Thursday, June 16, 2011

Variations on a Theme

They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt.

––Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose


Men never do evil as thoroughly or as joyfully as when they do it in the name of God.

––Blaise Pascal, quoted in The Monks of Tibhirine


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.

––C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock


RAHAB: Your war can’t be like any other war ever fought. It can’t be glorious, like all the other wars. It should be a war fought sadly, regretfully. You’re killing your brothers and sisters. If my people were attacking you, they wouldn’t see it that way, but you have to, you know better. Maybe this war is necessary; maybe God does require it. It’s still terrible.
JOSHUA: It’s easier, though, to glory in it. To trample every nagging doubt. Easier not to question.
RAHAB: It’s easier to kill me than to let me go.
JOSHUA: True. I thought I wanted it, war and death and violence. I thought I would find it glorious, though all to God’s glory.
RAHAB: But it’s not.
JOSHUA: No. He has a plan for us, and somehow that plan requires not just death and pain, but slaughter.
RAHAB: I don’t understand that either. And I’m frightened for you. People are going to hear of this. Your story is going to be told. Maybe even read about in books, generation after generation. Doesn’t that thought make you shudder? (JOSHUA turns away, disturbed.) It’s just so easy, people justifying to themselves, “Oh, God’s on our side. Oh, those horrible people are vile and vicious. Let’s wipe them all out.” I worry about it, evil done in your name.
JOSHUA: (A shocked pause, then an outburst.) Why do you do this to me? I never even considered that until now.
RAHAB: I knew men. What you’re doing tomorrow is the worst thing in the world. If God requires it, then maybe you have to obey, but it’s awful, and I think it’s going to be done again and again, and I think people are going to excuse themselves by saying God requires it, even when He doesn’t. I think you’re opening a door to horror and viciousness, and I know you have to open it, I’m even helping you open it, but please, while you do God’s will, find room in your heart for doubt.
JOSHUA: And now I’m filled with doubt, I’m nothing but doubt!
RAHAB: But is that so bad?
JOSHUA: I don’t know.
RAHAB: So spare me. Spare my ... family. And save yourself. From the worst excesses you think your God requires.

––Eric Samuelsen, The Plan


Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.

––Bertrand Russell

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