Wednesday, February 2

Challenge: Awakening Essay 3

This I think, unless inspired by comments will be the last in my series of posts on Awakening by Oliver Sacks. I think it will also serve (perhaps) as a good bridge to the next Challenge text, Atheism: The Case against God by George Smith in that I plan to discuss the theological and spiritual implications of the medical cases which arise while reading this book. After all, this book was suggested as my part of a Challenge to Unbelievers in which I would be reading books of their choice, while they read a book which explores some of the recent work on the historical investigations into Jesus done by N.T. Wright. It's only fair that I consider what religious implications I can glean from this text.

Two theological issues arise on reading this book, one of them however is just misleading. Atheists (and many believers) hold a belief in the immortality of the soul and that the soul is somehow independent of the body. However, scripture (to my untutored reading) does not. The idea that the soul is separate and immortal is an idea that owes more to Greek heritage than Hebrew. Spirit, or life, in Old Testament scripture is has no life independent of the body. Thus the fact that physical maladies, like Parkinsons can suspend indefinitely mental processes, which then resume miraculously when L-DOPA is applied causes no requirement or strain on ones belief system. Maladies of the spirit affect the body and vice versa. For the believer, it has been said by analogy that our software will be uploaded by God's grace to God's hardware until the time of the resurrection, when our software will be moved to new (and improved) hardware back here on Earth. The issues arising from the mental travails and calamities of the patients in Awakenings poses no difficulty for this belief.

The second theological question which arises poignantly on reading the case histories is the age old question, as posed (and addressed) by C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did the virus which caused sleeping sickness arise, why the influenza epidemic, why the Boxer day tsunami? Why does a loving omnipotent God allow bad things to happen? Augustine argued that evil entered the world with Adam's fall. For myself, currently I take the longer view, that God sees the whole picture, i.e., what I think is evil or bad, may not be in the longer view, for I am not qualified to sit in judgment of God. Now IMHO, this last thought is completely inadequate to deal with the subject. So it is clear that a more thorough treatment is needed. So, what I plan to do is that after the second round my challenge essays (on Atheism) is complete, I will return to the question of evil (or pain) and God. I'm going to peruse the following in preparation for those essays, Aquinas, On Evil; N.T. Wright lectures, (here, here, here, here, and here); and C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. If any gentle readers have suggestions for further source material, I'd be grateful.