Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Unpainted Theology

As he frequently does, Jason Rosenhouse poses a revealing and fruitful question, this time in reply to yet another instance in which a god-botherer (Andrew Sullivan) drops old names in lieu of making good arguments. Rosenhouse starts off with sarcasm but finishes solidly:

[I]f you express in a blog post or in an e-mail the view that the problem of evil and suffering poses some problems for Christianity, you are required to discuss the musings of various long-dead theologians on the matter. As another of Sullivan's correspondents pointed out, one wonders why Kierkegaard and Niebuhr had to revisit the issue if those early folks had already polished it off.
Here, here. If Kierkegaard (d. 1855) and Niebuhr (d. 1971) added insights to those already made centuries before by reputed titans of Christian thought such as Augustine and Aquinas, doesn't one of these follow?
  1. Augustine, Aquinas, and other foundational Christian thinkers left substantial theological work undone, in which case even the most erudite Christians between their time and Niebuhr's were deficient in the theological understanding that Sullivan finds so priceless today; or
  2. The latter-day theologians had nothing of consequence to add to the early ones, in which case Sullivan has accused them of plagiarism or a kindred form of fraud even as he demands they be read; or
  3. Sullivan has acknowledged that Christian theology, on the whole, has been a centuries-long slapdash patchwork on which roughly 100 generations have pissed away some very sharp minds without arriving at anything definite: Augustine chewed at it, and later on Aquinas chewed it, and then this guy and that guy and these other guys came along and gnawed some more, but after all these centuries, it's a thudding hodge-podge, the proper response to which, I gather, is to make sure to have read all of it before presuming to say anything about any of it. Curious.
Of course, Sullivan and like-minded god-botherers could cut through the above by simply making the arguments he has in mind rather than belching forth names. Rather than rolling eyes, sighing, and accusing atheists of inattention to the collected works of Augustine, Niebuhr, and every theologian inbetween, he could state specifically what has been overlooked, or at least reiterate the broad outlines.

Long story short: the problem of evil does not vanish by gesturing vaguely toward a thick stack of theology books, no matter how famous the authors' names.


Kringle said...

Your blog is well thought out in its philosophical and theological musing.... Perhaps too there are issues of free will and additional issues that come into the question. ... I too am mindful of our finite humanity in conceptualization as too perhaps there is a bigger picture no one has yet had the ability to conceptualize. Thanks for the post

Dale said...

Kringle, thanks for the comment. Certainly there is much to be said about theodicy and I don't claim to have canvassed it fully here. I do think it's a genuine problem for Christian theology, one that its best-regarded thinkers have failed to overcome.