The Evil of Theodicy and the Disenchantment of the World
I’ll talk about the poem’s theological (non-Weberian) disenchantment of the world: the rain falls on uninhabited lands, without meaning or human purpose. In particular, the Job author rejects all attempts to give the cosmos meaning by projecting a magnified version of the human revenge impulse (an eye for an eye) into the deep structure of the world, as if suffering and prosperity were just or deserved punishments and rewards. Paradoxically, what saves Job from his death wish (separation from and disgust at the world) is the unfair blame heaped upon him by his theodicy-obsessed “friends.” Job’s indignation at his friends’ moralizing theodicy (not Job’s anger at being abused by God) quickens him. He wants to die but refuses to die guilty (for the death of his children, etc.). The theodicy of his friends does not solve the problem of evil but adds to the evil of suffering the evil of unfair blame. The correctness of Job’s anti-theodicy is affirmed by God in the end, even though the stripping of “purpose” from the cosmos is contradicted to some extent by the psychological portrait of God at the beginning of the poem. (He wants to be loved disinterestedly, not from fear of punishment and hope of reward, but cannot be certain of why Job loves him, so great is the disparity of power between God and man, and therefore God is driven to test Job’s breaking point, not unjustly but abusively.)
Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law. He received a M.A. from Yale University in 1974 and a M. Phil. also from Yale University in 1975 and his Ph.D., Yale University in 1976. From 1989 to 1997 he was Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Chicago Law School, and Professor of Politics at Princeton University in 1997. Since 1997 he is Professor of Law at the New York University. In 2000/01 he was fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. His publications include Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (1984); The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (1993); Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (1995); The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (with Cass R. Sunstein, 1998) and The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror (2007).