Tuesday September 02, 2014




The humble donut and the problem of evil

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“This is the birthplace of Captain Hanson Gregory, who first invented the hole in the donut in the year 1847.” The bronze plaque in Rockport, Maine, on which those words are engraved, gives no details, however. How? Why? For more than a century debate has surrounded the hole question.

Everyone seems to agree on one thing: Gregory didn’t intend to make a hole. The iconic space in your mid-morning donut emerged as a side-effect of his real aim: a better pastry.

One story says that at fifteen years of age, Hanson Gregory, while eating his mother’s freshly fried cakes, asked what made them soggy in the middle. She didn’t know. Grabbing a fork and a few circles of raw dough, Gregory punched out their middles. When his mother fried them, a better pastry surfaced.

At age nineteen, Gregory became Maine’s youngest sea captain. Another story insists that one stormy day, as the good captain wrestled to navigate his ship, a violent wave called for both hands on the wheel, Rather than toss the fried cake he’d been eating on the deck, he stuck it on a spoke of his ship’s wheel. The shape caught on, and suddenly we had donuts.

One most unlikely, though cherished, tale insists that while Gregory commanded another ship (all too aptly) christened Frypan, six of his sailors ate fried cakes, fell overboard and sank. Hoping to lighten the cakes and avoid further disaster, Gregory demanded the removal of all their centers. Bakers have fried them that way ever since. Or so that story goes.

Around 1900 the Boston Post interviewed Gregory himself. When questioned about his connection with the holey pastry, he himself said that while at sea in around 1847, he’d sat down to eat his “greasy sinkers,” (fried cakes). Finding them tough and greasy, he used the round lid of a pepper box to carve a hole in the middle. That’s all.

In 1941, New York’s grand Astoria Hotel housed the notorious “Great Donut Debate.” Arguments boiled as debaters answered the question,”Who Put the Hole in the Doughnut?” Fred Crockett, one of Gregory’s descendents, won the evening by sticking to his story of young Gregory punching holes in his mother’s dough.

The humble donut has something in common with a far larger question – one that prevents many people from believing God is good. “Where did evil come from?” Though theologians have taken pains and volumes addressing the problem of evil in the universe, it boils down fairly simply for everyday Christians like myself.

Ever since Adam and Eve ignored God’s instructions and listened to the snake in the grass – oops, garden – we humans have been infected with the universal lust for a “better pastry.” Our insistence on getting our own way removed something pure and good and sweet from life’s very center, the place where Divine peace resides. The remaining vacuum, we call “evil”.

Morally speaking, we could be happily eating jelly donuts. We got holey donuts instead. And it’s not God’s fault.


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