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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Theodicy without Theodicy


Derrida captures both the imagination and the critical faculties with his theme of 'religion without religion'. Perhaps his greatest expositor, John D. Caputo, has ridden that horse all the way to the bank, if philosophers get to take anything to the bank, as it were. In his 'weak theology', Caputo offers his reading of Derrida's late writings, not to mention the various seminars in which these ideas play out on a stage of phenomenology, post-phenomenology and even a God without being. Caputo describes the deconstruction of confessional religions, and discovers the 'unconditional without sovereignty' which he identifies as the 'weak force of God'.

A religion without religion contains within it the deconstruction of classical theodicy, and perhaps points to a theodicy without theodicy. I might make the case that a religion without religion does not recognize anything that looks like a theodicy, whether with or without theodicy. Be that as it may, a theodicy without theodicy might take as its point of departure the power structure Caputo attributes to God in the metaphysical attitude: the problem does seem to boil down to power, its expression and its non-expression, its deployment in the world and its non-deployment.

I share with Caputo his disgust with theodicy as it usually plays out, as a means of explaining or justifying the misery, suffering and injustice visited upon the world, particularly upon the innocent. To drop 'mystery', a 'greater good' at the doorstep of horror and unspeakable suffering mocks God and the world, and constitutes the definition of obscenity.

Any reasonable person would think that, after the horrors of the 20th century (indeed the horrors of history), the 'end of theodicy' would have been a decisive one. Surely religion and theodicy would have died a permanent death by now, certainly by now; yet theodicy, like religion, lives on: what good is the death of God if theodicy and religion always rise again? 

Caputo's The Weakness of God dots its argument for the 'unconditional without sovereignty' with such occasions of the meaning and presence of the Omni-God against the weakness of God. But what of theodicy's corollary, the request (if not a demand) for an explanation or justification, the quality of which determines reason's permissibility of God? Playing out on the horizon of being, this crucial flip-side of theodicy allows God into, or disqualifies God from, the horizon of knowledge (albeit a certain kind of knowledge) and of being. God lives and dies by the swords of all kinds of positivisms, regardless of the side they take in the classic version of the great debate.

In a recent discussion on the 'priority of love' with a philosopher and friend, my interlocutor equated such priority with a 'theodicy without theodicy', and so I began this piece with the analogy of a religion without religion. His critique, which burns with concern for 'needless, unnecessary suffering of catastrophic proportions', runs adjacent to a critique of the Johannine Lazarus texts, and formulates its argument thus: Jesus, alive then and now, can call Lazarus or anyone else, then and now from death, but he doesn't. Now certainly the lingua franca of this critique is power itself, but also power within a will. The question asks, with all seriousness, why anyone ever suffers and dies, while a Jesus, very much alive and sporting a track record of doing nifty stuff, stands idly by and simply withholds miraculous power.

The question itself pokes at divine power and justice, but I do not think this question exhausts its theodical gesture by interrogating power. Its gesture also calls into question the various claims of religion for God and Jesus, in particular, Christian claims. So where do we start, start again? In other words, how is the priority of love, that God loves before he is, a theodicy without theodicy? Is it simply a fait accompli that a God who loves before he is, is a God who does not deploy power analogically (in terms of the human deployment of power), or deals in the structures of power at all? What is the difference between love and power when God does the loving? If Creation itself is an act of love, and not of sheer power, does a univocity of love put us in a position to create---is the power of love as intelligible as the love of power?

The problem gets even more complicated. How does one account for the urgency of the theodical gesture, and its logical aftermath---atheism---on the part of the positivist, when the theist finds this question oddly less than urgent? Can such urgency reduce to the desire to declare God nonsense under the scrutiny of sharply defined criteria for and of evidence? Do all theists secretly subscribe to Caputo's weak theology, acknowledging the obscenity of the theodical reply to the theodical question, yet somehow resolve to retain a faith in thematic religion (religion with religion), such as Catholicism? Are we all, deep down, Caputo's radical theologians? Do we radical theologians argue for an evidence invisible to the various positivisms in all sincerity? Is there any other place to go for a 'theology of the event'?

For the sake of this preliminary sketch of a theodicy without theodicy, we might speculate that God has as much use for theodicy as he does for religion: God has no use for what passes for religion---What are your vain sacrifices to me? 'Vain' sacrifice, the religious gesture with a gargantuan injection of religion. Is sacrifice always a gesture of power? Religiously speaking, the only sacrifice that God ever asks is the one he asks of himself, and the one ostensibly carried out on Calvary. A sacrifice of God for humanity. That sacrifice is the only possible sacrifice that completely absents vanity. This is not to say that the unconditional call of the event of God asks nothing of us; it simply does not ask us to sacrifice because of its inherent vanity. Even Abraham doesn't get to sacrifice, not even in the most famous sacrificial near-miss of all time.

So, then, the urgency of the question: a power than declines its exercise --- a will that wills not the 'good', where the very existence and meaning of that power hangs in the balance---no exercise, no being. Is it here, I wonder, where a theodicy without theodicy finds itself and its answer: if being is denied by empirical establishment of a lack of evidence, does that lack locate God beyond essence, otherwise than being---does positivism then give credence to a God without being, or does it relegate the whole matter to the ever-growing heap of nonsense? If willing the good for the other passes for love, then it is a strange love indeed that does not always and forever will the good for all of creation. What has happened to an appeal to the univocity of love?

But not so fast. The urgency of this theodical question also interrogates the lack of urgency on the part of those for whom the concrete players are not held to what must assuredly be a responsibility to their power. A theodicy with theodicy has no other recourse but to conclude irrational obstinacy, an embrace of a studied na├»ve magical realism. Presumably a theodicy without theodicy would have richer choices. Indeed, in any hypothetical theodicy without theodicy, doubt plays out very differently than in the classical theodicy with theodicy. So, then, which do we doubt, 'love' or 'the good'?

Emmanuel Levinas once suggested that Judaism is a religion for adults. It goes without saying (and this is perhaps why thinkers like Jean-Luc Marion and Emmanuel Falque do not say it explicitly) that Christianity is also a religion for adults. One of the ways, it seems to me, Christianity enjoys a status similar to Judaism, is its rhythm of cataphasis and apophasis. Meister Ekhart asks God to free him from God. We ask in faith for God to help our poor faith. It also goes without saying that any responsible faith, any adult religion, would be constituted by doubt. This is not the destructive doubt of paralysis and positivism, but more akin, ironically, to Descartes' reduction to doubt, which, with its corrosive edges, tears down everything to the bare bones of an encounter with the infinite. Doubt begins the expedition to the discovery of a new world of contradiction and paradox, a world of Yeatsian 'terrible beauty', a world both beautiful and treacherous.

A theodicy without theodicy interrogates power itself, and empowers doubt to be its examiner. The 'doubting Thomas' of the Johannine tradition does not earn condemnation, even if that tradition does find him a bit comical, taking himself, as he does, just too seriously. No, not condemnation, but instead, this most adult of the apostles receives a gift; Thomas utters the highest Christology in the Gospel tradition: my Lord and my God.  Such belief anchored by doubt has always been offered by the Christian tradition as authentic over and against any brand of fideism. Doubt is the business end of reason; its drive toward a mature faith and authenticity leads not to postivism's dead ends and nonsense, but to think again. If not being, or a version of being, or of ontological difference, then toward what does declarative prayer direct itself?

It simply cannot be that the question of a Jesus, a God, who can but doesn't, ends the matter. That's just another way to say Roma locuta, causa finita est---we are trying to get beyond such positivisms. The theist and the atheist stand on different, not opposite, ends of the same question. But on what do they stand when they angle their stands at the same question? Is it the very 'ground of being' which some believe to 'be' God? No, I think not; a 'ground' is no place to stand if the question is being. A ground of being is just a being upon which being stands. That's simply the infinite regress of more of the same---classical theodicy in a slightly different light. What would a theodicy without theodicy stand on; what does a religion without religion stand on?

In such a preliminary piece, I must do a little damage control, and ask a more modest question. The fact is this, good people, atheist and theist alike, positivist and other-than-positivist alike, stand together in this world. 'Where do they stand?' is another way of asking 'how are things between them?' They stand before each other across the same abysmal question. If each encounters the face of the other, then they must stand on that which is before being itself. They stand, in short, on the love that is prior to being, on the claims made upon them before they are even 'selves'. This is the threshold upon a theodicy without theodicy, properly recognized and pronounced by someone who does not even believe such anteriority is either possible, or that it matters even if it were possible. His pronouncement accuses me, as his atheism calls my theism into question. What matters, at least at this point, is our standing; and we stand before the same voice, the same call from what is harbored in the name of God. How we hear it, and where doubt leads us, and what urgency moves us, makes all the difference in the world, even if we can share that world, even if the discovery of joy or crushing sadness awaits us in this shared world. Events are like that.

37 comments:

  1. "Now certainly the lingua franca of this critique is power itself, but also power within a will. The question asks, with all seriousness, why anyone ever suffers and dies, while a Jesus, very much alive and sporting a track record of doing nifty stuff, stands idly by and simply withholds miraculous power."

    I really do not think this is what the question is about.

    It's not asking why Jesus withholds miraculous power but why he withholds his miraculous love from so many.

    The question isn't about power or "nifty stuff." It's about how God's love could manifest itself as healing pain and suffering in one case but not healing it in another. This is about the inconsistency of God's love. The risen Jesus may love both Lazarus and Omayra equally, but only one of them was returned to the world, to family, to friendship. Only one of them was given the precious gift of more time.

    This goes far beyond questions of power or metaphysics. It's about what kind of love is a love that appears so inconsistent.

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  2. I did offer a choice for doubt: love or the good. I also think the emphasis on the 'can' must in some way interrogate power. Still, you begin a case against the univocity of love. I also think a reasonable way into the problem is the way you put it: what kind of love?

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    1. But Jesus didn't have to a make a choice between love or the good, did he?

      Ah, but this smacks of semantics to me. Love, good, power. What difference does it make? Omayra's still dead. And we still return to problem of evil. Either she's dead because God can't or won't.

      You've wrapped all the old problems in very impressive trappings but they are all the same gifts inside. Gifts that, no matter how you wrap them, I have no ability to accept. And it seems only you can accept them by pretending they aren't what they are.

      The only realism that presents itself to me is to live in a world where finite love and finite power can, sometimes, with luck and labor, realize and create some finite goodness. That's worth living for. Omayra's dead and nothing will change that but maybe, again, with luck and work, some people will have more time and less pain than she did. God is a dream, I guess, that some can dream while they work to achieve that, but let's not forget which is which.

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    2. Why do you think there is a univocity of love, anyway? Why do you think love means the same thing to humans as it does to slugs, birds, gorillas, angels and God? How do you know, or why do you believe, that God loves the way we do?

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  3. "I also think the emphasis on the 'can' must in some way interrogate power."

    It tries to interrogate potential for activity. Surely Jesus had the potential to do and say the things he did and said, at least in a prosaic metaphysical and physical sense. No? Are Jesus's miracles events that literally have no cause at all, have no reason or intelligibility at all? If they don't, that would seem to be identical with Meillassoux's virtual god which appears without any reason or intelligibility (and in fact enjoys virtuality *because* there really is no sufficient reason, no causality).

    No, the cause, at least in a mereological sense, of the miracle is ultimately the incarnation, Jesus's total identity. Jesus does *what* he does because of *who* he is. Wouldn't you agree? When I ask what Jesus can do I am asking about who Jesus is. In particular, I am asking who Jesus is, what the incarnation means, when he weeps and calls Lazarus back from the dead. I am asking who Jesus is, what the incarnation means, when Omayra was slowly obliterated.

    The "can" in "What can Jesus do?" is an interrogation of what the Christ event means in the world, the whole world, past, present and future.

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  4. These remarks fine-tune the question, and begin the interrogation of love through the lover. The Christology here, in a sense, makes it possible that Jesus is merely present at some odd events, and this proximity is aleatory: more a matter of synchronicity and less of activity. In this case, 'what' he does and 'who' he is less important than the interpretation of him at these uncanny moments. Jesus as Chauncey Gardiner?

    Be that as it may, and getting back to 'our' Jesus, to ask what kind of love (or good, or power) must have everything to to with what kind of person, event, lover, beloved, we are really talking about here. What kind of beloved is Lazarus, and what kind of beloved is Omayra, cannot but point to what kind of lover is this.

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    1. That is not the christology I see here, what you describe in your first paragraph. Quite the opposite. People *come to Jesus* to be healed. I'm sorry, Joe, you have to deal with this. Do you believe that or not? If you do, then that has consequences, the ones I laid out.

      As for your second paragraph, you can see how insidious theodicy is. You are now trying to explain why Jesus has left Omayra to die very slowly and then remain dead as something that she herself had or lacked. Like something Lazarus was or was not. No. This doesn't work. It just can't work. You are doing theodicy right now. You are attempting to explain how God loves so radically different. It's the same thing Barron asks: Why does God allow this and then that? Can't you see you are doing the same thing?!

      Would Jesus have watched Lazarus die if he had gotten there a week earlier?

      You can't tell me the risen Christ doesn't know every single person who suffers, when they suffer, when they begin to suffer. The risen Christ no longer enjoys the excuse of distance and time.

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    2. Every single human being who came in contact with Omayra during his last days wanted to save her. They didn't know her. The people that knew her were either far away or underneath her in the mud. But everyone was moved to try. But conditions and decisions prior to this disaster made that impossible. All the solutions they had, even if they could have drained the water, they would have had to cut her legs off. She was just a precious girl caught in a world that revealed itself as merciless. All the individuals there with her, they were all caught in mercilessness. They could not save her; they had no ability to give her mercy or help. The poignancy of this horror is crushing and deafening to me. Near the end, they had to leave her to save others who could be saved.

      What kind of lover of this child? The kind that should not have died like this. And if Jesus was unable to help her, he's just like us, and just like us, can offer no hope in hopeless situations. But, if Jesus is anything other than unable, HE is merciless. Those are the only two possibilities.

      Ugh. Theodicy sticks to talk about God like drying blood. No. No. There is no love that could see Omayra and want anything other than to free her safely from the mud. That's it. I don't want to think about any other kind of response. And really, neither should you. But you have to defend your Jesus, don't you? No matter what, he's your ultimate consideration in all of this. Did you just imply that Omayra's relationship with Jesus had any impact in her death? Did you really just say that or am I going mad?

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    3. On the other hand, aren't you just constructing a new positivism? Like Verger says, how can you be certain that God does not allow some suffering that he could prevent? How do you know God has no hand in any suffering whatsoever? By rejecting theodicy you reject, too, the incomprehensibility of divine love and goodness. Don't you attempt to reduce him, instead of to being or metaphysics, to your own frail human concept of love? Love is as much a human concept as being is. Isn't it more humble, in light of both the cross and Job, to not be so certain of where God is when suffering happens? It's at least possible that human suffering has meaning for God that cannot be known because God is God. To reject that idea is positivistic, no?

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    4. I do not thing I've made an appeal to, or devised an alternate, positivism. Instead, I am attempting a critique of positivism, all positivisms, including the positivisms at work in dogma.

      I am suggesting that evidence comes in many forms, and not merely from the various positivisms.

      That does not necessarily mean beginning in 'incomprehensibility' binds us to a positivism. We find it difficult to think a univocity of love, even after Marion's rigorous work in his *The Erotic Phenomenon*. Still, I wonder if we can really think a univocity of 'incomprehensibility' and not succumb to sticky, classical theodicy. How much less incomprehensible is man than God? How much less comprehensible is man to himself, and God to man? Can we not think that incomprehensibility outside of scientific empiricism? Or in Harman's terms (let's abandon these if they are an unfortunate digression), can we think God and man without duomining?

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    5. I am using "incomprehensibility" the way Rahner uses it. How is that within scientific empiricism?

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    6. "What kind of lover of this child? The kind that should not have died like this. And if Jesus was unable to help her, he's just like us, and just like us, can offer no hope in hopeless situations. But, if Jesus is anything other than unable, HE is merciless. Those are the only two possibilities."

      On this you remain silent.

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    7. "What kind of beloved is Lazarus, and what kind of beloved is Omayra, cannot but point to what kind of lover is this."

      So what kind of lover is it? You never say! What kind of lover accounts for Lazarus AND Omayra?

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  5. "It simply cannot be that the question of a Jesus, a God, who can but doesn't, ends the matter. That's just another way to say Roma locuta, causa finita est---we are trying to get beyond such positivisms. The theist and the atheist stand on different, not opposite, ends of the same question."

    Do you see yourself as a theist or do you think you've transcended the distinctions between atheism and theism?

    So where do you stand? On what do you stand?

    Do you look for the resurrection of the dead at the end of time? Do you believe a place has been prepared for you at His father's table? What do you really believe? I really don't think I know.

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  6. It's strange how parallels show up unexpectedly, but then, when I look at them, they don't really seem strange at all. There's another bit of dialogue in an episode of 'Hannibal' I've been watching, an episode called "Tome-Wan," the penultimate episode of the second season. (All the titles in the second season are taken from Japanese cuisine; the first season titles were related to French cooking and dining; the third season, since half of it takes place in Florence, are Italian; the second half of the third season are titles taken from the paintings of William Blake, the various Red Dragon works.)

    Here is some dialogue between Hannibal and a patient, the sinister Mason Verger, during his therapy, and Hannibal attempts to discuss Mason's sister, who Mason has abused her entire life:

    HANNIBAL:
    While you were subverting the
    underprivileged children at your
    summer camp, what did you learn?

    MASON VERGER:
    Keen student of the Bible that I am,
    I learned about suffering. Not mine,
    mind you. The general conceit.

    HANNIBAL:
    God's choices in inflicting
    suffering are not satisfactory to
    us, nor are they understandable,
    unless innocence offends Him.

    MASON VERGER:
    Clearly He needs some help in
    directing the blind fury with which
    He flogs the earth.

    HANNIBAL:
    Margot's happiness is more
    important than her suffering.

    MASON VERGER:
    You say that as though the two are
    mutually exclusive.

    HANNIBAL:
    I believe they are.

    MASON VERGER:
    Can never say to a certainty. It
    is one of the things that is hid,
    as the Bible says.

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  7. I do think you are being stubborn about what your fellow Christians believe. I take them at their word; I don't care to deconstruct them. Robert Barron believes in theodicy. He believes God must allow great evil for an ever greater good. He has said this many, many times, in many forums. I know you know this. And you cannot say that this isn't the consensus among most Christians. I've talked to Christians all my life, and so have you. They would not recognize a God without being, nor would they believe in a God powerless to help them. In fact, that is the source of their hope in God!

    Barron wouldn't recognize a God without being or power; Rahner absolutely wouldn't. Rahner's God is a being in the fullest possible possession of being, being itself. Rahner devoted time to several essays in his "Theological Investigations" to this question and he embraced the concept and language of God's allowance of evil and always characterized it as part of the absolute mystery of God which embraces all.

    Show me, if you can, in his Foundations of Christian Faith, where God could be characterized as without being or power. True, God does not appear among finite entities, but this "working through secondary causes" business is not at all akin to powerlessness or lack of being.

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    1. Just a brief remark or two here. I think I made the right decision to remove an entire, long paragraph that describes classical theodicy as an 'onto-theodicy', based, of course, on the problem of onto-theology. I played with a transition from ONTO-THEO-dicy to a theo-DICY, and put 'justice' in the fore. We have Heidegger to thank for the underpinnings of that move (that I decided not to make). I would have had to pursue Derrida and Caputo in far greater detail, and would have certainly addressed Caputo's *The Folly of God: A Theology of the Unconditional*, and how the unconditional and undeconstructible unhinge structures of 'power'.

      You know FCF as well as, if not better than, I do. We can find no specific discussion of a God without being; yet, because of Heidegger's musings that, were he to write some kind of theology, any reference to 'being' would be completely absent. Rahner knew this very well.

      A 'beyond being' or an 'otherwise than being' or a God without being, is never about *lack*, certainly not about a *lack* of being. And it's also really not about, as you pointed out, analogical power, or a lack thereof.

      I do wonder, though, if Rahner has a modest flirtation with a God without being, even if an evanescent one, when he speaks of the unthematic encounter with Absolute Mystery, or perhaps in his wonderful but perverse discussion of 'pessimism'.

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    2. Do you have, or have you read, Rahner's essay "The World and History as the Event of God's Self-Communication"? As far as I know it was published in his book Servants of the Lord (1968) and in the anthology from Crossroad, The Content of Faith (1994). If not, I would like to see if I can scan it—it's only three or four pages—and you can read it and maybe we could discuss a few of the things in it, since it's basically a condensed and intense meditation on the event of divine love in all of its cosmic and personal dimensions.

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    3. I have *The Content of Faith*, and will read the essay soon. Did we not discuss this essay in the past?

      Sorry for the rushed and garbled grammar above. Meillassoux cites Jean-Luc Marion citing Heidegger's musings about a God without being in his own essay on the necessity of contingency.

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    4. "A 'beyond being' or an 'otherwise than being' or a God without being, is never about *lack*, certainly not about a *lack* of being. And it's also really not about, as you pointed out, analogical power, or a lack thereof."

      Are you sure? Then how I am to understand this:

      "Is it here, I wonder, where a theodicy without theodicy finds itself and its answer: if being is denied by empirical establishment of a lack of evidence, does that lack locate God beyond essence, otherwise than being---does positivism then give credence to a God without being, or does it relegate the whole matter to the ever-growing heap of nonsense?"

      I feel like our entire dialogue is in danger of being relegated to the ever-growing heap of nonsense, that's for sure.

      I have no idea what you believe or what you are talking about anymore. None whatsoever.

      You really need to get your shit together here, Joe. Okay? Because this IS nonsense a waste of my time.

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    5. I guess the pun did not work: using 'lack' in the Lacanian and colloquial senses. A 'lack' of empirical evidence could suggest 2 things, proof of nonsense, or proof of an inadequate method; this does not point to any psychoanalytical 'lack', or even the privation/lack (as in 'evil is a lack of being') of doctrine and dogma. It applies to and qualifies 'evidence' only.

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    6. No. Nope. My uncle died of cancer. He was not spared either pain, dying nor death. Apparently, no saint interceded. Other people are spared such a thing by God. Whose method is inadequate to get at the "evidence"? I have no method, Joe, but yours!

      How do you explain why a miracle which removes cancer is a sign of God and a cancer which destroys a life isn't, also, a sign of God, both acts of God and therefore both acts of ultimate, mysterious goodness?

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    7. Again, Christianity does not admit there is no empirical evidence to support its claims about God, Jesus and the world. It offers many empirical events that, while not necessarily proving the existence of God, certainly are used as evidence to support their theological claims about God.

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  8. "Is it here, I wonder, where a theodicy without theodicy finds itself and its answer: if being is denied by empirical establishment of a lack of evidence, does that lack locate God beyond essence, otherwise than being---does positivism then give credence to a God without being, or does it relegate the whole matter to the ever-growing heap of nonsense?"

    But Christianity claims a lot of empirical evidence, at least empirical in the sense that they were public or private events that they had witnessed, that had directly occurred to them. First, Jesus's own miracles; his resurrection; then the miracles in Acts; then the various miracles throughout the ages leading right down to 2017 where your church still takes miracles—divine interventions—quite seriously. They are always looking into miracle claims and often come to the conclusion that a miracle did happen. What are you talking about when you talk about the "lack of evidence"? Your own church thinks it finds miracles in the world every year. It's rare, but they say it still happens, mostly through the intervention of the saints to God (another rather elaborate and preposterous theodicy there, too). And that's just in the Catholic church. Miracles are claimed often in every kind of church. What about Benny Hinn ministries or other faith healers? Like Lourdes, people go in droves to these things. Why? Because they think God can and does directly intervene and change the world. They are suffering and they come to Jesus/God for help. Just like they did 2,000 years ago. I can't blame them. If I believed what they did, I'd pray to God too to lift me from those periods of black, crushing depression, the bell jars that fall and suffocate and cannot be shattered. I'd pray, if I thought there was a God who cared and could help. Why would I pray to a nothingness that is a God of love who can't love in this world? What's the point? God can love all he wants, but until that love exists HERE, what difference does it make?

    Do you think all these people, all these Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, across the world, do you think they pray and plead and beg to a God without being? A God who they think is powerless in this world? Seriously? I know you are older and wiser than me, but you sound sometimes like you have never talked to any Christians at all, or you have, but you haven't listened to what they were saying, you haven't really heard these people. They would look at your god and say you might as well be an atheist.

    And then there's transubstantiation! I mean, come on. Literally, the Holy Spirit transforms a finite substance into Jesus Christ. Literally. Jesus is there and the bread is gone. Yes, yes, "sacramentally," but that doesn't mean it's not a supernatural change IN THE WORLD. The bread is a PART of the world, like cancer, or mud. The substance of Jesus is now appearing as bread. But God has no being or power in the world? Right.

    Ever see Hitchcock's Psycho? The private detective played by Martin Balsam isn't buying Norman Bates's story:

    "See, if it doesn't jell, it isn't aspic, and this ain't jelling. It's not coming together. Something's missing."

    This Christian God without being? It isn't aspic. I'd love to hear you and Robert Barron discuss theodicy, Job, Jesus, the cross. I'd love to see what would happen.

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    1. Are you arguing that a God without being cannot touch, directly or indirectly, a being or thing that does exist? I don't see how that could be an authentic Christian theism. If cannot change or influence or do something to finite creation and finite beings, then not only do miracles not make sense, but the hypostatic union would seem to dissolve. Jesus's finite human nature (or reality or flesh) is from, and of, the created world. It was, like you and me, an orchestration of carbon (another bit of poetry from Hannibal). So how did the divinity of the Son touch or unify with it, such that it became the historical expression of that divinity in a way that unique from other human beings and the rest of creation, even if it is a difference of degree and not of kind as Rahner theorized?

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    2. Both of these responses and their questions have gone unanswered by you.

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  9. A faith in God at the limits of reason has not been better poetically expressed, before or after (excluding some well-known sublime biblical texts), than in Dante's Divine Comedy, where Vergil can go no further, and only Beatrice can lead. I recommend that work over and against the Hannibal the Cannibal literature.

    1. I am not arguing that a God without being cannot touch things that exist; phenomenology of religion attempts to describe just that phenomenon.

    2. The Hypostatic Union is perhaps the example par excellence of that touching.

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  10. "It simply cannot be that the question of a Jesus, a God, who can but doesn't, ends the matter."

    Fine, I didn't think it would "end the matter" for you—but nowhere after saying do you even begin to address that question! Why? You go on to talk about grounds, ground of being, the being of a ground... What the hell does this have to do with Jesus's capacity to work miracles during his lifetime and after it?

    You get to the very key problem and a statement that, from within conventional, creedal Christianity, is practically a fact and universally accepted, but then you immediately ignore it.

    Look: Can Jesus and God work miracles in this world or not?

    Why is this a question you apparently think is worth ignoring?

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  11. "It simply cannot be that the question of a Jesus, a God, who can but doesn't, ends the matter. That's just another way to say Roma locuta, causa finita est---we are trying to get beyond such positivisms."

    Um, no. We are trying to take the Christian dogma seriously when it states that revelation reveals, quite precisely, the Omnigod.

    I didn't even make up the goddamn problem in the first place! It's Christianity itself that says "God can; God waits; just trust in God, he knows what is best." I am speaking to you using the thoughts and words of your own religion, Joe.

    Boy, if you were a professional theologian, you'd never get sent to Rome to defend your work. They wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of your Rorschach-like texts.

    I seriously have not found a single unifying idea in this post. Can you paraphrase in a single paragraph? You know, "Theodicy without Theodicy for Dummies"?

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  12. "His pronouncement accuses me, as his atheism calls my theism into question."

    I accuse the Christian religion and your idiosyncratic theism of crushing intellectual, existential and moral inconsistency.

    The world calls your theism into question. I am a speaking on behalf of conditions, events (in the prosaic sense) which I think neutralize Christian experience. "Christian" experiences happen, but when the world is taken as a whole (and that must include our most tentative yet successful and serious scientific theories and models), experiences called "Christian"—and much of what is called "religious"—are probably misinterpretations based on premises which are extremely doubtful. This is a philosophical and historical criticism. Morally and ethically, the premises are suspect and the conclusions are often moral abominations (see any theodicy, Barron, et al)—and that's only IF they are true! I think most theisms of the religious kind are objectively immoral beliefs or imply actions and worlds that are as disturbing immorally as they are intellectually.

    It's not enough, Joe, to offer a defense of God through phenomenological, um, "evidence." The question is, can you offer phenomenological evidence for why God is silent in the face of almost every cancer or tumor or degenerative disease or starvation, but a miracle occurs for a handful of people? Can you, using your phenomenological method, tell me what God's mercy is and why it appears in this world in the way that it does?

    It's not enough to argue what miracles are in your model, or that we encounter God, or that the vertical meets the horizontal. That's not enough. It's too abstract. They are concepts suspended in the void. Now your task is to turn your attention to this particular history and this particular world and interrogate why miracles, encounters and the vertical appear as they do in THIS world. The question is not "can and/or do miracles happen." but why do they happen like they happen in this world and not another way? Why do they appear in a way that is akin to the one house on the block that was not obliterated by a F5 tornado?

    You once offered some explanation for why Jesus returned Lazarus to life. But that is not an explanation for why he does not return everyone that he loves just as deeply. This appears, too. This is surely phenomenological. People die and no saturated phenomenon called "miracle" occurs to return them to life or prevent them dying. The very rarity of such encounters with religious transcendence or verticality is ITSELF a challenge to transcendence and verticality, either to its objective existence or its moral and benevolent nature—all the attributes claimed for such transcendence by the major theistic traditions.

    Theodicy, among other things, is an attempt to give an explanation so that belief in God is more or less complete and consistent with what we know of this world, both personally, anecdotally, but also philosophically and—more importantly because it's the most neglected—scientifically. Without theodicy or a defense of God in relation to evil, most theisms will remain either incomplete or inconsistent. Reason obliges us to pay strict attention to those very qualities, what we have missed and what we hold to be true which cannot be true at the same time and in the same way.

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  13. So, let's not argue about whether there is verticality and some kind of encounter with God. I am willing to grant it. How is that encounter with God consistent with all the other things we encounter; personal and collective; contemporary and historical; direct and indirect.

    Miracles happen, but not always. Why? As I said, I am suspending my disbelief here and accepting that miracles occur. Jesus rose people from the dead. So did some of the apostles. Skipping ahead, God saves people at Lourdes from a host of illnesses. St Teresa of Calcutta interceded on behalf of someone and God miraculously made his tumor disappear overnight.

    From the CDC: 8.2 million people died from cancer in the year 2012.

    Was no one praying to the saints for these individuals? Did God not hear any prayers for them and so let the cancer take its natural course?

    Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, returning her to grief-stricken parents.

    The CDC: 2,195 children die daily from diarrhea across the world.

    That's 2,195 children of Jairus which Jesus witnesses and remains silent, as silent as the graves those children are placed in.

    What I don't want you to say is that humans are responsible for all of this. Many, many people are at work to try to lower these numbers. Some projects and campaigns are helping. Overall, these vast problems of feeding and housing the world are beyond the power of any single person or even a large group of people. Many aspects of the world which reinforce these tragic, unnecessary loses are entrenched and recalcitrant and would require political will and massive global changes and even then their success would always be tentative and partial. Inequality and injustice on every scale and every part of human civilization isn't the responsibility of any single human being and not even the sum of every single human being. We generate things that in turn may regenerate us and its not always to help us thrive.

    So, please don't shift this to human responsibility. We are not talking about that. We are talking about God's responsibility and benevolence and so-called mercy which appears indistinguishable from amorality (at best). It appears capricious, unreliable and almost always like...nothing. Rahner said it well when, in an extraordinary prayer, asked God to appear in such a way that it was finally unambiguous to us that God loves us. There is too much darkness and confusion and noise for God to appear to all as God in this world.

    This all appears and so must be described by your phenomenology as well. Why do you ignore them? Why do you think you can go about a phenomenology of religion as if the world did not contain these gratuitous evils and horrors and a fundamental darkness in which ignorance reigns above all?

    [The self-cannibalizing fox in Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" says that chaos reigns, but that's not true. It's ignorance and neglect of all the signals and noises of the world that truly reigns for beings like us. The world is not chaotic, there is just too much happening at once to respond to it with anything but neglect and ignorance.]



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  14. If our responsibility for the other is so profound, what is God's responsibility toward the other that is creation and, especially, human beings? That is God's "other." If finite, vulnerable and ignorant beings like us find responsibility when confronted with the other, where is God's responsibility? His nature is allegedly perfect in every respect. What demands and obliges a god of ultimate goodness, justice, love and mercy?

    If your God is real and Christianity is right, then there must be an abyss between the responsibility of the infinitely good and the finitely good. A vast chasm. And a place where, even when you and I are standing together, we can never stand with God.

    The incarnation into a contingent life of a marginal Jewish prophet complicates this and attempts to place divinity here, too, but as I have argued, Jesus did things in his lifetime that he stopped doing in his post-resurrection state—save for the handful of miracles claimed throughout history up to today, in the year of our Lord 2017.

    I don't understand, or see you discuss, why this isn't a massive red flag for you. For me, obviously, when I saw it, it was like a bone in my throat. I do not understand how you are satisfied with your own beliefs when it comes to this. Or satisfied with your speculation about it. Or satisfied with your indifference toward it. You once said that the lack of miracles has no meaning for you. How can you say that? How can you believe that a desperately needed miracle which never comes means nothing?

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  15. Maybe, you might say, my expectations for God's responsibility to this world are all skewed. Fine. They may be. But I want to know WHY my expectations are wrong. Why am I wrong to expect a supernatural intervention to save a person in a situation like Omayra, when all human agency at that point is exhausted, and IF God is what Christianity says he is, what Jesus reveals him to be. It's a situation that people solemnly pronounce "is in God's hands." Why should I not expect God to save her and others like her if God is, indeed, a creative, absolute goodness?

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  16. When Peter raises Tabitha in Joppa, the account in Acts ends with this line: "...and many people believed in the Lord."

    The powerful love of Jesus—a love more powerful than death itself—that was imparted to Peter has its grandest expression in waking the dead, bringing them back to the world. Apparently, this miraculous power disappeared in time and is no longer a part of Christian life and evangelization.

    But we know that miracles were still being performed in the name of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Why did Jesus rescind this ability? What has changed? Aren't people today still in need of Jesus's miraculous, healing love? Do parents mourn the death of their children one jot less than Jairus loved his daughter? Do family and friends, until the day they die, not feel the loss that Lazarus's family and friends felt?

    What are your options here?

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  17. There's a song by Depeche Mode, "Precious," which includes these lyrics:

    Angels with silver wings / Shouldn't know suffering / I wish I could take the pain for you / If God has a master plan / That only He understands / I hope it's your eyes / He's seeing through

    Does this look like a world created and sustained by a God who sees it through the eyes of a suffering person, powerless in the face of their suffering and the suffering of others?

    It doesn't look remotely like that to me.

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  18. We approach 27 March, the anniversary of the Tenerife airport disaster. It still remains the deadliest aviation accident in history. It claimed also 600 people.

    In your mind, is there any way to talk about God in the context of such a disaster? I don't mean traditionally, but within your theological context and concepts, how does that disaster appear to it, or within it? Can you interpret it theologically? How would you interpret it theologically?

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