Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Taking things to their limit.

Today's news has hit hard, the attack on the school in Pakistan has really cut me up.  Pakistan is a country I have an uncommon affection for and I know too many Pakistanis for this not to hurt.  But my grief is not primarily a personal grief, it is a grief born of watching Islam tear itself apart, and the all too frequent tragic consequences of this rupture.

Now what is the correct response to this for Catholics?  I do know that painting Islam as the enemy, or indulging in some ghastly smug "I told you so, they are a heretical sect and heresies burn themselves out eventually", is quite simply wrong.  Each and every soul on this planet was made by God, each and every soul on this planet has a guardian angel.  Each and every soul on this planet is hardwired to recognise real love and each and every soul is free to receive or reject that love. Christians: we should know them by their love.  That is it.  That is our response.  And we have to take our love to the limit, basically because it isn't our love but the love of God manifest in us... somehow that is what we have to do.

The intellect is stronger than the heart and I do wonder if deep down there may be an intellectual solution to this tragedy.  My personal view (and I'd be interested if anyone out there who actually has a degree in Philosophy and isn't simply some second rate easily bored Physics teacher agrees with me) is that Islam has developed a parasitic "heresy" of its own and this is the source of the problem.

The heresy in question is what I will call "neo-Occasionalism".  Occasionalism is a philosophy developed mainly by Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) out of Oriental Atomism which refutes Aristotle's idea that there are efficient causes to anything.  An example of an efficient cause is a sculptor being the efficient cause of a sculpture.  Aristotle has three other "causes": material, formal and final.  (Go google them if you are interested).  Al-Ghazali argued that there are no efficient causes, basically because God does everything, the efficient cause is merely an illusion. Occasionalism was largely taken up by Sunnis and the influential Wahaabi movement. And I hereby wish to state that I am not attacking Occasionalism, but I am attacking what it has morphed into.

It sort of boils down to God being in every atom and God doing everything.  If taken to its limit, it seems to make God suffer from OCD.  And this is what I think has happened in "neo-Occasionalism", you get a system where God is doing everything.  But remove God from this philosophy for a moment (and simply consider a world where nothing is random and everything is pre-ordained) and you discredit most of Physics.  All systems of things have "degrees of freedom", laws governing things they can and can't do.  As as example, think of a volcano, it can chuck out pyroclasts as is pleases provided they interact with the local gravitational field according to physical law.  Nothing arranges the pyroclasts, they are simply spewed out.  But a volcano isn't free to spew out liquorice allsorts any more than a blackbird is free to sing like Justin Bieber.  Things operate within degrees of freedom, but not beyond that and neither are they straightjacketed into a particular rigid single behaviour. Physics can't predict every outcome, it can only assess possible outcomes.  The universe is not clockwork.

And this logic applies to humans too.  We operate under certain laws and suffer the consequences of not heeding to those laws AND we have free- will.  That is our God given "degree of freedom".  The freedom to choose our actions.  The freedom to do stupid things and the freedom to sin.  God cannot make us sin.  And here is the crux my argument. Sin really is one thing that ONLY has an effective cause.  The effective cause of the sin is the sinner.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.  The devil did not make you sin, YOU can resist the devil by God's grace.  You are responsible for your own sin.

BUT remove the efficient cause and you basically remove sin.  The tragic consequences of this unthinking "neo-Occasionalism" are the IS, the Boko Haram rapists and slaverymongers and people who think it is OK to blow up schoolchildren.  To them, God's doing everything.  And there is sweet nothing in the writings of the Koran that legitimises any of this cowardice and stupidity.

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