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The Human Strain

Strain

In his dark 1977 novel Lancelot, novelist Walker Percy brings us into the walls of a mental institution to hear a man named Lancelot tell his life story, a tale of empty commercialism, salacious self-destruction, and one murderous act of vengeance. Now confined by the four walls of an asylum, he confides in his old friend, a priest and psychiatrist, about the “quest” that led him there and the truth of the world outside:

“In times like these when everyone is wonderful, what is needed is a quest for evil. You should be interested! Such a quest serves God’s cause! How? Because the Good proves nothing. When everyone is wonderful, nobody bothers with God…but suppose you could show me one ‘sin,’ one pure act of malevolence. A different cup of tea! That would bring matters to a screeching halt…‘evil’ is surely the clue to this age, the only quest appropriate to the age. For everything and everyone’s either wonderful or sick and nothing is evil.”

Like Chekov’s “Ward No. 6”, Percy’s story is meant to invert our normal understandings of the patient and the doctor, the madman and the well-adjusted citizen. Lancelot—despite evoking the reader’s just suspicion—hits a nerve with his diagnosis of modern America, especially in his central question: is there such a thing as an evil act, pure and simple? One that evades sociological or biological reduction? In short: does sin exist?

I thought about Lancelot as I started watching Guillermo del Toro ("Pan’s Labyrinth", "The Devil’s Backbone") and Carlton Cuse’s new vampire series "The Strain". (Interestingly enough, a character is seen reading Percy’s Lancelot in Cuse’s hit series "Lost".) The series is a new spin on vampirism at least insofar as it brings a sci-fi thriller element, complete with a panicky CDC, high-profile quarantines, and revolting autopsies. The first episode plays most like "The Andromeda Strain" than "Dracula"...
 

 
...that is, until we actually meet the creature behind all the mayhem. Soon it becomes abundantly clear that this “strain” is a tad worse than a viral outbreak, as victims begin losing their genitals, shooting elongated killer tongues out of their mouth, and feasting on the blood of their family members. Clearly, this is not Ebola—it’s something supernatural, a kind of force…something truly evil.

The lead character, the drowsy epidemiologist Ephraim Goodweather, eventually agrees to hear out an elderly Armenian man who insists that he knows what this is all about and how to stop it:

“This scourge we are now witnessing has existed for millennia. It is a corruption of both flesh and spirit. It ravages what is human in its victim and instills the raging thirst. That is his goal: to destroy humanity…I suppose you might call him patient zero. He spreads his virus through the parasites in his blood, driven by his horrible will...The Master excels at manipulation and disinformation, which is why they created a scapegoat…Take away the cape, the fangs, the accent. He’s a predator, a leech, a blemish.”

Abraham then describes seeing this “devil,” this “disease” with “an intelligence,” with his own eyes in one of the extermination camps during World War II. Late at night, Abraham watches the “strigoi”—which has that supernatural-yet-natural look and feel of del Toro’s creations—sneak into their cabin to feast. The next morning, Abraham tells his brother Jacob, who dismissed it as a nightmare. “Stop looking for monsters,” Jacob snaps. “We’re already surrounded by them.”

In this key scene, the gross-out, occasionally ridiculous tenor of The Strain transcends itself, and we can begin to read “the strain” as a metaphor for human evil—for sin.

First, there is the biological nature of the strain. It’s a purely negative force—a leeching privation of the good—that passes from person to person like an infection. Father Robert Barron, in his review of "World War Z<", explains the connection:

“Original sin is passed on from generation to generation, ‘propagatione et non imitatione’ (by propagation and not by imitation)…sin is not so much a bad habit that we pick up by watching other people behave, rather, it is like a disease that we inherit or a contagion that we catch…addressed only through the intervention of some medicine or antidote that comes from the outside.”

Also, there is the origin of the strain. It’s fitting that a mysterious Jewish character (Abraham, of all names) is the one to explain this origin, as Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus read like an epidemiological traceback of sin. (The mention of a “scapegoat” is striking too, given the role the scapegoat played in ancient Jewish rites of atonement.) Moreover, Abraham’s description of “the Master”—a manipulator and deceiver driven by an inflated will to infect and destroy humanity—rings a bell or two.

Lastly, there is the effect of the strain on its hosts. Again, Father Barron’s review of "World War Z" is fitting:

“If sin were just a bad habit, then it wouldn’t reach very deeply into the structure of the self; but were it more like a contagion, it would insinuate itself into all the interrelated systems that make up the person…sin causes a falling-apart of the self, a disintegration of mind, will, emotions, and the body, so that the sinner consistently operates at cross-purposes to himself.”

Likewise, the strain causes a corruption of both “flesh and spirit” in its hosts: their internal organs shrivel up; their eyes become cold and lizard-like; their rational mind vanishes; their will is squelched, driving them only to use and discard their next victim; and most strikingly, they are driven to hurt the ones they love first.

This corruption of love is an especially horrifying—and apparently central—element of the story, one that perhaps calls sin to mind the most. The first recited words of the first episode touch on the subject:

“Hunger is the most important thing we know, the first lesson we learn. But hunger can be easily quieted down, easily satiated. There is another force, a different type of hunger, an unquenchable thirst that cannot be extinguished. Its very existence is what defines us, what makes us human. That force is love.”

If love is what makes us most human, than the corruption of love by the strain is what makes us most inhuman. To the Master’s scheming assistant, Thomas Eichorst, it’s the other way around—love corrupts, and the strain liberates. “What I find fascinating is how love is considered a gift, a blessing,” he says as he tortures one of his victims, “with no acceptance to the fact that it also binds, chokes, and strangles.”

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro are both Catholic. In fact, the explicit Catholic references in the show are numerous: holy water, a rosary, a Roman collar, a Mary candle, and the sign of the Cross are all seen or mentioned, most often as a kind of weaponry vis-à-vis the strain.

In an interview with Busted Halo, Cuse confesses that his Catholic faith is “very important” to him, describing the interaction of faith and storytelling in this way:

“I think religion becomes most meaningful in people’s lives when it’s told in the form of stories where people can connect…in a lot of ways the Bible is a great story, and you find the meaning underneath that, but I think its relevance is not just because of the embedded meaning, it’s also because the stories are so good.”

Del Toro also discussed his own religious background in the Wall Street Journal:

“My basic substance is Catholic…It was very much intertwined with the way I wrote the book. It is an incredibly powerful way of mythologizing about good and evil…One of my favorite books, and one of the most mysterious books in the Bible, is the Book of Job. I thought it would be great for the character of [Ephraim Goodweather] to be sort of the chosen one, but to be taken apart by destiny, point by point, until he finds the voice of God in ways that are very subtle.”

Of course, the attitude toward sin reflected in "The Strain" has its critics. On one reading held by many atheists today, malevolent acts are a holdover from millennia of animal ancestry; these are not “evil” so much as “defective” behaviors that, countered with reason, science, and education, will sizzle and shrivel under the hot light of progress like del Toro’s vampires. Like Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, they proclaim that there can be no redemption from sin, because there was never any sin to begin with.

But has history borne this out? In the mid-nineteenth century, Dostoevsky was already countering this dream of an Enlightenment “utopia” with his “Underground Man” who, as William Barrett explains:

“…Might die of boredom, or out of the violent need to escape this boredom start sticking pins in his neighbor – for no reason at all, just to assert his freedom. If science could comprehend all phenomena so that eventually in a thoroughly rational society human beings became as predictable as cogs in a machine, then man, driven by this need to know and assert his freedom, would rise up and smash the machine.”

Dostoevsky, it turns out, was something of a prophet. Just when we hoped to see the dawn of universal brotherhood, we saw instead a torrent of bloodshed and mass murder unparalleled in recorded history. In the horror of World War II, the raging waters of the irrational rose up once again; and through the evolutionary ethos of Nazism, Abraham met the Master face to face. Man, one Roman playwright wrote, is man’s wolf—and nowhere is this more evident than in the twentieth century.

Today, our digital age only magnifies the increasingly random horrors at home and abroad. Love, peace, “coexist!”—these are the catchphrases we hear (and say) over and over. But is there anything in such short supply? As anthropologist René Girard puts it in his new book: “Why is there so much violence in our midst? No question is more debated today. And none produces more disappointing answers.”

The “human strain” is self-evident down through the centuries. But the question remains: is it sin? The term seems to presuppose an objective moral order grounded by God. But as Lancelot saw it, the quest for sin has precious little to do with these things. Instead, it’s about observing the world as it is, openly and without prejudice, to see whether pure, irreducible evil—whatever you want to call it—is a fiction. Unfortunately, we don’t have to travel very far in this quest. We don’t even have to take a single step.

Many will be tempted to write off "The Strain" as a mindless entertainment. But I think it does something more: it paints a picture of the evil that really and truly infects the world, the kind that—once exposed within—impels its host to don sackcloth and ashes, and whisper with that underground dweller, to no one in particular: “I am a sick man…I am a wicked man…”
 

 
 
(Image credit: Movie Pilot)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Dear Matthew,

    Thanks for sharing this article. It's well written and talks about something so important to our lives today, with the big things, ISIS and the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the small things, the skinny man stabbing. Evil is real. Evil has always been a part of humanity. Love is real, too. But I firmly believe that, unlike evil, love is a necessary part of humanity. I believe that evil is not necessary. Wickedness does not serve the cause of love, nor does it make love purer, although love may be made more clear in contrast to the evil.

    All the best.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Agreed. To my mind that is the key take home message of story of Genesis. We were created good. Not half-good and half-bad, just good, period. The Fall damaged the way we relate to each other, and to God, but that came later, and it didn't change our essential, primary goodness. Original sin is secondary and the original blessing of creation is primary and subsuming. I read the story of Jesus as a surprising "proof of concept" that evil is not a necessary component of humanity, but is rather something that we are capable of turning away from.

      • Then where did any inclination to do anything non-good come from? Certainly original sin must have involved some kind of moral decision. The name of the tree notwithstanding, Adam and Eve must have had some understanding that the option of eating the fruit was in some way "bad", or non-good. There must have been some inclination, some motivating source of the decision to essentially create evil.

        I cannot understand how you can think it coherent that someone created absolutely all good would behave in a way that is non-good.

        For more google the "problem of non-god objects" it is possibly the best anti-Christian apologetics.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          If I'm forced to engage in the systematic theology of it, I would say the divine chastity argument put forth by newapologetics.com makes a lot of sense to me. Roughly speaking, I understand that argument to be that complete agape has to involve a giving away of true freedom, and true freedom has to contain within it the possibility of doing the wrong thing. Does the possibility of doing the wrong thing necessarily entail an inclination to do the wrong thing? I don't know. My head starts to spin a bit on that issue.

          For my taste, I would rather come at things a little more biblically and a little less systematically. The Bible (as interpreted in the Catholic tradition, at least) says that we are, at our core, completely good. That rings true to me. The Bible also tells me that we are ensnared in a cycle of evil. That also rings true to me. How those two thoughts can be systematically reconciled, I'm not sure. I try to understand, but I also try to get on with my life and live with the apparent contradiction a little bit.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          One other point Brian: In your comment below, you say that you don't consider Hitler and Mao to have been defective per se , rather you think that they were immoral and harmful. Maybe I am misreading you, but that really makes it sound like you also believe that non-defective creatures can behave in a defective way.

          Somewhat similarly, Paul (though he upvoted your comment (but who's counting :) )) states that evil is not a necessary part of humanity, which I interpret as a statement that evil is not intrinsic to humans. Yet he believes that evil exists and that these intrinsically non-evil creatures do evil.

          So, I guess I struggle to see where the two of you differ from my Genesis-based view.

          • I don't use the term evil and I don't see people or actions as defective or non-defective, broken or wrong. All people commit certain acts which I will call immoral. Some more than others.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't mean to be obstinate on this point, but I still struggle to understand. You and I both agree that people are not defective. You and I both agree that people commit immoral acts. To me, you put those two facts together and you get the conclusion that the source of our immorality is not in us , or at least not in our core being. It's associated with the superficial ego, but that ego is not ultimately intrinsic to us. When we do something immoral, we rightly say that we are "not being ourselves". Do we disagree?

            If we agree that the source of immorality is not in "our true selves", then to me that implies that it must have some other source. If you don't want to call that other source "evil", or "satanic", or whatever, I can totally get on board with that. But the important point to me is that that source of immorality, whatever you may call it, is not intrinsic to our human nature.

            Trivial EDITS

          • No, we don't agree. The term "defective" implies we are designed to be a certain way and have defects. I do not see us as being designed to be a certain way, or to have defects. So I think that term is inapplicable to humans.

            Rather, humans behave morally and immorally.

            I also don't know what you mean by "true self" and "core being". As to the sources of our conduct, as far as I can tell they are a mixture between our biology and our environment.

            "Moral" and "immoral" are labels I use as a shorthand to describe a complex system of judging human behavior. I don't see them as intrinsic or anything. In fact, I try to avoid using them and talk about the consequences of actions to health, happiness, safety etc.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, I think that does clarify it in my mind. So, could I summarize by saying that you think "goodness" and "free will" (these being the key ingredients of morality) are, at best, a sort of simplistic shorthand for describing various configurations and dynamics of matter (matter being primary)? If so, that does contrast clearly with my view, more or less reverse, which is that matter is a complex manifestation of goodness and free will (goodness and free will being primary).

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't know why you say "absolutely good."

          I read in Jacques Maritain's "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil," that every human being has to deliberate when faced with a choice. When the chose is moral, the person has to ask if the decision would be right or wrong. The measure of right and wrong is not inherent to a human being: he has to look outside of himself to find it. Thus, every person, including Adam, could skip this step and just act. Sin arises from man's choice to act without considering the rule of reason and divine law. I think that is what Adam did. He didn't ask himself, or Eve, or even the serpent if the things he said were true.

          The need to consider the rule of reason and divine law before acting is a necessary ontological imperfection in human beings. It is an imperfection because it would be better to have the rule in yourself so you could never go wrong. It is ontological because this condition is part of our being. It is necessary because only God has the rule of reason as part of his nature.

          For this reason, your surmise that "Adam and Eve must have had some understanding that the option of eating the fruit was in some way 'bad'" might not be true.

          • David Nickol

            For this reason, your surmise that "Adam and Eve must have had some understanding that the option of eating the fruit was in some way 'bad'" might not be true.

            Surely something as calamitous as the act that (allegedly) resulted in "the Fall" had to meet the criteria for a mortal sin—i.e, it must be seriously wrong, it must be known to be seriously wrong, and full consent must be given. Do you mean to imply that Adam and Eve may have "sinned" in complete innocence?

            In Genesis, Adam and Eve surely show signs of feeling guilty when they encounter God after they eat the fruit.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what
            should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days in villainy?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that the act must have had those qualities. I was trying to get at BGA's surmise that Adam and Eve were "perfect" and so it was somehow inconceivable that they would be able to fall.

          • Loreen Lee

            But were not Adam and Eve under the obligation to obey the command/rule/law of God, and this included being 'told' that they were not to eat of the 'forbidden fruit'. My remarks on the hypothetical virginity of the blessed virgin even if it were to include a sexual encounter, were justifiably criticized, but then is sexuality necessarily always bad. Indeed the bible says of Adam and Eve before the fall, that they were unashamed. What is it that occurred with the eating of the fruit, that necessitated the depiction in this story, of Adam and Eve having to cover themselves with fig leaves? Why is 'sexuality' such a major focus of 'evil?' as depicted in this biblical story? Why could the blessed Virgin be in state of purity, even though the virginity did not necessarily refer primarily to sexuality? Is there a bias here? Is it not possible that virginity/purity can be thought of as a metaphysical characteristic primarily, (that is knowing the law/rule of God/love, whatever) which would have a much broader context, and indeed could entail possibly either a primaeval innocence,(Adam and Eve) or a transcendent or transformed appreciation intuition and even understanding, (as in acting only on the prompting of the Holy Spirit). Anyway, to excuse my comment above, there still appears to be a contradiction in that that if Jesus is COMPLETELY HUMAN could that not entail logically, an acceptance of a physical as well as a spiritual conception and birth..

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm sorry, Loreen, but I have no idea what you are getting at.

          • Loreen Lee

            Please don't be sorry. I am most grateful that you have chosen to involve yourself in dialogue with me, on a very difficult subject. In response to your other comment, I have broken the comment into paragraphs. Perhaps this will help. I am also pursuing this 'problematic', (i.e. trying to understand it myself) within the comboxes on Estranged Notions. Thanks, again.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Can you break this down into separate points or questions?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > is sexuality necessarily always bad?

            The Catholic Church considers sexuality a great good although it can be exercised in many bad ways.

          • Loreen Lee

            I shall have to re-examine this then with respect to the association of the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin within the dichotomy of sexuality/chastity. I do believe, and I have said this elsewhere that this is the predominant interpretation of the Blessed Mother's purity. (At least to the point of recognizing the possibility that the human aspect of Jesus was 'conceived' through a physical union).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Mary's purity is due to being preserved from Original Sin and never actually sinning. She did perfectly live the virtue of chastity as a consequence of being "full of grace."

          • Ray Vorkin

            This type of confusion regards human sexuality is the result of people giving credence to so called "revealed "word of god"...biblical scriptures etc. instead of thinking and reasoning for themselves.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Why were Adam and Eve ashamed after their sin?

            I think a common explanation is that after their sin they lost their "integrity," that is the rule of their reason over their passions. In terms of sexuality, people could now use each other selfishly.

          • Loreen Lee

            But does not the 'knowledge of good and evil' suggest the involvement of reason. Can we 'really distinguish' in all cases the good from the 'evil', or bad. Do we associate these characteristics solely or predominantly with the distinction between pleasure and pain for instance? Would this make them then examples of concupiscence?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Good and evil are distinguished by reason comparing an action to the natural or divine law.

          • Michael Murray

            So Adam and Eve's ancestors didn't sin because they didn't have souls? Is that supposed to be how it works? I've never understood how this grafting of souls onto an existing population of Homo sapiens numbering in at least the thousands is supposed to work.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There are also other issues.

            1) Death and suffering were part of the world before Adam and Eve.

            2) Two human beings are not enough to ensure species survival

          • Michael Murray

            1) Death and suffering were part of the world before Adam and Eve.

            Yes I agree. But my participation here in many discussions on theodicy suggests that Catholic theology is not overly concerned with the suffering of non-human animals. I guess because they don't have souls. Pet's after all don't go to heaven. So that would presumably apply also to homo sapiens before their soulification.

            2) Two human beings are not enough to ensure species survival

            Plus the DNA evidence is that there never were just two homo sapiens. The population never went below the thousands or tens of thousands.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know about pets in heaven (is that a teaching? where?). The Bible seems to say very little about what we call heaven, but when it comes to the general resurrection, "creation itself will be set free" (Romans 8). All of creation will be saved in the resurrection.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think it is a direct teaching but I was always told as a child that animals souls do not go to heaven. I think the argument is that, unlike human souls, they are not immortal and immaterial. See for example

            https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/pets_in_heaven.htm

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The EWTN author makes it clear at the beginning that s/he is indulging in some speculation. I guess I would challenge that author on the statement that "In the case of plants and animals the soul goes out of existence."
            I don't see how it makes for any soul to go out of existence just because it is no longer materially manifested. And again, I don't see how this author's speculation can be reconciled with Romans 8.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The story is not an explanation of "how". It is up to science to explain the "how". The story is a figurative explanation, painting a picture to reveal the deepest nature of our selves and our world.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not looking to the Bible for an answer but the wider theology of the Church which is what this website is supposed to be about. I don't expect to find it in science because, as I am regularly reminded here, science is limited and cannot deal with immaterial souls. Here is the problem as I see it. I should add I first came across this reading David Nickol's posts.

            Science tells us that Adam and Eve had contemporaries and the descendants of those contemporaries interbred with the descendants of Adam and Eve. If souls spread from Adam and Eve to Adam and Eve's descendants then there must have been occasions where homo sapiens with souls interbreed with homo sapiens without souls. So in Catholic terms humans bred with animals. It is hard to see how the sex acts that occurred could have a spiritual component if only one of the participants had a spirit.

            Pope Pius XXII took a position on this but I've never fully understood what it means

            When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[10]

            Is this saying the after Adam his contemporaries had no descendants (contradicting science) or that those descendants where not "true men" or just that everyone after Adam had Adam as one of their ancestors although not as a unique ancestor ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't know Michael. Questions about souls and inter-breeding are so far from my mind when I read that story, I wouldn't even know where to begin. There may be value in pursuing those sorts of questions, but to me that is a very esoteric sort of systematic theology. It sounds like Pius XXII was a bit of a knucklehead, at least on this issue. Subsequent commentators have cleverly noted that his use of "it is in no way obvious" does not need to be read as "it cannot be the case", but I don't want to descend into silly legalisms about what is and isn't official teaching. I can tell you that, as far as the living breathing Church goes, I teach this stuff to Jr. High kids, and I don't substantially depart from the official curriculum, and what we cover has nothing to do with any of the points you raise. At a higher level, if you read e.g. Ratzinger / BVI's stuff on original sin, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the type of questions you are raising.

            As I said in my comment to PBR at the beginning of this thread, Genesis 1 is read in the RCC primarily a revelation of the fact that creation (including humans) is fundamentally good. After each act of creation, "God saw that it was good." Genesis 3 is read primarily a revelation of the fact that something has been thrown out of balance in creation, and that whatever it is that threw things out of balance is inextricably bound to free will and interdependence (both good things in and of themselves, but having tragic implications). We are all born in that world that is out of balance, and that is what makes it hard to act like our true selves. But there is nothing wrong with our true selves. Human have this special privilege of being able to do things wrong, and we struggle in this out-of-balance world where we are tempted to abuse that privilege, but that doesn't mean that anything is wrong with US per se .

            There's a lot more to say of course, but if I had to write the Cliff Notes in one paragraph, I would write something like that. I think that is fully consistent with Catholic teaching.

          • Michael Murray

            Human have this special privilege of being able to do things wrong, and we struggle in this out-of-balance world where we are tempted to abuse that privilege, but that doesn't mean that anything is wrong with US per se .

            So if there is nothing wrong with us per se what was it Jesus died on the cross for ?

            I guess this looks to me like a modern teaching like hell not having flames. That wasn't what I was taught as a child and the idea that there was something wrong with us was front and centre as original sin.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No single way of saying it is totally adequate. That's the value of these multivalent stories. When I talk about the struggle to become your true self, I'm using a "self" (i.e. ego-laden self) versus "true self" language that runs the risk of not sufficiently emphasizing sin. The language that you learned (presumably emphasizing "sin" and "redemption") is also correct, but it risks certain misinterpretations that I would say are revealed upon returning to the story. A sort of intermediate path would be to reflect on Genesis using the language of "broken-ness" and "wholeness". We ARE in a broken state , just as a perfectly engineered and beautifully designed car might have chips and dings almost immediately once it "hits the road". But we ARE NOT like a poorly designed or sloppily engineered car. We were created great, and that potential for greatness -- the potential even for Godliness, as Jesus showed -- is still with us. The struggle to be made whole again is the process of atonement (deriving from "at-one-ment", as I recently learned), and that is what Jesus showed us how to do.

            As for why your catechesis (and that of so many others) had this over-emphasis on sin, I can only guess. We are all only a generation or two removed from some very hard-scrapple people, who may have naturally taken a pretty dim view of the world. I would say this is the value of canonical scripture: when our culturally conditioned expressions of dogma start to drift off course, this fixed anchor of the canon is there to help keep things from drifting too far. If you return to Genesis, you can say, "Ah yes, sin, it is there, it is real, but the larger, surrounding story is a story of grace. It's a bit like we are on a broken boat floating in a sea of grace."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The human being has a kind of life (soul) that includes rationality and freedom. If you don't have those faculties you cannot sin. If Adam and Eve had ancestors, they had souls, too, but they were not rational ones, they were animal ones.

          • Michael Murray

            I assume that the Catholic concept of a human soul has some immaterial aspect to it -- otherwise it cannot survive beyond death ?

            Adam and Eve definitely had ancestors. Does the Catholic Church doubt that ? I thought it was happy with homo sapiens evolving as scientific evidence suggest but with souls being added by God at some point ?

            What about Adam and Eve's contemporaries? Did they have human souls ? My understanding was that the Churches position was no ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you familiar with how folks like Aristotle and Aquinas understood the word "soul"? Plants, animals, humans, and angels have souls, but they are of different kinds.

          • Michael Murray

            Right but the human soul is different on account of being immortal and immaterial.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Right. But actually as philosophers they would say that the rationality of the human soul is the evidence that it is immaterial and therefore immortal.

          • Michael Murray

            Except that the Catholic position is that the human soul was not just a product of evolution

            "If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God"

            So if we make a computer with the rational soul it will not as a consequence have an immaterial and immortal soul ? Hence for some reason the philosophical arguments would not apply. Or, of course, perhaps we will never make a computer with a rational soul.

            Does the Church have a position on which humans where first to have a rational and immortal immaterial soul ? Does it have to be Adam and Eve or ancestors of Adam and Eve have been the first homo sapiens to acquire souls ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A computer is not a living thing, so it could never give life to an animal body. In addition, computers don't have any consciousness, so one could never have rationality or freedom. It could only be programmed to mimic these things.

            Since the spiritual soul, which is another name for rationality, had to be directly created by God, whoever got this first was the first person. Genesis calls him Adam.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks - Michael

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Why is sexuality a major focus of evil as depicted in the biblical story?

            Why do you think it is?

          • Loreen Lee

            I have no 'idea'! That is part of my perplexity. Sexuality is however a most private personal aspect of our lives. It also can be directly related to desire, or concupiscence; indeed, perhaps as it's most obvious 'example'. .

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Concupiscence is not desire. It is unruly desire. It is, in a sense, the demand of a bodily desire or passion to be satisfied, no matter what.

          • Loreen Lee

            CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Concupiscence - New Advent
            http://www.newadvent.org › Catholic Encyclopedia › C
            In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Is it not possible that the blessed Virgin could be in state of purity, even though the virginity did not necessarily refer primarily to sexuality? Is there a bias here? Is it not possible that virginity/purity can be thought of as a metaphysical characteristic primarily, (that is knowing the law/rule of God/love, whatever) which would have a much broader context, and indeed could entail possibly either a primaeval innocence,(Adam and Eve) or a transcendent or transformed appreciation intuition and even understanding, (as in acting only on the prompting of the Holy Spirit).

            This is very unclear to me.

          • Loreen Lee

            Just questioning what is meant by the Blessed Virgin's 'Virginity'. Purity, rather than being a characteristic of the knowledge of good and evil, which I now feel justified in relating to reason per se.could also be considered, could it not, to be the state of following the will of God, which I am wondering could be related to following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. May I put forward the possibility that such was what was entailed in her assent given to the angel at the time of the Annunciation? Forget the rest. I'm still struggling. Thanks.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Virginity means Mary did not become pregnant with Jesus through sexual intercourse. Perpetual Virginity is the Catholic belief that Mary was a virgin before she conceived Jesus and remained a virgin for the rest of her life.

            Purity can mean chastity and it can more broadly mean holiness, which definitely entails following the will of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Anyway, to excuse my comment above, there still appears to be a contradiction in that that if Jesus is COMPLETELY HUMAN could that not entail logically, an acceptance of a physical as well as a spiritual conception and birth..

            Catholics believe he had a physical birth. In his human nature he has a human intellect, a human will, a human body.

          • Loreen Lee

            What about the possibility of a physical or natural conception?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you mean by physical or natural conception?

          • Loreen Lee

            Ah - at last an easy one. Birthing a child as result of having sex. A far different situation than a conception achieved through the power of the holy spirit.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you read Luke its pretty clear it was not a conception from sexual intercourse. Of course it had physical consequences.

          • Loreen Lee

            I am in another debate with epeeist over whether it is possible for consciousness or mind, or spirit (whatever) to interact with the physical. Not doing too well on that one. Guess I am not capable of proving either creation, the Word made flesh, or the incarnation.

          • What do you mean by "skip the last step and just act"? If he did not deliberate at all on the decision to eat the fruit, can you say he exercised his free will and made a choice for which he should be held responsible? If he chose not to deliberate and this in itself was reprehensible, again, if we consider Adam to have been somehow rational, which I think you must, he must have had sufficient information to know that eating the fruit, or choosing not to deliberate on eating the fruit was somehow wrong. If he were purely a rational being, it is incomprehensible to think he could have seen any upside to eating the fruit or not deliberating. If he was not acting on pure rationality but also being influenced by some subconscious inclination or desire, these were not his fault. It doesn't make sense.

            In other words, either Adam was acting on instinct instilled in him by his creator or he was acting utterly irrationally, which is hard to comprehend.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think those are very good questions and stipulations. I'm saying that maybe Adam had the ability to consider the morality of his action but freely chose not to.

            To use a silly example, when Debbie Boone sang, "It can't be wrong if it feels so right," she was basically saying, "I don't want to know if it is wrong."

          • Loreen Lee

            As I noted in reply to BGA the human 'sense of morality' may be a result of our ability to reason.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It has to be the result of our ability to reason!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There are four things that I would argue about this story. 1) Eve's motivation for eating the apple was not an "evil" motivation. 2) Being naked is not wrong. 3) God completely overreacts given the circumstances. 4) The story has contradictions.

            When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

            So Eve eats the fruit, because she wants to gain wisdom. If intention has any value on the morality of an act, we would say that Eve's intention certainly mitigates her action. Furthermore, God actually lies about the tree. He tells Adam and Eve that if they eat from the tree, they will die. However, they actually only gain knowledge of good and evil.

            But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

            He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
            And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?

            So the first thing that they realize and are ashamed of is their nakedness. This is the first knowledge of evil that they possess. Shame in nakedness is not found across all cultures, and indeed we have found different standards throughout the history of the West. Many painters have painted the human form naked, as they believed it was beautiful and not shameful.

            So, because Eve wants more wisdom (indeed she wants to be more like God, which is what I thought we were striving for), she endures this punishment:

            “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

            And her children also suffer these pains of birth, for an action that they did not even commit. We also get a little stone aged misogyny thrown into the mix

            Then to Adam:

            “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

            Basically, he goes from paradise to the stone age to live in "continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." It seems curiosity is an awful crime.

            We could contrast this with Zeus' treatment of Pandora. He expected Pandora to open the box, because he knew that Pandora would be curious.

            Or we could contrast this with our own treatment of our offspring, when they are innocent children. For their "sins", we certainly don't condemn them to the stone age (if we did it would be child abuse), but rather we use is as a teaching moment

            Complete overacting on God's part.

            Finally, the story has several contradictions to our understanding God

            And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

            God created us in our His image. Now, by eating from the tree of Good and Evil we became more like God. Why would God want to punish us for this?
            Secondly, what is the tree of life nonsense? God basically doesn't want man to live forever, so He has to banish man from paradise and guard the path back with flaming swords. Does this not really seem to put a limit on God's power? God could have destroyed the tree of life, or made the tree impotent.

            The problem is that we are treating the Bible as the inspired work of God. We have two options:
            1) The bible is the inspired work of God

            2) It was written by a bronze aged people to try and make sense of their world.

            2 is much more likely the case.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you think Genesis is nonsense and God is evil, tell someone else, not me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If you think Genesis is nonsense and God is evil, tell someone else, not me.

            I do not think the Old Testament is nonsense. It has its share of wisdom, but I do not think it is the inspired book of God.

            I do not think God is evil, because I do not think that he exists.

            The thread was a discussion of original sin and the Genesis account. I responded to you, because you are the person who seems to think that the Genesis account is valid. I thought Strange Notions was a dialogue between atheists and theists, apparently that is incorrect, because you do not seem to want to hear/read an atheist point of view.

            One of the reasons I left Catholicism was that the bible seems more like the work of man than the inspired work of God. I would think Catholics would want to provide evidence that my opinion is incorrect, but I have been wrong before and will be again.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Quote: "What is the tree of life nonsense?"
            Quote: "It seems curiosity is an awful crime."
            Quote: "I would think Catholics would want to provide evidence my opinion is incorrect."

            In other words, let me insult you and if you don't want to respond, then you are in the wrong.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I daresay this is the post of someone without a counter argument to any of my premises or conclusions.

            While I would admit that my post was bold, it was not meant to be insulting in anyway. You seem to have a rather thin skin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David Chidlow?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you would like a partial response to Eve's motivation, see this comment below to BGA: http://strangenotions.com/the-human-strain/#comment-1577863936

          • Stephen Gann

            There are some issues with this argumentation. (Numbers taken from Argument numbers from the top)

            1.a.)

            So Eve eats the fruit, because she wants to gain wisdom. If intention has any value on the morality of an act, we would say that Eve's intention certainly mitigates her action.

            According to the reasoning given, we would have to conclude that there are no evil actions. Hitler desired for Germany to be great and concluded that this was sufficient reason to "be like God" in controlling the lives and deaths of people in Europe. Morality requires not only correct intent, but correct method. Eve could have asked for God's permission or even, "God, why not?"

            1.b)

            Furthermore, God actually lies about the tree. He tells Adam and Eve that if they eat from the tree, they will die. However, they actually only gain knowledge of good and evil.

            You may want to double-check the claim that God lied here. He said that they would die, not that they would die immediately. The fifth chapter explicitly records Adam's death.

            3.a)

            Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. [and the like]

            I would note that the shame, the birth-pains, and the rule of the man over the woman are post-fall. This implicitly states that they are not the original state of humanity. The last, in particular, is an odd claim for a misogynistic culture.

            3.b) What does it mean to "know evil"? Can we truly know evil without a holocaust?

            Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this passage is nothing more than the attempt of a culture to understand suffering, it seems rather embarrassing for them to conclude that its source is their request for it against the instructions of the divine.

            4.a.)

            God created us in our His image. Now, by eating from the tree of Good and Evil we became more like God. Why would God want to punish us for this?

            I would repeat my response to three (b) here. The story appears to indicate that this is less a "punishment" and more a consequence of "knowing evil".

            4.b)

            ...so He has to banish man from paradise and guard the path back with flaming swords. Does this not really seem to put a limit on God's power? God could have destroyed the tree of life, or made the tree impotent.

            Caution: Even under the assumption that no metaphor is intended, did is not must. The claim that God banished man is not a claim that banishing man was His only option.

            4.c)

            We have two options:

            1) The bible is the inspired work of God

            2) It was written by a bronze aged people to try and make sense of their world.

            I would note here that Catholic Doctrine on the Inspiration of Scripture would not hold these two in contradictions. I suspect you intend Two to mean that it was nothing more than a written attempt "by a bronze aged people to try and make sense of their world."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            According to the reasoning given, we would have to conclude that there are no evil actions. Hitler desired for Germany to be great and concluded that this was sufficient reason to "be like God" in controlling the lives and deaths of people in Europe. Morality requires not only correct intent, but correct method. Eve could have asked for God's permission or even, "God, why not?"

            I did not say that intention decides the morality of an action, but rather that it mitigates culpability, just as lack of consent and lack of knowledge does. Is not becoming more like God an intrinsic good? Certainly that was the result of their action, they became more like God. What do you think their primary sin is?

            I would say that curiosity is a very human trait that should not be punished.

            You may want to double-check the claim that God lied here. He said that they would die, not that they would die immediately. The fifth chapter explicitly records Adam's death.

            Granted. However, before Adam and Eve, our ancestors and all of the creatures of the earth died violently. Why did God allow all this suffering and violence, if no one had sinned yet? I thought Adam and Eve's first sin brought suffering into the world. I think this is a very important objection to the biblical account vis-à-vis the problem of evil. We are told that evil is brought into the world, because of the parents first sin, however, suffering is clearly present before our first parents even existed. How is this not irreconcilable with an all-everything God?

            Since it is the inspired work of God, shouldn't we expect that it would teach morality? Clearly, misogyny is immoral.

            I would repeat my response to three (b) here. The story appears to indicate that this is less a "punishment" and more a consequence of "knowing evil".

            By this you mean the banishment and being sent to the stone age? I do not understand how "knowing evil" necessitates banishment to the stone age. Certainly, everyone in heaven still "knows evil"? Also, God "knows evil" and he does not exist in the stone age.

            Did God have a choice in sending them to the stone age? If he did not, then he is not all-powerful. If he did, them he is not omni- benevolent. Claiming that it is a consequence skirts the main objection.

            In summary I have three main objections and one question:

            Obection 1: Original sin does not explain the problem of evil, because there was evil before the sin.

            Objection 2: God punishment is over the top, and immoral.

            Objection 3: (another poster brought this up, but I have not seen in satisfactorily answered): Does not Adam and Eve's sin presuppose knowledge of what sin is? How do they have that knowledge, if they haven't yet eaten from the tree?
            Question: Does the tree of life and the tree of knowledge actually exist and do they have said properties? Are they just metaphors? If so what is the purpose of the tree of life metaphor?

            Finally, what does it mean for a book to be inspired by God? And what means can we use to test whether or not a book is inspired by God? How do we know that Genesis is inspired, but the Iliad is not?

          • What you are talking about is called wilful blindness. Key here is "wilful". If you close your eyes to the moral question you are wilfully doing something wrong. If it is not wilful blindness, it is just blindness, so to speak and you are not culpable.

            You can't have it both ways. Either Adam was really ignorant to the question of whether his actions were good or bad, in which case he is in no way culpable. Or, he knew he was in the wrong, and he must have had some inclination or desire to do it anyway, in which case he is culpable, but so is the creator that placed that inclination in him.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Aquinas says that it is impossible for God to create an impeccable rational creature. (If some rational creature *is* impeccable, it is because of some special grace it receives from God.)

            Aquinas uses the humble example of a carpenter sawing wood. If the carpenter had the rule of straightness in his hand, he would always cut straight. But he doesn't, so he has to use an actual ruler and often fails to cut straight.

            When it comes to seeking the good or happiness, we don't have the rule of good and evil imbedded in ourselves but have to seek it outside ourselves in the moral law. Then we apply it (or not). God has placed the inclination to seek the good in us and he has also given us the means to discern what that good is in concrete circumstances.

            Neither the inclination to seek the good nor the fact that the means of judging good and evil are not intrinsic to man are evils, so I disagree with you that God is in some way culpable for Adam's sin.

            So, for a rational creature to be free, he has to have fallibility. That is the crack the serpent exploited. The serpent basically said, "Eat this fruit and you will be like God." For Adam this meant, "Disobey God to be like God."

            So, I would agree with you in this way: Adam was willful ignorant, because he did not take counsel with anyone (even himself, evidently). But the possibility that he could act in this way was a necessary consequence of his freedom.

          • Loreen Lee

            I think I got it now. He went against the 'Will' of God. This does not mean that he did not use 'reason'. Indeed the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, could possibly be related to just that: the advent of the homo sapient being called the human.

          • Guest

            "Your powers are weak."

          • But the question is did Adam, (why are we talking about Adam actually, the original sin was Eve's wasn't it? Or does hers not count for some reason?) so, was the decision to eat the fruit a culpable action? Did the person eating the fruit know they should not be doing so? If not, why are we saying it is "wrong"? I think you have to accept that the story only makes sense if Adam and Eve knew that eating of the tree they were told not to was "wrong" no matter how you define "wrong". They had to appreciate that there was a rule, they must have understood what rules are, and that they should not disobey. On Christianity you also need to accept that in eating the fruit they were applying free will. They must have been aware of a choice and had the freedoms to chose one way or another.

            My criticism is that what is being portrayed here is a person being given all this info: "here is paradise, you have all you could ever want, you are all good, I did not create you with any inclination to sin or disobey, here is a rule, obey that rule." Then Eve thinks "hmm, I have no reason to want to disobey, I have everything I need, any desire to disobey or sin is foreign to me, in fact I did not even have this last thought because I have zero understanding of moral choice or doing something "bad" because "bad" literally does not exist. I have no inclination or desire to eat this fruit, and every inclination and desire not to... Mmm, tastes good, I my I am naked!"

            God: sin has now entered the world and it has nothing to do with me. Looks like thousands of years of murder rape and genocide, until I kill myself to "fix" sin, though there will thousands more years of murder, rape and genocide.

          • Loreen Lee

            Well, I for one, don't interpret the 'story of Adam and Eve' is being about the particular persons of Adam and Eve. person. I think rather it is a story in which the purpose is to put forward an explanation for the origin of 'human-kind'. It offers, therefore a definition of what constitutes humanity, - what is the word - prototype? or something. I thus to do interpret it as being 'historical', but, (and I think I am contributing to a definition) is rather like mathematics, a purely 'rational' construct'. This I am suggesting is the only justification I can think of for calling the book 'the "word" of 'God'".

            I agree that Eve's eating of the fruit is discounter within tradition, and Adam is held responsible. Perhaps just another example of 'sexism' within church orthodoxy. Adam, after all, is the rational head of the household, etc. etc. The explanation is thus, I believe, that Adam 'sinned'? knowingly, or maybe he purposely went against the will of God, unlike Eve, who acted on the basis of sensuality, desire, rather than through a conscious choice, or something. Anyway, a story gives the possibility of lots of interpretations. A good way to 'keep humanity busy'.

          • Indeed one can interpret it many ways. I think the best way is that it is an assembly of oral traditions about origins and the origin of human suffering. It specifically gets into why women have pain in childbirth and why men must toil all day in the fields. Basically, it is a story to tell your kids when they ask "if there is this all-powerful universe-creator on our side, promising us milk and honey and to multiply us like the stars in the skies, why doesn't he just give us food, and why do moms often get split open and die, when we are multiplying ourselves?"

            Of course in the Old Testament this idea of an all loving good god is not really apparent. At least not in the early books. He is not interested in good intentions, moral behaviour. He is interested in blind obedience and worship. The fact that Adam and Eve didn't know better, or were created with the desire for non-good things is not a problem. They did something inconsistent with the rules and the punishment is immediate [spiritual] death. God is a tyrant and this makes sense back in the days of kings, prophets and god-emperors why rule with impunity by divine right. This system was not questioned or considered immoral.

            The reason this passage is now a problem for Christians is they want to believe in a God consistent with the character of Jesus that they impose on the text. This is a all loving all-good God, who would not have created humans with any desire to do anything non-good. This is fine and you can then say, as a number of people have above, that Adam did not have an inherent desire to do the non-good, he just kind of did it without thinking. Well this is also a problem, because then all sin and evil in the world is the result of an accident. Well, that would be immoral.

            They are trying to have it both ways. It doesn't work.

          • Loreen Lee

            I studied the Kabbalah for a short while, until I learned about their contractual basis to the conditions in which one seeks to live/be like God, to be all giving, etc. etc.You see they are very inclusive as to who is to benefit from their behavior it seems. If you're not part of the club/cabal, (my interpretation) it might be a bit risky to be too loving. A very pragmatic approach to life; an attitude which possible is more predominate in the old testament than in the new. (??)
            From this experience I noted that there was also a desire expressed by Adam and Eve to be 'like God'. This desire can possibly be interpretated then in both a positive and negative way. It can be 'either' a good thing, or not. But I note that it is included as part of the temptation of the 'snake'.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          The first hit I got on the "problem of non-god objects" was the wikipedia page on it. Not sure if there is a better articulation of that argument, but it seems that P1 and P2 don't work from the same definition of goodness that Catholicism does.

          If goodness, by its very nature, must give itself away, then by its very nature it would be unable to perpetuate GodWorld. On Catholicism, ultimate goodness is absolutely 100% identified with self-giving-ness, or agape. On that understanding of goodness, it seems to me that God would have to create.

          • That's the one. So absent creation "good" is incomplete and imperfect somehow? Evil is necessary for God to express good/agape? This seems to suggest that because of his good nature creation was not a choice for God but necessary as is his being/nature.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Evil is necessary for God to express good/agape?

            Not necessary as a tool, but foreseeable as a consequence. True freedom of finite created beings is a necessary consequence of a complete good / agape, and evil is a foreseeable consequence of finite beings with true freedom. I guess that's logically equivalent to what you said, but it is more understandable to me if I say it my way.

            This seems to suggest that because of his good nature creation was not a choice for God but necessary as is his being/nature.

            I guess that is what I am arguing, and I guess you have put me in "check" with that statement, since it contradicts the teaching that God freely chose to create us. Maybe I will concede check mate on that one, but I need to think about it.

          • I think the best theist move here is some kind of simultaneous creation or non-time beyond space realm creation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, so I see the error of my ways. A required act of love is already a contradiction, even before "God" enters into the sentence. Strictly speaking, I can see that it is nonsensical to talk about anything being freely self-giving by nature. If a thing is a particular way "by nature", that means it is unavoidably that way, and you can't unavoidably freely self-give.

            And yet, I don't know, that is still sort of what I believe about God: freely self-giving by nature.

            This is why I retreat from the logical propositions to the stories! I know the Church teaches that we can think it all through systematically, but it sure seems to me at times that ultimate truth can really only be expressed through stories.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            On that understanding of goodness, it seems to me that God would have to create.

            I thought God was self-sufficient.

            Would a good God condemn souls to eternal and unlimited suffering for a few finite trivial offenses?

            Also, is this the best of all possible worlds?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I thought God was self-sufficient.

            Good point. See my response to BGA. Thinking about it.

            Would a good God condemn souls to eternal and unlimited suffering for a few finite trivial offenses?

            No. Nor does the RCC teach that that is the case.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Jim, It is a fundamental teaching of the Church that creation is gratuitous in the sense that God had no need whatsoever to create but that he did so freely out of love.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks Kevin, I agree. BGA called me on that and on reflection and I can see that my argument certainly seems to contradict that teaching. So, I guess my argument probably doesn't work.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            On the other hand, you could ask God, "Why did you create me?" and he could answer, "Love compelled me."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Tell me if you think I'm wrong, but I think when you use the word "compel", you run afoul of the same problem I was having. God IS love, and even love itself cannot compel love. Love cannot be compelled, therefore God cannot be compelled.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are correct. I am using "compel" in a loose sense. I think love wants to do the best thing for the other, and when love follows its own logic it is "compelled," that is, freely chooses the best course.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Say someone commits murder. How many years of hell would you sentence him to? According to the Catholic definition of hell, one second would be cruel and unusual punishment.

            However, the RCC teaches that we can go to hell for "sins" that are less harmful then murder, and certainly more natural.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            However, the RCC teaches that we can go to hell for "sins" that are less harmful then murder, and certainly more natural.

            In a way, it's even crazier than that :-) The RCC teaches that you can follow every single moral teaching of the Church to a "T" and still end up in a state of hell! It is the inner conversion, the turning of the heart toward the good, that allows goodness to keep you safe. What you DO is still very important, but it flows from that inner conversion. If you do things that you know are immoral, be they trivial or serious, that is a sign that your inner conversion is less than complete, that you still have something to work on. If you permanently stop working on it, you abandon your quest for goodness, that's where the hell stuff comes in.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There is nothing that a finite being can do that should be considered serious.

            Why would God create beings that he knows will suffer in hell for all eternity?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't mean to dodge, but there have been long, long threads on this on other posts on this site, and I don't think we would add a lot of value by starting another one here.

            My primary advice is: if you really want to understand Catholicism, don't start with Hell. I know, Jesus mentions Hell more than anyone in the Bible, and I'm not saying doctrine on Hell is irrelevant, but it is secondary rather than central. As Robert Barron indicates in his excellent video on the topic , Hell is a corollary of the more fundamental teachings that God is love, and that humans have true freedom. If you are not on board with those two fundamental teachings, there is really very little point in discussing Hell.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think the Augustine/Aquinas teaching is the one that is most widely held. "Souls fall to hell like snowflakes" I believe came from Fatima.

            Premise 1: God is all just
            Premise 2: A finite being cannot do anything to deserve infinite punishment.
            Conclusion: Hell, a place of infinite punishment, either does not exist or no one goes there.

          • Loreen Lee

            How about all the good in all people will be saved, and all the bad in all people will not be saved. It's like no longer having the need to have 'bad memories'.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sure Loreen, I'm up for that :-)

            When you say, "How about ...", it makes it sound a bit like you and I get to decide on the rules (which I know is how many people imagine this whole enterprise), but I understand that you are just proposing a way of saying it.

            I think what you say is somewhat implied by the correct understanding of "saved". It doesn't mean "preserved", as in "saved the file to hard disk". The saving of the resurrection is a transformation. I'm not sure if it's quite correct to say that all the bad memories will be gone. The risen Christ is considered to be inseparable from the crucified Christ, as indicated by the account that the wounds of crucifixion were still visible.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for 'excusing' my colloquialism! Yeah! I thought about the limitations of my proposal after posting. Besides the transformational element, my suggestion does not take account of the development, through repentance or 'change' the development of the 'interior' self, if I can call it that, or the metaphysical, all of these terms that I am using. Thus it does not take account to develop wholeness, or holiness with regard to the 'totality' of the 'person'. I don't think resurrection, etc. is something related to the 'parts of a whole'.

            Perhaps it is a good thesis, in that it demonstrates some 'truth' that in the process of 'spiritual growth', the 'sins' are incorporated within the 'new person', in such a way that they are 'overcome'. Something like the effects of trauma are overcome in cases of PTSD for instance, when the experience leads to new growth. So, I concede that such a thesis limits the possibility of 'universal' salvation. But is it not possible that even those 'in hell' can undergo a transformation. I know I have been through my 'hell' on earth, so I can't be totally pessi-mystic (grin grin) about this possibility. I often wondered about the 'wounds of Christ' being visible. It is certainly true that the personal hells we experience have some kind of lasting effect, even though the 'thought of them' is transformed.

            Thanks for replying.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          What we know of biology, strongly suggests that we do not have two first parents.

    • Thanks for your comment Paul!

      But I firmly believe that, unlike evil, love is a necessary part of humanity. I believe that evil is not necessary.

      If you mean that, on a purely human level, evil is eradicable or not inevitable - even if only in principle - you won't be surprised that I disagree. But if you mean that evil is not what is most essential to our nature and is not as strong as love, I couldn't agree more. Love conquers all.

  • Loreen Lee

    From Estranged Notions:
    ago

    From the article:

    But the question remains: is it sin? The term seems to presuppose an objective moral order grounded by God.

    The
    term "sin" certainly presupposes the existence of God. The Oxford
    English Dictionary gives, as the primary meaning of the word, "An act
    which is regarded as a transgression of the divine law and an offence
    against God...." Given that definition, no God, no sin.

    Reply

    Share ›

    Loreen Lee

    Sqrat

    2 minutes ago

    What about the Blessed Virgin. She is considered to have been born
    through an Immaculate Conception, which refers to being in a state that
    is free from sin.
    Surely Adam and Eve lived in such a state, i.e.
    they were under the 'rule of law', rather than living through the
    knowledge of good and evil which is gained through experience. (My
    interpretation of the meaning of these words). Thus if the virgin lives
    through the law of God, rather than ad hoc through her life choices,
    then she remains without 'sin', even within the sexual act. Adam and
    Eve could be considered to be sinless, before the 'fall'. Thus,
    (although I don't agree with the Gnostic belief that the physical cosmos
    is 'what?' evil, and that we need knowledge, like in Buddhism to
    'escape from it', could not the dictum that Jesus is fully divine, and
    fully human, allow for a physical i.e. sexual conception, (indeed even
    demand it) for Jesus to be 'fully human'? Yet the Virgin could still
    really be a virgin because living under this transformed rule of
    law/love, she remains without 'sin'.
    Within the context of the
    spiritual, therefore, under this interpretation, being conceived by the
    Holy Spirit/Ghost could refer only to the Divine aspect of this union.
    Of course when Joseph learned that the Virgin agreed to a pregnancy
    which they had not 'planned', he was visibly 'upset', until he too was
    given the Word. I can even humorously think of their sex act as being a
    kind of example of tantric sex, in which the Holy Ghost/Spirit is given
    acquiescence during the act of intercourse. Once as virgin always a
    virgin would then still be a justifiable description of this 'new state
    of humanity', in which the Virgin Mary is the first and only exemplar of
    this life within the new law, until the advent of this new movie.
    (grin grin).

    • Sqrat's conditional:
      If there is no god then there is no sin.

      is equivalent to:
      If there is sin then there is a god

      but is not equivalent to:
      If there is no sin then there is no god.

      Mary's hypothetical sinlessness says nothing about the existence of God (she would be sinless if God didn't exist, as would we all) or about the soundness of Sqrat's conditional.

      • Ray Vorkin

        What exactly is "sin" anyway. Is sin an offense against religious or moral law? or what? Who determines that. Culture, religion or relativism in both or either realm.

        • I like to distinguish sin from evil. Sin's an offence against God. I agree with Sqrat's conditional. If God exists, then it's easy in principle to figure out what sin is. Just find out what offends God. If God doesn't exist, then it's easy in principle and practice: there is no sin.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Of course, for those who believe in God and believe that God is purely good, sin simply consists of freely doing what one believes to be wrong. But that definition, i.e. that, "sin is just freely doing what one believes to be wrong", is presumably meaningful to many people who don't explicitly believe in God. In other words, I think there is a definition of sin that is consistent with the believer's meaning, while also having a non-trivial meaning for non-believers.

    • Loreen Lee

      More on this estranged notion on a possible meaning of 'purity'.

      an hour ago

      Within the context of the spiritual, therefore, under this
      interpretation, being conceived by the Holy Spirit/Ghost could refer
      only to the Divine aspect of this union.

      That means Jesus was a haploid (explains 'his' middle initial H.), but 'he'
      should have been female without the XY-specific gamete present.

      33 minutes ago

      In the 'spirit' of Kantian naturalist interpretation, this
      interpretation attempts to distinguish, or separate the physical from
      the metaphysical. Thus Jesus is being thought of as having two 'male '
      parents- the physical seed of the human Joseph, and the spiritual
      conception of his divinity brought about by the Holy Ghost, in a
      particular instance of conforming to God's 'Law of Love'. Mary is thus
      not within the compass of the biblical 'knowledge of good and evil', -
      as in Nietzsche, because she conforms to a 'new' understanding of God's
      law, she is consequently 'beyond good and evil'; (she has a Buddhist
      'detachment' from both attachment (say to pleasure) and adversity, (say
      her pieta at the crucifixion of her son).) Will check out what a
      haploid is but I don't think, under this explanation, that it would
      apply.

      4 hours ago

      You lost me with "What about...", Loren. My point was simply that
      the word "sin" means "an offense against God." If there is no God,
      there can be no such thing as an offense against God, hence there can be
      no such thing as sin.

      26 minutes ago

      Original sin is understood as our being under the influence of
      'desire', that is concupiscence, according to Catholic teaching. As
      this arises from our knowledge of good and evil, as contrasted with a
      direct enactment of our lives under and according to Law, whether this
      is a Law of Love, or the Law understood as the source of Law and Order
      understood as God, if one acts according to one's own subjective
      appreciation of what is good and what is evil, this law of love would
      thus be 'mediated', (depicted as 'eating of the fruit of experience, or
      the apple of life) i.e. by our knowledge, rather than being related to
      the overarching source of law, be this cosmos or normative. Physical
      objects follow the rule of law, as for instance objects falling to the
      ground according to the law of gravity. Thus for these objects there is
      no possibility of 'sin'. or divergence from the 'law'.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I also enjoyed this article. There's basically only one point where I hesitate to agree (and here I'm not really sure either way) :

    Whether Enlightenment-style progress has reduced our "defective behaviors" seems to be a matter of reasonable debate. Stephen Pinker's argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined seems basically right to me, though I know that some very smart people disagree with him.

    Personally, I believe that modification of external factors can only go so far without internal conversion and turning away from sin, but I come to that conclusion primarily from personal reflection, not from historical analysis. The evidence from history, as I understand it, seems more murky. I don't know if it is obvious that mass-murder in the 20th century was "unparalleled". It depends if you measure it in absolute lives or as a fraction of the world population, for one thing.

    I think we should at least be open to the possibility that Enlightenment-style "progress" has helped people increasingly avoid "the near occasion of sin", even if it may not help with the final decision to sin or not sin.

    PS Matt - thanks for the Chad VanGaalen tip. Have had him on Spotify all morning and enjoying.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Jim! Unsurprisingly, I disagree on this point. I haven't read Pinker's work, but an interesting rejoinder might be anthropologist Rene Girard's new book "The One By Whom Scandal Comes" which takes a decidedly less sanguine approach toward violence and history.

      As for Chad VanGaalen, his strange music was a perfect fit for Strange Notions. He's a lot like Neil Young, but more...is "Canadian" the word? (You can snag a studio version of this song on his latest album "Shrink Dust".)

  • Ignatius Reilly

    But I think it does something more: it paints a picture of the evil that really and truly infects the world, the kind that—once exposed within—impels its host to don sackcloth and ashes, and whisper with that underground dweller, to no one in particular: “I am a sick man…I am a wicked man…”

    That sounds really healthy. See #3:

    http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/11/27/5-tips-for-dealing-with-guilt/

    • That doesn't strike me as a retort so much as an extrapolation, and one not inconsistent with the arc here. (As a matter of fact, it reminds me of the sacrament of reconciliation, where God not only forgives but "forgets" our sins, so to speak. If the all-knowing can "forget" them and move on, why should we linger?) Your assumption seems to be that one cannot "move on" where sin is involved. Maybe this is because we can't really accept we've done something wrong in God's eyes...which is, after all, part of the equation according to Psych Central where guilt is concerned?

  • I do think the use of the terms "sin" and "evil" are generally unhelpful. When talk about immoral behaviour I am talking about conduct that unnecessarily harms others. Certainly in fiction we can have all kinds of fun talking about sin and evil and anthromophizing thinks like "darkness" or "the nothing". But in the real world the truly evil characters are universally psychopaths. They are individuals who lack the ability to empathize with other humans, are highly intelligent, manipulative and so on. A small subset of these are violent, some of these turning into mass killers. At times some of these, being highly intelligent and manipulative, have gained enormous power, to devastating results. I think we rightly place Hitler and Mao in this category. I don't consider these people defective per se, but they are an immoral and harmful minority.

    I don't know why these people have these traits, it seems that there could be evolutionary benefits to intelligence and manipulation and less empathy. If you are the one person in your tribe who doesn't empathize, you might kill rivals and mate a great deal more. Of course your counterparts who do empathize will rally against you and kill or isolate you. If there is an eternal battle going on it would seem to me to be with the level of empathy and cooperation in humans. More of this leads to collective security against other groups (animals, other tribes) and lack of empathy and competition which lets individuals climb to the alpha role and breed more often, but weakens the group, making it more susceptible to being wiped out or starving.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      If a pickpocket lifts your wallet he has committed a sin against you, he has done you evil.

      • I'd say he's done me harm, detriment, hurt my feelings. Do you mean any more than these terms by "sin", or "evil" that isn't captured by these terms?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          He deliberately acted unjustly toward you. I would say "sin" and "evil" refer both to the act (which did you harm) and the moral character of the pickpocket (which is evil).

          I don't see why you want to avoid those terms.

          • Ray Vorkin

            If someone stole my wallet I would not be happy, but I would likely think that he was down on his luck and desperate and most likely needing help, but would certainly not judge his moral character to be evil. But then again I am not a Catholic.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You have a kind heart.

            Do you have locks on your doors?

          • If that is what you mean fine, but I wouldn't use the term sin, this really does imply more that a moral wrong, but includes an affront to a deity or divine order, which I think is non existent. To me evil connotes more harm and malice than the kind of theft you describe.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I do hold wrong-doing an affront to the divine order but just as much to a human order.

            As far as the gravity of the offense, this is why Catholic moral theology makes the distinction between moral and venial sin.

      • David Nickol

        But, as I am sure you know, according to Catholic thought, "stealing" is not always morally wrong. If a poor man has has no choice other than to steal to feed his family, and he steals from a very rich and selfish man who ought to help the poor but does not, then the poor man is not sinning, and he does the rich man no injustice.

        See the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

        2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

        2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Of course, David. We are not talking about the universal destination of goods but about violations of the seventh commandment.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    You cannot blame the violence of the 20th century on atheism. The advancement of science is what enabled the 20th century wars and slaughters to be so brutal. The same science that encouraged the doubting of religious tenants. Do you think that if medieval Europe had the weapons of modern war, they would not have used them?

    Was not Nazi Germany a Christian state? Would Hitler's anti-Semitism have been possible without the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism? Theocratic states are just as prone to violence as these so called secular states. The thing we should fear is totalitarianism, whether it is religious or secular.

    Regardless, an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God is irreconcilable with the amount of unnecessary evil and suffering.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Where in the OP were those atrocities blamed on atheism?

      The OP claims that optimism regarding an Enlightenment-based "utopia" / "universal brotherhood" turned out to be unfounded. It additionally claims that many atheists today share a similar optimism. It doesn't even come close to "[blaming] the violence of the 20th century on atheism".

    • Interestingly, the 20th century was not that bloody compared to previous centuries, given world populations. The bloodiest civilizations were the hunter-gatherers. Aggregate violence had been decreasing every since, though, admittedly our data are incomplete.

      I am certainly with you on defending the point that you cannot blame atheism on the genocides and crimes against humanity of the 20th century. The argument goes that had communist leaders had a belief a god, with eternal consequences and an objective morality, they would not have treated others as a means to an end or evolutionary dead weight. History does not bear this out. Genocide and crimes against humanity have been rampant in pretty much all societies as far back as we have information. The Old Testament is a prime example, the constant wiping out of others, is not described as immoral or repugnant to god, in fact he commits it himself repeatedly and orders his chosen people to kill various tribes. The crusades were another example. The genocides in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia were not committed by atheists.

      I am most familiar with Mao. He certainly seems to have been a psychopath and I cannot imagine that if he believed in a god he would have acted differently. Being very generous to him you could say that he accepted that there needed to be enormous human sacrifice in order to modernize China and make it a competitive world power. This mean mass starvation and purging of dissent. More accurately, he was a psychopath who saw no value in any human life and was interested in only making himself more powerful. He was never a real communist, he could not even run a communist bookstore. When you study Mao you do discover many of his compatriots were ideological communists (and presumably atheists) but did have compassion for their fellow Chinese. When they advocated to stop the Great Leap Forward, as it was starving millions of Chinese, he had these people executed. Obviously, atheists today are not social Darwinists and are like most theists humanitarians,mango genocide etc.

  • David Nickol

    I am a big fan (so far) of the television version of The Strain, and I enjoyed the trilogy, so understandably, I think, I am chagrined to see it "Catholicized." (Just kidding!)

    One of the things I have noticed so far (and if I have overlooked something, I hope other viewers will correct me) is that unlike in much other vampire fiction, the Christian symbols (crucifixes, rosaries, and so on) seem to afford no protection. Silver blades and silver projectiles (from nail guns) wound the vampires, beheading or burning definitively disposes of them, and sunlight (or UV light) is deadly, but unless I have missed something, they do not shrink from crucifixes. (And I don't think holy water has been tried yet.)

    • Ray Vorkin

      I am enjoying the series as well.....like you am glad that they are so far at least keeping the christian demonic /evil religious element out of it.

      • David Nickol

        Actually, I kind of prefer traditional vampire lore, including warding off of vampires with crucifixes, scalding them with holy water, and driving stakes through their hearts. I was noting, though, that although there have been scenes where at least one character in danger was making heavy use of rosaries, crucifixes, and other Catholic paraphernalia, it had no beneficial effects. Am I remembering correctly that one character at the convenience store/gas station was reciting a prayer as she was set upon and attacked, and it did her no good? And I am sure I recall a disembodied voice taunting Setrakian, saying, "Where is your God now?"

        I may have missed something when I read the books, but I don't remember having any new insights into the nature of evil. I don't doubt what the show's creators say about their Catholicism, but the Catholic interpretation of Adam and Eve as the perpetrators of Original Sin, and the inheritance of its effects are concepts that I find ever increasingly difficult to make any sense of. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is quite fascinating, but it is open to many interpretations, and I have very little regard for the Catholic interpretation, particularly since it is almost impossible to disentangle the idea of heritable "sin" from the idea of "first parents."

    • Again, given that Del Toro and Cuse are both Catholic, I didn't have to "strain" too much to draw these connections! (Del Toro, admittedly, does not seem to be practicing - but once a Catholic, always a Catholic, right?)

      You might be right about the Christian symbols. I do remember one recent scene in which a nanny protecting an infected woman's two children clutches a rosary and prays, and then is saved moments later through an unexpected intervention. At any rate, I think the show will - like Lost - only say so much, and leave the question somewhat open for the viewer to decide. Such is life, no?

  • David Nickol

    I remember reading something decades ago about the "peace-loving" man of violence. As I recall, it was about the television show Kung Fu, in which our gentle, spiritually advanced, peace-loving hero, played by David Carradine, wound up having no choice but to beat the living daylights out of the bad guys at least once per episode. I think part of the appeal of The Strain (and countless other "good men fight monstrous evil" works of fiction) is that we get to cheer gruesome violence every time the good guys get to decapitate, impale, dismember, or incinerate the bad guys. Although apparently not the case in The Strain, in host vampire dramas the crucifix and holy water are used terrify or immobilize vampires and to burn their flesh. The people wielding crucifixes in vampire fiction are not advocates of turning the other cheek!

  • Ray Vorkin

    Some things that necessarily must be considered when waxing on about Sin&Evil. The two are not necessarily one and the same.

    The Concept of Evil First published Tue Nov 26, 2013

    During the past thirty years, moral, political, and legal philosophers have become increasingly interested in the concept of evil. This interest has been partly motivated by ascriptions of ‘evil’ by laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians as they try to understand and respond to various atrocities and horrors of the past eighty years, e.g., the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and killing sprees by serial killers such as Jeffery Dahmer. It seems that we cannot capture the moral significance of these actions and their perpetrators by calling them ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or even ‘very very wrong’ or ‘very very bad.’ We need the concept of evil.

    To avoid confusion, it is important to note that there are at least two concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept picks out any bad state of affairs, wrongful action, or character flaw. The suffering of a toothache is evil in the broad sense as is a white lie. Evil in the broad sense has been divided into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evils are bad states of affairs which do not result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Hurricanes and toothaches are examples of natural evils. By contrast, moral evils do result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Murder and lying are examples of moral evils.

    Evil in the broad sense, which includes all natural and moral evils, tends to be the sort of evil referenced in theological contexts, such as in discussions of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

    In contrast to the broad concept of evil, the narrow concept of evil picks out only the most morally despicable sorts of actions, characters, events, etc. As Marcus Singer puts it “‘evil’ [in this sense] … is the worst possible term of opprobrium imaginable” (Singer 2004, 185). Since the narrow concept of evil involves moral condemnation, it is appropriately ascribed only to moral agents and their actions. For example, if only human beings are moral agents, then only human beings can perform evil actions. Evil in this narrower sense is more often meant when the term ‘evil’ is used in contemporary moral, political, and legal contexts. This entry will focus on evil in this narrower sense. The entry will not discuss evil in the broad sense or the problem of evil to any significant degree (these topics will be discussed briefly only in section 2).

    The main issues discussed by philosophers on the topic of evil have been: Should we use the term ‘evil’ in our moral, political, and legal discourse and thinking, or is evil an out-dated or empty concept which should be abandoned? What is the relationship between evil and other moral concepts such as badness and wrongdoing? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for evil action? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for evil character? What is the relationship between evil action and evil character? What types of evil actions and characters can exist? What is the proper analysis of derivative concepts such as evil institution?>

    • Kevin Aldrich

      What is the point of this excerpt?

      • Ray Vorkin

        There is no point to the excerpt if you don't understand that evil and sin are the main threads running through the article. What is your critique that I posted the excerpt other than the fact that you choose to be somehow contrarian to anything posted by an atheist or an agnostic.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I asked because the content of the excerpt was so basic. These are matters that philosophers and theologians have been talking about for thousands of years. Like the distinction between natural and moral evil. I don't think the last thirty years has discovered anything novel.

          • Ray Vorkin

            Kevin....a little humility and less condescension in dealing with the comments of others would go a long way for you.....especially if you are a rep of SN.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm not a rep of SN.

            You introduced whatever that was with the words "when waxing on about Sin&Evil". That is not condescending sarcasm?

          • Ray Vorkin

            That is about what I expected of you!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, seriously, what was your reason for posting this?

          • Ray Vorkin

            Just so you could take a look in the mirror Kevin.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I meant the excerpt from the SEP.

          • Ray Vorkin

            I thought the the "excerpt" made some relevant points relating to some of the things in Beklo's article, and would be of interest to a few....even though you seem to be of the opinion that the content of the "excerpt" was so basic. as to be of little interest since these are matters that philosophers and theologians have been talking about for thousands of years. How presumptuous and dismissive of you.

            Since there is natural and moral evil in abundance all throughout the history of mankind. It is understandable that many people have difficulty believing that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator exists. That is the reality of the situation. I know of course that you have no difficulty believing that....and I can respect that. By the way I edited my original "excerpt" for the sake of brevity. I hope that meets with your approval.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The introductory section of that article int he SEP does raise relevant questions.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You introduced whatever that was with the words "when waxing on about Sin&Evil". That is not condescending sarcasm?

            No its not. We need to have definitions of things before we can have meaningful discussions. I think if you would read your opponents arguments, you might have a better idea as to the point of the excerpt.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        If I dropped a nuclear weapon on hatti, would that be evil?
        If God allows/sends a hurricane to devastate hatti, would that be evil?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          To do and to allow are two different things. God does not send hurricanes to Haiti but he does allow natural forces to play out, just as he permits us to commit moral evils.

          But God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it. Aquinas said that in kindergarten.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Could not God have created a world without hurricanes?

            But God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it. Aquinas said that in kindergarten.

            Exactly what good was brought about by a hurricane?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I could not say, but I don't see why I would be required to.

          • David Nickol

            To do and to allow are two different things.

            I think a very good argument could be made that for an omniscient, omnipotent God who is "pure act" and exists outside of time, "to do" and "to allow" are indistinguishable.

            Even for a mere human being, I think the distinction between doing and allowing might very well be artificial in some cases, especially morally. As I understand it, there was some kind of statement from the Church not all that long ago that it was not acceptable to withhold food and water from individuals in a vegetative state. They would obviously have to be provided by artificial means such as tube feeding. One might argue that declining to provide food and water by artificial means for a person in a vegetative state is allowing them to die, not making them die. But I think the Church disagrees.

            Whatever the case for human beings, it seems to me that for God, to "permit" is indistinguishable from "to do." He is the one who set the ball rolling for this particular reality as opposed to an infinite number of others. It seems to me that everything happens by his choice.

            Aquinas said that in kindergarten.

            I don't get this remark. Are you implying that it is somehow an obvious no-brainer that God would not permit evil unless he could bring greater good out of it? It does not seem at all obvious. In fact, I am not quite sure what it could mean. Is there a scale of evilness and a scale of goodness, and does God weigh goods against evils so that good tips the scale? Are good and evil quantifiable?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In regard to providing nutrition and hydration, the Church is saying that providing these (even with a feeding tube) constitutes ordinary care, which must not be withheld, otherwise you are responsible for the suffering and death which will ensue.

            In regard to God only permitting evil because he can bring a greater good out of it, you might read chapter ii of a very short book called "St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil," by Jacques Maritain.

            It is difficult to understand and there is an argument about natural evil and moral evil.

            As for moral evil, Aquinas says (to put it in my own words) our freedom presupposes our ability to use or freedom badly, yet without such freedom we cannot be friends with God, and without being friends with God we cannot become God through participation. So, creating us fallible, which is a natural evil for us (it would be better if we never failed), makes it possible for us to be not only friends with God but partakers of God's own life.

          • David Nickol

            In regard to providing nutrition and hydration, the Church is saying that providing these (even with a feeding tube) constitutes ordinary care, which must not be withheld, otherwise you are responsible for the suffering and death which will ensue.

            Yes, this is my point. The idea of "ordinary care" shows that there are cases in which, for human beings, allowing a person to die is actually morally equivalent to killing that person. Suppose I do not like my next-door neighbor, and I see a small fire has started on his back porch. I know it will, after a while, burn out of control and destroy his house. If I can save his house with a simple phone call to the fire department, and I choose not to make that call, then morally speaking, it is tantamount to my having burned his house down. (Interestingly, in some states there would be legal liability, but in other states, not.)

            So saying, "I didn't do it; I just allowed it to happen," very frequently does not get us, as human beings, off the hook. But apparently it gets God off the hook.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you saying that God--if he exists--has committed countless mortal sins since life began?

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying that God--if he exists--has committed countless mortal sins since life began?

            No, I am suggesting that claiming God "does" some things and "permits" other things doesn't solve any of the problems you seem to think it does, and perhaps doesn't even make any sense.

            For one thing, it pretty much requires us to imagine God watching over developments and deciding to step in on rare occasions to change the course of history. And yet we are told that God exists outside of time—that for God, there is no time.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            These seem to me imaginary problems.

          • David Nickol

            These seem to me imaginary problems.

            I think it is within the realm of possibility that all of theology consists of imaginary problems and imaginary solutions (when there are solutions at all).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You seem to like them, though.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, but I like The Strain, too, and I could not be more certain that it is fictional. I am even watching old episodes of Fringe, which is not merely fiction, but preposterous fiction, and I am rather enjoying that, too.

          • Michael Murray

            The entire world population of pure mathematicians consists of people who have devoted their lives to the enjoyable pastime of finding solutions to imaginary problems. Or as one of my computer science colleagues puts it more politely "they answer questions that nobody has asked yet".

          • Doug Shaver

            In every case where there is would something I would do if I were capable, but am not capable, have I been deprived of my free will?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your comment needs an edit. I think there is an extra "would" but even if I take it out, I can't understand the question.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think there is an extra "would"

            There was. Thank you for catching that.

            but even if I take it out, I can't understand the question.

            Here is an example. I wish I could fly the way Superman flies -- without the aid of mechanical contrivances such as airplanes. And, because I wish to do so, I would do so if I were capable. But I am not capable. My question is: Has my free will been compromised in any way because I cannot fly like Superman flies?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. Free will is only exercised with the bounds of human nature.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not sure I understand. Is our nature defined by our capabilities?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think so.

            Horses have will but they can only do that which is within their natural capabilities has horses. They can't do geometry like us and they can't climb trees like squirrels.

            The same is true for us. We have "higher" capabilities but they are not unlimited.

            Even when it comes to our free will, we are not utterly free to will anything. We can only will means to happiness (whether or not those means will really make us happy.)

  • Des Farrell

    Very enjoyable article, storytelling is a wonderful art. As regards the comments is it more evil to pretend to know what they're about or to troll the crazier ones? Is Hell a giant matrix loop of internet comboxes? If it is I might actually feel sorry for the devil...

    • Ray Vorkin

      Fish on the line......what exactly are you getting at Des:-)

      • Des Farrell

        Ah, some comments way down about tantric sex and other stuff. To stay with the theme of piece, storytellers usually have to make evil exciting and and glamourous. For a while it might be. But I've found in my life that evil is deeply banal and boring. Not what I signed up for at all. Peter Kreeft has written bout boredom, I'm going to look it up now, well worth a google.

        • Loreen Lee

          Does your source refer to: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,,

        • Doug Shaver

          Evil people, as I define evil, might or might not be bored, but I am convinced that they cannot possibly be happy.

        • Loreen Lee

          Found it! Gospel Sept. 8.
          mt 1:18-23

          This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
          When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
          but before they lived together,
          she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
          Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
          yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
          decided to divorce her quietly.
          Such was his intention when, behold,
          the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
          “Joseph, son of David,
          do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
          For it is through the Holy Spirit
          that this child has been conceived in her.
          She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
          because he will save his people from their sins.”
          All this took place to fulfill
          what the Lord had said through the prophet:

          Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
          and they shall name him Emmanuel,

          which means “God is with us.”

        • Loreen Lee

          Also found a relevant perspective in an answer that William Lane Craig gave to a question regarding the logic of the Trinity. Apparently the theological definition is that there is both an ontological and efficient way to view the Trinity. In the ontological perspective God has 'no sexual orientation or gender'. That could help to explain in some way that the incarnation involved a conceptual foundation for the human aspect of Christ, without getting into difficulties over the need for both male and female chromosomes. But it's always difficult for me to deal with 'miracles' on an explanatory, evidence based level - of course!!!!!

  • Doug Shaver

    is there such a thing as an evil act, pure and simple? One that evades sociological or biological reduction? In short: does sin exist?

    I could stipulate the existence of evil, since it is a philosophical concept, but sin is a theological concept. Evil may exist whether or not there is a god, but if there is no god, then there is no sin.

    I believe evil has sociological and biological explanations -- a scientific explanation, in other words. To refer to such an explanation as a "reduction" seems evasive to me. Any explanation may or may not be sufficient, but insufficiency has to be demonstrated, not presupposed by disparagement.

    Just when we hoped to see the dawn of universal brotherhood, we saw instead a torrent of bloodshed and mass murder unparalleled in recorded history. In the horror of World War II, the raging waters of the irrational rose up once again;

    Whom are you including in your "we"? If anybody, at any time during the 20th century, actually thought that the world was about to embrace any concept of universal brotherhood, they were hopelessly naïve. And, there is nothing about a scientific worldview that presupposes or encourages naivete.

    • Thanks for the comment Doug! I've looked back over your other comments at SN and they seem very cogent and coolheaded. I also appreciate that you put your name and face to your words. Glad that you're a part of this "strange" community!

  • Ummmm... Is there a specific reason why my comment keeps getting deleted? I tried once and saw that it disappeared, so I thought that there must have been a glich with my computer. When I posted again last night I saw that it was gone this morning. If there is a particular reason for why the comment was deleted, could I please have an explanation? I've looked over the commenting rules again and I'm not sure what rule I violated from the commenting policy. Thanks.