We All Could Kill Children But What About God?

Book of Mormon Culture Death Ethics Freedom Germany Jesus Christ Politics Power Suffering Theodicy Violence World

On the occasion of Ronan’s remembrance of the Coventry bombing, I am exploring theodicy with Jon and Right Trousers.

I would agree with Right Trousers that the choices of the survivors can give meaning to the suffering of the victims. At least, we are taking responsibility for our actions. But since our choices cannot undo the suffering, they also can neither absolve us nor god.

I also agree that we are all capable of evil. In her famous observations about the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt refers to it as the banality of evil.

The perpetrators are not monsters but human beings. There is something of Eichmann in all of us.

I suppose that one could make a freedom argument in defense of God. However, there is a broad consensus among the defenders of freedom, better known but routinely maligned as liberals, that a person’s liberty ends when it begins to intrude on the liberty on another (John Stuart Mill, wasn’t it?).

If liberty or free agency were the concern then god would be wrong to permit the killing of innocents to preserve the liberty of the murderers.

Unlike the Communist mass murders, fairly base attitudes motivated the bombing of open cities: fear, revenge, desperation, servility and, may be, a mistaken logic of self-defense. But that does not make the perpetrators any less human.

We have not quite sunk that low but at a time where we have permitted our own government to torture people and engage into a dehumanizing majoritarianism, we have no standing to deny the humanity of our forebears.

With respect to god, Christianity, at least, can claim that its god became a mortal to suffer with us. That is a powerful cosmogony . . .

. . . but not one that Mormonism is comfortable with.

PS: Listening to Richard Bushman’s Mormon Stories interview, by the way, I had the impression that he appears to be unaware of the banality of evil. He invokes the goodness of his parents to defend himself against the criticism of Mormonism by his Harvard peers and professors. That was a bizarre argument, especially, for a history professor.

6 thoughts on “We All Could Kill Children But What About God?

  1. “With respect to god, Christianity, at least, can claim that its god became a mortal to suffer with us. That is a powerful cosmogony… but not one that Mormonism is comfortable with.”

    I don’t get what you mean by this.

  2. If god cannot prevent suffering, Seth, at least he is expressing his solidarity by suffering himself.

    My impression is that most Mormons are a little uncomfortable with the crucified Christ. We prefer to think about Christ in the first vision, may be, the resurrected Christ, and Christ in Gethsemane.

    But I would be hard pressed to remember a Mormon work of art, for example, that depicts Christ on the cross and god being tortured to death.

    I am sure there are some. They are just not very prominent.

    It may be a leap but that and other indicators tend to show that Mormons have difficulties with the concept of god on the cross.

  3. And it would be more accurate to specify that you are talking about Mormons in particular, and not “Mormonism” proper.

    Mormon theology most certainly does have full access to the idea of a God who became mortal to suffer with us.

    Honestly, I think the only real difference at the lay Mormon level, is that Mormons often transfer the full suffering to Gethsemane. And maybe you’re right that this does make the whole experience a little less visceral and comprehensible to your average Mormon. I don’t know.

    But did you ever watch that LDS film about the death of Christ – “Lamb of God.” Didn’t seem to me like they spent less time on the crucifixion than the Garden.

  4. And it would be more accurate to specify that you are talking about Mormons in particular, and not “Mormonism” proper.

    There is Mormon theology and Mormon culture. If actions speak louder than words then theology is only alive insofar as it is manifest in Mormon practice.

    Of course, scripture can be a powerful reservoir of ideas. But if no one talks about them or applies them then scriptural passages are merely a potential.

    It seems to me that Mormons, like many Protestant faiths, are less comfortable with suffering than Episcopalians, Lutherans or Catholics, for example. We would much rather put up an optimistic front.

    On the other hand, there is some evidence of a course correction. For example, there is this talk by Elder Edgley.

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