"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why Do Earthquakes and Tornados Exist?

I am finally--nearly a year after the editor sent it to me--getting around to reviewing a recent book by Christos Yannaras, The Enigma of Evil, trans. Norman Russell (Holy Cross Press, 2012), 176pp. I cannot reproduce the contents of the review here but will instead just offer a few thoughts. First, the publisher's blurb:
Nature's logic makes no qualitative judgments: earthquakes, disease, fire, and flood destroy human beings just as they also destroy irrational animals - without distinction. Decay, pain, panic, and death constitute the same conditions of existence for both Aristotle and his dog. Why? How is this irrationality compatible - how does it coexist - with the wonderful rationality (the wisdom and beauty) of nature? Why is the only consciousness in the universe, the creative uniqueness of each human being, a provocatively negligible given in nature's mechanistic functionality? And why do hatred, blind cupidity, sadism, and criminality spring from nature - why do they have roots in humanity's biostructure? Can we perhaps bring some logical order, some principles of understanding, to questions concerning the nature of evil? This book attempts to respond to the challenge.
Those who know and have read Yannaras will find here a characteristic style that is not without its frustrations: he seems to dodge and weave around various "positions" and take almost exuberant delight in sketching out certain lines of thought, only to dash them to bits a little later on. If you have patience to see it through to the end, the book tries on multiple definitions and conceptions of evil, and then just as quickly strips most of them off and rubbishes them. You get some clarity in the end, but you have to work at it. "Mercurial" is the word that recurs when I think of his style.

Still, the value in this book, it seems to me, is that it does not confine itself to classic (if sometimes tiresome) questions of e.g., why does God let the little girl die of brain cancer at 3, or how could He have allowed the Holocaust? Yannaras's focus, rather, is on "natural" evil, as he ponders how it is that "nature" seeks to survive while at the same time "nature" also allows for or brings about floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like.

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