If God is Rational, Whence the Holocaust and Competing Goods (Such as the Pursuit of Beauty over Ethics)?

Thomist philosopher Edward Feser prefers intellectualism (reason leading the will) to voluntarism (the will leading reason). He thinks that neither desire nor imagination should lead our wills, and claims that God, as the supremely rational being, ought to be our example: “[W]hat God wills and does is always rational or intelligible through and through,” whereas “an extreme voluntarist conception of God would regard him primarily as a Supreme Will,…On this sort of view, what God wills and does is not ultimately intelligible even in itself, for he is in no sense bound by rationality. He simply wills what he wills, arbitrarily or whimsically, and there is ultimately no sense to be made of it.”

But if God is as Edward Feser supposes–supremely rational and intelligible–then my questions become three:

  • Does the Holocaust fit best under intellectualism or voluntarism? In other words, in deciding between competing goods, was God being rational to prefer Hitler’s free will to the suffering of six million Jews?
  • Does God have the right answer for Antigone and Creon in terms of prioritizing and choosing between their competing goods? (For Antigone, it was to bury her brother vs. the State’s command that she not do so; for King Creon, as Head of State, it was to punish Antigone for insolence vs. give her mercy.)
  • If one devotes oneself to masturbation or art (private pleasures), rather than helping, say, gays and lesbians organize for equality and justice, is one being irrational?

It just seems to me that, clearly, if God exists, she is not Hegel, providing a direction to history through its Sturm und Drang. Instead, she appears to have set up the cosmos for whimsy and chaos; for the play of multiplicity, contingency, and competing goods, not for the business of working out a winner-take-all competition between the obviously good vs. the obviously evil.

The rational response then, would look to be to take our cue from God and be multiple ourselves; to not try to hold the impulses of our evolved brains and bodies in a single vision, but to be nomadic, unsettled, ironic and humorous (ala Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”). By all appearances, life really is “absurd, and death’s the final word,” and God thinks more like Proust (a novelist) than Aquinas (a theologian).

So it seems that God made the cosmos for whimsy, and has strewn the evidence for Her whimsy everywhere. Look, for instance, into the night sky. Astronomers tell us the moon itself is the ancient debris of a cataclysmic collision between two planets, Earth and Theia (in Greek myth, Theia is the mother of Selene, goddess of the moon). God, it appears, is speaking loud and clear, pointing at the moon like Dogen. Are we listening and looking?

If you think God is supremely rational, behold the Holocaust, behold the moon.


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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