Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Virtual Choir

Eric Whitacre is a bit of a brilliant composer - and he had the very neat idea of creating a virtual choir: interested parties submit videos of themselves singing one of the alto/soprano/tenor/base lines which are then spliced together. The result? Pure awesome.

In Whitacre's words (not to be confused with WHITAKER'S words):

Does God Will Evil?

This is something I wrote back in the Fall (slightly modified), on Question 19, Article 9 of the Prima Pars. Does God will evil? Well, no. But He does will to permit evil. Therein lies the philosophical explanation as to why a completely good will - which is always fulfilled - can exist while evil exists. Even so, Aquinas' explanation in the Summa is not entirely satisfactory. There's something slightly off about how quickly he deals with the active and permissive will of God. But, then, our understanding of God is limited by our human way of thinking which can never adequately capture God's reality and being (don't go down the path of the Divine Names!).

Article 9: Does God Will Evil?
Since we have established that God’s will is always fulfilled, how can one reconcile evil with the will of God? Aquinas says that the good and the desirable are identical, whereas evil is the opposite. Evil, as such, can never be directly desired since it is the opposite of what is desirable. But evil may be desired indirectly, because “evil has a good attached to it, but this goes with being deprived of another good.”[1] God wills His own goodness above all, but He wills some particular goods more than others. Moral evil “He wills in no way.”[2] He does, however, will in some way physical evil or suffering for the sake of some good. That is, He wills the good of the criminal and will allow the criminal to undergo punishment through the loss of a good (a loss of liberty, etc.), for the sake of the “good attached.” Hence, God cannot be said to will physical evils or suffering in themselves, and moral evils “in no way.” The objections are three in number and worth addressing individually. The objections are, firstly, that God wills for every good to be realized, and that it is good that not only good things exist because from evils, good can follow. But the good that results from evil does not come about directly – the goodness that follows is incidental. Hence, it is not good that evil should exist. The second objector states that evil contrasts with good and contributes to the perfection of the universe. As God wills the perfection of the universe, He wills evil. Again, Aquinas points out that any good that follows from evil is not direct. Hence, it is not good that evil should exist in the universe. The last objector says that since God cannot will contradictories (x and not-x), and His will is always fulfilled, it follows that God does will evil. Aquinas responds here that “’to will evils to come into being’ and ‘to will evils not to come into being’ are not…opposed” as contradictory statements. That is, they both affirm something (to will to do x, and to will to do y) and are not contradictory. Aquinas says that God “neither wills evils to be nor wills evils not to be; he wills to allow them to happen”[3] (that is, God wills to do z). Here, the active and the permissive will of God are distinguished. God actively wills the good and permits evil to happen.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, ed. T. Gilby, trans. Blackfriars vol. 5 (Great Britain: Eyre and Spottiswoode Limited, 1967), 41.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid., 43.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Suffering

"Deirdre, you have been so quiet, recently. Is everything ok?" "Oh, yes, I'm just a bit tired."

That's how it all started, that general feeling of malaise. It came to a head with a DRAMATIC trip to the emergency room and lots of drugs. And then more drugs. And then! More drugs. In short, I have an medical condition which has been filling my life with some rather acute suffering these past weeks. Thankfully, the drugs help! As does the knowledge that this condition (an autoimmune disorder called MCTD - nothing embarrassing), while annoying, is hardly fatal and can certainly be controlled.

If anecdotes are to be believed, the first thought which many people have when they realize they've been picked for some special suffering is "why me?" Mine was more: "Aw. Damn."

If you contemplate suffering, it really is a mysterious thing and, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments against the existence of God: why does the good man suffer? From Job to the Church Fathers to modern saints we see the repeated cry and attempts to answer that cry: why is there suffering? In Christ we can see that not only does the good man suffer but God, in the person of Christ, suffers for the redemption of man. It is comforting to know that suffering can have purpose and meaning, even if it's difficult to divine what those are in the particulars, and that no more is being asked of us that wasn't asked of One who truly deserved no suffering whatsoever. Why? Original sin! Why me? Who knows! I was a rather naughty child. Maybe breaking into that water main and then blaming it on my little brother, standing, adoringly beside me - happy that I was 'playing' with him - might not have been the *most* virtuous act? Maybe this is cutting some time off of purgatory.

Many saints suffered severely from various maladies. Now, I can understand, at least a bit, why suffering connects so strongly with sanctity. The plain fact is that it's very difficult to actively sin when you're really suffering. It takes energy that's not present. Why be angry when you can barely even dress yourself in the morning? (Put that way, it doesn't sound very convincing - but YOU try juggling chronic fatigue, pain, limited mobility, and ACTIVE ANGER. You'll soon find that you're exhausting yourself to no end.) Oh, you can certainly sin - despair, be angry with God, become bitter, etc. Many people do sin in this way.

Suffering is a scary thing. Particularly since medicine is, in part, a sort of inexact science and tantamount to magic to the uninitiated (me!). Tests! Which show up negative...or positive...but don't really say anything about anything! So more tests! What does it all mean? Who knows! Frustrating? A bit. Scary? Sure. Particularly when you're in an Italian emergency room with a vocabulary more philosophical than medical and a complete inability to communicate effectively with the doctor.

It is easier to merely sit back and be thankful for all the blessings that God has given me: a healthy, loving, and supportive family, the ability to return to the States and get adequate treatment (yes, I'm back in the Bay Area - the Italian medical system was too much for me to handle on my own), food, shelter, warmth. How many people are suffering alone, in pain and fear? God has blessed me and I'd be kind of a fool if I didn't see that.

Yes, it's difficult. I won't say that I didn't sit on the couch for two days eating chocolate and sniffling to myself as I apologized to my housemates for being so...emotional, as I faced t'eh future. "Deirdre. Your emotional is just about every woman's Stoic," said my housemate. That was clever and made me feel better, too.

The things I find most difficult are: 1. No b33r. Alcohol and medications don't mix. It will be a perpetual Lent for me until - if ever - I get off of the medications. 2. The anguish that other people feel over my condition. That really is the most difficult thing to bear. What can you do? In the Gospels, there were many ill who placed themselves before the Lord. And, He was moved by their faith. But, in anguish, many parents and siblings and loved ones would drag the one who suffered - or was dead - before the Lord and demand His compassion, demand His attention, demand that He do something. And Christ was moved to tears. Thus we see the power of intercession.

So! Pray for my healing - particularly via the intercession of Pope John Paul the Great. He loved lay-students, lived in Rome, and his beatification is coming up. He might be feeling generous right now!

And, on a parting note, I think no one should forget this classic: