Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Is, Is Good

In my last two posts writing Of Morals and Metaphors, I dealt with the two common metaphors we use for morality: a straight line dividing good from evil, and and evil as a bent or corrupted image of the good.

My issue with the second metaphor boils down to Christian theology, specifically the problem of evil. In my experience, most Christians (with the exception of hard-boiled five-point Calvinists) tend to address this issue by citing free will. They are within their rights to do so, but this leaves a deeper question unanswered. By the doctrine of omnipresence, God is both Creator and Sustainer of all reality. How could God sustain evil within His very Presence, His very Self?

St. Augustine converted to Christianity after a brief fling with Manichaeism in his youth. He wrestled with this issue during his conversion, and provided what is (in my opinion) the definitive answer to the paradox: quite simply, evil doesn't exist. God doesn't sustain evil within His Presence because there is no "it" for God to sustain.

Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is purely the negation of the good. The previous metaphors, treating evil as the equal or even the refracted image of the good, fail for precisely this reason. Evil is no equal opposite, nor some kind of "bent" existence. Only the good exists in reality; the evil lies solely in the bend.

What is, is good.

How to envision morality on this basis? We can take a variety of approaches. If we want to keep the same vocabulary from before-- the vocabulary of distortion and "bent-ness," we can always plagiarize from Einstein.

The classic Newtonian model of physics treated gravity as something comparable to magnetism, with physical objects impelled towards one another, drawn by some attraction between them. It was action at a distance, without an explained mechanism but with the brute regularity of a natural law.

Einstein took this model, threw it in a blender, and made a cocktail he liked to call "general relativity." He bestowed to the scientific community an entirely new model of physics, one of 'gravity wells' comparable to whirlpools. Einstein introduced to modern cosmology this concept of 'space-time' that defines the physical universe. Physical objects -- anything with mass -- warp and distort the "fabric" of space-time, like bowling balls in a blanket (or so the metaphor goes). We perceive that distortion as gravity. The larger the mass, the greater the distortion. Too large a mass, and the fabric might even rip. This is the science, in very simplified form, behind black holes and so-called "wormholes."

All that was fairly technical, but I hope you caught the metaphor. Mass distorts and even tears the fabric of space-time. Might we say, just as evil distorts and even negates the reality of goodness?

What is good, is present. What is evil, is like a vacuum. Evil is the wormhole of science-fiction, the ocean vortex in Moby Dick, or that sinkhole in Guatemala.

Yeah, this sinkhole. See also: Hell, service entrance to.

To be continued.

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