Friday, August 31, 2012

The Superhero

(Not Quite Top Shelf)

If you really could do Superman or Batman types of things, wouldn’t you be obligated to fix things without rest?  No one else can see through walls – you have to ferret out the criminals, Superman. No one else can climb the side of the building, Batman – you have to rescue the child on the ledge. To be given super powers would be a curse, not a blessing, for you could never sleep.  There would alwys be one more thing that you were needed for.

So you’d come pretty quickly to the understanding that you couldn’t do it all, or you would be so consumed with guilt you couldn’t function.  Consider – this is precisely the situation all of us are in now.  There are a thousand, a million ills in our ken which we will do nothing to alleviate.  And yet. There were Jews other than Lazarus who had died in those few days, but Jesus raised one.  He healed one at the Pool of Siloam.  Sometimes he healed all who were brought to him, sometimes few or none.  How can such a thing be?

Consider also – this is the argument that governments use to take control of situations and charge us for the privilege.  They are the only ones big enough, they must do everything.  The responibility must be theirs.  Because there is still death and disease in Palestine, this Jesus has failed.  That way doesn’t work, so you have to do it our way.

This only makes sense if one believes that all problems are ultimately solvable.  That claim of mine may take some thinking, as you search the various escape-hatches from that premise before you conclude that it is so.  The optimistic, upbeat approach that says with a good ol' American can-do attitude we can lick this thing, and we won’t rest until there are no more childhood illnesses (or no more poverty, or no more wars) sounds kind but is ultimately cruel.  The versions with a Christian spin are no better – you will notice that Jesus himself did not talk like that, noting that we would always have the poor, and many people would live under oppression.

When one believes that a solution must, simply must, be out there, it does indeed spur her to keep trying heroically, keep looking indefatigably, and that is a good thing.  But it leads inevitably to trying terrible solutions, not because they are moral or have much chance of success, but because the previous ideas have not worked, or not well enough.  We see it in Narnia when two of the dwarves suggest bringing in monsters to help in fight against Miraz.  Lewis notes it more explicitly in “Why I Am Not A Pacifist” when he tackles the argument that we must disarm because getting enough people in enough countries to do that is the only path left.  Gandhi ultimately has to advocate that the Jews should just allow themselves to be killed, on the hope that they will be an example and shame the world into – into what?  Singing “Imagine?” The Nazis would keep on killing, yes?

It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life might be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists of tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.  CS Lewis “Why I Am Not A Pacifist,” 1940

We live in a fallen world.  Start to finish, a fallen world, and our job may not be to fix things, but to learn how to act in a fallen world.  That will likely include fixing things that come into our path, “uprooting evil in the fields that we know.” Yet God repeatedly has said that the large solutions are pretty much His.


Sam L. said...

We know the poor will always be with us in America, because there is an adjustable "poverty" level. Even if our poor are obese, or have more than those in 3rd-world countries.

Some problems are not fixable because some people are not fixable, or refuse the fix.

Anonymous said...

Stopping crime all day? Climbing buildings? Nonsense!!

james said...

Or this

james said...

Seriously though, I tend to what I've called the Godellian approach: a solution to X will introduce new problems in Y. Given that two goals of government are in tension (liberty and order), you can hardly expect that any legislated compromise will be satisfactory for more than a day.

Texan99 said...

How much good there is in pursuing universal schemes I can't say. I tend to be pessimistic, so I try to guard against the temptation to give up too soon on schemes that someone else might be pursuing, and with which I might help in my small way, by contributing money or even just voting.

So I'm unclear about all that. The one thing that's very clear to me is the danger of getting distracted by that kind of distant, abstract effort to the point where I don't take what action I can to fix the small, concrete ills that are right in front of me and clearly subject to my control. I always imagine God saying to me, "Do your duty. Then if you have time and energy left over, you can worry about how the world should be run."

GuildWars2 said...

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