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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, July 11, 2016

PRIEST, PRAYER AND PREDESTINATION



I've be re-reading Hyung Min-woo's manhwa PRIEST to determine whether or not it meets my criteria for a mythcomic. I haven't yet finished, but my general impression is that the series is too episodic to qualify. Neverthless, it does display some interesting myth-motifs. The story takes place in an alternate-world version of Earth, in which a Catholic priest named Ivan Isaacs loses his faith when his personal life is destroyed by one of God's archangels. In order to obtain vengeance, Isaacs gives up his soul to the demon Belial, who transforms the ex-priest into an undead scourge.

Now, one interesting thing about the above exchange is that it takes place in a fantasy-world where the reality of angels and demons is constantly attested. God, creator of both supernatural races and of mankind, is by implication just as real, though as in many such fantasies the creator-god has removed himself from the battle for reasons unknown.

In the above confrontation, Isaacs, who is no longer a believer in God's mercy, quotes one of the Christian Psalms to his demonic opponent. The demon derides the quote and asks Isaacs if the ex-priest really believes that such 'drivel is the word of God." Isaacs replies, "Not really. But I take consolation in the strength of men's words."

Of course, this reverses the intention behind Christian scripture, or, for that matter, the majority of religious teachings. Whether holy sayings take the form of direct instructions or poetic meditations, they are supposed to derive their authority from being handed down from a deity or deities. A more overtly anti-religions author, such as Philip Pullman, would probably amplify Isaacs' pro-humanity stance into an overt theme. However, the author of PRIEST doesn't seem harp on the evils of godhood often enough for me to think this exchange is anything more than a minor motif; something along the lines of an aside to show Isaac's alienated character.

Now, though I'm not a Christian, I used to be, over forty years ago, so I'm aware of some of the dynamics that inform this particular realm of worship. On this forum-thread, I responded to a poster who asserted that as he understood things, prayer could not influence the Christian god. I responded:

There is no single belief about the efficacy of prayer in the varied world of Judeo-Christian sects-- to say nothing of other religions that resort to praying--so you've oversimplified the question. Some worshipers do believe that in predestination, that everything that's ever happened or going to happen is fixed. For those believers, prayer, like deeds, can make no difference to God's verdict. Other believers favor a more open-ended view of destiny, in which it's possible for a god to intervene if he so chooses. For such believers, there's no guarantee that prayer will work but as the saying goes, "it can't hurt."

Now, while I don't believe in the specific Christian God, the concept of predestination suggests some fascinating philosophical avenues.

I recently argued to one acquaintance, a Catholic believer, that the idea of predesintation conflicts with the doctrine of free choice. In my mind, if God created the universe and knows ahead of time everything that's going to happen until the Last Days, then there's absolutely no point to the process of creation. My friend, not unexpectedly, resorted to the old chestnut that God's creations can't know His Mind and that human beings cannot know what God finds significant.

To my mind, this is a circular argument. The Bible, ostensibly the Word of God as transmitted to mortals, God is constantly described as evincing human-like emotions or sentiments. Additionally, his actions are frequently described in terms of means and ends: "God did X to achieve Y." Believers frequently have no problem in describing God's actions as representing a higher form of reason, and they de-emphasize any implications of a God of capricious and unreasonable moods (like the version in the Book of Job, who decides to ruin Job's life in order to test his mettle).

Admittedly, the Christian Bible does not cite a definitive reason as to why God chose to create all of Existence, which is one reason that narratives of predestination can exist alongside those of free choice. I frankly do not think that the God of the Old Testament is meant to be as omniscient as Christian representations tend to portray him, but even if there was absolute agreement between all texts, the conflict would still be implicit.

The only possible motivation for a god to imbue mortal beings with "free choice" is if Existence is open-ended; if God does not know exactly what mortals are going to do with that choice. If a  believer should insist on God's omniscience within such a scenario, I might imagine a situation where God blocked his own potential vision of a predestined future, in order to let himself be surprised by and engaged with the choices human beings made.

Now, in contrast to the world of PRIEST, the human beings of the "real world" cannot see constant evidence of God's reality: they can only deduce that reality through perceived signs and symbols. To persons of a materialist / positivist cast, signs and symbols have no reality in themselves. However, even though I do not pray to the Christian God, and can consider a reality in which none of mankind's deities are objectively real, I can view the activity of prayer as sometimes possessing a "strength," even if the prayers are hurled into an unresponsive void, with no validating response from the deity being addressed.

Of course, anything that can be a strength can also be a weakness, depending on how it is done, and for what reasons, as I've explored in last year's essay ADLER PATED PT. 2.


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