9 - A question of standards: trinity, joy, worship and idolatry  pp. 200-226

By Alistair McFadyen

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Talking about the pathological necessarily involves some intuition of the good that is denied, destroyed or distorted by it. When we identify and discern what is bad, we do so according to some criterion or measure of the good. At least implicitly, we operate a normative standard of reference of what should be (the logos), against which its disorder, denial or disease (the pathos) may be identified. Every identification and description of pathology, then, carries an at least implicit characterisation of the good. Even where the pathological status of something like child abuse or the holocaust is so taken for granted that no explicit rationalisation is offered, the way in which it is described, the therapeutic interventions suggested, indicate an intuition of the good. It is very revealing, therefore, to ask of discussions of sexual abuse, the holocaust or sin, what standard of normative reference or criterion and definition of the good they operate with. What is abuse seen as abuse of? What is normal or right ‘use’ of and for human beings? In identifying the holocaust as gross in humanity, what conception of normal, right and good humanity is functioning?

What is the good for human beings, which pathology is taken to violate, and how is that to be construed appropriately? Many of the secular discussions of concrete pathology – and, indeed, many discussions of sin – in fact operate a fairly restricted notion of the good as their normative standard of reference, often reducible to maintenance of normal physiological, emotional or social functioning. Such restricted conceptions of the human good are severely problematic on two counts.