HARTFORD, Conn. -- The columnist/editor from Waterbury, Conn., was talking to the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists here about the important role columnists play when, to my surprise, she threw in a rather technical theological term -- theodicy.
"At 2:50 on a brilliant Monday afternoon in April," said Tracey O'Shaughnessy (pictured here), "a bomb exploded on the streets of my hometown in Boston. I won't even try to encapsulate the horror I felt as I watched the initial reports with my hand over my mouth, praying silently, and sometimes not so silently, for the impossible. When it came time to write my column that Sunday, I was tempted to chastise the FBI or mourn the victims. Instead, I asked a question that seemed so obvious but that I hadn't heard anyone voice. Where does evil like this come from?
"Neurologists have answers. Psychologists have answers. Theologians have answers. But none of them seems to satisfy. We live in a disordered world. Hate is a toxin. And it's not going away any time soon.
"I don't think I supplied any new answers to the theodicy question: Why is there evil in a world God made good? But in posing the question, I allied myself with the many whose minds were swirling with the same unanswerable questions."
In the Q & A session after her talk I asked her whether she agreed with me that, in the end, almost all columns are about theodicy, even though we all know that all theodicies fail, which is to say that there are no exhaustive answers to the question of evil, of suffering.
"Your point is well taken, sir," she said. (Gentlemen of a certain age get called "sir" by ladies of a certain younger age.)
Seeing all opinion columns as essentially about theodicy is what I get for seeing the world through theological eyes. And yet it seems to me that finally all questions have to do with God and with the meaning of life. That's the stuff of theology. And as theology tries to unpack things, the ultimate unanswered question is the one of theodicy: Why is there evil if God is good?
And every newspaper columnist or blogger who seeks to understand why people bomb the Boston Marathon or why a football player kills his baby's mother and then himself or why young parents abuse children is asking the question of theodicy.
One thing about having that as one's subject: It's job security. There will never be an end of things about which to write.
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A STORY OF RENEWED HOPE
And out of suffering sometimes comes a redemptive story, such as this engaging tale about a Muslim woman from Kosovo who has learned the necessity of religious understanding and harmony.
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P.S.: To help you understand some of the background of the current turmoil in Egypt, I'm giving you here a link to a longish piece (in pdf form) that I wrote for The Kansas City Star from Cairo almost exactly 11 years ago today. Yes, Hosni Mubarak still was in power when I wrote this, but I think it still offers a look at some of Egypt's internal struggles that we see playing out in Cairo's streets today. To read it, click on this link: Download Egypt