Sunday, July 20, 2014
From My Book CONVERSATIONAL THEOLOGY: Evil As Cancer
"To help us understand this process, I will be using two metaphors as I explain my understanding of sin: one dealing with addiction and dealing with cancer. I think both metaphors are helpful to understand both the moral and metaphysical definitions of sin, which I think we can and should reconcile. Please remember, however, that while analogies are important when talking about revelatory truths, they become a problem when they are absolutized. At some point all analogies break down. We must always remember Ian Barbour's injunction that the map is not the territory, nor the model the thing it represents. Analogies are helpful as heuristic tools, but they make poor arguments. However problematic they may be, and however much we stand in danger of making them some end-all, be-all representation of the object of study, they play a role in almost all philosophical systems, and they still can be quite helpful as we move forward."...
"This all has dealt so far with human nature, but it is not just human nature that is in need of restoration, it is not just humans that aren't 'right'. I cannot help but see a lot of value in the lines of thought that emphasize an extreme metaphysical understanding of sin. The idea of a devil, or of sin as almost a demon, may seem outdated to some people, but I happen to think it is as pertinent or more pertinent than ever. Part of the problem with modern theologizing about sin is the attempt to psychologize the subject or to reduce it to simply a moral idea. I think this is to remove the greatest power the words of, say, Paul and John have to offer. It is just because the world as a whole seems 'not right' to us that Paul's entire metaphysical framework makes so much sense and is so attractive. The original reference to the 'snake' in the garden is a primitive version of this insight. Anyone who has experienced a child or even an animal suffering from cancer will realize that the natural order is also far removed from what we perceive to be God's Will for it. Evolution has further sharpened the issue, being as it is a stark illustration of the evils of the natural order. My 'it's not right' reaction definitely includes this wider cosmic context. My own struggle within myself, against my own sinfulness, also comes to me as something cosmic in scope. The quest to work in concert with God, and to overcome my own evil to do so, is experienced as a titanic struggle involving me in truly cosmic forces. This sense of a cosmic context for our moral struggle is one of the essential intuitions leading to God and I think we are hungry to regain an understanding that enlightens that experience.
In an attempt to couch my views in terms that can be fit into a modern cosmological framework, while retaining the idea of evil as a living and active force, I have often used the analogy of a cancerous tumor. I take evil to be a cosmic consequence of a universe possessed of freedom and misusing it. All of creation has some freedom, some self-creative power. Such power is grounded in God, in that God grants the power to creation, but what is done with the power is in the hands of individual entities themselves. I suggest cosmic sin is like a cosmic cancer, the result of a large number of 'cells' going haywire and refusing to act as they were intended, and acting instead in unison against God. This cancer is seen at every level of creation, and when it comes to us, it encourages us to become a part of it. If and when it succeeds to make us a part of it, it then incorporates us (or rather individual acts of our lives) into it's organized rebellion. Very likely it has a role in the corruption of our desire for maturation. In the same way that natural disasters and innocent suffering are evil but not malicious, this cancer is truly evil without being a sinner itself...it is rebellious and organized but not exactly conscious (though I'm open to that idea), and the addiction to it of so many of our fellow men as well as our shared reality is part of its enticing power...the ultimate 'peer pressure'. So, ultimately, I agree with Paul that 'sin' is prior to, and the cause of, much of the 'sinning' in the human condition.
But it is also important to note here is that cancer, while in some sense alive and acting in accordance with it's own self-organizing principles, is parasitic on the larger organism in a way more extreme than other types of diseases. The idea that the Devil was a fallen angel is perhaps one of the purest insights into the nature of cosmological evil. Only a being that has the potentiality of the divine in it has any power at all, all power ultimately derives from God's being. The devil is not another god over against The Lord, but rather a cancer that cannot survive except that the Lord has has created an essentially good (ordered, creative, beautiful) world full of life and complexity from which it can feed. God is so much bigger than sin, but sin is good at pretending it is more powerful than it is, just as cancer may give the illusion that it is the defining characteristic of the being to which it is attached. It is a lie, most of the person is good, and healthy, and what it should be. Evil can only operate in an ordered universe, a universe grounded in God. All power derives from God, but the use of power is in the hands of the created, such is the nature of Creative, Suffering Love."