Reading Comprehension 033


There are logical difficulties in the notion of Sin. We are told that Sin consists in disobedience to God's commands but we are also told that God is omnipotent. If He is, nothing contrary to His will can occur; therefore when the sinner disobeys His commands, He must have intended this to happen. St. Augustine boldly accepts this view and asserts that men are led to sin by a blindness with which God afflicts them. But most theologians, in modern times, have felt that, if God causes men to sin, it is not fair to send them to Hell for what they cannot help. We are told that sin consists in acting contrary to God's will. This, however, does not get rid of the difficulty. Those who, like Spinoza, take God's omnipotence seriously, deduce that there can be no such thing as sin. This leads to frightful results. Why, said Spinoza's contemporaries, was it not wicked of Nero to murder his mother? Was it not wicked of Adam to eat the apple? Is one action just as good as another? Spinoza wriggles but does not find any satisfactory answer. If everything happens in accordance with God's will, God must have wanted Nero to murder his mother; therefore, since God is good, the murder must have been a good thing. From this argument there is no escape.

The Roman Catholic Church demands legislation such that, if a woman becomes pregnant by a syphilitic man, she must not artificially interrupt her pregnancy but must allow a probably syphilitic child to be born, in order that, after a few years of misery on earth, it may spend eternity in limbo (assuming its parents to be non-Catholics). The British State considers it the duty of an Englishman to kill people who are not English whenever a collection of elderly gentlemen in Westminster tells him to do so. Such instances suffice to illustrate the fact that Church and State are implacable enemies of both intelligence and virtue.

Suppose we wish - as I certainly do - to find arguments against Neitzsche's ethics and politics, what arguments can we find? The question is: If Buddha and Nietzsche were confronted, they could either produce an argument that ought to appeal to the impartial listener? I am not thinking of political arguments. We can imagine them appearing before the Almighty, as in the first chapter of the Book of Job and offering advice as to the sort of world He should create. What could either say?
Buddha would open the argument by speaking of the lepers, outcasts and miserable; the poor, toiling with aching limbs and barely kept alive by scanty nourishment; the wounded in battle, dying in slow agony; the orphans, ill treated by cruel guardians; and even the most successful haunted by the thought of failure and death. From all this load of sorrow, he would say, a way of salvation must be found and salvation can only come through love.
Nietzsche, whom only Omnipotence could restrain from interrupting, would burst out when his turn came: `Good heavens, man, you must learn to be of rougher fibre. Why go about snivelling because trivial people suffer. Or, for that matter, because great men suffer? Trivial people suffer trivially, great men suffer greatly. Your ideal is a purely negative one, absence of suffering, which can be completely secured by non-existence. I, on the other hand, have positive ideals: I admire Alcibiades and the Emperor Frederick II and Napoleon. For the sake of such men, any misery is worth while, I appeal to you, Lord, as the greatest of creative artists, do not let Your artistic impulses be curbed by the degenerate, fear-ridden meanderings of this wretched psychopath.'

Buddha, who in the courts of Heaven has learnt all history since his death and has mastered science with delight in the knowledge and sorrow at the use of which men have put it, replies with calm urbanity: You are mistaken, Professor Nietzsche, in thinking my ideal a purely negative one. True, it includes a negative element, the absence of suffering; but it has in addition quite as much that is positive as is to be found in your doctrine. Though I have no special admiration for Alcibiades and Napoleon, I too have my heroes; my successor Jesus, because he told men to love their enemies; the men who discovered how to master the forces of nature and secure food with less labour, the medical men who have shown how to diminish disease; the poets and artists and musicians who have caught glimpses of the Divine beatitude. Love, knowledge and delight in beauty are not negations; they are enough to fill the lives of the great men that have ever lived.
`All the same,' Nietzsche replies, `Your world would be insipid. You should study Heraclitus, whose works survive complete in the celestial library. Your love is compassion, which is elicited by pain; your truth, if you are honest, is pleasant and only to be known through suffering; and as to beauty, what is more beautiful than the tiger, who owes his splendour to fierceness? No, If the Lord should decide for your world, I fear we should all die of boredom.'
`You might,' Buddha replies, `because you love pain and your love of life is a sham. But those who really love life would be happy as no one is happy in the world as it is.'

According to Saint Thomas, evil is unintentional, not as essence and has an accidental cause which is good. All things tend to be like God, who is the End of all things. Human happiness does not consist in carnal pleasures, honour, glory, wealth, worldly power or goods of the body and is not seated in the sense. Man's ultimate happiness does not consist in acts of moral virtue, because these are means; it consists in the contemplation of God. But the knowledge of God possessed by the majority does not suffice; nor the knowledge of Him obtained by faith. In this life, we cannot see God in His essence or have ultimate happiness; but hereafter we shall see Him face to face. (Not literally, we are warned, because God has no face.) This will happen not by our natural power but by the divine light; and even then, we shall not see all of Him.



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