February 17, 2006

Tortured by the Torture of Another

Watching all these episodes of 24 gives me the willies. If torture was an abstraction before, it's all too real on this simulated show. If I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy before, that sentiment has been brought home far more viscerally.

Which reminds me of the First Law of American Sympathy (which is just after the Law of Thermondynamics in its certainty) - what is on television is definitionally that which provokes pity. Example 1: as soon as the devastation of Katrina was not regularly on television, donations began drying up.

24 shows torture regularly and shows it even when the viewer is aware the victim is innocent. In some ways this is worse than suffering caused by a serial killer or a natural disaster since we can write off both of those to forces beyond our control - i.e. nature or insanity. But on 24, it's the good guys, in full control of their faculties, who are doing the near killing.

Torture makes me think, naturally enough, of suffering. Which reminds me of a Zippy comment on Disputations. He cautioned, "be careful what you pray for." I'm not sure how to read this except in the context of bringing unexpected woe and suffering upon yourself in a desire for greatness. An example of not being careful would presumably be the mother of the Son of Thunder, who blithely asked Christ that her sons be given seats at his right and left and Jesus says, "can they drink of the cup?". The cup of suffering.

What fascinates me is how the crucial aspect of whole-heartedness with respect to God squares with the seeming half-heartedness of cautiousness during prayer, since whole-heartedness has a sort of heedlessness, a kind of drunkenness about it. Perhaps it is merely the difference is between volunteering for suffering and being willing to endure it if it is thrust upon you. Since you can't be courageous without fear (bravery requires it, otherwise you are simply reckless) I’m obviously not saying that fear automatically taints whole-heartedness.

There’s a certain inevitably to facing the question, though preferably without an accompanying morbidity. (DNA is not destiny, but the Irish are morbid and sentimental.) I tend to alternate between the positions of “God suffered so you don’t have to” (i.e. "by his stripes, you were healed") and “God suffered, so why shouldn’t you?” (or "There’s no Easter without a Good Friday"). The fact that others are similarly afflicted is oddly consoling - I suppose the anticipation of suffering is a kind suffering, surely not meritorious (?) but at least there's some togetherness. Perhaps the reason the suffering are in such a better position spiritually is their lives are already misery, they are used to it and there is no inertia to overcome. Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change is not their problem, because change is seen as an unalloyed good. They can look forward to its relief, in this world or the next. On the other hand...from this link:
St Paul says, "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4: 17). But as Balthasar readily concedes in the fifth volume of the Theo-Drama, "To someone who is really suffering, Paul's words on the relationship between earthly suffering and heavenly joy are hardly to be endured." And yet, with St. Paul, and based on his own theology of Holy Saturday, Balthasar will go on to claim that suffering is something good. In a modern utilitarian world, whose ethic is largely based on a pleasure-pain calculus, such words will provoke outrage. But Scripture does not flinch from boasting of suffering. "I consider that the sufferings of this present age", says St. Paul, "are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8: 18)
Update: See this on the divine comedy.

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