Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Problem with Evil

The topic for the next BQ should go something along these lines:

If God created the world, then he would have created the Best of All Possible Worlds (BAPW). He would do this because, being God, he would be All Powerful, All Knowledgeable, and All Good. To be less than these would be to be less than a God, and certainly less than the God that could create the world. Thinkers in the early 1700's reasoned that if God did create the world as the BAPW, then the world we have today must behave and contain exactly what God intended. The apparent existence of what we think of as Evil really boils down to our own innate inability to understand God's Plan. God's definition, as being All Good, necessitates that He is in Control, and He is acting in our best interest.

Aquinas talked about Particular Providence, where he said something like, "Not a blade of grass grows that God does not will it." In times of great natural disasters it is hard for most people to see the Good in widespread and indiscriminant destruction, death, and suffering (Haiti and Chile both come immediately to mind). On a personal level we can sense the sadness, depression, loss, and upset in our own lives as lacking a feeling that the world is working in our own best interests. God doesn’t seem to be taking an active hand in directing the world to make sure this a BAPW for us, individually! Shit happens all too often, and for no reason!

So, what is Evil? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

April 16 for Next BQ!

This is a Save the Date notice: the next installment of BQ will be on Friday, April 16, the day after Tax Day.

My Comments and Review of the Last Meeting

First, I encourage anyone who might want to share their feelings about the last meeting to make a comment below. It is easy - just click on the Comment tab and add your comments inside the box. Everyone will be able to see what you have to say, but hey, that's the whole point of blogging, right? I think you can use a pseudonym if you like, to protect your Secret Identity (as Batman does).

My review? First, the general mood was a happy one. People missed the gathering of Big Questions and they were happy to be back. The diner format was the same as always, and that made things seem familiar. We had 20 attendees, of which 2 were first-timers.

I felt I was a bit heavy-handed at the very first, to get people to settle and start the meeting. One by-product of familiarity is nosiness, and may have stomped a bit hard at the start to get everyone to be quiet. I offered a short explanation about why BQ was suspended for the past 10 months, more or less, and I went over the basic ground rules of BQ for the newbies. We did a quick check-in, and then the new format started.

I asked the attendees if they could suggest Socratic “What is…” questions for discussion. I had 3 responses. What is the afterlife? What is God’s purpose for existence? What is faith? The second topic was suggested using a fairly long explanation, and when I tried to summarize it I may not have captured the essence of the intent of the person suggesting the topic. If I did miss it, I apologize. You have to help me my stating the question in the succinct Socratic form. Long, winding introductions can be hard for me to interpret.

I want BQ to be more in depth than it has been in the past, and I feel that the large group approach inhibits in depth discussions. I try and get everyone to participate, and often feel that a comment thread is lost when people have to wait for 5 people to speak before them about a particular comment or topic. Keeping the groups small seems to be the best way to get to this level of depth, I like to think of this as depth, rather than breadth.

I suggested that people interested in the three topics assort themselves into one of 3 locations in my house. The Afterlife people could be in the kitchen. The God’s Purpose people could be in the living room (with the pellet stove). And the Faith people could be in the family room (the normal meeting area, for those of you who know the format). To my surprise there were no takers for the God’s Purpose question (maybe my paraphrasing didn’t capture the original intent, as even the person suggesting it didn’t want to meet in that part!), and the group split about 50:50 between the other two topics. I stuck with the Faith group, as I didn’t feel I had much to add to an Afterlife discussion.

The Trouble: One of our members is very hard of hearing. To assist this person, people were asked to speak up. In my house where there is essentially open space between the living areas, sound travels quite well. The Afterlife people found the Faith discussion (where the hearing impaired person was participating) impinged on their discussion, so they moved to the Family Room. Good solution! Once that move was made, however, it appeared that the Afterlife discussion ran its course and the group disbanded at about 9:15. The Faith group continued on until about 9:35 or so, and a lingering conversation finally ended at 9:45 or 9:50.

A couple of things popped up that need to be mentioned.

One discussion topic that was mentioned had to do with the current debate in Washington DC concerning the health care bill working its way through congress. While this is a great topic, and one certainly worthy of discussing, this is not what Big Questions is all about. BQ is for talking about Big Questions, not current events. There are other outlets for current events, and I encourage people to attend these other venues.

The process of letting attendees self-assort into topics should work. I think we need to be open minded about how this can happen. I can even see a situation where people can participate in one discussion for a while, and then shift over to the other topic and contribute. Why not?

The problem is one of facilitation. I can only be in one place at a time (for the moment!), and so I will have to pick one topic to attend. If I set a sort of target limit of 10 people per discussion group, then we are going to need people to step forward and act in the facilitation role. There are plenty of qualified attendees who can do this. The rest of us have to give them the chance to make this work. If you suggest a topic, for example, you need to be ready to lead the discussion! Why not? I am glad to lead (which often means keeping track of the order in which people raise their hands!), or to rein in a discussion thread that is way off topic. So should any one who stands in as a facilitator.

So, that is how it went according to me. It wasn’t flawless, but I am willing to go at it again. Let’s try again in April. BTW, I depart the next day for a week’s trip to Melbourne, Australia, to talk about wood pellets in the global marketplace. Philosophy to Pellets, and Northern to Southern Hemispheres, in essentially 1 day’s travel. Maybe my brain will crack!