There’s Something about Mary: Challenges and Prospects for Narrative Theodicy
This paper explores the constraints of narrative theodicy to account for the misery of the powerless and uses Mary of Bethany as a case study as evaluated through the early modern theodical writings of Mary Astell and Mary Hays. Eleonore Stump has pointed out that Mary of Bethany’s misery is interesting because it is so personal; it results from losing her heart’s desire. But, Mary of Bethany’s case fails as narrative theodicy because it cannot (unlike other cases, such as Job) sufficiently demonstrate the power of God in situated expressions of suffering, speak to plight of the powerless, nor put the sufferer in a stronger epistemic position. Astell and Hays provide a solution for the problem of lived experiences of systemic oppression for the project of narrative theodicy (it must be for and about suffering), and in so doing, remind us of the continued significance of their work to the philosophical canon. To succeed, narratives used for theodicy must speak directly to the plight of those who suffer, and must allow the powerless, miserable, unprivileged, and oppressed to have access to religious knowledge of the relationship between God and the one in misery, the one powerless.