Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Archbishop and the devil

I was listening to ++Rowan on the radio this evening (actually it was a recording from yesterday, I think) talking about Dostoyevsky. Seems the good Archbishop has written a book on the subject, just to keep his mind off the church. What struck me was how different he sounded from the person I've heard trying to explain some theological point for the masses or to defend the Anglican Communion against the onslaughts of the press. This Rowan Williams sounded relaxed, confident, fluent - and a joy to listen to.

What do we do to people when we make them archbishops, bishops, whatever? Seems to me that anyone in the hot seat is bound to be castrated by the position - that they have to put their intellect on hold or use it to wriggle out of answering crass questions or to craft ever more byzantine compromises.

One point which arose from the discussion itself concerned the function of evil in the world. Dostoyevsky's devil apparently claims (I haven't read any Dostoyevsky) that without him - ie without evil - the world would cease to exist. I didn't find ++Rowan's explanation of this convincing or particularly lucid: anyone like to enlarge on the topic?


  1. Anonymous12:23 PM

    No elucidation from me, of course. But... what happens if "anyone in the hot seat" is a woman? Lady Macbeth, anyone? (and I know that "Come, unsex me here" doesn't mean what it appears to say on the tin!)

  2. I'm guessing it comes from Dostoyevsky's The Brother's Karamazov. I haven't got around to reading it yet but it's well known for having a chapter on the devil.

  3. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Crime & Punishment springs to mind.

  4. Anonymous3:40 PM

    Or is that Tolstoy?

  5. abf - right first time. Let's not get into War and Peace

  6. This is all very well, people, but hardly more illuminating than I found ++Rowan. Come on!

  7. Okay, I've my homework!
    According to Dostoyevsky evil is inherent in the human condition. Unlike the Augustinian interpretation we in the west follow i.e. evil came about as a product of freewill (Eve chose to eat the piece of fruit) which means we consider evil / sin to be in the actions of a person rather than in the person themself.
    Dostoyevsky believed that evil is inherent in the human condition because it is part of the same drive that leads man towards greatness and heroism - the breaking of boundaries, which if pushed too far becomes rebellion and what we call manifestations of evil / sin.
    The key point he was trying to make is that the world cannot exist without evil, evil is not a kind of curable disease which can be eradicated when we've finally structured society the right way. The paradox is (and Dostoyevsky loved paradoxes) we have to learn to live with evil without losing hope and without ceasing to strive for a more humane world.

  8. Thank you! That's much better! Makes perfect sense, too - don't you think?

  9. In a way. I agree that evil isn't a social condition but I'm unsure about the concept of evil being inherent in human nature. I do believe in the doctrine of original sin though I don't think they amount to the same thing.

    I think our natural nature does have a propensity towards evil in the sense Dostoyevsky describes but as Christians we are called to be Christ-like, to deny our natural nature in favour of Godliness / holiness. Are Godliness and heroism opposing qualities? I don't think so but Dostoyevsky seems to imply that they are.

  10. Are Godliness and heroism opposing qualities?
    Is there perhaps a degree of self-will in the heroism, which would stand against total submission to the will of God?

  11. Yes, there can be but I don't think it is always the case. I guess at this point we are talking about motivations such as personal glory which I imagine coincides with heroism on a large number of occasions but not necessarily on every occasion.
    It also depends on our definition of heroism; I imagine many gay Christians consider Gene Robinson to be a hero of sorts.

  12. Touche´!
    This straight Christian would be such a one...

  13. Anonymous11:00 PM

    Both work, as the sin was in the heart before it was expressed in the act.