Forums | Doing Theology and Church History
Why Does God Permit Suffering?
22 February 2018, 8:12 PM
Simone Weil's unique life, 1909-43, her faith and personal suffering produced a luminous personality. David Lorimer, Programme Director for the Scientific and Medical Network, and editor of Paradigm Explorer for the Network, is steeped in the life and works of Simone Weil. I have just completed a short introduction video and sought his permission to use his review of a new book on her life and thought to amplify the short script for the video.
Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy
Edited by A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone
Rowman and Littlefield 2017, 261 pp., $135, h/b. Ebook available for $42.50.
Simone Weil (1909-1943) was an extraordinarily brilliant and original thinker who died at an early age during the Second World War, having lived life of unusual intensity. I have many of her books on my shelf, some in French. This informative and stimulating volume is divided into three parts: transcendental and embodied crossings, attentive ethics, and emancipatory politics, with four essays in each section. Philip Goodchild reminds us that, for Weil, philosophy is grounded in life, not thought, so the object is not knowledge but transformation through attention to experience enabling us better to navigate the tensions of life. One of her metaphors for becoming and being is that of a sailor in a boat, and it is disconcerting to read how the metaphor literally capsizes in her later work. The rudder of reason and moral self-determination is no longer sufficient, and she feels we are now like shipwrecked people clinging to logs on the sea and tossed passively by every movement, while God throws a rope down from on high. As Goodchild observes, the moral will is replaced by consent, and work by attention. Attention is in fact a central theme throughout her work along with waiting (attendre) and listening (entendre).
There are many rich seams for reflection throughout the volume, for instance our relationship to time as reconciling necessity and freedom – its passage subjects us to necessity, while our orientation is an expression of freedom. A comparative essay with Nicholas Berdyaev focuses on their different interpretations of the creative act, which for Berdyaev is a response to the creative act of God, while for Weil it is a matter of what she calls decreation, analogous to God withdrawing from the world in the process of surrendering and therefore destroying the I. Moreover, she asks what creative act is possible when beset by affliction. Incidentally, her thought is enormously influenced by the Greeks. A further theme emerges in a chapter comparing Levinas and Weil on ethics after Auschwitz - both were concerned with facing reality and the necessity of self responsibility. Another essay discusses the relationship between compassion and sharing of attention, followed by a contribution on the problem of fatigue, something I have never seen systematically discussed before. A critical theme in the third part is the nature of oppression in relation to power seeking, and it is interesting to reflect on new ways in which we are not only liberated but oppressed by technology and technocratic power, characterised by what Lissa McCullough calls the FIMSPLIT complex underpinning neoliberalism and standing for financial – industrial – military – surveillance – propagandising – legislative – incarceration – terror. One comes away from this volume with a greater sensibility and awareness of Weil’s intensely acute and at times agonising engagement with life.