Sunday, May 06, 2007

When The Wells Are Dry

Time to stop when the wells are dry

Two books lie amidst a jumble of books, maps (of Rome where I was on holiday with my younger brother recently), empty mugs, bills (many), instruction notes for my new Nokia mobile, a meditation mat, a blanket and last weeks newspapers. Those two books are The Devil’s Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle (Pimlico, 2004) by Anthony Read and a marvellous recent find Susan Neiman’s wonderful book Evil In Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 2002). My copy of the standard edition of The Jerusalem Bible is not too far away from these two marvellous books. I mention this latter because it also, like these two books mentioned, deals with the reality of evil which confronts humankind with many intellectual problems side by side with the more existential reality of suffering – the real mystery as it were.

Anyway, my life definitely needs to be ordered as witnessed by my chaotic study – my attic room. Other rooms are in just as bad a condition – more chaos and clutter not “dirt” I hasten to add! I read chaotically also, finding myself irresistibly pulled this way and that by good books. Also, between the many jobs that need to be attended to so that I can function at some reasonable level in this world I need to bring a stop to this series of articles or posts on the mystery of evil. But also I need to draw a conclusion to them because my wells of inspiration have dried up as regards this reality. In short, I have nothing more worthwhile to say.

It seems to me that we need to stamp order on our world if we are to exist in it at some reasonably comfortable level. Also when we are confronted with reality with its entire vicissitudes we need to stamp some intellectual order onto it too. Hence, our drive to knowledge (after all knowledge is the real power in our lives) in all its forms from science to philosophy. To this extent the last ten posts or so have been such and effort.

Those posts have covered the traditional presentations of the mystery of evil: the Augustinian and Irenaean theodicies; the distinctions between problem and mystery and Gabriel Marcel’s marvellous take on the latter; the horrific events at Virginia Tech, the suicide of a young Irish family in Co. Wexford, the death of a fifteen year old pupil at school and the existential crises such events can cause us; evil as an absence of the good that should be there (privatio boni malum est, St Augustine); the dark night of the soul; the question of perspective and the principle of plenitude; the importance of holism and the importance of polar opposites; demonization and deification; the necessity to avoid the slipshod and careless use of language; humanity in the round – the total person warts and all; Hannah Arendt’s marvellous insight in her famous phrase the banality of evil and a very brief cursory look at the mind of the Nazis.

There is much more that could be written. I should at some later stage like to comment on Eric Voegelin’s famous 1964 lectures on the rise of Nazism and how a people of such a wonderful if flawed nation allowed the rise of Nazism with all its resultant evils to come about in the first place. I should also like at some other time to discuss the Buddhist take on evil in the world. However, these accounts must wait for my wells to be at least a little full – they are decidedly dry now.

I will finish with what I consider the central point made by Susan Neiman in her wonderful book mentioned above, namely that the exploration of the reality of evil is in itself a marvellously broad and comprehensive task that approximates quite well, if not fully and completely, to the very philosophical enterprise in itself. Such an exploration gets to the very heart of the matter, down to the real questions that arise in the minds of humankind as they attempt to make sense of their existence in this world as we know

Above I have placed a picture I took 3 or 4 years ago at Ionad an Bhlascaoid, Corca Dhuibhne, Contae Chiarrai. It is a picture of the sunlight entering by the window at the very end of the main corridor. There is light at the end of the tunnel, is there not?