According to Adams, horror, rather than sin, is our fundamental predicament. Thus, salvation is less about forgiveness than the defeat of horrors. Adams writes:
[T]aking my cue from the book of Job rather than stories of Adam's fall. I want to explore what shape Christology takes if the Savior's job is to rescue us, not fundamentally from sin, but from horrors!What are horrors? They are all sorts of extreme human suffering, and Adams focuses upon their existential impact, how horror radically disrupts our ability to make meaning from our lives:
[H]orrors as evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant's life could (given their inclusion in it) have positive meaning for him/her on the whole...Again, these experience disrupt us existentially, they render life meaningless and empty life of any positive value:
Paradigm horrors include the rape of a woman and axing off her arms, psychological torture whose ultimate goal is the disintegration of personality, schizophrenia, severe clinical depression, cannibalizing one's own offspring, child abuse the sort described by Ivan Karamazov, parental incest, participation in the Nazi death camps, the explosion of nuclear bombs over populated areas, being the accidental and/or unwitting agent in the disfigurement or death of those one loves best.
[Horrors create] reason to doubt whether the participant's life can be worth living, because it engulfs the positive value of his/her life and penetrates into his/her meaning-making structures seemingly to defeat and degrade his/her value as a person...the heart of the horrendous, what makes horrors so pernicious, is their life-ruining potential.While it true that few of us experience this psychological, physical and existential damage, Adams goes on to point out that we are all complicit in horrors. If not victims we are perpetrators or, at the very least, we are the beneficiaries of horror perpetration:
Virtually every human being is complicit in actual horrors merely by living in his/her nation or society. Few individuals would deliberately starve a child into mental retardation. But this happens even in the United States, because of the economic and social systems we collectively allow to persist and from which most of us profit. Likewise complicit in actual horrors are all those who live in societies that defend the interests of warfare and so accept horror-perpetration as a chosen means to or a side effect of its military aims. Human being in this world is thus radically vulnerable to, or at least collectively an inevitable participant in, horrors.To return to the key point that Adams makes, horror overwhelms our capacity to make meaning of our lives. Horror ruins our ability to name life as "good" and "worth living." A part of his is how horror destroys our volitional capacities, our ability to make positive choices and decisions:
By definition, horrors stump our meaning-making capacities. Individual (as opposed to merely collective) horror-participation can break our capacity to make positive sense of our lives, can so fragment our sense of self and so damage our agency as to make authentic choice impossible.Our vulnerability here is rooted in the fact that our meaning-making capacities are so tightly tethered to our material bodies, bodies radically susceptible to damage and decay:
There is a metaphysical mismatch within human nature: tying psyche to biology and personality to a developmental life cycle exposes human personhood to dangers to which angels (as naturally incorruptible pure spirits) are immune...[this] makes our meaning-making capacities easy to twist, even ready to break, when inept caretakers and hostile surroundings force us to cope with problems off the syllabus and out of pedagogical order. Likewise, biology--by building both an instinct for life and the seeds of death into animal nature--makes human persons naturally biodegradable. Human psyche is so connected to biology that biochemistry can skew our mental states (as in schizophrenia and clinical depression) and cause mind-degenerating and personality-distorting diseases (such as Alzheimer's and some forms of Parkinson's), which make a mockery of Aristotelian ideals of building character and dying in a virtuous old age.In the face of all this, what is salvation supposed to look like and accomplish? What is Christ--as Savior--supposed to do?
Well, if our predicament is our inability to, in the face of horrors, make positive meaning of our lives, to judge life as "good" and "worth living," then the work of the Christ must be involved in some sort of existential rehabilitation. Christ must stand in the place of horror victims and from there begin a process of existential reconstruction. Adams borrows from Julian of Norwich and calls this process "mothering."
And the key aspect of this "mothering," according to Adams, is that God's healing and grace is extended universally to everyone. We must not think that God will create and perpetuate more horror by torturing people forever and ever. As Adams notes, this earth is hell enough.
In short, if God is to defeat horrors God's love will necessarily be universal in scope:
Traditional doctrines of hell err again by supposing either that God does not get what God wants with every human being ("God wills all humans to be saved" by God's antecedent will) or that God deliberately creates some for ruin. To be sure, many human beings have conducted their ante-mortem lives in such a way as to become anti-social persons. Almost none of us dies with all the virtues needed to be fit for heaven. Traditional doctrines of hell suppose that God lacks the will or the patience or the resourcefulness to civilize each and all of us, to rear each and all of us up into the household of God. They conclude that God is left with the option of merely human penal systems--viz., liquidation or quarantine!
Traditional doctrines of hell go beyond failure to hatred and cruelty by imagining a God Who not only acquiesces in creaturely rebellion and dysfunction but either directly organizes or intentionally "outsources" a concentration camp (of which Auschwitz and Soviet gulags are pale imitations) to make sure some creatures' lives are permanently deprived of positive meaning.
My own view is that ante-mortem horror-participation is hell enough. Horrors constitute the prima facie destruction of the positive meaning of our lives; a destruction that we lack knowledge, power, or worth enough to defeat; a destruction that reasonably drives many to despair. For God to succeed, God has to defeat horrors for everyone. We have all been to hell by being tainted by horrors ante-mortem. We all meet the horror of death at the end. For some, life has been one horror after another between the dawn of personhood and the grave. In millions of cases, these horrors have been spawned by the systemic evils of human societies. To be good-to us, God will have to establish and fit us for wholesome society, not establish institutions to guarantee that horrors last forever in the world to come!