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The Metafizzical Essays of
Nicholas Hancock

Published by The British Hancock Society
by arrangement with the author.


Copyright    2008 Nicholas Hancock.  Permission  is granted  to  distribute  in  any  medium, commercial or non-commercial, provided author attribution and copyright notices remain intact.

THE ALMIGHTY CRUTCH


THE ALMIGHTY CRUTCH

    What's it all for? - all our struggles and brief pleasures? I don't mean for you or for me, but for God. What's in it for Him? And if there is a 'higher purpose' to creation, what is it?

Such a purpose is clearly not for the benefit of the created. As the frog is ratcheted back into the mouth of the snake, don't tell me it's part of a frog-friendly divine plan.

    There are so many questions. First, is God a free agent Who can act out in the universe in any way, and, if He can, is He constrained by His very nature to act as he does? Or, having wound up the spring of creation is He incapable of stopping it unwind? If God exists and has a plan - even one devised ten billion years ago -, is He some Omnipotent Kid playing celestial arcade games, a kind of Kali thriving not so much on blood, which is either in or out, but on the pain and suffering throughout His animal kingdom?

    This has always posed a problem. In a world created by an all-beneficent deity, what is the source of evil? The theocratic functionary's cop-out has been to posit a second divine power, the devil, who can take the blame for all the horrors of 'creation'. In Job the two powers work hand in glove. But this sleight of hand, this theological trick, is unconvincing for those who haven't invested all their eternal life savings in it. Why does God have to tolerate evil - even for a limited period of time? Or - if He has any choice in the matter - why does He care to do so? A vegetarian God would have had all animals feeding exclusively on plants.

I think we must assume that before the beginning, when darkness was upon the face of the deep - and there wasn't even anything to be deep -, the future Creator may have been bored out of his immense mind. 'I'll have a Big Bang,' He will have said to Himself; and there will have been a vast flash of light.

    One can only feel compassion for such a lonely deity twiddling thumbs during half an eternity of darkness. 'And let there be pleasure - and plenty of pain!' And God would see that they were very good. After all, it's not our trifling purpose that matters but God's. Are we to assume that He leads a rewarding, fulfilled life? We are told God only wants creatures in His kingdom who have freely decided for good over evil. He was capable of making everyone good of course, but then they would all have been automata: thus He gave men free will so they could choose to be his good creation. Again we come down to a sacred video game in which He waits patiently for these independent creatures to decide whether they're with Him or against Him.

But then what do the slowly devoured frogs get out of this? Are they capable by an act of will of freeing themselves, or are they dispensable in the divine scheme? - little packets of raw feeling to liven the slow drag of eternity?

One of the post-Spinoza attributes of God would seem then to be cruelty or underwhelming indifference. Yet according to His addicts He has at least one other, and that is His love of worship. We know He likes hymns, psalms and prayers in His praise: He is big and has a correspondingly big ego. Can this be the Same, though, who gave 'His only begotten son'? Apparently.

Now would you expect consistency from the Almighty? Hardly. And yet it is difficult to reconcile indifference to pain and sensitivity to praise if one is a simple layman.

If we ask whether such a compliment-hungry God is worth complimenting, we'll be told that what in a human being would be vain and self-centred is simply in the nature of godhead. And as it is the theologian who decides on the attributes of God and not God Himself, how can we non-theologians demur? We have not been up the mountain - a mountain of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, of patristic research and analyses of medieval commentaries - in a word, an exegesis of the exegetes. In the same way that the psychological field is the mind, the theological domain is God, and therefore the theologian must know more about Him than we do.

We are told that so-called Acts of God are those the deity has allowed to happen randomly: the avalanche, the flood, the hurricane are not willed by God, and it is just your bad luck if you stumble into one. It is tempting to conclude that natural phenomena as such have been given a free will of their own, in which event He has no part in the daily running of His creation.

Yet, even if we believe this, it does not take God off the hook: quite apart from these Acts of God which are not Acts of God and human failings attributable to will power and the devil (a paradoxical combination), creation itself is predicated on predation and destruction - on the virus thriving on animal tissue, on the lioness's clawing assault of the young wildebeest, on the slow ebb of consciousness in the spider's prey. If the system was devised by Anyone, such a One would be a Serial Killer and Torturer on an inconceivably huge scale.

And to arrogate the Spinoza attribute of all-beneficence to this Annihilator is to play grammatical hara-kiri: the words destroy themselves.

Medieval Christian mystics recognised two mysteries in the cosmos - the mysterium tremendum or repellent one in the face of the blind forces of God, and the mysterium fascinosum or attractive one in those brief moments of truce between headache and angina when the spirit can take wing.

And if I were to re-create God? Unless I changed the system of Life-Eating-Life to a gentler one in which, for example, to be eaten was a pleasure, I could not devise anything but a monstrous Enjoyer of Pain with Interludes of Ecstasy. John Cowper Powys appears to have felt the same way: in A Glastonbury Romance he speaks of the evil eye and the good eye of the First Cause.

Yet I personally feel no need to hypothesise a single source for the horrifyingly/voluptuously manifold events in our biosphere. Let these things happen, avoiding the worst for as long as we can.

The final argument of the believer is that believing makes him feel better by giving a purpose to his life; yet this is incompatible with the inconsistencies of divine nature as we've been taught them on the one hand and the wholesale butchery around us on the other. Besides, to propose a passive acceptance of an imposed - and certainly fictitious - purpose simply to help us feel good appears to me to be the lazy way out.

As adults we should forge our own purpose. Sartre's Roquentin in Nausea does precisely this, finding one of his own meanings in jazz and the irreversibility of its notes - a metaphor for time or for life itself. As he made his choices, so we too should make our own, and for these we need no divine spectre to show us the way.