Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Manus, a friend on the web, has very kindly, and at great expense no doubt, sent me a book about a topic that interests us both – how can we square the notion of God and “natural” disasters?

The least I can do is to read it, which I have, and offer my opinions on it.

There are good and bad things about “The Doors of the Sea.” Good; the title, and the length – short, barely a hundred pages.

Bad; no index, and the small but significant fact that it signally fails to answer the question on the cover, “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Although there are only some 23,000 words in “Doors” if the author, David Bentley Hart, was going to dodge addressing this issue directly, he had to find some other way of filling up even a little book like this.

Here's what he does. First, he gives a reasonable account of what happened in 2004 in Indonesia. Then, he sets up a fine big straw man, the atheist who says, “The Tsunami proves that God doesn't exist.” Then kicks him over. Easy!

Then, reasonably enough, he goes on to cite Voltaire and his poem on the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. He seems respectful of the work, although, pausing for a moment to inform us that, Voltaire's “ ...verse lacks the epigrammatic and syntactic brilliance of Pope's, of course..”

Well, of course, but what does that have to do with “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Then inexplicably, he produces Ivan Karamazof and his musings on the wickedness of human beings. Even Hart can see this is a stretch, for he has to tell us, “Admittedly, Ivan does not much concern himself with the randomness of natural calamity as Voltaire does, the evils Ivan recounts are not of impersonal nature but of men...”
So it's utterly beside the point. And what has any of it got to do with “Where Was God in the Tsunami?”

Nevertheless he goes on for several more pages on Ivan. Go figure. In fact, he ends the chapter thus: “Voltaire sees only the terrible truth that the history of suffering and death is not morally intelligible. Dostoyevsky sees – and this bespeaks both his moral genius and his irreducibly Christian view of morality – that it would be far more terrible if it were.” To which we can only paraphrase Tweedledum, (or was that Tweedledee?) “But it isn't, so it ain't.”

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Hart actually does get round to answering his own question, and I am just too dim to figure it out.
Perhaps Manus, who has doubtless read the book, can put me right. We shall see.

Anyway, that'll do for one day. “Naught but a blockhead ever wrote, but for money.”
Ain't that a fact.


FrereRabit said...

At last, Paddy, a new blog post!

The real problem for me is not finding God in the disasters but the gradual realisation that I don't know where he is when things are going well. A pleasant landscape, some loving animals, and a gentle evening sunset, and sometimes I wonder if that is quite enough without complicating it by trying to find God in the situation.

Good thing I never became a priest, isn't it?

Laura said...

The book got you to write again - that makes me believe in something "out there."

Nice to have you back.

Manus said...

Hi Toad,

I made it here in the end - I'm just snowed under with earning a living. I hope to respond to your comments in due course. But please be patient.

And Hi Rabit too.

Patrick O'Gara said...

Don't know why this blog doesn't allow anonymous comments. It should.

Manus, "Patience" is oad's middle name. Or might have been, had he been a female toad.

Patrick O'Gara said...

The "t" key is sticking. Makes for some interesting effects.