Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Defiant mourning

Eleonore Stump

Like everybody else, I am an inhabitant of this planet; and I am a member of many other smaller communities too. I am an American citizen, for example. I was made a citizen from birth retroactively by the US government after World War II when babies born to US servicemen and German women were declared citizens from birth. My German mother came with me to the US as an immigrant without English when I was four years old and had no English either. My memories of that early time are still vivid. Now I am a philosopher and a Christian — a Catholic, actually. I identify as a woman. And so on.

And I grieve the evil that is impossible to ignore in every one of these communities. Where should I start? I have no taste for giving order to the evil or the sorrow that it causes. Let my list be random. In every community to which I belong, the evil is overwhelming. The sight of the suffering of those desperate people trying to be immigrants to the US is unbearable. The inhumanity of separating the children from their parents at the border and the overwhelming suffering of those children is unspeakable. The inferno that swept through Australia, burning people and beasts and their human and forest homes, was horrible. What have we done to this planet? Then there is the incredible spectacle of the politics of my country. The people who should take the lead in governing us are vile, and so many of those who vote relish the vileness. That group includes some prominent Christians. Christians are meant to be salt and light for the world; their lives are meant to help other people taste and see the goodness of God. These people make the God they worship seem so hateful. And I haven’t yet gotten to the relentless injustice against women, against minority groups, against all the vulnerable. I haven’t forgotten the virus either, where the poor and the old and those who labor to care for the sick and dying are disproportionately afflicted by a capitalist system infected with heartlessness. Where shall I end this list?

And so, like many other people, I mourn. But my mourning is without despondency, without the inward collapse of despair.

The baseness of injustice highlights the majesty of justice, whose power to call to people cannot be defeated by evil. The cruelty of those who rule, their indifference to the cry of the poor, illuminates by contrast the splendor of goodness and love. The growing dread at the increasing destruction of the planet testifies to its beauty. There would be less distress over what has been done to the earth if its glories were not so moving.

The evil that now dominates all these communities cannot eradicate justice, goodness, and love. Evil may rule for a while, but it remains a loser even as it rules. It will always be loathsome, hateful, ugly; and those who serve it are pathetic, contemptible. Maybe virtue is not its own reward, but there is an undeniable punishment in vice itself. Who would want to be a rapaciously greedy narcissist like some of our current politicians? The revulsion they inspire makes the beauty of justice, goodness, and love shine.

It is good to grieve the evil of our times, then, but this very grief bears witness to the impotence of evil to give worth to the lives of those who uphold it. In reality, there is justice, goodness, and love in the world. They are beautiful, and commitment to them has the power to make a life worthwhile.

And so I mourn with defiance. While we mourn the evil, while we refuse to temporize with the powers that darken our world now, that evil does not rule us. In our words and in our actions, in all our lives, let us bear fierce witness without despair, without fear, to the beauty of justice, goodness, and love. Like others who have lived in dark times, for each one of us let this be the watchword: et si omnes, ego non.[2]

[1] I am grateful to Hilary Gaskin for inviting me to write this reflection. In the process of writing it, I received significant help from Katherine Dormandy, John Foley, Hilary Gaskin, Faith Pawl, Kathryn Pogin, Bas van Fraassen, and Judith Wolfe. I appreciate their help very much, but the sentiments expressed here are my own and should not be attributed to them.

[2] This well-known Latin line – “even if all others, yet not I” – was taken as a motto by Philipp von Boeselager, one of the conspirators in the plot to assassinate Hitler. In its German translation, it has garnered renewed attention because of its use in the title of Joachim Fest’s recent autobiography of his life in Nazi Germany: Ich nicht.

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy at St Louis University. Her publications include Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Atonement (Oxford University Press, 2018).

Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief edited by Adam Green and Eleonore Stump

About The Author

Eleonore Stump

Eleonore Stump is the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at St Louis University. She has published extensively on philosophy of religion, contemporary metaphysics and medieval...

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