Thursday, February 23, 2017

When the going gets tough

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to use a different example to illustrate the same principle. It can be helpful to have multiple illustrations of something. 

According to the soul-making theodicy, certain goods or virtues are only possible in a fallen world. These virtues are worthwhile. Take courage, or self-sacrifice. 

Or take someone who betrays his best friend. He's wracked with guilt. They don't speak to each other for years. Finally, he contritely presents himself to his friend, hoping his friend will receive him back into his life. Suppose his friend forgives him. The experience of restoration is a wonderful good which he'd never experience had he not betrayed his friend, and suffered the consequent estrangement. Examples can be multiplied.

However, a critic of the soul-making theodicy will object that the appeal is circular. These goods or virtues are superfluous, since you only need them in a fallen world. So you can't use that appeal to justify the existence of evil. 

But do these goods or virtues have no intrinsic value? Suppose three or four high school buddies are highly athletic. Not only do they play on the same intramural teams (e.g. football, hockey, La Crosse), but they do lots of things together on their own, like hiking, hunting, white water rafting, horseback riding, and jet skiing.

Then one of them is crippled in a traffic accident. Now he's confined to a wheelchair. At first his buddies visit him everyday in the hospital. After he's discharged, they visit him at home. 

But they begin to drift apart. That's because he can no longer do most of the things they use to do together. And even though he can still do one or two of the same things, like jet skiing, it's no longer quick and effortless. Rather, it's time-consuming. Everything's an effort. Everything takes longer. 

He can no longer slip out of his street clothes and slip into swimming trunks or wet suits without assistance. He can't walk down to the shore and mount the jet ski. He must be carried. If he falls off, he can't get back on without assistance. He can't shower without assistance. He needs a portable shower stool. He may even need Depends. This is more of a minor inconvenience than anything, but his buddies treat it as a major imposition. 

From the viewpoint of his buddies, it's just not fun to bring him along anymore. He slows them down. He crimps their style. He's a drag factor. So they abandon him. And his girlfriend dumps him because she doesn't want to marry a "cripple". 

Suppose, by contrast, a Christian classmate befriends him. The classmate isn't naturally athletic. Indeed, the disabled jock used to look down on him. But the Christian classmate makes a point of filling the vacuum. They even jet ski together, which the Christian classmate never did before. 

Suppose a critic said, if it hadn't been for the accident, he wouldn't need a friend who stood by him when things got tough. True, but that misses the point. The accident exposed the fact that there was no depth of friendship to the camaraderie which his buddies enjoyed. No real commitment. No sacrificial love. They wanted to do things with each other, but they didn't want to do things for each other. 

Sure, it took the accident to bring that out into the open, but it reveals a serious moral deficiency in his fair-weather friends. They failed to rise to the occasion. It's hardly adequate to say it's only a virtue to rise to the occasion if you have an occasion to rise to. The occasion isn't what makes that virtue virtuous. Rather, the occasion is the opportunity to develop or display a virtue that was meritorious all along. His buddies aren't good people without that virtue. They have poor character. 

1 comment:

  1. Good points on this one. It's really got me thinking today :-)