Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lord of the Flies

1. Lord of the Flies is a classic novel about some civilized kids stranded on a desert island. In the absence of adult supervision, social life degenerates into savagery. The treatment is the antithesis of nostalgic novels about boys separated from civilization like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The story is fictional, but realistic. Many readers find that a plausible scenario of what would happen in that situation. 

The novel has lost some of its original shock value in an age when kids the same age shoot each other on the mean streets of the hood. 

Tracing the literary allusions in a fictional writer can be tricky because the creative process has both conscious and unconscious dynamics. There's what the author intends, and then there's what may subliminally inform his work. So some of the connections I suggest may be coincidental. But it makes it more interesting to read with those connections in mind (see below). 

The novel is, in some measure, a retailing of paradise lost. "Lord of the Flies" (Beelzebub) is a traditional, derogatory epithet for Satan. The "beast from the water" evokes Rev 13, while the "snake-thing" evokes Gen 3, Rev 12 & 20. The "beast from the air" might evoke the outcast, downcast dragon or serpent in Rev 12. In Revelation, the Beast is a Satanic surrogate. An Antichrist figure. 

In addition, you have the possession motif. The beast "in us". Idolatry, blood sacrifice, human sacrifice, and a devil's pact with Lord of the Flies (i.e. pig head). 

Simon evokes St. Peter. Simon is a seer. A visionary–like St. Peter (Acts 10) The closest thing to a Christian character in the novel. And like St. Peter (Jn 21), he is martyred. 

By contrast, Piggy is the rationalist. Some literary critics classify him as a secular humanist. But he's literally a near-sighted rationalist. And figuratively, his rationalism blinds him to the enveloping evil. Piggy's nickname is ironic because his alter-ego is the diabolical pig head which some of the boys worship. 

As Golding explains in an interview, the boys are "innocent" in the sense that they are ignorant of their own natures. As a result, they have little resistance to evil. They eventually come to understand themselves, but that's "tragic knowledge". 

The topical island is Edenic. The arrival of the boys interjects a seminal evil into this Edenic setting. The lack of external restraint results in moral freefall. However, the story also has Bacchanalian elements. Golding was a fan of Euripides. That's compatible with a Christian interpretation, inasmuch as pagan nihilism is the opposite of Christian grace. 

The violence on the island is, of course, a microcosm of world war. Golding's novel was heavily influenced by his experience in WWII. 

2. Freewill theists like Jerry Walls attack the "harsh" God of Calvinism, which they contrast with the loving, omnibenevolent God of freewill theism. A God who acts in the best interest of each and every human being.

Yet in reality, our world looks far more like Lord of the Flies. Humans marooned on planet earth, left to their own devices. No significant outside intervention. This is our desert island. Sure doesn't look like the kind of world that the theology of Jerry Walls et al. predicts for. Indeed, Walls is very aware of the disconnect between his utopian narrative and the dystopian reality, which is why, like John Hick, he stipulates an eschatological payoff. 

The comparison is accentuated by freewill theists who subscribe to theistic evolution. In that event, there was no historic fall from an original state of rectitude. Rather, our "sins" are really animal instincts. We're direct descendants of animals that had to tough it out in sub-Saharan Africa, long ago. The law of the jungle rather than the law of God was our ordinance. That's even more like Lord of the Flies. They revert to state of nature because they really are little beasts. 

3. Now, there are various ways a freewill theist might respond to the comparison:

i) He might agree. He might say libertarian freedom results in a Lord of the Flies world. In order for humans to have morally significant freedom, God can only interfere on rare occasion. But there are problems with that response:

i) Freewill theists don't typically use Lord of the Flies as an illustration to showcase God's omnibenevolence. Jerry Walls, for one, alleges that Calvinists resorting to deceptive rhetoric to conceal the malevolent character of Calvinism. Yet if freewill theism predicts for a world like Lord of the Flies, then we could rightly accuse freewill theists like Jerry Walls of using deceptive rhetoric to conceal the malevoent character of freewill theism. 

There's a generally deistic quality to that scenario. Most of the time, we're on our own. We must fend for ourselves. God doesn't protect the faithful from harm. 

That's exacerbated by the fact that freewill theists like Walls are fond of depicting humans as immature kids in relation to God. In attacking Calvinism, they ask how a good parent could treat their young kids that way.

But, of course, we could say the same thing about Lord of the Flies as an allegory for freewill theism. How could a loving, omnibenevolent parent drop their kids into that survival situation. Leave them unattended. Isn't that the definition of child neglect? Is the God of freewill theism a negligent parent?

2. Conversely, a freewill theist might say the comparison is misleading. God is not detached. Consider his redemptive acts in Scripture. Consider answered prayer or modern miracles.

There are, however, problems with that response:

i) It fails to distinguish freewill theism from Calvinism. Presumably, a freewill theist doesn't suppose God answers the prayers of freewill theists at a higher rate than Calvinists (or Thomists or Augustinians). Calvinists have as much or little experience of divine intervention as freewill theists.

Likewise, Reformed theology affirms Biblical miracles and makes allowance for modern miracles, answered prayer, special providence. 

ii) The freewill defense is predicated on minimal divine intervention. That's inconsistent with stressing God's regular intercession in answer to prayer, miraculous deliverance from terrible ordeals, &c. 

iii) Moreover, this involves, not just Scripture, but a theological interpretation of Scripture, and whether that interpretation is borne out in reality. What's the empirical evidence that God is omnibenevolent? What's the empirical evidence that God is acting in the best interests of each and every person? Does the state of the world correspond to that claim? Or does reality clash with that theological expectation? 

iv) One problem is the tension in freewill theism between divine love and human freedom. A loving parent will step in to shield his child from harm, even if that infringes on the child's freedom. 

3. A freewill theist might attempt a tu quoque argument. Is the Calvinists saying we're in a Lord of the Flies kind of world? Does he think God takes such a hands-off approach to human interactions? Where we're left to our wisdom and resources? 

i) However, a difficulty with that maneuver is that even assuming that's a problem for Calvinism, drawing a parallel doesn't cease to make it a problem for freewill theism. Is freewill theism defensible on its own grounds? 

ii) If, moreover, Calvinism has an admittedly "harsher" view of providence, then that scenario is more consistent with Calvinism than freewill theism.

No comments:

Post a Comment