Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ivan Karamazov's Argument For Atheism

Theologically, Ivan is sermonizing for suffering, expressing in concrete, experiential and emotive terms, the horrors of the world. ANY theology that denies this cry is doing humanity and God, a disservice. Philosophically, Ivan is making a persuasive point, but not one that seems one can easily defend or deny argumentatively. This is the crux of Ivan’s argument: all of existence is not worth the suffering of a single child. It’s a powerful POSITION and indeed can act as a powerful philosophical PRESUPPOSITION, but I don’t know how one sets up any arguments for it either way without begging all kinds of questions. It has powerful rhetorical force but I’m not sure how logically coercive it is. I, for one, think that being itself is an inherent good: I feel like humans naturally will, and properly so, being and consciousness. I don’t know how I go about proving that is the way things really ought to be, but it strikes me as a most basic of intuitions.

The problem comes because we can imagine other options that are available to God to give to us, and we judge the attainment of value in this world by that ideal, and it does indeed seem that God has some moral duty to actualize the highest value possible for the world. A child’s suffering seems SENSELESS and it doesn’t seem like Heaven, for instance, can pay back even one moment of pain for the child, and any progress gained also seems a weak return on such a terrible loss.

In other words, when it comes to the substance of his argument, Ivan is being disingenuous. It is indeed God that Ivan rejects, and the giving back of his ticket is a judgment on God’s handiwork. Let me say that I agree with Ivan in many, many ways. If God is this far off old man in the clouds who sets up the universe to be such a costly place and just says “it’ll all be alright in the long run” then I would also give up my ticket. And indeed if God is a Being who so little cares for the weight of sin that He forgives willy-nilly without concern for the costs incurred by the sufferer, I’d rather spend an eternity in darkness than worship THAT. But where does the argument falter, what is the only response Alyosha gives to his brother that seems (in the context of the conversation itself) to give Ivan any real trouble (though he does have a kind of response)? It is Jesus. Ivan responds to the mention of “The Man-God” with the story of the GRAND INQUISITOR. God’s self-emptying is, by Ivan’s light, a way to give freedom to people, to creation, and evil is the result of a refusal by God to impose Himself upon mankind. Ivan’s argument as I understand it is that this is not fair, because MAN DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS FREEDOM, AND REALLY DOESN’T WANT IT. We are no heroes if we didn’t volunteer, if we didn’t choose to have this ‘gift’ and if we have no say in its terrible consequences.

Still I’d say Alyosha (and the other heroes of the story Father Zossima and Zossima’s brother) turn the question around. Instead of asking why we suffer, they ask if we are going to continue to let GOD suffer. God is not ‘out there’ ‘somewhere’ but enfleshed within creation and within each suffering individual. It is the suffering of God in the world that is Alyosha’s concentration. If God shares in the suffering of the afflicted, His forgiveness is not dispassionate, and without concern for the evils done, He understands, and through that understanding retains the moral right to forgive. The wholeness He gives is acceptable. The child doesn’t suffer alone, and so his suffering has meaning and can even lead to a deepening of God’s presence in the world.

But what of Ivan’s claim that we didn’t ask for this? One could go any go a number of routes: one could claim that Ivan is being a bit childish. I remember Good Will Hunting, the main character claims he didn’t ask for his amazing genius, to which the therapist says “no, you were born with it, so don’t try to cop out of your responsibilities by saying ‘I didn’t ask for this’”. But it seems to me that a stronger objection is just so ask why we can’t have the freedom without the cost. It seems perfectly reasonable and logical to believe that free will without it is possible. My own route is to say Alyosha and Father Zossima don’t go far enough. Zossima touches on the idea that we are all part of one big whole (see his conversation with the boy at the lake) and Alyosha recognizes Christ as the essential answer to the problem of evil. But what if Christ just IS what God IS. What if being at all, means living ‘in risk’ and opening oneself up to suffering? What if creation is only possible THROUGH suffering and struggle and adventure, and that all our struggles are part of the struggles of God Himself? Indeed that’s what I think. Being is something that is coming to be, creation is a work in progress and its one that comes at a cost, and nothing can be cheap to us that is costly to God. Freedom without cost may be metaphysically possible, but I don’t think God can just do whatever is metaphysically possible. This freedom may be the only one God can really bring about, His freedom too. Love may just mean being vulnerable, and that’s the best we get: our sufferings contribute to the manifestation of God’s love in the universe. That brings us back, however to his original point about whether being and creation are worth the cost at all. That, I think, remains unanswerable. Is it better to be with suffering and struggle and cost, than not to be at all? My gut tells me yes. But sometimes my guts have crap for brains.

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