Tragedy & Transcendence
Patrick Henry Reardon on Futility & the Open Door to Deliverance
Although no period of history ever provided as much raw tragedy as the past hundred years, relatively few works have translated that experience into adequate literature and drama. When we consider the bloodshed and starvation of the Russian, Spanish, and Chinese revolutions; the two world wars; the atomic bomb; and the wholesale torture and slaughter of targeted ethnic groups in Europe, Africa, and the Far East, is it unreasonable to crave a modern equivalent of The Trojan Women or The Book of Job? Why settle for The Death of a Salesman and Waiting for Godot?
This inadequate literary and artistic expression does not surprise us, however, because the very idea of tragedy presupposes the transcendence of the human soul, a transcendence systematically doubted during the century just before that fatal shot was fired in Sarajevo. If there is no God and no transcendent soul—if the universe is a closed system—if everything can be explained by natural causes, there really can be no such thing as "tragedy." Indeed, wrote George Steiner,
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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