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God leads to evil leads to morality…

November 2, 2010

One thing my course is showing me in more detail that I appreciated before is just how interconnected all the questions in philosophy of religion are, and just how delicate some of the arguments become when this connectedness is seen.

Catholic theology is built on the work of Aquinas, which I wrote about a while back. Aquinas argues for the existence of a timeless, spaceless God, with no potentiality. This is partly the result of the sort of arguments that he was using to establish (or support) God’s existence, and partly a result of having to dodge certain tricky questions about God. Once this view of God is established, we are inexorably led to vast swathes of Catholic doctrine.

How do we establish the meaning of the word evil? If evil is a positive quality (that is, something that we can have), then a perfectly good God would have a lack of something, or a potentiality. We therefore have to define evil in a negative way – evil is the privation of good.

Privation isn’t an absence of something. If I don’t have wings I don’t have a privation of wings, they are merely absent. Wings are not part of what it is to be human. If however I only have one arm I do have a privation – I am lacking something that is required to be fully human.

One more definition is required. What do we mean by good? Aquinas held that a person is good if they have whatever it takes to be fully human. Similarly a cat is good if it has what it takes to be fully cat. So a cat that eats a mouse, fulfilling it’s cat nature, is a good cat. Something is evil if it lacks that which would make it fully whatever it is.

Given this view of good and bad, how can we establish a moral system allowing for it? A person is good if they are fulfilling human nature. What human nature? If we don’t want to allow other people to say that their moral systems are equally valid, we have to premiss the existence of a single human nature. Something is morally acceptable if it fulfils this human nature. And so we arrive at Catholic morality…

What is the purpose of sex? To have kids. So, condoms are bad. They don’t allow us to fulfil our single human nature. Homosexuality is wrong for the same reasons. If we aren’t fulfilling the definition of human, we are morally evil. And it’s not a case that use of a condom could be good because it prevents some other bad thing. The act is evil in and of itself.

This is why Catholic theology is so dangerous – it doesn’t allow for people to be different, to have different natures. And this flows logically straight down from a simple model of God! This is the wider danger of theology as a whole. If we happily allow ourselves to play word games with a Catholic model of God, detaching it from reality until we are extremely limited in what we can say about it, we are tied to the consequences of what we have created. If we want to tell Catholics that their morality is flawed we won’t just be able to stick to criticisms of individual policies. The whole edifice is so interlocked that it’s all or nothing.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hester permalink
    November 2, 2010 2:16 PM

    one armed people are rioting across the country

  2. November 2, 2010 2:17 PM


  3. Nicky permalink
    November 2, 2010 4:18 PM

    Or left. Don’t be discriminatory…

  4. November 2, 2010 4:27 PM

    Does my comment really read that badly? All it means is that someone with one arm is lacking something that is associated with being human, hence this lack has a different status from the lack of wings, say.

  5. Nicky permalink
    November 4, 2010 8:29 AM

    Don’t panic. Even Atheists have a sense of humour. :0)

  6. Hester permalink
    November 4, 2010 2:23 PM

    But one armed people lack one.

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