Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mind of the Maker: Maker of Ill Things

Luckily, Cindy at Ordo Amoris is also a mom with a large family and many holiday visitors, so even though I read nothing during the vacation except a couple of free Kindle books, I am not behind in the discussion of Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

Picking up with Chapter 7:   Maker of All Things, Maker of Ill Things

In what way can we say that God is the author of evil?   The puzzle of evil in a world which was created by an all-Good, all-Powerful God is certainly a vexing one.    As Sayers points out, different theologies have settled it different ways.     Some hold that God is good, but not all-powerful, and posit a counter-power, who is evil.  So the cosmos is the backdrop for a perpetual struggle.    When I was in college that idea had fired the imagination of fantasy writers and I read several books which portrayed humans as pawns of something like immortal Jedi and Sith councils.  

Then there is the orthodox Christian position, which holds that Evil is a privation of Good.

And another point of view that holds that Good and Evil are essentially unreal concepts.    It seems to me that when I read Epictetus in the fall that he was saying something like that.    The proper response to reality is to not let it affect you one way or another.

I don't feel like I really have a handle on the Augustinian teaching that evil is a privation of good, and the related idea that all being is intrinsically good.  It's a bit easier for me to see it on a case by case basis.   When I or one of my children sins, I see how we had a better choice available to us and because we exchanged the "better for the worse" as Socrates says, we put ourselves in front of God and/or the other person.  

I can see that whenever there is a horrendous evil it is considered by contrast to what might have been.   Presumably Hitler could have been a saint or at least an ordinary little Viennese postcard-painter.   Whenever I face loss in my life the grief comes from the loss of the possibility of good.  When I lost my twins, what I grieved and still grieve is their presence in my life, growing up into teenagers and young men. 

Anyway, Sayers makes this clearer for me by using analogies such as the shadow that can only be cast by light, the being of "nothingness" that can only become a something when something actually does come into being.    Even Time comes in here.  In fact, I think I will be reading this chapter over more than once in future, because I often get myself mixed up when thinking about how Being and Time could come out of Void, and it looks to me like she sketched out some solutions for my difficulties.

Like other chapters in this book, I think this one can be read as a how-to for literary analysis way more profound than the usual university method.     For example, she speaks about how you can misquote an author either by inadvertence, or by incomprehension, or by purposeful distortion.

Misquotation, misinterpretation and deliberate distortion produce the same kind of evil in different ways. We may feel that they are quite dissimilar offences. Misquotation arises from carelessness or bad memory; misinterpretation from lack of understanding; deliberate distortion from a perverted intention: we may call them mechanical (or material) defect, intellectual error, and moral wickedness. 
She goes on to say that they all share in common the problem that the reader is trying to be "like God" -- ie, taking over the role of the author, who is the "god" of his own particular work.  I wonder though if the analogy breaks down slightly here.    Malice is categorically different from inadvertence or simple incapacity, it seems to me.    Though perhaps trumpeting your interpretation brings with it a higher responsibility to be faithful and true, so errors have culpability in that respect.   Certainly, if true, many people are seizing illegitimate authority over a work every day, because many reviewers seem to feel that a literary work is something like a product to consume, where the customer is always right, rather than a little world which is to be walked into with at least a little reverence.   

That probably comes because an audience has its own rights and freedoms as audience.  I think the next chapter deals with that. 

Still, I like the sense of the analogy that once anything, a written work or Creation, is "out there", the possibility exists that it may be misused.   At least, where freedom exists.   Freedom is a sort of potentiality, I suppose.   If a child asked me if God created Satan, which is the example with which the chapter opens,  I would say that God created Lucifer, a beautiful angel, and Lucifer made himself Satan.    God created possibilities when he created sapient beings with wills, which provided for evil possibilities but did not author evil as if it was a thing in itself.  


  1. It always clears my head to read your thoughts. I think my main personality trait is to think of something until I am completely muddled and this chapter lends itself to that sort of thinking. While I am reading each chapter I feel like I understand what she is saying, and I have read the book twice in recent months, but when I go to put it into my own words I find I am so sure.

    1. Thanks, Cindy, but your posts have the same effect on me! I think perhaps we just find ourselves struck by different parts. Which is why I like these book discussions. This last chapter I read way more quickly than usual, so I probably didn't get a full grasp on it.


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