appeals to you and rings true. May as well just say it.

Then exactly what you mean and nothing more is that kids buy into the plotline of Avatar because it makes the bad guys bad.

Kids buy into it because it makes people who perpetrate certain types of evil into the bad guys: if you endeavour to conquer and expropriate primitive peoples because they have resources you desire, and with which you can generate greater exchange-value, you are evil. People generally wish that, in their entertainments, the bad guys be bad, and the good guys good, and this despite the numerous cultural complications. Few of these kids would like Avatar if it portrayed the corporatists as viciously as it does, but depicted them as victorious.

So, if stating that people generally wish that evil be identified as such is trivial, I plead guilty. By that standard, much conservative moral discourse is trivial: the bad guys who do bad things {create chimeras for experimentation} are bad, and should be seen as bad.

All,

I thought you might enjoy this article about "Avatar" from "The Public Discourse":

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/01/1095

Hard to believe anyone would seriously be offended by an innocuous sci-fi movie but, I guess if anyone would be, it would be the humorless Taliban on this website. Seriously, does anyone actually like you people? I don't think I've ever seen so many genuinely unpleasant people on one blog. The ugliness is unrelenting.

Anonymous - obviously, you don't get around much.

"Seriously, does anyone actually like you people?"


Yeah, Anonymous, I like them -- even when we argue.

I'm not too keen about you, though. I don't much like folks who want to publish criticisms but who can't muster the courage to use their real names.

"I don't much like folks who want to publish criticisms but who can't muster the courage to use their real names."

Well, fortunately, I could care less what ugly, ignorant, white trash such as yourself like or dislike; you clearly have poor taste. In either case, what difference, exactly, does it make whether the comment is anonymous or not? Whether it's true has nothing to do with my identity; each of you are positively grotesque, regardless. It's just amazing to me how anyone could be so insecure and pathetic so as to critique a sci-fi film, because it doesn't square with their political agenda (that really is fanaticism, by the way, though everyone on this site is clearly way past being able to see anything like that). What's next, chastising teenage girls for liking Twilight or children for enjoying cartoons(or least, feeling superior to them, I guess. makes sense though; in terms of personal development, they are in your peer group, for sure)? Still, quite amazing; you people never stop. Just humorless, ugly, and insecure 24-7. I actually wish your religion were true, just so all of you would find ourselves in hell at the end, as heartless, cold, ugly people undoubtedly would. Unfortunately though, it isn't, so basically you can pollute the world (and the internet) with impunity. Well now, everyone can return to pretending that they're sophisticated, since a few laughable psilosophers run this site.

anonymous, you forgot to say "Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!" at the end of your comment.

"It's just amazing to me how anyone could be so insecure and pathetic so as to critique a sci-fi film, because it doesn't square with their political agenda (that really is fanaticism, by the way, though everyone on this site is clearly way past being able to see anything like that)."

Totally agreed, anonymous. I mean, could you imagine how crazy the world would have to be for people to critique, say, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ just because it differed from their religious points of view? Or Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace because it traded in racial stereotypes? Or 300 because it was anti-Iranian? Thank goodness we don't live in a society where any more than just a handful of cranks critique aesthetic products on the basis of their own ideological views. Most of us, thank goodness, see the obvious truth of the principle that the aesthetic properties of an artwork have nothing whatsoever to do with the outlook on the world it suggests. That happy majority can critique movies like Avatar not because it's politically mindless, but rather for the simple reason that the plot was taken directly from Disney's Pocahontas (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/04/avatar-pocahontas-in-spac_n_410538.html) and the characters were written by someone with the mentality of an eight-year-old.

William - is that you?

If so, congragratulations on using the word "impunity" correctly in a sentence. You're learning.

And you seem to be getting the hang of the subjunctive. Well done.

On the other hand, you're still having some problems with number:

"...each of you are..."

"...anyone...their..."

"...everyone...they're..."

We'll work on these points next time you're over.

Uncle Steve

anonymous, you forgot to say "Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!" at the end of your comment

That's because he isn't sure about the spelling.

I'm still laughing about Steve's last comment hours after I saw it.

This is truly one of the greatest clips in film history. God, evolution, natural realism, well-written dialogue - all elegantly and vividly interwoven to constitute a stunning four-minute scene.

And Hepburn's performance: elegant, eloquent, solemn.

One of the most telling comments I heard about Avatar was a piece on NPR where the host said that James Cameron had a five-hour roundtable with linguists to hammer out the alien language of the Na'vi -- and then compared Cameron to J.R.R. Tolkien, a man who spent a lifetime (using his vast knowledge of Germanic and Celtic languages) to create a European mythology. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. As long as something hits all the right politically correct notes, who cares how shallow it is!

As a side note, I especially enjoyed Fjordman's "Avatar – the Latest Anti-Western Movie From Hollywood."

"modernity privileges quantitative values over qualitative ones, which results in an an inextirpable undercurrent of alienation."

Missed this above -- Maximos is quite right here, I think. The "reign of quantity" produces this alienation, and modern man will tend to reach out towards anything that would seem to help assuage that sense of being alone.

'I just don't get it. Is it because so few these days have any actual exposure to the natural "circle of life," which, in all its multivariate horror, might more aptly be called the "circle of suffering and death?"'

Sooo... God really screwed up with this whole 'Nature' business, huh?

@ Gene Callahan,

Steve Burton, the author of the passage you quote, doesn't believe in the God of Christianity, though he might believe in the God of Aristotle. As for the Christians among us, it's a good challenge to note how awful the struggle for life appears to be among animals. It's worth trying to figure out why God would create such a world. Michael Murry has just written a book about it called Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, and Peter van Inwagen has a chapter devoted to the subject in his The Problem of Evil. If you're interested, you may want to check those out (though I suspect you're not interested). Regardless of God's reasons for allowing such evils, we should remind ourselves of them, both because they are there, but also because if we over-sentimentalize nature, we are liable to make mistaken value-judgments.

C.S. Lewis also has a chapter on animal pain in The Problem of Pain.

Maybe God created a world full of suffering to show humans that living in a state of nature is a terrible idea and nothing worth lauding. I guess He underestimated us there.

Mr. Roberts: I'd missed Fjordman's piece - thanks for mentioning it. Here's the link:

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/4225

btw - I gather that Hepburn hated playing the role of Violet Venable, that Montgomery Clift was pretty seriously dysfunctional by this time in his unfortunate career, and that Tennessee Williams refused to be associated with the finished product.

Still one of the great movie scenes.

Mr. Callahan - as Bobcat points out, I'm WWWW's official house agnostic.

Since I might possibly have had a wee dram or two too many, tonight, I should probably just chill.

But, since I might possibly have had a wee dram or two too many, tonight, I'm not going to.

FWIW, I think that the sort of thing one sees every day in the Encantadas - or Haiti, at the moment - or, for that matter, one's own back yard - is a huge problem for the God of the New Testament.

Not so much for the God of the Old Testament.

And no problem at all for the god of Aristotle.

I've just been reading Ed's book _Aquinas_ in which he argues that the God of St. Thomas, inferred philosophically, can be shown to be good.

I'm not so much of an Aristotelian, myself. I rely heavily on historical evidence for Christianity and tend to have trouble with low oxygen levels at metaphysical heights, including the heights of the Angelic Doctor (for whom I have great respect, as I have for Ed and his careful exegesis and argument).

But since you, Steve, have expressed interest in "the god of Aristotle," I just thought I'd bring up the inter-convertibility of the transcendentals and all that.

Lydia: "I just thought I'd bring up the inter-convertibility of the transcendentals..."

Sounds awfully mathematical.... Maybe Steve will reply about the calculus of the wee dram. Is there some epsilon of brandy such that a delta of intoxication will result in incalculable incoherent philosophizing?

"I think that the sort of thing one sees every day in the Encantadas - or Haiti, at the moment - or, for that matter, one's own back yard - is a huge problem for the God of the New Testament."

A reading of David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea is in order.

"Regardless of God's reasons for allowing such evils..."

Must we believe that God allows such evils "for a reason"? I'm inclined to think that God has nothing to do with the suffering of innocents, including animals, since I don't believe that omnipotence necessitates the micro-management of the universe. The freedom that God gave creatures is a true freedom, not a simulacrum.


You'd think evolution would have produced a faster turtle by now.

"Must we believe that God allows such evils "for a reason"? I'm inclined to think that God has nothing to do with the suffering of innocents, including animals, since I don't believe that omnipotence necessitates the micro-management of the universe. The freedom that God gave creatures is a true freedom, not a simulacrum."

I guess my answer is, "yes, if we believe in God, we must believe that he has a reason for allowing animal suffering" (or, if you'd like to put it differently, we must believe that he has a reason for making the world). I'm willing to admit that "God has a reason for doing/allowing x" must be understood analogically. I'm also willing to admit that God is not a person, though I think God must have *something* like a will or an intelligence, even if it is very different from out own.

Still, I'd be interested in your feelings, Rob G; do you think there is nothing that needs to be said about why our world is so full of animal suffering, even though the world is the creation of a perfectly good God?

I would agree with Bobcat that God must have a reason for allowing things as well as for directly doing things. But I'm strongly inclined to think that his reasons for allowing may be quite different in type from his reasons for doing. That is to say, permitting the free actions of free agents to have real consequences in the world may _be_ a reason, and a good and sufficient reason, for allowing the bullet to enter the victim's head after the murderer fires it rather than miraculously deflecting the bullet. But God retains the right in other circumstances to provide miraculous protection when he sees fit.

The thing is that it is rather difficult without a certain amount of conjecture to connect animal pain (as opposed to, say, human death) with the consequences of the actions of free agents. Lewis conjecturally does it by bringing in the fall of Satan, which I for one find rather plausible.

I do believe that God is a person, in the sense that God is ultimately personal, not impersonal. God the Creator is eternally the Father, and fatherhood necessarily implies personhood. In other words, in Christianity the divine is personal, and this is understood not metaphorically but really.

As far as animal suffering goes, I think that one must either relate it to the fall of Satan or the fall of man, or both. I would only go as far as to say that I believe that God in no sense needs evil to fulfill His plan, so to say that he allows evil "for a reason" doesn't compute with me. God certainly uses evil to bring about good, but this does not mean that he needs evil to do so.

I have my understanding of this rooted in the arguments of D.B. Hart in his The Doors of the Sea, the only work on theodicy I've read that answers the questions I have in a way that makes sense to me.

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