The Writers Voice
Barry N. Rodgers
The Acropolis. Phil knew nothing about the passage of time between visits with the committee. Only fragments of the location and the discussions remained intact within his mind, if not always accessible to him. But he seemed to always recognize his surroundings as being part of his journey to meet with the committee. Again, the Parthenon, and again he toured the Acropolis, pausing to gaze upon the Aegean Sea before entering the temple. This time the exalted ones were in the cella waiting patiently for their pupilís arrival. The light in the sanctuary burned Philís eyes and the air was so pure he swooned.
"So, you have returned young one," Augustine announced with joy. "You must allow us to finish our discussion, lest we old fossils fall prey to the ravages of age and begin speaking more from senility than experience."
Phil smiled and nodded out of reverence for the gathering of great men. He knew Augustine spoke facetiously, for these men were beyond the reach of both time and senility. "I apologize for making you wait for me," Phil said, "but I lack control over whatever power it is that brings me to you, and removes me from you."
"Please," said Dante, "no apology is necessary as we have no place nor duty calling us that would make waiting for you an impatient prospect. So, shall we continue?"
"I believe that our discussion was ended - resolved," said Nietzsche sternly. "It is now a matter for the young one to either act on, or not; and whatever we might have to say is, and should be, of no consequence."
"I disagree," Phil asserted. Nietzsche smiled and raised an eyebrow. He admired the fire that must still be burning deep within Philís soul, and he hoped that a lively debate would ensue. Nietzsche thrived on lively debate. "Then by all means, let us carry on," he said with a laugh.
Phil turned to face Aquinas, Augustine and Dante, knowing that Nietzsche would both scoff at the issue he wished to raise, and interject his opinion, as he felt compelled to do so. Nietzsche was neither short on opinions, nor boldness for speaking them, and Phil respected him for his honest, if not agreeable, nature.
"I am still troubled," Phil said, "by the insistence on your part that God exists in some tangible form, outside of the mind of the human species. I grant you the possibility, but possibility is insufficient for faith, as you have described faith, and possibility does not substantiate or offer proof."
"Well enough, young one, but to accept the possibility of a thing is necessary before the foundation of faith or belief can begin to be lain," said Dante.
"And to concede that God is possible is tantamount to accepting that humanity has a need for Him," added Augustine.
"Perhaps, but I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for why evil does not negate any notion of a supreme being, God." Phil said, "This is the major stumbling block to my faith, to my ability to transcend from accepting the possible, to believing the aforethought impossible."
"But surely you know of the response we set forth centuries ago pertaining to this very matter," Aquinas declared, waving a hand to include Augustine.
"Yes, I have studied both of your writings and I accept that producing good from evil is an impressive feat, but it does not explain how such an omnipotent being would allow His creatures to suffer in the interim, waiting for Ďthe goodí to manifest itself - and often waiting in vain." A dark silence fell upon the group, and Phil thought for an instant that he might have pushed things a bit too far; but he underestimated his mentorsí talents for debate.
"Ha! It would seem our young student is no slave of mind to his masters," Nietzsche exclaimed. "You have struck upon the Achillesí tendon of their argument my friend, and now watch as the wheels of their collective intelligentsia machine begin to turn. One can almost smell the rust and grinding metal as the old contraption is called upon to churn out a satisfactory reply!"
Phil was neither amused, nor did he harbor pride in having seemingly stumped his teachers. This was no game to him. He had questions, real questions about life and death; and Nietzscheís arrogance began to irritate him. The pause was excruciating and Phil feared that he had caused the end of his relationship with the committee. This would be devastating.
"Forgive our silence," said Augustine, "but your comments are deserving of more than passing attention. It is apparent that you have graduated to a higher plane of thought. You are, of course, quite correct. Further explanation is called for."
"You raise an interesting, albeit an old dilemma," said Aquinas. "If God exists, and if He is the source of all goodness, then how can He allow His creation, humanity in particular, to suffer? Disease, famine, murder, rape, theft, war, would all seem to discount the goodness of God; but I beg you, listen to one possible explanation for the existence of such evil before you dismiss all notions pertaining to the existence of a loving God."
"Be ready boy, here comes the product of centuries of contemplation; the wisdom of the ages," scoffed Nietzsche. Phil gave him a contemptuous glance, and then turned his attention back to the other three men.
"Please, give me your explanation. I need to know what you know, in spite of my doubts I want to believe in something. I want to possess the kind of faith that you possess. Or else I want to be so certain otherwise that I am no longer tormented by possibilities. I am seized with indecision and uncertainty as it is at present," Phil said. Nietzsche shook his head, but winked his approval of Philís sincerity.
"If nothing else, you are sincere in your quest for faith, God, or confidence in the nonexistence of such metaphysical chimera. I applaud your devotion to the search for Ďtruth,í even though I think you a fool to search so vigorously for that which is nowhere to be found," said Nietzsche. The others gave Nietzsche various nods and gestures of acknowledgment, and then proceeded with the discussion at hand.
"To begin, we must return to the beginning," said Aquinas, "for if we want to truly know a thing, then we must familiarize ourselves with its history, its origin."
"Aquinas, do not evade this young mortalís query by summoning your scholarly jargon and miasma to confuse and confound him. He is too smart for such nonsense, and will not be duped!" warned Nietzsche.
"I have no intention of doing anything other than offering this seeker of knowledge an explanation - one which he has requested of us," Aquinas said abruptly and resolutely.
"Let us assume for the sake of argument that we all agree, God exists," asserted Aquinas, "and let us furthermore assume that He is a loving God. The next premise is easily accepted; that evil does exist, and that it is prevalent among all societies, cultures and groups of humans known to us now, and in the past.
"As I said, it is important to consider the origin of a thing if knowledge, or truth, of the thing is eventually to be ascertained. Now, as I have said before, the existence of evil does not disprove Godís existence, but rather, it is support for believing that He does exist. God allows evil to exist so as to magnify good, or, to show how He can make good come from evil. But this, as you have said, is an insufficiently compelling argument..."
"And so we must consider," Augustine interjected, "that it is equally plausible that evil exists so that people may have a choice; to do good is to choose God, while doing evil is to deny God."
"Yes, I understand, but how does this prove that God exists? So far you have only made arguments that require one to accept Godís existence before proof of Him might be accepted..." said Phil.
"Ha! That is exactly the point young mortal! They can only prove His existence by demanding that you accept Him a priori to any arguments of proof! Once you have granted them the gigantic assumption of His existence, then what is left but to lead you down the garden path toward total surrender of your own self," Nietzsche chided.
"Please, allow us to continue, and then you may hurl your accusations and libelous remarks in our direction," said Augustine. Nietzsche turned his back to the group and mumbled to himself.
"By all means, continue," said Phil. "I did not mean to interrupt except to understand your argument better."
"Your observation is a fair one," said Aquinas, "and I will concede that we are asking much of you when we ask that you accept Godís existence without dispute; but as you will soon see, this is a necessary Ďevil,í if you will, given the nature of what you have asked us to prove. We might just as well have taken the antithesis of this argument and asked that you accept the assumption that God does not exist; but having begun, we will continue in the direction which we started. Now, where were we . . . ah, yes. Choice . . . choices carry with them natural consequences, whether we acknowledge them or not."
"Very good, Aquinas," said Augustine, "and taking this argument back to the origin of evil for humans - for, as has been said, understanding the origin of a thing renders a more complete understanding - consider the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They had a choice between doing as God wanted, and doing as God forbade..."
"Yes! This is a very important point," Dante interrupted. "Doing as God wanted had the natural consequence of Adam and Eve remaining in the garden forever, free of worry, shame, guilt, or any of the other fulsome, oppressive emotions that the human species has come to know so well."
"And electing to ignore Godís wishes," said Phil, "also carried natural consequences. Yes, I see your point; but I still fail to see how this proves Godís existence. So far it only proves the existence of consequences."
"That is the beginning of evil," said Aquinas. "What were the consequences for Adam and Eveís choice?"
"Well," replied Phil, "they were expelled from the garden, Eve was cursed with suffering the pains of childbirth, and . . ."
"And they were forced to work the land, rough terrain at best, in order to survive," said Augustine.
"Is this evil?" asked Phil.
"It was the genesis of evil in that the things that happened to Adam and Eve were what humans would normally refer to as bad," said Aquinas. "Especially when contrasted with the goodness of the garden of Eden."
"Evil, then, is anything that causes human suffering, pain, anguish, angst, worry, guilt, and so forth. Evil is that which the human species abhors, disdains, fights against, and attempts to overcome during the course of mortal life. Do we agree on this basic definition?" asked Augustine. Phil nodded in agreement, as did Dante, Aquinas, and even Nietzsche.
"Given this, it is difficult to imagine why God created humans," said Aquinas, "but it is evident by His behavior that He looked upon them as His children. When Cain murdered his brother, Abel, God did not retaliate by taking Cainís life; rather, He chastised him, punished him by banishment, and commanded that no one else should retaliate against or kill Cain. If we take this parent-child analogy one step further, it is possible to perceive of the human race as a child, growing and maturing over time, hopefully learning the lessons of life and of peaceful cohabitation. When a child commits an inappropriate act, even a murder, the child is not treated as an adult; and so neither was the human race.
"Lessons were learned the hard way most of the time, by experiencing first-hand how cause-effect relationships operate. For every act there is a consequence, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not so pleasant, and sometimes deadly. Perhaps in the grand scheme of human existence on Earth you are now living in the adolescent stage of life, and so, you and people of your time are struggling to do that which is right. God, the parent, must allow His creatures, humans, to make their own choices and suffer the consequences of those choices, just as some parents are forced by good nature to do with their troublesome children, in order to provide the opportunity for them to gain knowledge and wisdom.
"Rather than perceiving of God as some sort of supreme administrator of punishment, it seems more likely that the evil perpetrated on the human race is in fact caused by the human race; and not necessarily done with intent or awareness of the potential for harm." Aquinas paused and appeared weary to Phil, although he did not think such was possible.
"Wars are waged," said Augustine, "when communication fails, or when greed exceeds compassion. People kill, murder, steal, and generally mistreat others for similar reasons. Does God cause such evil? If God were to intervene every time some bad thing was about to occur, then would this not revoke humanityís right to choose its own course of action? Would this not also negate any progress made by humanity, with respect to issues involving human interaction?"
Phil did not reply, but the argument made sense to him. He looked to Nietzsche for any sign of impending refutation and saw that he appeared contemplative. Perhaps, thought Phil, he too thinks that this argument is a sensible one.
"If someone thrusts his hand into an open flame," said Augustine, "it is usually not the case that God is blamed for the resulting burn; but a burn received from putting oneís hand into a flame is every bit as much an evil, and a natural consequence, as the destruction caused by strong winds. And humans are forever blaming God for losses sustained by such natural events. It would appear that humans are quite willing to accept responsibility for small evils, but not when large evils occur."
"This is typical of humans, this propensity to blame others, to deflect responsibility for actions resulting in dire consequences," said Dante. "If some despot raises an army, launches assaults on neighboring countries, murders millions of men, women and children, and subsequently plunges the world into global war, is God responsible for such a manís actions? Or is humanity as a whole responsible for allowing such a tyrant to rise to power and threaten the existence of all life on the planet? I ask you, who is responsible?"
"People," said Aquinas, "may choose to do good or evil, and they may also choose to be passive, consequentialistic actors, only reacting when acted upon; or they may choose to be participants, dynamic players, taking active roles and attempting to shape their own destinies. Free will may not exist in terms of a will without limitations - for physical laws at the very least limit people - but within the boundaries of human existence there are options regarding different courses of action available. The individual choice to think and act responsibly - or not - is evidence of this limited human will. And it is crucial to any future acquisition of knowledge - in matters of what is Ďgoodí and Ďbadí for humankind - that humanity accept responsibility for its actions, learn from its mistakes, and not confuse scientific discovery with excuses for immoral or illegal actions."
"So you are saying that God knows of the evil among humanity, but because he wants humanity to choose its own course, He does not intervene, regardless of how bad the consequences," Phil replied cautiously.
"Exactly! You do understand," Aquinas said enthusiastically. "Responsibility must be acknowledged by all, otherwise there will always be doubt as to where evil comes from and why humanity must suffer."
"Humanity is to blame," Nietzsche said pensively. "And that is the crux of your proof of God?"
"No, no, no, dear Nietzsche," replied Dante. "You have misunderstood. Blame is not the issue. Although all humanity must learn to accept responsibility, this does not mean that all are guilty of intentional harm. It is simply a matter of comprehending the importance of consequences. The lesson to be learned is that humanity should expect consequences to all actions, and when responsibility is slack or non-existent, then expect dire consequences. Sometimes there will be one, or ones, to blame, and other times there will not; but there will always be consequences. Blame, in the final analysis, is of no utility.
"The human race then," said Nietzsche, "is as bound by the consequences of its actions, collectively, as a group of survivors stranded in a life-boat adrift at sea. Should one member of the group decide to rock the boat or consume more than his fair share of food and water rations, then everyone in the boat will suffer the consequences... hmm, interesting." Nietzsche raised an eyebrow, stroked his chin, and stared at the floor. Phil remained silent, anxiously awaiting the outcome of Nietzscheís contemplation.
"Had I heard such an argument from men less self-pious than you three, I might receive it with less contempt," said Nietzsche, with a rising anger in his tone, "however, given that you are who you are, I fear that my suspicious nature begs that I inquire as to what motive or motives you three old women might have for rendering such a speech, and for trying to persuade the young mortal of the existence of an entity that none of us has ever met or seen; and we do not possess any knowledge more profound than the most erudite or pious mortal might possess. In short, sirs, I am compelled to dismiss your argument on the grounds of its source. It is a matter of credibility, of which I do not believe any of you possess even a modicum." Nietzsche crossed his arms in defiance, glaring at his three ethereal peers.
"Would you not accept wisdom wherever you might find it, sir?" asked Aquinas of Nietzsche.
"I would not! Wisdom from fools is no wisdom at all!" he huffed.
"But wisdom is wisdom, is it not?" Phil asked. Nietzscheís tolerance was much greater for Philís questions than for the others.
"Perhaps, but wisdom may appear in one guise, when in truth it is something more nefarious."
"Now who is offering confusion to the mortal?" quipped Augustine.
Nietzsche shot a fiery glance at Augustine, and spoke to Phil. "Listen, mortal. Wisdom is not to be acquired by words, but rather by experience. Words may serve as indicators of wisdom, but they themselves are not wisdom, for if they were, then a good argument would persuade all, regardless of the speaker or the audience. But as you well know, often a good argument is made for naught. Emotions must be considered along with logic, and then there is experience..."
"But they have made a most persuasive case for Godís existence, even in the face of evil," Phil asserted.
"Yes they have, but in order for their argument to be effective you must show conviction of belief in what they have said. Do you feel such conviction?"
Phil started to respond, but caught himself before speaking. He wanted to feel such conviction, but it was not within him. Everything he had heard made sense, and yet Nietzsche was right.
There must be something lacking, either within himself or with his illustrious masters.
"Wisdom. What is wisdom?" he asked, but no sooner had the words left his lips than he was abruptly yanked from the metaphysical plane back into the world of clones, street people, and death. He would have to wait for another day in court before any more of his questions might be answered.
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