Paul Johnson: carried away as with a flood

The catastrophic tsunami in the Indian Ocean gave many of us reason to crack open the dictionary and reacquaint ourselves with the term ‘theodicy’. Crooked Timber‘s Brian Weatherson, for example, saw in the catastrophe an opportunity to discuss the ‘problem of evil’ (i.e., given the manifest existence of evil in the world, is it not correct to say that God, if he exist, may be all-good, or all-powerful, but in any event cannot be both?).

Now that is is a very proper thing for a philosopher to discuss. As for me, though, I have never found the problem of evil very interesting, as it seems to presume that God plays a much more direct role in the day-to-day running of the world than I think he does.

But this is not the place to explore my unorthodox religious views. I wish instead to consider the religious views of Paul Johnson, which are presumably much more orthodox than my own and are at any rate, I think, far more offensive. For Johnson regards the tsunami from the perspective of classical theodicy, and concludes that it was a Good Thing.

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Halfway There

This spring, the German newspaper whose web site isn?t quite as bad as another?s began publishing a series of 50 Great Novels from the Twentieth Century. It?s an admirable project in many ways — not least a cover price of EUR 4.90 per hardback. Thirty-seven books have been published so far, and I?ve now read about half of the whole list. Which is as good a point as any for taking stock.

I haven?t quite read 25 of the 50, but let?s face it, with Deutschstunde (German Hour, Siegfried Lenz, no. 28) clocking in at nearly 800 pages, and hefty volumes such as Jorge Semprun?s What a Beautiful Sunday! (Was f?r einen sch?nen Sonntag, no. 17) and Juan C. Onetti?s The Short Life (Das kurze Leben, no. 11), it?s going to be quite a while before I manage all of them.
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On ‘understanding’ evil

This post is a follow-up to the one below on Hannah Arendt and the notion of the banality of evil. I fear, from one or two of the comments, that the reservations I expressed about her arguments may have led to misunderstanding. My point was certainly not to suggest that one shouldn’t try to understand and explain why and how these horrors happen, how people can come to commit, or be indirectly involved in, them. This is why I said, for example:

We have to understand what they [the perpetrators] did precisely as a fact about the evil human beings can do. Not only were they not devils or monsters psychologically speaking; for the most part they were not even abnormally sadistic or inherently brutal, or killers ‘by nature’, and so forth.

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