Excerpt from The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers written in 1927 on the topic of the existence of evil with regard to the existence of a good God.
Note: As an author of mystery novels and as a playwright she uses analogies of authoring a book or a poem or play in her discussion about the nature of God.
We will also remember that we are not, for the moment, discussing what happens to a bad writer. A bad writer is so clearly the author of the badness in his books that the point scarcely needs making. If the Creator of the world is wicked, then we are not - obliged to think up difficult answers to the question, "Who made the Devil?" The difficulty only arises when we say, "God made everything and God is good: then where did Evil come from?" Is there, then, within the terms of our analogy, any sense in which we can say that a good writer is the creator of artistic evil-or artistic "wrongness"?
It is here that we come up against a bunch of fascinating speculations about the "on kai me on"-being and not-being. It is all very well for Marlowe's Faustus to exclaim impatiently, "Bid oncaymeon farewell"-the inquisitive mind finds it very difficult to bid farewell to this intriguing subject. "Being" we can make a shift to understand, but what is "not-being"? If we propose to ourselves to "think about nothing", we find we have engaged in a very difficult exercise. It does not seem to be quite the same as "not thinking about anything". "Nothing" only seems to remain nothing so long as we refrain from thinking about it; any active thought is apt to turn it into a "sort of a something"-it acquires, in fact, precisely that vague and disquieting sort of reality that we are accustomed to associate with the minus signs in algebra. Professor Eddington has put the essentials of the problem neatly before us in the riddling query: "Is the bung-hole part of the barrel?" It depends, as he says, on what you mean by "part"; it may also depend, to some extent, on what you mean by the "barrel". This is where we get tied into knots over the definition of Evil as the "deprivation of Good"; we have to explain to ourselves why this wholly negative concept takes on the appearance of a very positive and active phenomenon.
"He created the world out of nothing"-nothing existed before it was made; that is, colloquially speaking, easy. It is less easy if it presents itself in the form: Before the creation of anything, nothingness existed. The somethingness of nothingness attains in the minds of some philosophers so convincing an aspect of reality, that they ascribe to it qualities and a mode of existence. _ Berdyaev finds in the nothingness that preceded creation the origin and abode of freedom, including the freedom of will;
'The world and the centre of the world-man, is the creation of God through Wisdom, through Divine Ideas, and at the same time it is the child of meonic untreated freedom, the child of fathomless non-being. The element of freedom does not come from God the Father, for it is prior to being.... Fathomless freedom springing from non-being entered the created world, consenting to the act of creation.'
And he adds:
If we think deeply and consistently we are compelled both to identify evil with non-being and to admit its positive significance. Evil is a return to non-being, a rejection of the world, and at the same time it has a positive significance because it calls forth as a reaction against itself the supreme creative power of the good.' ( Nicholas Berdyaev: The Destiny of Man.)
The phrase in all this that is perplexing is, I think, that which asserts that meonic freedom is "prior to being". If God is the ultimate and absolute Being, then the suggestion is-not merely that "nothing is prior to God (which, in the purely negative sense is an orthodox truism), but that this nothingness is a somethingness, with a property of its own, namely Freedom, and a mode of existence of its own, namely Time. For the words "prior to suggest a priority in Time. The conclusion would seem to be that there was a time when God (who is Being) was not. Elsewhere, however, Berdyaev maintains that God exists in the mode of Eternity, which has no connection with Time at all.
Time is so intimately the mode of our own existence that it is equally difficult to conceive of Time apart from Being or of Being apart from Time. Perhaps this means that we ought not to try to conceive of them separately: for scientists frequently warn us that questions which produce meaningless answers usually turn out to have been meaningless questions. It may be more fruitful to consider Time as a part of creation, or perhaps that Time is necessarily associated with Being in Activity-that is, not with God the Father but with God the Son; with the Energy and not with the Idea.
This is where our analogy may be useful to us, by demonstrating the curious association of Not-Being with Being, and the still more curious effect that both exercise upon Time. What I want to suggest is that Being (simply by being) creates Not-Being, not merely contemporaneously in the world of Space, but also in the whole extent of Time behind it. So that though, in the absence of Being, it would be meaningless to say that Not - Being precedes Being; yet, in the presence of Being that proposition becomes both significant and true, because Being has made it so. Or, to use the most familiar of all metaphors, "before" light, there was neither light nor darkness; darkness is not darkness until light has made the concept of darkness possible. Darkness cannot say: "I precede the coming light", but there is a sense in which light can say, "Darkness preceded me".
Shakespeare writes Hamlet. That act of creation enriches the world with a new category of Being, namely: Hamlet. But simultaneously it enriches the world with a new category of Not-Being, namely: Not-Hamlet. Everything other than Hamlet, to the farthest bounds of the universe, acquires in addition to its former characteristics, the characteristic of being Not-Hamlet; the whole of the past immediately and automatically becomes Not- Hamlet.
Now, in a sense, it is true to say that the past was Not - Hamlet before Hamlet was created or thought-of; it is true, but it is meaningless, since apart from Hamlet there is no meaning that we can possibly attach to the term Not-Hamlet. Doubtless there is an event, X, in the future, by reference to which we may say that we are at present in a category of Not-X, but until X occurs, the category of Not-X is without reality. Only X can give reality to Not-X; that is to say, Not-Being depends for its reality upon Being. In this way we may faintly see how the creation of Time may be said automatically to create a time when Time was not, and how the Being of God can be said to create a Not-Being that is not God. The bunghole is as real as the barrel, but its reality is contingent upon the reality of the barrel.
Arguing along these lines, we may make an attempt to tackle the definition of Evil as the deprivation or the negation of the Good. If Evil belongs to the category of Not-Being, then two things follow. First: the reality of Evil is contingent upon the reality of Good; and secondly, the Good, by merely occurring, automatically and inevitably creates its corresponding Evil. In this sense, therefore, God, Creator of all things, creates Evil as well as Good, because the creation of a category of Good necessarily creates a category of Not-Good. From this point of view, those who say that God is "beyond Good and Evil" are perfectly right: He transcends both, because both are included within His Being. But the Evil has no reality except in relation to His Good; and this is what is meant by saying that Evil is negation or deprivation of Good.
But we have not quite finished with our Hamlet example. So long as Not-Being remains negative and inactive, it produces no particular effects, harmful or otherwise. But if Not-Hamlet becomes associated with consciousness and will, we get something which is not merely Not-Hamlet: we get Anti-Hamlet. Some one has. become aware of his Not-Hamletness, and this awareness becomes a centre of will and of activity. The creative will, free and. active like God, is able to will Not-Being into Being, and thus produce an Evil which is no longer negative but positive. ( Theologically: privatio issues in a real depravatio. -Robertson.) This, according to the ancient myth of the Fall, is what happened to Men. They desired to be "as gods, knowing good and evil." God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, knows Evil "by simple intelligence"-that is, in the category of Not-Being. But men, not being pure intelligences, but created within a spacetime framework, could not "know" Evil as Not-Being - they could only "know" it by experience; that is, by associating their wills with it and so calling it into active Being. Thus the Fall has been described as the "fall into self-consciousness", and also as the "fall into self-will". And we may see why the Manichaeans were to some extent justified in connecting Evil with Matter; not that Matter in itself is Evil, but that it is the medium in which active Evil is experienced.
Once more, our literary analogy may be used to illustrate this distinction between Evil known by pure intelligence and Evil known by experience.
Our perfect writer is in the act of composing a work - let us call it the perfect poem. At a -particular point in this creative act he selects the "right" word for a particular place in the poem. There is only the one word
that is "dead right" in that place for the perfect expression of the Idea. The very act of choosing that one "right" word, automatically and necessarily makes every other word in the dictionary a "wrong" word. The "wrongness" is not inherent in the words themselves - each of them may be a "right" word in another place * -their "wrongness" is contingent upon the "rightness" of the chosen word. It is the poet who has created the "wrongness" in the act of creating the "rightness". In making a good which did not exist before he has simultaneously made an evil which did not exist before. Nor was there any way by which he could possibly make the Good without making the Evil as well. (*Always excepting, of course, words like "sportsdrome" and "normalcy", which are so steeped in sin that no place is "right" for them, except Hell, or a Dictionary of Barbarisms.)
Now, the mere fact that the choice of the "right" word is a choice implies that the writer is potentially aware of all the wrong words as well as the right one. In the creative act, his Energy (consciously or unconsciously) passed all the "wrong" possibilities in review as an accompaniment of selecting the right one. He may have seized immediately upon the right word as though by inspiration, or he may actually have toyed with a number of the wrong ones before making the choice. It is immaterial which he did-the Energy has to give out more sweat and passion at some moments than at others. But potentially and contingently, his intelligence "knows" all the wrong words. He is free, if he chooses, to call all or any of those wrong words into active being within his poem-just as God is free, if He likes, to call Evil into active being. But the perfect poet does not do so, because his will is subdued to his Idea, and to associate it with the wrong word would be to run counter to the law of his being. He proceeds with his creation in a perfect unity of will and Idea, and behold! it is very good.
Unfortunately his creation is only safe from the interference of other wills so long as it remains in his head. By materialising his poem-that is, by writing it down and publishing it, he subjects it to the impact of alien wills. These alien wills can, if they like, become actively aware of all the possible wrong words and call them into positive being. They can, for example, misquote, misinterpret, or deliberately alter the poem. This evil is contingent upon the poet's original good: you cannot misquote a poem that is not there, and the poet is (in that sense) responsible for all subsequent misquotations of his work. But one can scarcely hold him guilty of them.
Misquotation, misinterpretation and deliberate distortion produce the same kind of evil in different ways. We may feel that they are quite dissimilar offences. Misquotation arises from carelessness or bad memory; misinterpretation from lack of understanding; deliberate distortion from a perverted intention: we may call them mechanical (or material) defect, intellectual error, and moral wickedness. In fact, however, they have this much in common, that they all arise from the circumstance that the other person is not God and is trying to be "as God". The poet (within the terms of the analogy) is God-the one and only God of that particular creation. He is the only mind that knows its own Idea. If anybody else could be the god of the poem, his Idea would be identical with the poet's Idea, and his Energy would issue in the same "good" creation. But since that is not the case, the new will runs counter to "God's" Idea, and by associating itself with "wrong" words produces active Error.
To be sure, the new will may be full of excellent intentions. The better the intentions, the more strongly does the will associate itself with them, and the more disastrous the results. To say, carelessly, "caviare to the multitude" instead of "caviare to the general" is an error made almost without wilfulness, which does comparatively little harm to Hamlet. It is more harmful to Hamlet to quote:
more honoured in the breach than in the observance
as though it meant "more often honoured" rather than "more properly honoured", because the Idea is more violently distorted, and the loss of Power is greater. But infinitely more damaging than either to the Power of Hamlet is to behave like David Garrick, and re-write Hamlet deliberately for the express purpose of improving it. This kind of grasping at equality with God really does do untold damage. It reduces a noble work of creation to nonsense; and the excuse that Garrick thought he was making it into a better play only aggravates the presumption.
The mind of man has always appreciated this ascending scale of Evil, from the material through the intellectual to the moral. It recognises that the moral Evil is the worst, because it is associated with more will and more self-consciousness, and consequently with more Power. Power can proceed from Evil, so soon as Evil is called into active Being, because it then comes back as it were into touch with God, the ultimate Being and source of Power. For this reason it is said that all activity is of God-even evil activity. Such Power as anti-Hamlet possesses derives originally from the Power that is in Hamlet, without which it could have no Being.
What are we to do with the anti-Hamlets? In this particular case we can, to some extent, check the evil and prevent it from doing harm in the future, though its record of past evil remains. But there is a further thing we can do. We can redeem it. That is to say, it is possible to take its evil Power and turn it into active good. We can, for example, enjoy a good laugh at David Garrick. In so doing we, as it were, absorb the Evil in the anti-Hamlet and transmute it into an entirely new form of Good. This is a creative act, and it is the only kind of act that will actually turn positive Evil into positive Good. Or, we can use the dreadful example of David Garrick for edification, which is what I have tried to do here, in the hope that this will prove to be a good, creative activity.
We can do this, only if we first get back into contact with the original great Idea that was in Hamlet-since we can never see how wrong Garrick was till we realise just how right Shakespeare was. In such ways, we can (while still thinking it a pity that David Garrick ever set pen to paper) enrich the world with more and more varied Goodness than would have been possible without the evil interference of David Garrick. What we must not do is to pretend that there never was a Garrick, or that his activities were not Evil. We must not, that is, try to behave as though the Fall had never occurred nor yet say that the Fall was a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.
That, according to Christian doctrine, is the way that God behaved, and the only way in which we can behave if we want to be "as gods". The Fall had taken place and Evil had been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could only be redeemed within the medium of experience-that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea.