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“The arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things”

“The arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things”

Andrew Brown of The Guardian has written a column that people who wrestle with questions of faith and doubt and who try to make sense of justice and suffering, might well find useful. It doesn’t submit easily to the taking of excerpts, but here is a bit that conveys something of his approach.

This is why the idea of resurrection into eternity is central to Christianity: it makes sense precisely because it’s nonsense in earthly terms. We can’t imagine what it could be like.

It’s easy enough to imagine heaven or hell as a continuation of experience – for shorthand, look at the end of the Narnia sequence. But that can’t be right. Experience so far as we can tell depends on a physical substrate. No brain, no experience. (I might say that my recent flirtation with death convinced me still more that the idea of an afterlife is incoherent nonsense).

In any case, the idea of heaven or hell or purgatory brings us back to the arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things; and as soon as you think about concrete cases, that’s absurd: how many millenniums in purgatory would Jimmy Savile have to spend to make right what he allegedly did to young girls? Even popes don’t presume to answer such questions these days.

What do you think of Brown’s consideration of these big questions. (And can you imagine a U. S. newspaper keeping someone on its staff to wrestle with these kinds of issues?)


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Jim: I read the entire column and it’s first rate. I don’t have any ready responses to your first question, but to your second: no, I can’t imagine.

Thank you for the link!

Kevin McGrane

Jesse Snider

I’m not sure I buy the arithmetic of the theory. Where I come from conversion wipes out the negative pile altogether. And it doesn’t magically reappear at each fall. There’s a story that Marguerite Marie Alacoque, nun and mystic had visions of Jesus which she revealed to her confessor. The story goes that her confessor asked her to ask Jesus what she confessed in a previous confession, this was to be “his” proof that the visions were real. When she returned and her confessor asked what Jesus said she confessed the nun reported, “The Lord said “I don’t remember.””

I rather like that story, sin confessed and forgiven doesn’t sit around and wait for you to fail again, its gone.

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