Soteriological Drama: Pain and Short Lives.


If you are coming over from the CADRE blog, I apologize for the duplication.I meant to post this here and I thought I was in the Metacrock's blog section but I was in the CADRE section and posted there by mistake. Rather than take it out i thought well those guys could use it too. I'll just post in both places.

Yesterday I had a discussion with atheist on theodicy problem. That's the problem of pain and evil. Why does God allow it. There are two questions there but I think the answers to both are related. My classic answer is my own version of the "Free Will defense." The thing that makes my version different is the twist I put on internalizing the values of the good. This my version from Doxa and here's how it plays out. I call it "Soteriological Drama." Soteriology means the study of salvation. I am saying there's a drama, not entertainment but the kind of real drama one finds in life, concerning the pursuit of salvation. God has designed a serach into the process because it is only by searching that we learn to internalize the values of the good.

Basic assumptions

There are three basic assumptions that are hidden, or perhaps not so oblivious, but nevertheless must be dealt with here.

(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.

The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impitus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential.

(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complaisance that would be the result of intimidation.

That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truly beileve in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about.

(3)the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end.

The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultimate meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internalized.

The Actual Argument:

(1)God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.

(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).

(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices

(4)The possibility of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpose of creation would be thwarted.

This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entails. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclined to sin.

This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it. Argument on Soteriological Drama:

(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultimate goals, ends and purposes for which we are on this earth.

(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us

(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probably all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from the heart.

(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; introspective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.

In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we respond to the situation as characters in a drama.

This theory also explains why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search.

On Doxa I designed into the presentation an answer to the issue of babies dying:

One might object that this couldn't outweigh babies dying or the horrors of war or the all the countless injustices and outrages that must be allowed and that permeate human history. It may seem at first glance that free will is petty compared to human suffering. But I am advocating free will for the sake any sort of pleasure or imagined moral victory that accrues from having free will, it's a totally pragmatic issue; that internalizing the value of the good requires that one choose to do so, and free will is essential if choice is required. Thus it is not a capricious or selfish defense of free will, not a matter of choosing our advantage or our pleasure over that of dying babies, but of choosing the key to saving the babies in the long run,and to understanding why we want to save them, and to care about saving them, and to actually choosing their saving over our own good.

In deciding what values outweigh other values we have to be clear about our decision making paradigm. From a utilitarian standpoint the determinate of lexically ordered values would be utility, what is the greatest good for the greatest number? This would be determined by means of outcome, what is the final tally sheet in terms of pleasure over pain to the greatest aggregate? But why must that be the value system we decide by? It's just one value system and much has been written about the bankruptcy of consequentialist ethics. If one uses a deontological standard it might be a different thing to consider the lexically ordered values. Free will predominates because it allows internalization of the good. The good is the key to any moral value system. This could be justified on both deontolgoical and teleological premises.

My own moral decision making paradigm is deontological, because I believe that teleological ethics reduces morality to the decision making of a ledger sheet and forces the individual to do immoral things in the name of "the greatest good for the greatest number." I find most atheists are utilitarians so this will make no sense to them. They can't help but think of the greatest good/greatest number as the ultaimte adage, and deontology as empty duty with no logic to it. But that is not the case. Deontology is not just rule keeping, it is also duty oriented ethics. The duty that we must internalize is that ultimate duty that love demands of any action. Robots don't love. One must freely choose to give up self and make a selfless act in order to act from Love. Thus we cannot have a loved oriented ethics, or we cannot have love as the background of the moral universe without free will, because love involves the will.

The choice of free will at the expense of countless lives and untold suffering cannot be an easy thing, but it is essential and can be justified from either deontolgoical or teleological perspective. Although I think the deontologcial makes more sense. From the teleological stand point, free will ultimately leads to the greatest good for the greatest number because in the long run it assumes us that one is willing to die for the other, or sacrifice for the other, or live for the other. That is essential to promoting a good beyond ourselves. The individual sacrifices for the good of the whole, very utilitarian. It is also deontolgocially justifiable since duty would tell us that we must give of ourselves for the good of the other.

Thus anyway you slice it free will outweighs all other concerns because it makes available the values of the good and of love. Free will is the key to ultimately saving the babies, and saving them because we care about them, a triumph of the heart, not just action from wrote. It's internalization of a value system without which other and greater injustices could be foisted upon an unsuspecting humanity that has not been tought to choose to lay down one's own life for the other.
The connection of the two issues:

The two issues are of course, evil and disaster, or pain not connected to decision making. We can't call disease or weather or problems of accident "evil" because they are not tied ot anyone's personal choice. Moral valuations such as "good" and "evil" only apply where a choice can be made. One could try to charge God with evil in saying that it's his choice to allow it. This is would be foolish since there is no standard of Good if the creator is evil. Then evil would be the original concept, and good would be the fall from evil. That's can't be because evil is not constructive. Evil doesn't build but tears down; evil is rebellion against a standard not the establishment of a standard. Yes it does bother me as an old "red" from the 60s to support "establishment." I tell myself the establishment of this world is the rebellion against the establishment of life.

Thus the connection between evil and disaster is that God can't forestall disasters every time they occur and still expect us to conduct a search. No one searches for what he knows to be the case. The search is the search for truth, the answer to the big question, what are we doing here? what's the point of it all? No one searches if he knows the answers. It would be a dead give away if every time something almost happened some miraculous force stopped it. So there has to be what we might call a "normal world" that runs on its own steam. God can stick his finger in and change things, but there have to certain rules he put in place for doing that, like faith for ex maple, otherwise he's going to have to do it all the time, that would sort negate the need for searching.

This searching aspect is what angered this atheist. He was extremely indignant about it. He accused me of being selfish and self absorbed because I'm letting God off the hook for my desire to learn things and have personal fulfillment. I think what made it so unnerving was the way he spoke as though he knows God is real and just hates him anyway. I am not saying all atheists think that way, just this one guy. It's not that I expect this little answer to really satisfy someone who has lost a child. Of course I do not, and for anyone who has lost a child my deepest sympathy. Had I lost a child myself I would certainly not be content with such answers and I don't blame anyone who is angry at God. That will be a short term anger. One can't let the hurt create a life-long bitterness and negate being able to re-unite if such a thing is possible. Yet I am here to lecture people in what they "should feel."

I find it gulling that this guy tries to abrogate my right to explore life. He wants to control my reactions to pain as though only he has a right to feel and only he knows the right way to feel. I am here in life wondering what it's all about and I have as much of a right to wonder as anyone. I am still doing my own search. I do feel I have the right direction. I have every right to feel that I do since I've been searching all my life. No one has a right to mock or ridicule the answers I"ve found. After all I'm not tryign to impose anything on anyone I'm just offering my little warped ideas and holding up my little end of the conversation.

I don't imagine this answer will make anyone feel good I do think intellectually it's the best answer. Over time when people heal a bit they might be able to see that. The answer is that we have to have a real world. God has to let it go as a real world under its own steam even though that means pain and torment and problems. As Jesus said "in the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." "All things for together for Good for those who love the lord" (Paul said that). In the end it will be worked out. those who seek will find.


this discussion was added from one on CARM July 1, 2013.

Originally Posted by Largereminder View Post
Actually, this blog post does not answer the objection. Your post addressed, among other things, why you find such horrors as war and infant mortality are ultimately necessary to allow for free will, but this isn't the objection being raised.
No the argument is that they are a necessary consequence of a world in which the search is necessary. free will is a support for the search. so is a neutral world. regardless of wast the actual argument is this answered because it explains the necessity of all the types of suffering we encounter.

Skylurker is not asking "why does God let babies die?" or anything like that; rather, he is asking why - if this life is supposed to be all about the search for truth in a soteriological drama and thereby achieving a truly internalized moral understanding - why are so many of us born into this world only to exit it without ever having had a chance to participate in this drama? It's actually an age-old objection to an age-old framing of the theist's premise: If the point of life is a test, why are a remarkable number of people born such that they aren't able to take it? 
I understand that but the same answer still applies. In order to have a world in which we need to seek for truth, where it's not obvious and we can deny it if we wish to, the world must be such that tragedies befall people.

the search is not a matter of salvation. It's not as though you going to hell if you don't get to do the search. It's also true that since God sees the heart and we don't he might know that people who die young don't need the search.


It is easy to look at the death of an infant and consider this to be a "stress test" of sorts for the child's parents. How they deal with this tragedy can be a perspective-altering experience that shakes them from their complacency and causes them to examine their priorities in life. And certainly, if their child were miraculously saved by God, they would be deprived of such an experience and test of their character. But none of that is at issue. 
that's really a dismissive reductionism. I never said it's a stress test and reducing it to that it loses the coherence that it has. so that's a straw man argument.

The important question is, what about the baby's soul? What about the search for truth the baby, once fully grown, would have conducted? 
as I said the search is not a matter of salvation. If it was salvation would be by works, specifically by doing the search. the point of the search is to Internalize the values of the good not so we will merit salvation but so we wont resent god imposing his will on us. So kids dying young we can assume they are saved. they are not the age of accountability. we can also assume they wont resent truth. God knows their hearts.

If a soteriological drama is truly the point of our terrestrial lives, and God truly wants each and every one of us to find the depth of being and internalize what is good and true, then what are we to make of such a cavalier denial of so many people born into this world to even get to play the game? Are they merely given a free pass to heaven because their opportunity was cut short? Well, if that's the case, then how truly important is it to run this gauntlet of salvation? 
It's not a matter of being saved. I can see how the terminology misleads you but that's not what I meant for it. that might require some tweaking.

As it stands, from the point of view of the drama you propose, some people are actors in this drama who embark on a journey of truth-searching and self-discovery, either succeeding or failing, while other people might think they're actors in it too, but they're not. 
sure they are and it might that they are more successful and did their lessons early they get to go home early. The problem is the world has to be in such a state we are out there in it and subject to the crap and we don't know what's coming next. maybe there's a longer plan we cut it short by doing stupid tings. Or some crap just befalls through no fault of our own. the world can't organized in such a way that nothing bad every happens or there would be no reason to search.

They are merely plot devices in someone else's drama. If God's plan for humanity is truly to be for all of humanity, then this is a problem that can't be merely hand-waved away. Because otherwise, the failure of this cosmos-initiated drama theory to account for the myriad ways a human can experience life makes the whole idea seem like it was born out of the solipsistic tendencies of an adult mind that's made it this far.

I am carefully explaining. this i not hand waving this carefully explaining.

If I could think of any more cliches I'd use them.

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