PLENARY PAPER ABSTRACTS:
Evil, Betrayal and the Sacred Community
Using the work of Ranciere in his essay 'The Body of the Letter' I will explore the moment of betrayal as lying at the very heart of the liturgical community seeking salvation. In the Passsion Narratives, there are three necessary moments of betrayal: Judas' kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane: Peter's threefold denial of Christ at the trial – which is seen in the light of Jesus' betrayal of Peter's hopes and expectations; the 'betrayal' of the women running from the empty tomb 'because they were afraid' - also a moment of recognition. At the very heart of the liturgy we turn from the Sanctus - back to the specifics of 'On the night that he was betrayed...'
Shameless Medicine: When Physicians Do Evil in the Name of Empathy While medical ethics has traditionally considered the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence to be prima facie obligations, doing good is often professed as the physician's axiom of priority at a patient's bedside, particularly when empathy is invoked as the motivating emotion. This paper will present contemporary medical cases in which physicians offer empathy as the justifying reason for their conduct, despite obvious violence against patients and the therapeutic relationship. A distinction will be made between paternalistic empathy and shameless empathy, with the latter representing a more pernicious form of narcissism. Shamelessness and the impossibility of non-maleficence is contrasted with fitting forms of shame which both affirm the vulnerable other and refrain from harming her. A discussion follows about the implications for instructing physicians and patients about the limits of empathy in the healing profession.
Suicide: An Evil Deed or A Cry for Help?
The paper will begin with a brief overview of suicide, including how widespread the phenomenon is, why it happens, and how mental health professionals both try to prevent it and respond to it. Following this will be a phenomenological examination of the circumstances under which suicide may be viewed as a cry for help. In particular, the growing philosophical debate over 'rational suicide' will be explored. It is hoped that attendees will come to a better understanding of why suicide happens, what to do about it, and its relationship--if any--to the concept of evil.
Ways of Believing, from Bunyan to Butler
This paper takes John Bunyan and Bishop Joseph Butler as bookends of Dissent across the long-eighteenth century, exploring the ways we can understand their works as responses to evil in their day. Bunyan was a famous Puritan preacher, Baptist convert from Anglicanism, and later Dissenter, the best-selling author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Butler was the century’s most famous convert from Dissent to Anglicanism, and author of its most compelling apology for the Christian faith, Analogy of Religion. My claim is that both writers are intensely concerned with the difficulties and modes of believing in an increasingly consumer culture. I ultimately argue that a vibrantly theological and humanistic discussion of Bunyan and Butler models the kind of literary, theological conversation that can help us understand and respond to the evils of late-capitalism by helping us attend to the nature and necessity of believing and its ramifications in our contemporary culture.
Evil Rebranded: Consumerism, Beauty and the Re-Enchantment of
Suburbia in American Movies
In The Death of Satan, critic Andrew DelBanco links Americans’ loss of a strong sense of evil with the drying up of a typological imagination that saw nature as a book signifying transcendent meanings—the world, it seems, has been simultaneously disenchanted, and demoralized. I will interpret two films—American Beauty and Fight Club—which present a return both of evil and of typological vision. While the Puritan typological imagination saw a book of meanings behind the signs of history, which Edwards and the Transcendentalists extended to the book of nature, these two films present a kind of consumerist typology, treating consumer objects and lifestyle markers as a system of signs revealing human perfection or fulfillment. But if these films explore the transcendent meanings Americans assign to consumer objects, they do so largely to critique consumerism. I will explore the ways in which consumerism is treated as evil in American Beauty and Fight Club. This happens in part through a critique of idolatry—mistaking the object for the value it purports to represent—and so the protagonists of both films engage in a crusade against consumer symbols. The category of the demonic from Tillich will help show how consumers suffer distortions of vision and identity within the world re-enchanted by consumer typology. There is a way out of evil, particularly in American Beauty. Beauty functions as an alternative way to invest the world with meaning. Jonathan Edwards theorized beauty as a system of “mutual consents” between the mind and being, distinguishing between secondary beauty which agrees only with the observer, and primary beauty, which posits an agreement with the whole of being, ultimately identical with the mind of God. Similarly, in American Beauty the protagonist’s transformation has much to do with breaking out of the private or “single-observer” vision of his world, in order to achieve a vision of beauty that is wide enough to incorporate the moral claims of others and the value of ordinary things. By the end, beauty appears as a re-enchantment of ordinary life that is able to include consumer objects without distorting their significance.
Unwholly Matters: Understanding the Immanent Foundation of Evil
I will begin with a brief overview of the different ways that philosophers and theologians have related evil and materiality in order to inform and contextualize a definition of evil that exists on a wholly immanent, material level. I will then argue for the importance of this definition as a baseline for definitions of evil by showing how three traditional conceptions of evil presuppose what is revealed at the immanent level.
The paper starts by investigating the Neo-Platonic notion that material is inherently evil and illusory, extending this conception to show its influence in early Christian and Gnostic theology. Next, I’ll discuss the way that evil can be seen as a transcendent property where material provides the occasion for the manifestation of a transcendent evil power. In other words, matter can be seen as serving as an anti-hierophany, something able to be possessed by evil although it is not inherently such. Third, I will turn to Ricoeur to discuss the way that evil has a symbolic relationship with matter: in order to conceptualize the experience of evil and put it into language, we revert to material qualities such as burden and stain.
Finally, I will argue that, on a material level, evil is dis-integration as the absence of the possibility of integration, the incorporating of that which is un-wholly. This definition moves in two directions: on the one hand, because it allows for the natural function of death and decay as that which allows materiality to be re-integrated into a material ecosystem, it isolates the evil of certain substances (styrofoam or nuclear waste) that defies integration and thus can be said to manifest evil. The second prong of this definition will attend more closely to subjective human experience, examining torture and cancer as ways that the human body can become dis-integrated beyond repair. The principle of dis-integration will then be tested by showing its role as the central element in each of the three concepts of evil discussed earlier in the paper.
Thomas J. J. Altizer
Atonement and Evil
Buddhist and Christian understandings of evil are initially set forth, as a way of entering the primal subject here of the transfiguration of evil, a transfiguration of evil inseparable from atonement, and from the absolute atonement of the Godhead. Modernity issues in a unique understanding of atonement, as most clearly embodied in Nietzsche and Freud, and the Oedipus Complex enacts a death of the Father realizing a union with the Mother, a Mother who is ultimately the Mother of God. This is the Mother of God who is the Mediatrix of absolute atonement, but the evil which undergoes atonement is a deep mystery, and one only resolved by a radical genealogy. A radical genealogy was born with Buddhism, and it is reborn in Blake, Nietzsche, and Freud, genealogies decisively calling forth an absolute transfiguration of evil, and one which is ultimately absolute atonement, and the absolute atonement of God, as embodied in enactments of the Crucified God.
The Evil of My Own Being: Non-dualism and the Scope of Responsibility A range of developments in contemporary culture guide us to the recognition that evil has its source and existence within our world, rather than out beyond it--within our communities, within our very selves. Contemporary holistic and non-dual patterns of thinking in philosophy and religious studies, history and sociology, lead us to realize the evil of our own being. These meditations seek a fruitful way to understand the correlative character of good and evil, and pursue a response to that understanding that nurtures responsibility, effective practice, and unyielding affirmation of our finite existence.
Evil, Culture, and Agency
Many people will alter their characterization of an action as evil if they learn that the perpetrator belongs to a culture that appears to endorse such actions. How, if at all, is cultural membership relevant to the assessment of an action as evil? How, if at all, does cultural membership affect an agent’s responsibility in performing evil actions? I will argue that there is no reason to regard cultural endorsement of actions, in and of itself, as relevant to either questions of evil or of responsibility, and that doing so has harmful moral and practical consequences.
The Road to Hell: Contemporary Evil and the Problem of Intention This paper attempts to challenge two features of contemporary reflection on evil. The first is the tendency to focus discussions of evil on the large-scale horrors of the past century. A short list of events that are routinely identified as evil includes genocides (the Holocaust, Rwanda), massacres (My Lai), terrorist attacks (9/11), torture (Abu Ghraib), rape camps (the Yugoslav war), and the list could easily be expanded. Without denying that such events or actions qualify as evil, or suggesting that we have nothing further to learn from them, I contend that the problem with limiting our reflection to such instances is that it allows us to sequester evil from ordinary experience, to distance ourselves from the threat it poses, and to deny that we ourselves could ever be its perpetrators. One aim of the paper, therefore, is to propose an expansion of the data that might be considered relevant to a discussion of evil. Specifically, I propose that the harms associated with what Susan Neiman calls “slow ecological disaster” might be a candidate for such reflection.
The second feature of contemporary reflection that the paper seeks to challenge is the tendency to assume that evil is the product of will or of malicious intentions (as the title of this conference seems to suggest). Again, without denying that many forms of evil are the product of both malice and forethought and are thus unquestionably intentional, I contend that further attention should be directed to cases in which severe harms are perpetrated in the apparent absence of malicious intentions—the type of case Hannah Arendt famously and controversially referred to as the banality of so-called desk murderers like Adolph Eichmann. In this case, too, I propose that environmental issues might serve as an appropriate test case for applying the label “evil” to harms that are inflicted without malice or forethought—literally “thoughtlessly,” e.g., by ordinary consumers such as ourselves.
This paper is undertaken in an exploratory and pedagogical spirit. My aim is not so much to insist that environmental harms should necessarily qualify as evil, or to assert a moral equivalence between the ordinary consumer and a mass murderer like Eichmann. Rather, my aim is to help to dispel the peculiar and oft-noted inarticulacy that often attends discussions of evil, particularly in the undergraduate classroom, by proposing an example from within our current, ordinary horizon of experience. I also intend the paper as a modest tribute to Susan Neiman’s book, Evil in Modern Thought, from which I have derived both some of the inspiration and substantial conceptual resources for this topic.
The Humanism of Evil
Given the horrors of the last century, it is tempting to see the problem of evil in terms of massive and mindless social systems and thus to reject any ethical or humanistic account of evil, its origin and horrid out-workings. This paper argues that it is important—even in the face of massive systemic evil—to keep the problem of evil as our human all-too human problem, a problem of the human mind, heart, and will. Only by insisting on the “humanism” of evil can we hope to make some modest attempt to respond to the suffering of victims and redress the wickedness that lurks in the human heart. Yet one difficulty in an “humanistic” account of evil, mindful of the evil done in the name of “humanity,” is to clarify the concepts best suited to an account of human faulty and evil. Is it through distorted loves? Is it a matter of the “will?” Does distinctly human evil arise from malicious intent? Various accounts have been given which, in various ways, seek to account of the reality of human acts of evil.
This lecture sets the discussion in context of debates about the adequacy of any “humanistic” account of evil. The challenge in hand, it then draws inspiration from the work of David Klemm and Paul Ricoeur about the connection between self-consciousness and evil. Working within the purview of the philosophy of subjectivity, to which Klemm and Ricoeur have made singular contributions, the paper seeks to show that we need a new conception of “conscience” in order to articulate the fully human depth of the problems of evil. Conscience, the paper argues, is the voice of the claim of others to the respect of their dignity and to the relief of suffering so that the aim or end of moral subjectivity is experienced as the founding, the origin, of subjectivity. It is to know oneself with (con-scientia) the lament of the sufferer and thus, under its negation, to affirm the intrinsic good of the integrity of human life. Evil, from this perspective, is the denial of the claim of conscience. It is the destruction of the very origin of moral subjectivity through the unjust demeaning and destroying of other’s lives. Not only does this argument revise previous conceptions of moral subjectivity and conscience, but it enables us to rethink the demand and possibility now open to people of good will in our global times. And, further, it alerts us to the ways in which massive social systems endanger the claims of conscience.
J. Sage Elwell
Beautiful Evil: Photographing Tragedy
On Tuesday, January 12th of this year a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked the small island nation of Haiti. The devastation was catastrophic. The capital city of Port au Prince was completely decimated. Over two hundred thousand buildings were leveled, an estimated one million people were left homeless, and more than two hundred thousand were killed.
Photojournalists arrived on the scene immediately following the quake. The images they captured were horrific. A shoeless girl wandering dazed through the rubble in search of her parents. Bodies pulled from collapsed buildings lying bloated and tangled in the streets. The magnitude of the carnage was impossible. Yet among these photographs of undeniable natural evil, some were undeniably beautiful.
What is the line between art and documentation? Can natural evil be beautiful? These are the questions this will paper will address. I begin by discussing the meaning of natural evil and presenting the catastrophe in Haiti as a prime example. I then review a large sampling of photographs by photojournalists sent to Haiti representing major media outlets to document the devastation. From these images I foreground five as examples of photographs that I argue cross the line from pure documentation into artistry by virtue of aesthetic beauty. Here I focus on the relationship between the beautiful and the sublime and suggest that these photographs work to transform the sublime into the beautiful. The question then becomes, can beauty contain and convey natural evil in the same way that the sublime can. Thus, based on these examples I critically probe the morality of beautiful evil.
I consider two opposing positions on this issue. The first holds that the beautification of evil is immoral because it trivializes the reality of evil. The second holds that it is moral because it enables the possibility of a more profound encounter with the horror of evil in a way that straightforward, documentary style photography cannot. Returning to the photographs of the earthquake in Haiti I argue for a position between these two. I conclude that the morality of beautiful evil must ultimately be judged according to the good it does for those who have suffered.
The use of paintings and drawings in Theology and Religious Studies
to challenge evil and suffering
The subject of this paper emerges out of my exploration of using art as a mechanism to contribute to the education process about evil and suffering on a Theology and Religious Studies degree. I began to reflect on how the use of academic writings and the traditional academic style of teaching can have substantial effects on our understanding of issues and may move some to reconsidering their world view and their own life-style. But academic teaching which uses only the written and spoken word when communicating about evil and suffering can also has it’s limitations. These limitations arise because the predominant mode of engaging and responding to the academic presentation of issues is predominantly through the intellect, through reason and considered opinion. Thus, an important part of how we learn and understand through our senses and emotions can be neglected.
During the past eighteen months alongside the more traditional academic approach I have included paintings and drawings by those who have witnessed, and have been the victims of conflict and war in my teaching in the context of modules on the Philosophy of Religion and Judaism with undergraduate students. Theoretically it seems plausible that art can assist in the transformation of attitudes and actions between conflicting parties. But empirically it appears more difficult to assess the effectiveness of art being used for this purpose, albeit to say that it is a fact that projects throughout the world where art is being used in the context of peace-building show that people who have been on either side of conflict, at least for the period of time in which they are involved in doing art seem to relate to each other in a positive and honest way.
This paper is not intended to provide empirical evidence of change in the students approach to issues of evil and suffering. The aim is to consider the verbal and emotional responses of these students as was expressed during and after module sessions in the context of the theory and debates on the role of art in social change, articulated by Herbert Marcuse, Susan Sontag and Karen Stone.
A Covenant with Hell: William Lloyd Garrison’s Rhetorical Dance with the Devil The self-stylized messianic warrior William Lloyd Garrison portrayed the crusade to abolish slavery as nothing less than killing the devil. He minced no words about his unyielding belief “That the compact which exists between the North and the South is a ‘covenant with DEATH and an agreement with HELL’—involving both parties in atrocious criminality—and should be immediately annulled.” Despite initial quarrels with angry ministers represented in a group letter drafted by the General Association of Massachusetts Congregational Clergy, Garrison routinely condemned northerners for moral depravity, and cast his crusade as a holy road to redemption. Yet he himself was embattled in controversy over his overly harsh treatment of the clergy, and thus branded a heathen to the extent that fellow abolitionists like Lydia Marie Child felt compelled to publicly explain and excuse his railings against them on his behalf.
If Garrison was not accusing unionist northerners of tacitly endorsing slavery and thus making a “covenant with DEATH and HELL,” he was reveling in the fearsome and intimidating public persona he had forged through the press. “Men shall either like or dislike me,” he declared, joyfully affirming his notorious status, taking special pleasure in the shock of visitors realizing they were speaking to the maligned editor of the Liberator. “They had almost imagined me to be in figurine a monster of huge and horrid proportions,” he said. “But now finding me without a single horn, they take me cordially by the hand, and acknowledge me a ‘marvelous proper man.’” A savage in the public eye feared and loathed by his enemies yet a gentleman in person and at home was, interestingly, precisely the dominant, larger-than-life persona in the market Garrison had forged through his favorite tropes of hell, fire, and the devil. My purpose is to explore Garrison’s paradoxical use of these tropes in the construction of his own messianic public image that constantly profaned sacred national symbols to express his support of disunion with the South as a higher form of moral purity. Garrison was glad to be the horned devil, because it invited reevaluations of evil and morality at the core of his abolitionist crusade.
Sarah Otto Marxhause
Only Rome Can Save Us Now: Theology and Contemporary Hollywood Horror The study of horror cinema is rewarding largely because of what it reveals about a society’s fears and definitions of evil, although the filmic depictions of these problems are almost necessarily metaphorical and reductive, often to the point of absurdity. Because of their focus on both mundane and supernatural evil, horror films also tend to include religion and religious concerns to a greater degree and in a different capacity than other mainstream genres. This paper will argue that the depiction of religion in these films is problematic – not because of the oversimplification involved in its presentation, but because of the demands it makes about what it means for religion to be important or efficacious. Frequently, the only religion of reference is Christianity, and the cinematic depiction of Christianity is nearly always reduced metonymically to a version of Catholicism, or to a sloppy, indeterminate ecumenicalism – crucifixes and holy water, for example, are employed against vampires without an interrogation into the relevant theology that makes these items meaningful. Several factors work to produce this effect, among them the American horror film’s strong dependence on visual effects, horror’s roots in the Gothic tradition, and the highly commercial nature of the genre. The worrying result of this collapse – of Christianity into Catholicism, and of Catholicism into a wholly works-based and frequently empty reduction of itself – is that ultimately faith is collapsed into magic. What is potentially most disturbing in terms of this trend is the way in which might seems to make right – religion in horror films is only important when it can provide recognizable results in terms of survival. When both good and evil sides of the supernatural equation are reduced to questions of magic rather than questions of faith, it bodes poorly as a reflection as the way American audiences are expected understand the purpose and effects of religion on a more realistic scale. James Carter
[E]vil is above all what ought not to be…what must be fought against. (Paul Ricoeur, “Evil, A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology”)
At the heart of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical project is a profound struggle with the inscrutable nature of radical evil. While the irruption of evil – enacted and suffered – perpetually scars the lived experience of all human persons and societies, its origin remains troublingly elusive.
Ricoeur’s insistence that victims of evil cannot be silenced with impoverished attempts at rational explanation provokes an urgent question: faced with the challenge of evil, what is to be done? Do we simply concede that it is beyond our power to respond to this opaque phenomenon, accepting it as an inevitable perversion that necessarily plagues our lives? The answer, for Ricoeur, is an emphatic no. He is that despite human fault, human goodness must be understood as anterior to the emergence of evil. Evil must be confronted as that which ‘ought not to be’; and we must take it upon ourselves to respond.
This paper will appropriate Ricoeur’s response to the challenge of evil as one of action, or praxis. This constitutes two distinct (though not unrelated) moves. The first involves a response to evil acts themselves, to the suffering that accompanies these events, employing the important device of memory, acts of mourning, and a distinctly religious act of defiance - an avowal to ‘believe in God in spite of evil.’ The second involves an active, moral response, fuelled by the unwavering hope that evil can be ‘fought against’ and, ultimately, overcome.
These two moves genuinely reflect Ricoeur’s conviction that evil demands to be challenged not only in thought, but in practice. Always critical of the tendency of theoretical theodicies to reduce the experience of evil to the level of the explicable, Ricoeur finds recourse in religion not as a reflective discipline, but rather as a real power in the world (a power that is manifest in forms of religious discourse and ritual action); it is this belief, in part, which grounds his hope that it can triumph over the force of evil.
Kandinsky's Avant-Garde Arsenal: The Use of Hidden Christian Imagery in the Battle against Materialism By the early twentieth century, the advent of European industrial capitalism had created a culture of consumerism in which the materialistic impulse had permeated even the most sacred of institutions. High art, it would seem, was in jeopardy of succumbing to mass production and commodification, threatening to diminish the status of the artist to simply a manufacturer of goods. Wassily Kandinsky wrote about the era as a time of spiritual decay in which humankind, blinded by the glut of material distractions, had lost its way. For Kandinsky, the artist represented humanity’s best hope for salvation, and he conceived of his art as a vehicle through which to ignite a spiritual awakening. In this paper, I discuss the ways in which Kandinsky employed traditional Christian imagery in his artwork as a weapon of total cultural reformation. He believed that the visual reclamation of traditional religious motifs would be comprehensible at a visceral level, stimulating the dormant spiritual impulses of the masses. The most famous example of this appropriated imagery was Kandinsky’s iconic figure of the horse and rider. Inspired by a popular depiction of St George from early Russian woodblock prints, Kandinsky reinterpreted the image to reflect his own self-professed role as a twentieth-century prophet and crusader. I also examine his use of hidden apocalyptic imagery in his later abstract work. Although sometimes barely legible, Kandinsky’s use of religious iconography was intended to appeal to cultural memory and therefore did not require any specific knowledge of Christian mythology on the part of the viewer. Through this dynamic inversion of religious symbols, Kandinsky attempted to combat the evils of materialism, and to reestablish the cultural authority of the artist. This paper is part of my ongoing research in the area of avant-garde resistance to commodity culture in Europe and Russia. Nathan Eric Dickman
Can a “Buddhist” Self-destruct? The Challenge of “Anatman”
for Tillich’s Ontology of Evil
This presentation is neither about Tiger Woods' recent public exposure, nor is it about Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation. This is, rather, a purely theoretical investigation into the conditions of the possibility of self-destruction, bringing to light certain features of Tillich's analysis of evil by way of the early Buddhist concept of "anatman." In Tillich’s philosophical anthropology, the human self is composed of a set of ontological polarities: freedom and destiny, individuation and participation, dynamics and form. Essentially, these ontological elements harmonize, but under the conditions of existence, various “threats of non-being” continually tug at that integration, forcing the self to react and respond with courage and faith. This effort to integrate all the polar elements is not always up to the task, however. And such cases, for Tillich, mark our propensity toward and our susceptibility to evil. The principle form evil takes in human action is self-destruction. “Evil” is, for Tillich, the “structure of destruction.” We have inherited from Buddhism, however, the notion of “an?tman,” or “no self.” The soteriological significance of an?tman lies in its contribution to liberating sentient beings from the utter dissatisfactoriness of life. For the Buddha, there is ultimately no one to cling to things and there is nothing to which to cling. Whatever nominal sense of self we have is a byproduct of fundamental sets of conditions. That is, the self dependently emerges (pratityasamutpada). In this, the Buddha and those after him sought to navigate between what he called “eternalism” and “annihilationism” with regard to the self. It is not that there is a substantial self or that there is no self whatsoever. Instead, emerging from conditions is a nominal “self” or set of interrelations which we call, by convention, a self. Taking this self as something more or something less than this results in suffering. It is here that I identify a rift between Tillichian and Buddhist philosophical anthropology. Is suffering preserved and yet redeemed in our essential finitude, as it is for Tillich, when by way of faith we are enabled to realize our essential finite selfhood? Or is suffering instead identifiable with finitude, an expression of finitude as such, as it is for the Buddha, and so both suffering and finitude need to be transcended? Without an ideal of an integrated self as the background upon which the existential self can be seen as self-destructing via estrangement, then it seems that a “Buddhist” cannot in principle self-destruct. Kristin Niehof
The Long Outwaiting: Resistance to Evil in N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn The 1969 Pulitzer Prize went to Kiowa-Cherokee author N. Scott Momaday for House Made of Dawn, a novel that questions the nature of evil and how to resist it. This paper argues that the novel contrasts two methods of resisting evil by contrasting the ways in which the main character, Abel, and his grandfather Francisco respond to an evil albino character. The nature of the albino is a major question of the novel, mirroring questions about the nature of evil, and the text’s silence in reference to this character speaks of the inscrutability of evil. Other characters’ responses to the albino reveal their understandings of evil, and the narrative comments on the appropriateness of their responses. Abel kills the albino but fails to eradicate evil, whereas Francisco contains evil by pronouncing a blessing. Abel’s misunderstanding of evil stems from his cultural dislocation—a result of political evil—and is corrected when he begins to participate again in Pueblo ceremonies.
The response to evil that the novel commends provides a response to cultural genocide that is based in Native agency rather than victimhood. Native critic Gerald Vizenor’s concept of “survivance” articulates this Native self-determination. He defines survivance as a “sense of native presence over absence, nihility, and victimry.” Victimhood strips agency from Native people; worse yet, it persuades them to discard it. As Karl Kroeber explains, “By accepting the Niehof 2white definition of themselves as victims, natives complete psychologically the not-quite-entirely successful physical genocide.” Though some critics have interpreted House Made of Dawn as an elegy for the vanishing Indian, the novel is actually directed against this psychological genocide.
Though racial tension is a major theme (for example, the albino is always referred to as “the white man”), the novel upsets simplistic readings that would draw the line between good and evil along racial lines. It proposes that Native peoples may best resist the evil they have endured and continue to endure by seeing evil as incorporated into their worldviews, to be resisted with their own cultural resources, rather than as an outside force. Ryan T. O’Leary
Displacement, Justification, & Ultimate Concern:
Christian Identity & the Theology of Hate Let us assume that the Nazis’ project of genocide was evil; and let us assume that hate groups which seek to continue that project somehow participate in that evil. This paper begins by suggesting that this evil can be seen as a human phenomenon centered on an ultimate concern, and that we can thus name it as religious. Moreover, as a human phenomenon, it can be understood along naturalistic terms, without need to posit any supernatural agency whatsoever to explain its existence. This essay traces the ways that the sources of the evil of organized, racialist hatred and violence can be understood as a natural, human phenomena through neurobiological and psychological theory. It classifies the religious elements of racialist hate groups such as the Christian Identity Movement as specifically apocalyptic and millennialist, and as such fundamentally and functionally religious, and suggests on that basis that the theology is central to the movement. Finally, it argues that, understood in these ways, the ultimate concern of such groups—insofar as they are religious—is not race but is in fact hatred itself. That is, focusing and sustaining hatred functions to satisfy the conditions of ultimate concern: fulfillment, surrender, and centering meaning. Finally, the essay concludes by asking the audience to consider the implications of such a theoretical approach for our understanding of what it means to use the term, “evil.” Ioana Patuleanu
Pantheism, the Picturesque, and the Nature of Evil
in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho
Ann Radcliffe’s depictions of picturesque landscapes in The Mysteries of Udolpho are usually considered to be elegant digressions that either anticipate or interrupt the Gothic plot, even when their role is to introduce Gothic elements – such as banditti or Montoni’s ominous castle. In this paper I will argue that Radcliffe’s picturesque descriptions in Udolpho do not offer the reader an escape from the horror of dark plots and Gothic objects, but, on the contrary, they are intimately linked to the root of evil in Radcliffe’s story: the breakdown of interpersonal relationships. Sandwiched between key moments in the novel, the sublime landscapes invoke the order of a rational universe, governed by a pantheistic divinity. Admiration for the ineffable beauty of the landscape distinguishes St. Aubert, his daughter Emily, as well as the sensitive Valancourt from characters who have no such sensibilities for natural spectacles and who are defined by Gothic arbitrariness and cruelty. My paper will argue that the impersonal pantheistic landscape is intimately connected to the main character’s fears of lurking evil rather than rising above it. I will analyze the failed quest to personalize the impersonal in a novel in which relationships are mediated by an impersonal pantheistic divinity. Michele Petersen
‘You are better than your actions’: Mediating Evil in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur in the Light of a Hermeneutics of Contemplative Silence The philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, challenges us to think our humanity indirectly through “composition” in the dialectic between “original affirmation” and “existential difference.” This combination of joy and sadness reveals a disproportion of the finite and infinite which makes evil possible. We appear as a synthesis—fragile mediators of reality who are forgetful of our origins. We traverse the “enigma” of evil in the “leap” from fallibility to fault, from the possibility of evil to its reality. Imaginatively, we can understand evil insofar as we understand good; goodness is even more primordial than badness. That we are fallible and “capable” of failing is due to our weakness—the limitation from which our “capacity” for evil derives; this is so “only” in “positing” it. In thinking our humanity we reflexively recognize ourselves as we understand the words of responsive phrases such as “there is forgiveness,” or “you are better than your actions.” A hermeneutics of contemplative silence as existence understands, and more and more continually so, that we are better than our actions. Contemplative silence manifests a mode of being and a kind of thinking which can express and reveal the depth of language. There is a concomitant awareness of the depth of reality and the reality of depth. Its primary focus is in transforming reflexive consciousness: In changing our relationship to language we change our relationship to ourselves, and integrally so. This creative, poetic discursive genre is responsive to expressions of evil and injustice. It acknowledges the sacredness of human thinking and yet, does not exceed knowledge and its limits, accords with Ricoeur’s idea of the future-directed orientation of our action as a task correlating with an origin to be revealed, and is attentive to the evocation and transformation of feeling and emotion that suffering arouses. It affords space, too, for movement between different (theological) contexts. Our act of interpretation and the transformation effected whereby we understand ourselves in a new way and recognize ourselves in a new light is for giving ourselves to ourselves for the sake of others.
Evil and Religious Experience: an Interpretation of the Works of C.D. Friedrich
through the Thought of Schelling and Schleiermacher Caspar David Friedrich's works incorporate a number of Schleiermacher's theological understandings. For example, Friedrich's frequent depictions of intimate foreground settings against the backdrop of expansive backgrounds mirrors Schleiermacher's sense of religious experience as the occurrence of the infinite in the finite. Also, Friedrich often places a central figure in a painting who is seemingly transfixed before the landscape. This is similar to Schleiermacher's view of religious experience: an intuition or feeling which is brought about by the living universe's activity upon the receptive individual.
However, there is one particular aspect of Friedrich's works that seems difficult to account for through Schleiermacher's thought. Friedrich often portrays nature as inclusive of dark abysses, disjunctive spaces, and foggy expanses. This repeated seemingly chaotic and forbidding theme runs counter to Schleiermacher's commitment that lawful natural order is what appeals to religious understanding. Thus it seems plausible to account for this aspect of Friedrich's paintings through Schelling's philosophy which does emphasize the abyssal in nature.
I present an interpretation of Friedrich's works which incorporates the thought of both Schleiermacher and Schelling. I propose that Friedrich accepts Schleiermacher's view that religious experience is the encounter of the individual with the living universe. However, I further propose that the forbidding and unsettling abysses in Friedrich's works borrow from Schelling's understanding of nature as both ordered and chaotic, light and dark. As Schelling argues, the individual is endowed by nature with similar light and dark principles, and each person must choose how to order them. A proper ordering results in good, while an imbalance results in evil. Thus, this interpretation of Friedrich's works maintains that while the religious experience is one of beauty and order, it occurs against the backdrop of disorder and chaos. Further, religious experience, for Friedrich, is one in which the individual comes face to face with the light and darkness of nature and is reminded of responsibility for how he or she will order these similar principles within himself or herself: the individual is reminded that he or she must make a choice for good or evil. Binita Mehta
Byzantine Iconography: A Paradigm for Epistemic Non-Violence In this paper, I argue that contemplation of an icon, created according to the principles of Byzantine iconography, facilitates a mode of knowing, which when employed in relation to the other allows one to develop authentic relationships with the other. I show that whereas discursive thinking disallows one to understand the other on his/her own terms, in this mode of knowing, which I term as intuition, one comes to apprehend the other in the wholeness of their inner life.
I look at two particular aspects of Byzantine iconography. First is the concept of inverse perspective which induces the beholder to open her interior space and resonate with that which the icon portrays. The second is the non-empirical organization of space founded upon the totality of spiritual meaning. The beholder comes to see the depicted objects in multiple perspectives and achieves a synthetic understanding about them. The icon places an existential demand on the spectator. One cannot simply look at it with material eyes, for on a purely material or naturalistic level, it presents itself as incoherent. In order to appreciate the meaning of the icon, the spectator must undergo a transformation and in her being experience the set of existential qualities that the icon symbolizes.
Such a contemplative encounter with an icon is a mode of intuition where one participates in the subjectivity of the other. Here I also discuss the notion of detachment based upon Hindu and Buddhist ideas and argue that an outlook of detachment is embedded in the intuitive mode and that this assures the objectivity of its viewpoint. Now discursive, scientific thinking is supposedly “detached,” too, due to the fact that an observer is existentially removed from the object of study. But I show that the notion of detachment involved in intuition differs fundamentally from how “detachment” is ordinarily employed, and that intuitive detachment frees oneself from any desire for power or dominance in a relationship and leads to the cultivation of compassionate understanding and care for the other. Hai Wang
Evil and Action of Literature
Our thinking and questions on evil are to a large extent metaphysical and in doing so we tend to equate evil with the outside, the unfathomable and the other, and in this way we not only refuse to face evil but also do succeed in making the other into an unchangeable evil in practice by our own hands. Literature is an action without action, or a weak action without force facing evil. However, just because of its weakness it might deconstruct the metaphysics and undercut the base of the vicious circle of violence against violence, evil against evil which would drag everyone into evil. The action of literature is also an action of pleading guilty according to George Bataille, its guilt of complicity with evil. But through this complicity it leads us to the very depth of evil and shows us the meaning and meaninglessness of it, which will actually give us the courage to confront evil coming from without and within. Finally the action of literature is an action of communication with evil, and this both safe and dangerous communication would transgress moral rules but call on a ‘hypermorality’ at the same time.
The ‘Other’ Woman in Thomas Hardy’s Late Novels: Re-visioning Eve and Her Fall into Evil The purpose of this paper is to explore Thomas Hardy's understanding of gender in his retelling of the Fall narrative within his novels Tess of the d'Urbervilles: a Pure Woman and Jude the Obscure. The gender issues inherent in Hardy’s texts are better understood in light of his re-visioning of the Fall as depicted in the biblical account of Genesis. Echoes from Genesis are heard throughout the novels, pointing towards Hardy’s identification of his three female protagonists with the fallen, yet redeemed Eve. While Hardy associates Tess, Arabella, and Sue with goodness and purity, they interact with a fallen world, acting as flawed human beings. Hardy’s fallen world is the driving force in his novels—he is unable to keep his characters away from heart-breaking tragedy and evil discovered after Eve’s fall in the garden. By assuming the role of the male-god-Jesus, Hardy grants these characters salvation, taking fallen ‘Eves’, lifting them up, dignifying their actions and calling them pure, even if the world collapses over them. Heather Walton’s conception of ‘feminist re-visioning’ where artistic works reclaim biblical texts by transforming their patriarchal aspects and breathing new life into ancient stories allows a reading of Hardy as a male artist who feels called by the sacred past to revise biblical myths, and does so in the tension between his own male power and his desire to transmit female wisdom. Yet in his reinterpretation of Christian myth, Hardy is unable to separate himself from narratives dependent on both a male Redeemer and the maternal image of love. Using Julia Kristeva’s understanding of the male/female “bipolar structure of belief” found in Christianity and Helene Cixous’ writing on “woman texts,” I conclude that Hardy’s use of maternal images found in Eve can be read together with his authorial role as the patriarchal God of the Word, opening the possibility to interpret his novels as woman and man-texts. The male and female duality found in the Christian religion exists together in tension within Hardy’s novels, providing uneasy answers about how Hardy is interpreting the feminine within his work.
Bradley A. Johnson
Theology After the Catastrophe: An Evaluation of Evil
in the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon & Cormac McCarthy The aim of this paper is two-fold: first, to introduce a theological subtext of recent novels by two of America's foremost novelists of the past fifty years, Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day and Cormac McCarthy's The Road; and second, in doing so, to meditate on the significance of their shared vision of a world facing catastrophe. For Thomas Pynchon, the catastrophe (specifically, World War I) has yet to happen, but it looms throughout his novel. Indeed, the full weight of what is to come manages even to pierce the time-continuum and forcibly project to the past emissaries of this futuristic world upended by humanity's self-made destruction. Pynchon's novel is a meditation on technological and economic aspirations that instrumentalize individuals, their labor, and most fundamentally, the very core of existence, time. For Cormac McCarthy, the catastrophe has already taken place. A piercing white light in the distance, a self-made disaster once again, is all that is disclosed about it. The effect, however, is clear—the body itself becomes instrumentalized as food for the cannibalistic gangs of survivors. While both Pynchon and McCarthy offer insightful critiques of the self-destructive tendencies of contemporary culture, they do so most powerfully in their theological evaluation of human sociality. Each are less concerned to demonstrate a hope that such relationships might save us, either from what comes or what has already come, as they are to intimate an immanent, transgressive power to such relationships actually occurring. That is to say, for Pynchon and McCarthy, to resist instrumentalization and thus to exist in any meaningful sense, is in a sense to transcend those existing powers whose authority extends even to their own self-willed destruction, and is possible only in the midst of the seemingly miraculous bonds and acts of love that occur within and in spite of their instrumentalized debasement. In this I identify in Pynchon and McCarthy a theological register for an alternative ontology of subjectivity and survival that moves beyond the concern for the maintenance of the individual self.
“False Teaching First, and After that…Violence”: The Role of Spirituality in German Lutheran Theology and Formation during the Third Reich "So for our gospel to proceed correctly and to receive its honor, our preachers or pastors and Christians have to deal with false teaching first and after that with violence." -Martin Luther, How One Should Give, Lend and Suffer
Modern history, in hindsight, has perhaps no bigger “losers” than the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. This full-fledged historical condemnation comes not from a lack of military victory, but a complete lack of humane action, a perversion and inversion of mercy, compassion and human kindness. The uncomfortable truth is that much of the university theology in Hitler’s Germany promoted the Nazi Weltanshauung, that several brilliant and influential theologians espoused Aryanized theology, and that many Lutheran churches in Germany became vessels for party ideology. However, there were also theologians who resisted this vision, sometimes at great risk to their careers and even their lives. There were churches that either refused to be involved in politics, or that actively resisted the regime. This was a critical juncture at which choices had to be made, but those choices were informed by years of theological formation. The focus here is on the Lutheran theological formation, and subsequent theological visions, of two theologians in particular: Emanuel Hirsch and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The argument that this paper makes is that those Lutheran institutions and scholars who had, in their appropriation of Luther’s theology, an emphasis on Lutheran spirituality, were much more likely to craft religious visions that were tied to humane ethical principles, and were therefore more apt to lead to spiritual resistance to the Nazi regime in practice. There are three broader questions implicit in this study: first, how can an emphasis on the spirituality of a tradition actually impact the “humanness” of theology, and, as a corollary effect, real human lives, second, what sort of spiritualities can develop out of differing understandings of a tradition, and third, how can theologians judge these spiritual visions as “good” or “bad” preemptively, before they do damage? Sue Yore
Resisting Evil in the Human Psyche through Prophetic Forms of Literary Writing The poet W H Auden described evil as ‘unspectacular and always human,’ similarly, the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil. Evil in these views does not relate to some cosmological reality or evil empire that exists out there or beyond the boundaries of civilisation but is found right here in the muddle of human life. In order to unpack the implications of this statement in relation to contemporary concerns around the perceived evil embedded in the rhetoric and actions of radicalised Islam and other extremist groups this paper will explore selected literary writings that challenge readers to rethink the nature of evil evident in the death and suffering inflicted by humans on each other in the name of religion.
In her novel The Red and the Green (1965), Iris Murdoch explores the misguided view of heroism and bravery in the name of religion within a fictional story set against the back drop of the Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916. One of the main characters, Barney in the process of the narrative comes to realise that his commitment to a political cause was in fact based on ego driven fantasies. Denise Levertov, like Arendt, reflects on the banality of evil in her poem ‘During the Eichmann Trial’ imploring us to recognise our shared humanity with Eichmann. More recently, Bernard Schlink’s novel, The Reader (1995) portrays a female character, Hanna who fails to empathise with the sufferings in the Nazi camps. What do these fictional portrayals of moral amnesia tell us about the human potential for evil?
The world of the poem or the novel is a safe but challenging arena to begin to confront such unsettling ideas. As such, there is a discernable prophetic impulse in these literary insights that largely posit evil as emerging from apathy, foolhardiness and lack of imagination. Instead of symbolically separating evil and those who perpetrate evil acts out from civil society, there is a call to recognise the latent evil in the human psyche which is to be resisted in order to avoid being complicit in the continuing proliferation of evil. Doug Jones
Ecclesiastes, Proper Use, and the Search for Evil during the Reformation In 1526, Martin Luther praised Ecclesiastes for its wise approach to the material world, urging his listeners to heed its message and freely explore the theater of God’s creation. A few years earlier, the reformer had repudiated his friend Andreas Karlstadt for his censorious treatment of images and for becoming too embroiled in an iconoclastic movement in Wittenberg. For Luther the parade of images which constitutes our experience of creation was rather to be considered a “thing indifferent.” While the reformer's treatment of adiaphora is clear, the reception of Ecclesiastes in the sixteenth century was anything but. If there is to be “nothing new under the sun,” if indeed “all is vanity,” than how are we to engage with material reality? Are we to shun or to embrace the vestiges of earthly life? My essay focuses on the role of Ecclesiastes in shaping an ambivalent worldview in the decades after Luther, arguing that later Protestantism inherited a significant anxiety over the ability of the Christian to remain pure while also engaging with images. This anxiety was bound up with the need to locate evil in the world and a fear that theology, once liberated from such a need, would be left vulnerable to the encroachment of heresy.
Brian W. Nail
Slaughtering Innocence: Infanticide and Incarnation In his book The Infanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture, A. Samuel Kimball observes, “Infanticide—fatal violence against infants and children, more generally against a person of a successor generation—is a recurrent, though seldom remarked, theme in Western literature.” Kimball argues that although the theme of infanticide has figured prominently within works such as Medea and the story of Abraham and Isaac in the book of Genesis, more often than not “infanticide has been relegated to the margins of the work, sometimes remarked but mostly ignored.” In the Gospel of Matthew, Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is predicated upon Jesus’ birth. Despite the obvious infanticidal consequences of Jesus’ birth, Christian theology continues to uphold the crucifixion as emblematic of the cost associated with Jesus’ incarnation. As a result, Christianity has been able to justify the horrific violence that is indeed inseparable from the incarnation through an idealization of Jesus’ sacrificial death. Graham Ward, in his book Christ and Culture, attempts to “configure a doctrine of kenosis” in which “Christ’s kenosis is his incarnation (death and resurrection).” By positioning his understanding of Jesus’ incarnation strictly in terms of his death and resurrection, Ward’s fails to adequately address the problem of suffering and the presence of Evil manifested by the infanticidal violence that accompanies Jesus’ birth. This violence represents an important existential challenge to the mission of Christ in the New Testament. This essay will argue that despite immense cultural pressures to deny the infanticidal consequences of Jesus’ birth, Jesus himself acknowledges the costs of his own existence and directs his followers to do likewise in the hope of a kingdom to come—one whose presence is itself resisted by the paradigmatic figure of infanticidal violence.
Emily A Moniz
Augustine in Lothlórien: Augustinian Concepts of Evil in
JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion In his tragic and epic work The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien attempted to create a self-contained mythology for Middle-earth that not only adhered to his foundational ideas of how myth worked, but also provided a satisfying universe in which the moral issues of The Lord of the Rings had power and meaning. However self-contained his vision of The Silmarillion was, Tolkien also showed his Catholic roots, and in so doing, designed a universe that speaks resoundingly to the Roman Catholic theological tradition. The Silmarillion presents a world in which Augustine of Hippo’s ideas about good, evil, tradition, and heresy all echo loudly, even as they are translated from Latin into Sindarin.
This paper will attempt to address the concept of evil in The Silmarillion through the lens of Augustine’s theology. For both Tolkien and Augustine, evil arises from chaos, and corruption becomes more and more possible the further away from the source of goodness one goes. Evil emerges from discord, and as Tolkien expands his metaphor of music as the means of creation, the Augustinian theme of order as goodness emerges. In the creation of the Valar as well as the races of Middle-earth, the tension between obedience and willfulness arises, just as it does in Augustine’s concept of fallen humanity. Those who depart from the orchestrated plan of creation invariably are corrupted, and that corruption is transmitted through the Ages of Middle-earth. However, it is tradition that preserves goodness for both Tolkien and Augustine, and throughout The Silmarillion, Tolkien expounds upon the thematic element of evil that pervades The Lord of the Rings: without the authority of tradition, truth and goodness are lost, and evil arises. Tolkien’s tragedy is deeply tied to Augustine’s concept of heresy and the necessity of continuity to preserve the goodness possible in creation.
Through this analysis, this paper will address the ongoing relevance of Augustinian theology in modern Catholic thought. Additionally, it will consider Tolkien’s role as a Catholic artist and his use of Augustinian theodicy in order to address the problem of evil and suffering as a modern writer.
What You Play is What You Do? “Procedural Evil” and Video Game Violence For Rene Girard, sacred violence serves as a ritual salve for societal angst and repressed violent impulses. But for Girard, it is crucial that the performers of such substitutionary violence are unaware of the mimetic exchange taking place, believing rather that the violence appeases the gods. In violent video games, which similarly in involve a sort of mimetic violence, players are instead fully aware of the substitutionary nature of their digital play. In this paper, I explore this problem by applying a Girardian read to some of the most controversial examples of virtual violence today, including: the online KumaWar series of virtual “re-enactments” of the war in Iraq; the controversial Left Behind: Eternal Forces PC video game, as well as the controversial online game Super Columbine Massacre RPG!. As in symbolic sacrificial rites like the celebration of the Catholic mass, players of these video games are invited to symbolically perform violent actions. However, in video games, these violent actions are viewed as ephemeral and the player is invited to view the experience as "just" a game. Thus, the question of whether or not we can view video game violence as ritually cathartic hinges on what Ian Bogost calls “procedural rhetoric” or “the practice of persuading through processes” as well as upon player intent. As a means of signifying the problematic nature of where Girard’s views on violence meet Bogost’s notion of procedural rhetoric, I coin the term “procedural evil,” and ask if the mimetic nature of video game violence more likely invites it to be viewed as an apt Girardian safety valve for societal impulses or as a procedural form of “evil,” teaching players how to harm others in the real world. Is it possible to “play” at evil in the form of a game?
Les Fleurs du Malice Aforethought: Beauty and Evil in Baudelaire How do you get evil to flower? Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire’s poetic masterpiece, confronts this question through an encounter with beauty. Unlike other writers of his time who strove to repudiate beauty, or saw it as distracting the reader from acknowledgement of evil, Baudelaire confronted aestheticization and beauty in his work, creating a theory of beauty as a force against evil and injury, and as a source of clarity, serenity, and relation among parts. Playing off the theological traditions that locate paradise in a garden, Baudelaire evokes the garden—and makes it a site of “stupidity, error, sin, cupidity”—and the Devil. This paper argues for a philosophical encounter with the nature of evil in Baudelaire’s depictions of material and spiritual beauty, and traces its philosophy through formal and grammatical elements, as well as the transposition of the natural world to the lover’s body, and the encounter with moral and religious good therein. I pay particular attention to religious imagery, including evocations of the figure of a Savior and the figure of the Devil, personification of evil, in the work.
Evil Narratives or Narratives of Evil: Toward a Hermeneutic of Little Narrative A little-narrative is the story an individual or community may tell that provides the organizing principle for that person or group. By developing a hermeneutic of little narratives, this paper proposes to move beyond the constraints of contextual narratives by providing a contributive voice for them in a non-absolute, trans-contextual narrative of the common good. This hermeneutic recognizes the contextual limitations of language and language’s role in shaping understanding of and interaction with the world. At the same time, these narratives provide a necessary context for understanding and engagement. The risk of the little narrative is that it may seek to become a meta-narrative in the context of globalization. But by using the confluence of little narratives to shape and employ a trans-contextual narrative of the common good, thinking can be turned to action that recognizes and enhances “the integrity of life as a whole.”
Fundamentalism is an example of little narratives becoming meta-narratives. In extreme forms such as religious nationalism, the feeling that group identity is threatened by secularism and globalization can result in both identifying and creating evil. As Mark Juergensmeyer points out, such groups move from language to action – inciting violence in the name of protecting their own understanding of the way the world ought to be. The battle with opposing forces is often seen as a cosmic battle between good and evil. But the end goal is peace, the creation of a just society. It is this end goal that can become an opening for re-interpretation of these narratives as both tools for identity and pathways into a larger concern for the common good.
A hermeneutic of little-narratives allows us to see our limitations and interpret our experience of the world in light of those limitations. Little narratives arise out of the context of a community, using the language, symbols, myths, and rituals already available to them. The difference may be slight or dramatic, but those differences shape one’s interpretation of oneself and the world. Thus the discussion of these narratives with others provides an opportunity to create bridges between these narratives for the common good through the creation of trans-contextual narratives.
Eros in Eden: Revisiting Eden, Redeeming Eve Traditionally, Christian interpretations of Genesis 3 have insisted the narrative is a story of Creation gone bad: the dark serpent lures the weak woman into disobeying divine command. She eats the forbidden fruit, promptly shares it with her man, invites divine curse, and secures humanity's expulsion from Eden, introducing sin and suffering into all Creation thereafter. But such interpretations fail to adequately account for how Creation - declared resoundingly tov in Genesis 1 - manages to become so thoroughly corrupted and undone by the evil of sin. This paper presents an alternative interpretation of the Edenic narrative that challenges the traditional insistence of reading Genesis 3 as an etiology of how evil, sin, and suffering befell humanity.
Read through theological understandings of a benevolent creation and erotic faithfulness Genesis 3 tells of a good serpent (one "that the Lord God had made,") who deals faithfully with the attentive woman, who in turns discerns the three-fold tov, goodness and beauty, inherent in the tree. It is argued that the narrative bears witness to the woman acting from erotic faithfulness to imitate the God in her praxis of beauty -- that practice of seeing and delighting in the good embodied by the divine in Genesis 1. Courageously eating the good fruit and lovingly sharing the same goodness with her husband, the woman empowers the fulfillment of humanity's vocation to bear the likeness of God, and is praised in name by her partner: she is called Eve, "the mother of all living."
The Bible and Narrative Indeterminacy in The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a classic work which most people think they have figured out entirely. Yet the symbolic “A” which Hester Prynne’s is forced to wear is not as straight-forward as may seem. In a similar vein, scholars have put forward multiple credible interpretations of Hawthorne’s classic based on the author’s use of biblical allusion. While interpretation of the symbolic scarlet “A” has recently developed a sense of rich interpretive ambiguity, scholars and readers are still quite convinced of the definitive scriptural template or lens with which to approach The Scarlet Letter. In my paper, I argue toward a similar rich interpretive ambiguity as it relates to biblical allusions and parallels. Inspired by intertextual approaches, this paper argues for the mutually beneficial relationship between the Bible and Hawthorne’s ambiguous use of biblical allusion in The Scarlet Letter.
This paper raises previous biblical templates for The Scarlet Letter, granting them equal merit while proposing another interpretation, and an indefinite amount of interpretations to come. I argue that ambiguity in biblical allusion and parallel conforms to Hawthorne’s overall sense of evil’s symbolic expression in literature. More specifically, Hawthorne believed that the world was sinking deeper into darkness while evil, literary and otherwise, was becoming increasingly difficult to identify. The same could be said of our age. If Hawthorne thought the symbols of evil of New England’s ancestors were no longer effective, can the same be said of our times? Is declining biblical literacy having any effect on moral vocabulary in literature? Is evil the most insidious where it is least obvious? This paper ventures answers to these questions based on an intertextual reading of ambiguous biblical allusion in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Ambiguous use of biblical imagery and themes in the style of Hawthorne as argued here provides a rich forum for reintroduction, reinvigoration, and reorientation of the symbols of evil that can be effective in extra-religious contexts and religious contexts alike.
Reading Samson Agonistes After 9/11:
The Utility and Danger of Evil as an Analytical Concept Critical debate over the religious violence in Milton’s Samson Agonistes took on a new urgency in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While many critics saw parallels between Samson’s destruction of the temple of Dagon and terrorist acts, some sought to rehabilitate Milton’s image by claiming that he must have disapproved of Samson’s actions, or by historicizing his relationship to religious violence. Feisal G. Mohamed views this trend as a tendency to reductively identify religious violence as a characteristic of the non-Western or historical Other, dangerously reinforcing a dominant political ideology. I use this paper to develop and extend Mohamed’s reflection on the ethical responsibilities of literary critics and the humanities in general. I begin by sketching an analysis of 9/11 offered by Jean-Pierre Dupuy, which strongly questions the power of religious belief to motivate the kind of violence perpetrated on 9/11, and challenges those explanations that posit irrational beliefs or evil as solely characteristic of the non-western other. Dupuy works from a concept of evil as “resentment:” an orientation towards the other that is structured around comparison and the removal of the obstacles standing in the way of, among other things, material equality. He arrives at an explanation for the events of 9/11 that draws on a disturbingly familiar logic and, with René Girard, he characterizes the violence of terrorism and the American military response as mimetic reproductions of one another. Drawing on Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject, I offer an explanation for the appeal of the ideology that seeks to ascribe evil solely to the non-Western Other, reproducing a myth of the “clash of civilizations.” This myth allows the West to ignore its own implication in religious violence and to shore up a cultural understanding of itself as rational and tolerant, a cultural identity that is constructed in opposition to an irrational, intolerant, and evil Other. While my paper assesses the utility of Dupuy’s concept of evil for reaching an understanding of Samson Agonistes, I am primarily concerned with the dangers that threaten a clear-sighted application of evil as an analytical concept in the humanities.
“What’s that Evil Smell?” Ethics of the Everyday in Education
Day by day, minute by minute, American teachers adjudicate big and small tensions that mirror our culture. Whose comment back there took ten minutes away from the others? Should the same curricula apply to different kinds of learners? Is testing a marker of knowing, or is testing itself an untested assumption? Why did Joey throw his chair? Does a just society offer equal education for everyone? Do high scores equal learning? Is Denise absent again? Can collaboration and competition mutually exist? How long will Joan stay in school pregnant? Can institutions develop individuals? Who just farted? Does having curriculum standards lower our expectations as it raises achievement? Teachers’ responsibilities shuttle like this, and multiply by the number of students in their classes. Politicians, journalists, and locals brag and rage. Communities and teachers puzzle over what elements make a local school good, opening the national goal to make all schools good schools. When it comes to school, what exactly is the difference between “what is and what ought?” (Niemann, 2002, 322) This session asks to include education in this conference’s discussion of sociocultural ethics. Our public calls for school reform make it a civil rights issue; the inequity of access in education becomes a social evil. Policy makers invoke international competition; control of the classroom moves to the outside, creating more conflict for teachers. What gives non-practitioners the confidence to create policy? What does this mean for teacher education? Who gets to teach? In the quest for social justice, community action, and equal opportunity, some of what’s good gets lost. Our public conversation conflicts with a long professional history about how people learn. Neimann’s alternative history of philosophy focuses not on questions of how we know, but in the face of our knowledge limits, how we can come to act. And this echoes Education’s philosophical roots in pragmatism. What public assumptions hide in our current jargon: “best practices” “outcomes assessment” “distance learning” “multi-modal knowing” “research-based teaching”? The conversation is as stunning as the lexicon. An interdisciplinary team of English and math teachers will explore these dilemmas by describing our ongoing grant-funded project in which urban Massachusetts and rural Iowa high schoolers write to one another about geometry in their environments. As the research continues, our inquiry raises new questions about what students ought to get from school.
Kelly Scott Franklin
The World, the Flesh, but Not the Devil: Reclaiming the Body in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood
While some critics, including the illustrious Harold Bloom, see Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood as an essentially Gnostic text—and therefore at odds with the self-professedly incarnational project of O’Connor’s Roman Catholic fiction—this paper argues rather for an interpretation of the work as one of stark Christian asceticism, which privileges the fallen world and the fallen flesh as the redemptive loci of spiritual salvation. Through the novel’s portrayal of some slivers of goodness and Divine Presence in the world, through its explicit attack on the principles of Gnosticism, and through its emphasis on the body as the site of spiritual penance, the novel deftly avoids Manichaean dualism. Instead, the novel may be read as imagining the possibility of redemption even within a grim and surreal fallen world—a shattered world that has tried hard (but failed) to exile God completely.
Secular Apocalypses: Darwinian Criticism and Atwoodian Floods
Proponents of an emerging evolutionary or Darwinian literary criticism (evocriticism for short) seek to bring a biocultural perspective to bear on the discipline of literary studies, arguing that the field needs to put aside ideologically-driven theoretical approaches and reorient itself around testable hypotheses and human universals. Critics of this new paradigm, on the other hand, view it as fundamentally reductive and question its ability to lead to substantial new insights into literary texts. In an effort to propel this discussion of evocriticism’s strengths and weaknesses forward on at least one front, I want to bring into conversation two volumes released within weeks of each other in 2009, Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. Boyd’s book makes a major contribution to evocriticism, staking the claim that the human proclivity for storytelling, and for art in general, is an adaptation, an evolutionary extension of animals’ play that enables us to command attention, make sense of the world around us, and develop skills and test hypotheses in safe, low-stakes settings. Meanwhile, Atwood’s novel imagines the events leading up to and immediately following the outbreak of a genetically-engineered viral pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. Questions about the nature and function of religion feature prominently in both texts, and so in juxtaposing them, I am particularly interested in exploring how they take up these questions. My argument is that sacred narrative and praxis in The Year of the Flood function in essentially the way Boyd’s paradigm predicts they will. Further, an evocritical lens can help us see how Atwood’s vision of religion in this novel harmonizes with those in her two earlier dystopias, Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Valuable as these insights are, however, ultimately Atwood’s portrayal of religion transcends the explanatory capacities of Boyd’s critical framework, particularly where the problem of evil is concerned. In so doing, Atwood’s novel highlights the need for deeper, more textured definitions of religion and the secular than Boyd offers in his book.