Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

no contest

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 26, 2005

Like many philosophers through the ages, I believe that if God could have stopped the tsunami and did not, then God is not all-good and so does not exist. However, if God is all-good, then God must not be all-powerful. I cannot believe in a God who could have stopped this tragedy but did nothing. I can believe in a God who did not have the power to stop this tragedy. In a contest between a God of infinite power and a God of infinite goodness, I choose goodness over power.

Isn't she sweet.

That's Marjorie Maguire in the shallow left field of the NCR, panting after the fungo hit by every bright 15-year-old in his sophomore religion class, and flubbing it.

Heresy apart, the problem with Maguire's declaration is that it sounds pious. In reality, it's a way of calling attention to the nobility of her own feelings: "No omnipotence for me, thank you, I prefer goodness!" For a virtuous pagan, this might be the best he could do, and in fact a Christian would have more moral kinship with the worshiper of justice than the worshiper of might.

But both pagans make the radical error of dividing God. As Prof. Giorgio Buccellati pointed out in a brilliant essay in Communio (1995,1), once you separate God's goodness from his power you become a polytheist, distributing the divine attributes among sundry divinities. He argues further -- and this is the chief point -- that in a polytheistic universe the gods are not and can not be supreme, but are themselves subordinate to Necessity (called Destiny when we look into the future, Fate when we look back at the past). Necessity of course is an idiot -- blind, mute, deaf -- and has no intelligible purposes; yet not even the head of the polytheist pantheon can alter Necessity's decrees. Were Maguire to pursue her thinking to its conclusion, she'd be obliged to sacrifice the efficacy of prayer and the freedom of the will to the Black Hole.

It's reasonable to give Maguire the benefit of the doubt and suggest that she is not a pagan apostate but indulging in sentimentalist posturing for our benefit (after all, there's no logical difference -- as regards God's goodness -- in his taking 200,000 human lives via tsunami and one embryonic human life via miscarriage). But the faith of the Church forbids Catholics to split God up and insists, firmly, that there is no "contest" between a God of infinite power and a God of infinite goodness:

The holy catholic apostolic and Roman Church believes and confesses: that there is one true and living God, creator and Lord of heaven and earth, all-powerful, eternal, infinite, incomprehensible, limitlessly perfect of understanding and will ... who must be affirmed to be supremely blessed in and of Himself and inutterably superior to all things that are and that can be conceived.

Vatican I speaking (DS 1782). Maguire's author ID proclaims her "a Catholic theologian with a doctorate from Catholic University and a lawyer with a doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of Wisconsin." We might conjecture that her grandmother, like most of ours, had little of her education and all of her perplexity in the face of the mystery of evil. Had she the obedience of faith, however, even to the modest extent of repeating the divine attributes, she would have been preserved safe from the worst of her granddaughter's follies.

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