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Post Thoughts for 9/11
Created by John Eipper on 09/11/15 5:03 PM

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Thoughts for 9/11 (David Duggan, USA, 09/11/15 5:03 pm)

From Chicago, as the son of one U of Chicago MBA and the father of another, I am commemorating the 14th remembrance of the events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a bucolic Pennsylvania field. Shortly thereafter, I wrote the following piece, originally published in the newspaper sent to Episcopalians in the Chicago Diocese and now in my book, Glimpses of Grace, Reflections of a Life in Christ. Regardless of whether those events presaged a "clash of civilizations," or a return to the conflicts of a millennium and a half between the Christian West and the Islamic East, people of faith everywhere must consider whether there is a Divine purpose behind the suffering both then and in the years since. My answer is below:

Finding Good in the Wake of Evil

I once worked for a state agency on the 58th floor of Two World Trade Center. In my naiveté, I thought that the job presented some physical danger, and I asked a colleague if he worried that a target of our investigations might turn on him. Matter of factly, he replied that he was as concerned about that as he was about one of the columns holding up the building collapsing. I don't know if he made it out.

Like everyone I know in these parts 800 miles removed form ground zero, I watched in stunned disbelief at the events of September 11, and the full effect has not yet kicked in. But as my former place of employment crumbled to the ground, I was reminded of the words of Solomon: "All is vanity." The same Solomon who prayed for wisdom before ascending the throne, who built the Temple to match the holy city's splendor, who ruled from the Euphrates to the Nile, could not guarantee his kingdom's security and it was divided shortly before its people were taken into captivity. Can we expect any more of our metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs?

Why evil exists in a world created by a loving God who sent his Son to redeem us is a question that all Christians must face. The Fall, man's disobedience, human freedom to follow the darkness can't explain why innocents are dragged into evil's snare to suffer. When evil so dominates the headlines, we cannot retort that we might as well ask why good exists. Few jetliners crash into skyscrapers out of a desire to do good.

Jesus, who wrestled with evil face to face, yet did not succumb, viewed evil as the invitation to repentance. After 18 workers were killed when an aqueduct toppled on them at Siloam, He asked whether they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem. Was it mere coincidence that Jesus told the young man blind from birth to wash his eyes in Siloam's pool, the spring that the workers were trying to route to Jerusalem? And was it coincidence that one of the first deaths reported was that of the New York City Fire Department's chaplain, who braved smoke and flame, falling concrete and inky darkness to minister to his flock?

Heir to a tradition which had confronted evil for two thousand years, yet never quite triumphed over it, Jesus knew well the words of the patriarch Joseph. The youngest and favorite of Jacob's 12 sons, Joseph lorded it over his older brothers. But when he tried to make peace with them, his brothers beat him up and sold him into slavery. Taken to Egypt, Joseph resisted temptation and years later became Pharaoh's confidant, to whom he predicted a terrible famine. The famine brought Jacob, his remaining sons and their families to Egypt looking for food. Revealing himself as their lost brother, Joseph welcomed his family into a land that had made provision in good harvest. Finally reconciled to his brothers after Jacob's death, Joseph fulfilled his father's last wish when he prayed that they be forgiven, saying to them: "Though you meant it for evil, God meant it for good."

JE comments: Joseph's is a powerful story of forgiveness.  And David Duggan gives us lots to think about on this sad anniversary.


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  • Thoughts for 9/11 (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/13/15 2:37 AM)

    I was fascinated by two of David Duggan's statements in his 9/11 post. First, David wrote, "I was reminded of the words of Solomon: 'All is vanity.' The same Solomon who prayed for wisdom before ascending the throne, who built the Temple to match the holy city's splendor, who ruled from the Euphrates to the Nile, could not guarantee his kingdom's security and it was divided shortly before its people were taken into captivity. Can we expect any more of our metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs?"


    Why don't we know how Solomon screwed up militarily to lose his kingdom to its enemies, or what he could have done to prelude that? Can anyone elaborate?


    Second, "Why evil exists in a world created by a loving God who sent his Son to redeem us is a question that all Christians must face... When evil so dominates the headlines, we cannot retort that we might as well ask why good exists. Few jetliners crash into skyscrapers out of a desire to do good."


    Good or evil exist because of human behavior; we have too many false gods, make wrong choices, and we all pay for them or benefit from them. God is always right; we just are not in touch enough, have not learned enough about God the Universe, and just like to blame someone else for our own stupidity. Wise men say we should be careful what we pray for, or God works in mysterious ways, and these are true.


    JE comments: If there is a loving God, why does evil exist? This is an essential question of the monotheistic religions. Polytheism gets around the conceptual dilemma by seeing evil as conflict between rival gods.


    Who can walk us through the details of what happened to Solomon's kingdom?


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    • King Solomon (Robert Whealey, USA 09/13/15 2:30 PM)
      The story of King Solomon (see Tor Guimaraes, 13 September) is written in the Kings 1 & 2 and Chronicles 1 & 2 in the Protestant Bible, but renamed the 4 Kings in the Catholic Bible. In any case the anonymous writer of these books probably exaggerated the extent of King Solomon's jurisdiction. Archeologists have found no ruins of Solomon's Temple. It was made of cedar wood.

      Joshua brought 12 tribes out of Egypt to the land of Canaan. Four minor kings followed King Solomon in Jerusalem and two of the tribes Israel and Judea got into a long civil war and split the kingdom in two, which survived to the time of Jesus. We have the names of the other 10 "lost tribes," Dan, Benjamin, etc. in two or three lists. They were never lost, but over the centuries they married into the two surviving kingdoms.


      JE comments: This discussion reminds me of our youngest (and by his name, wisest) colleague, Solomon Lincoln Levine, WAISer Alan Levine's son, born on May 19th of this year. Alan, I know you've been busy with the new arrival, but drop us a line when you can!

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    • Why Does Evil Exist? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/15/15 6:04 AM)
      John Eipper commented on my post of 13 September with a question: "If there is a loving God, why does evil exist? This is an essential question of the monotheistic religions."

      The question is a result from the common bad human habit of creating God in their own image. Love is a man-made concept/feeling which has many sources such as instinct, friendship, just as some other animals do. God the Universe, just is. If humans don't want to get in trouble with other humans, we better have some regulations, laws, ethical rules, conventions, etc. But God the Universe is always right.


      The best rule is not to do to others what you don't want them to do to you. But we individually or as a group break that rule way too often by being insensitive or many times we hurt others deliberately. That is why we have lawsuits, "evil deeds," genocide, and wars among nations. The perpetrators usually play dumb until they get punished. If the perpetrators win, they might get away with it using misinformation, PR campaigns, etc. It is an interesting game.


      JE comments:  The Harmony of the Universe, and the Depravity of Man--and Woman?

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      • Why Does Evil Exist? (John Heelan, UK 09/15/15 11:36 AM)
        Tor Guimaraes (15 Sept.) commented on the religious dichotomy of Good and Evil, pointing out that religion is man-made and recognises the two elements of human nature: did not Freud distinguish these elements with his Superego, Ego and Id?

        However, one might also argue that Good and Evil are necessary to religion, since the absence of one would remove the need for the other.  I have mentioned previously Jose Saramago's 2008 novel Death with Interruptions, about a country where nobody died. Those who most objected to the absence of death were those who benefited from the existence of death (undertakers, lawyers, etc.) but by far the most voluble was the Church, which recognised that the absence of death negated the promise of resurrection and thus the raison d'etre of Christianity and other religions. Perhaps it is in Religion's solipsistic interest to keep the both Good an Evil as concepts?


        JE comments: Evil won't be going out of style anytime soon, so John Heelan's point is rhetorical. But I am reminded of economist Thomas Sowell, our subject of last week, who made a similar argument about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):  it would never be in their interest to say, "well, we don't see much discrimination any more, so let's close up shop."  (I paraphrase from memory.)


        Human Rights lawyers are in the same boat--what if they no longer had anything to litigate about?


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        • What if Evil Did Not Exist? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 09/19/15 9:38 AM)
          Ric Mauricio responds to John Heelan (15 September):


          And what if we didn't have taxes? What would all those IRS employees, tax preparers, and Enrolled Agents do? Might it be something productive?


          Now John Heelan asks the age-old question, "why does evil exist?" Wouldn't we then have to ask the question, "why does good exist?" After all, one cannot exist without the other. Just like hot cannot exist without cold, or night without day, hate without love, pleasure without pain (sorry, will not get into a discussion on S&M here), hard without soft, winners without losers and smart without dumb, it is the nature of the world. It is what the Asians call yin/yang.


          Religion, in its quest for understanding, comes up with stories to explain the existence of events. God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, saintly vs. sinful, beginning and end. Being brought up in a Roman Catholic environment, I chuckled at how the church was able to conveniently categorize the relative essence of evil--cardinal sin, mortal sins, and venial sins with the appropriate punishment (penance) for each. Now, in order to be saved, one must confess and be truly sorry for what they did.


          But what if some woman asked you if you thought she was fat? Would you lie? Of course. You did not want to hurt her feelings. Are you sorry for lying? Not a bit. So you're going to hell in a hand basket (whatever that means).


          Now imagine if we did not have evil. My guess is that we would not have 99% of the books written, or movies and TV shows written. If evil means losing, we would not have any sporting events. No need for many of music ... how many songs are written about heartbreaking romance? We would have no need for religion. Oh, wait, didn't John Lennon go through this already?


          But then, wouldn't life then be mundane and boring without yin and yang? When I think of it, I marvel at the brilliance of whatever created this.


          JE comments:  There's nothing much for me to add here, but just yesterday I was driving around and Lennon's "Imagine" came on the radio.

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          • To Hell in a Handbasket; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 09/20/15 4:01 AM)


            Gary Moore writes:




            On Ric Mauricio's pause from the grimness of evil (Sept. 19)
            to wonder just where the hell the phrase "to hell in a handbasket"
            came from:


            Turns out the Web is filled with cluelessness on
            this one. Wikipedia shows its dopey side (not the incisive
            side John Eipper has rightly commended) by never answering
            the question. The surprise, however, is that the handbasket is
            not to be carried by hand, but to be carried full of hands--as one of those generic Answer sites explores (if it's true):
            http://askville.amazon.com/expression-hell-hand-basket/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=2506232



            JE comments:  A basket full of hands would be decidedly hellish.  Here's something I found on the Web.  My thanks to the clever cartoonist:

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          • What if Evil Did Not Exist? (John Heelan, UK 09/20/15 4:16 AM)
            Ric Mauricio (19 September) perhaps misses my point when he commented: "John Heelan asks the age-old question, 'why does evil exist?' Wouldn't we then have to ask the question, 'why does good exist?' After all, one cannot exist without the other."

            I agree. However my point is not about the questions themselves but about who benefits from continuously providing Ric's preferred answer, "After all, one cannot exist without the other." It is the religious community that needs both questions and preferred answers. .


            Without the dichotomy of Good and Evil, religions could not justify themselves, just as in Saramago's novel without Death there can be no Resurrection or more prosaically no "Jam Tomorrow" for religions to promise.


            JE comments:  Jam tomorrow, or "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"

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            • A Moment with Browning (John Heelan, UK 09/21/15 6:24 AM)
              JE quoted Robert Browning in his comment of 20 September: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"

              However, previously Browning writes: "Well, I can fancy how he [Andrea del Sarto] did it all,/ Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see,/ Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him,/ Above and through his art-for it gives way."


              Note the influence of "kings and popes."


              JE comments: We just saw an encounter between a pope (Francis) and a de facto king: Fidel Castro. I'm not 100% sure of the chronology, but I believe WAISer Massoud Malek was in Cuba at the same time as His Holiness. Massoud: please tell us more!

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            • More Thoughts on Evil; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 09/22/15 7:21 AM)
              Ric Mauricio responds to John Heelan (20 September):

              John, I believe we are on the same page. To expand on our discussion, not only do religionists justify themselves, and conveniently pick and choose what to believe in, religionists also found that the guiltier they can make one feel, the more power they have over you. I recall during our Confirmation (the sacrament) celebration, one of my classmates surmised that he could not participate because between his Confession (the sacrament of Penance) on Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, he had sinned. Of course, one wonders what that frightful sin could have been, but our Reverend Mother kindly put his mind to ease and he participated.


              I was told that one cannot pick and choose what in the Bible one can believe in. I was told that you either believe in everything the Bible says or you are heretical. My question to these people, "But doesn't the Church pick and choose? saying which teachings are Biblical and which are not?"


              But I guess I may be riding that hand basket (love that cartoon) on a zip line since I choose to believe in Jesus', Lao Tzu's, Baha'i, and Humanist teachings and not some of the Apostle Paul's teachings.


              By the way, has anyone noticed? We've got heaven right here. Good food, good friends, fine wine, and fine women. Ah, heaven.


              JE comments: Fine gentlemen, too. And in my book, a speedy car, a twisty road, and good weather.  WAISly heaven is fast, reliable Internet.

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        • Why Does Evil Exist? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/21/15 4:09 PM)
          In response to John Heelan (15 September), it seems to me that Sigmund Freud, trying to describe individual human psyche or personality, came up with the three major components: id, ego and superego (comprised of two parts, the conscience and the ideal self), which develop at different stages of human lives. Perhaps other animals may have the same or something similar.

          This model for the human psyche tries to explain human behavior in the context of society and common morality. Regardless of whether this is a good model or not, the specific human behavior will determine the creation of good or evil. The behavior can be judged by another man-made institution: organized religion. But that has very little to do with God the Universe.


          As I said earlier, God the Universe is always right. The best humans can do is learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible about the Universe. Also, we must follow the golden rule not to do to others what we don't want them to do to us. However, humans get distracted very easily with fools' errands, and we individually or as a group break the golden rule (weak super egos) very often by being insensitive or many times deliberately hurting others for short-term gains.


          JE comments: My apologies to Tor Guimaraes; this post got lost in the shuffle of incomings.


          A morality question regarding God the Universe:  without a code of morality, which ultimately goes back to religion, what is to keep humans from falling into a state of Hobbesian chaos?  Or a Darwinian "survival of the fittest"?  Does the Universe really care about the Golden Rule?

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          • Does the Universe Care About the Golden Rule? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/22/15 6:15 PM)
            John Eipper commented on my 21 September post with a few questions: "Regarding God the Universe: without a code of morality, which ultimately goes back to religion, what is to keep humans from falling into a state of Hobbesian chaos? Or a Darwinian 'survival of the fittest'? Does the Universe really care about the Golden Rule?"

            As I said earlier, God the Universe is always right, so there is no need for ethics. However, ethics becomes critical if people want to get along with other members of their family, tribes, nations, and any other groups, including churches. For that reason alone, some rules of behavior must be followed. Otherwise the person(s) will be shunned, expelled, excommunicated, put in prison, or get burned at the stake.


            One of my favorite organized religions (because it was at least true to itself) was from the Vikings, were men hoped to die wielding their sword killing enemies very broadly defined, including other Vikings. Not very constructive and peaceful, but honest to wild human nature. My biggest problem is with more sanctimonious and hypocritical organized religions where, as long as the group is acting together, they can preach one thing and do practically the opposite. Just for example, because all religious people do bad things (as well as some good), devout Christians murdered their way to Jerusalem, sold the forgiveness of bad behavior, and decided that treating African-Americans worse than dogs was somehow fine by their god. Devout Islamists such as ISIS can perform incredible acts of savagery against innocent people.


            Of course, the conformity with the social rules is what we call morality and on some dimensions it may differ dramatically from group to group. John is giving way too much credit to organized religion as the ultimate source of morality. The religious beliefs of one religious group may be very immoral to believers of other groups. This diversity is one reason which makes clear to me that God has nothing to do with organized religion, they are all human artifacts. Therefore, organized religion in general cannot be trusted as any source of morality.


            Because God the Universe is always right, the best humans can do is learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible about the Universe. There is so much to be learned and the knowledge grows exponentially, just as the demand for new knowledge. Thus, mankind will be extremely busy learning and benefiting from all this new knowledge. Hopefully, because of this marvelous virtuous cycle humans will finally realize that we must follow the Golden Rule not to do to others what we don't want them to do to us. Does God the Universe care if humans follow the golden rule? Absolutely not; we are completely free to chose our own behavior which can produce good or evil.


            JE comments:  I would not have been a successful Viking.  Pagan religions are so violent!  But their defenders might say the same thing about the monotheists.

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            • Thoughts on God the Universe; Response to Tor Guimaraes (John Heelan, UK 09/25/15 3:04 AM)
              Tor Guimaraes (23 September) provides a strong argument for "God the Universe." However he may be falling into a theological trap similar to that of other formal religions.

              Firstly, is "God the Universe" a sole entity or do the parallel or multiverse universes theories imply multiple gods? Secondly, does "God the Universe" depend on science that has a shelf-life of "truth" limited by the next discovery? Thirdly, who interprets that science? It has been observed that some scientists are as much prey to "received wisdom" as their opposite numbers in the monotheist religions. To adapt the words of Islam's Shahada, is the "God the Universe" expressed as "There is no god but God the Universe and science is the messenger of God," or the Christian "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth/I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord"?


              JE comments: Tor Guimaraes has given us a thorough portrait of his theology. I believe he would say that the collective scientific community is charged with interpreting the Universe. This, however, begs another question: wouldn't such a situation convert scientists and technocrats into a privileged "clergy"?

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              • Thoughts on God the Universe (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/27/15 2:39 AM)
                My gratitude to John Heelan (JH; 25 September) and John Eipper (JE) for the many interesting questions. You are really making me think about all this exceedingly important subject.

                JH asked: "Is 'God the Universe' a sole entity or do the parallel or multiverse universes theories imply multiple gods?" As I said earlier, God is only one Universe, its structure (parallel, layered, multiverse, etc. is something for mankind to someday learn. Its structure makes no difference regarding how we humans should relate to it.


                JH asked: "Does 'God the Universe' depend on science that has a shelf-life of 'truth' limited by the next discovery?" The Universe does not depend on science or human understanding. It just is. Humans need to learn how it works, its laws and what is or is not. For this learning, humans need science, logic, imagination to be tested by science and understanding.


                JH asked: "Who interprets that science? It has been observed that some scientists are as much prey to 'received wisdom' as their opposite numbers in the monotheist religions." Humans are free to do what they want and can, for good or evil. They are also free to invent what beliefs they want. Science is a process for learning about the Universe which is based on skepticism, hypothesis testing and re-testing until we seem to have the truth--what is. The scientific method does not guarantee that we have the truth about anything. For example, scientists believe that in a few billion years the sun will burn out the Earth. Is that the truth? On the other hand, we must have discovered much truth about the Universe, otherwise we would not have been able to harness atomic energy, put men on the moon, land probes on distant planets, practically wipe out the scourge of smallpox, etc.


                JH asked: "Is the 'God the Universe' expressed as 'There is no god but God the Universe and science is the messenger of God,' or the Christian 'I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth/I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord?" You can express it any way you like. To me, God the Universe is the only God, it created itself, and humans better learn how it works before we kill ourselves due to our ignorance and stupidity.


                For his part, John E asked: "[if the] scientific community is charged with interpreting the Universe, wouldn't such a situation convert scientists and technocrats into a privileged clergy?" Anyone can become a good student of the Universe, become knowledgeable, get Nobel Prizes and other wards for contributing to knowledge beneficial to mankind. This would be no different.


                JE comments: Likewise, anyone can become a member of the privileged clergy--unless, for some religious traditions, you are a woman.


                Does Tor Guimaraes's "God the Universe" think and feel?  Tor gave his answer to this question back in March:


                http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=92125&objectTypeId=77259&topicId=152


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