Skip to comments.A Preface to the Problem of Evil
Posted on 01/14/2007 4:11:08 PM PST by NYer
No single factor is invoked more often in people turning away from God, or in their failing to believe in Him, than the occurrence --- note that I do not say "existence" --- of evil, especially as it manifests itself in suffering. The occurrence of evil appears incompatible with God, or at least a coherent conception of God as both (and simultaneously) absolutely good and absolutely powerful. That God and evil should coexist appears logically contradictory and ontologically inconsistent. The one is the abrogation of the other. The existence of God, it is argued, precludes the existence of evil and the existence of evil precludes the existence of God. While we can readily adduce empirical evidence, that is to say, tangible instances of evil to discredit the existence of God, the availability of evidence to corroborate the existence of God, on the other hand, is so exiguous that even when such instances are invoked they are deemed extraordinary events in the affairs of men, indeed, events so far from commonplace that we deem them miraculous, which is to say, inexplicable interventions conditionally attributed to God in the absence of explanations that may yet be forthcoming. Whether or not this is a sufficient, if concise, summary, the general implication is clear. The evidence of evil is far more overwhelming than the evidence of God. If preponderance is the criterion to which we appeal, God loses.
Evil comes as a scandal to the believer who asks, "How can this be, given the existence of God?"
To the disbeliever no such scandal arises, only scorn for the believer who is left in perplexity, unable to deny the existence of God on the one hand while equally unable to deny the occurrence of evil on the other.
How did we come to such a state of affairs? We appear to be consigned to either nihilistic resignation in the one camp, or an unreasoned and therefore untenable affirmation in the other --- so both are damned to perplexity.
Neither has satisfactorily answered the question implicit within every occurrence of evil: "Why?"
The sources and causes of disbelief are, of course, many, ranging from competing religious traditions with conflicting and contradictory conceptions of God, to the violence that has historically erupted between them, subsequently scandalizing the impulse of religion itself together with the notion of God --- at Whose behest, it is held, or at least in Whose name, atrocities distinctly religious in character were committed.
A more recent phenomenon to which we can appeal --- and with which we have become intimately acquainted --- is the rise of what we might call Militant Secularism. Secularism, however, is not the cause of disbelief as much as a response to it. But in this case we must in all honesty probe more deeply and ask why it is that secularism, this manifestation of disbelief, is making such deep inroads upon religion, especially the practice of religion.
Secularism, we must understand, is not a repudiation of the existence of God, but a programmatic dismissal of God (if such exists, and secularism neither affirms nor denies this existence) as legitimately pertaining to the public and even the private affairs of men. Secularism does not dispute the existence of God; it merely maintains Him to be either no longer relevant, or more troubling still, the very cause itself of much of the evil in the world as we increasingly witness ever escalating sectarian discord and violence in the name of religion, most notably --- and most violently --- in Islam. This phenomenon has caused us to re-examine our own religious antecedents in the history of Christianity.
It is important to understand, however, that in this process of reexamination a good deal of revisionism unquestionably occurs --- not unlike the sort practiced within erstwhile Communist societies which not so much politically sanitized history as programmatically distorted it to better accord with socialist ideals --- despite the exploitation of authenticity in the narrative. Entire histories were re-written, revised, expunged, and politically edited until an "acceptable" version emerged. We still see evidence of this in Communist China, no less than in the present drafting of the Constitution of the modern European Economic Union, both of which, albeit in different ways, attempt to expunge God in general and Christianity in particular from its historical antecedents. The result, of course, is not so much history as a disinterested chronicle of events, as it is an explication of events through the instrument of policy ...
Secularists have embarked on a similar venture, leafing through the annals of the history of Christianity with a careful eye to egregious defections from it (as every sin, every injustice, is not a manifestation of, but rather a defection from the teaching of Christ and the Church) emphasizing the abuses that occurred within the Church and the evils done by individuals and even nations spuriously invoking the name of the Church --- the Church which explicitly repudiates and vehemently denounces the political and social crimes committed in its name to the material ends of nations or the unbridled avarice of individuals. That there were clerics and even popes complicit with these enormities, is an indictment of the individual clerics, however many, but in no way an indictment of the Church from whose teachings and dogma they defected.
While eager to emphasize these defections from the Church, secular revisionists have been no less assiduous in programmatically expunging the inestimable good that Christianity has brought to the world --- and wrought within it. Pope Alexander VI, one of the Borgia Popes of the 15th century, notoriously corrupt, dissolute, and wicked by any standard is more likely to be invoked by secularists as an example of Catholic religious influence than Saint Francis of Assisi, together with, say, Tomás de Torquemada of the Spanish Inquisition rather than Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It is, in short, a carefully selective and meticulously culled history held to be paradigmatic of Catholicism and its overwhelmingly deleterious influence on the world. One of the more popular --- and perhaps prototypical --- examples cited is the lamented destruction of the native Aztec religion and culture by the Catholic Spanish conquistadors. That it was a religion and culture centered on human sacrifice upon a grand scale1 is, apparently, of no consequence to enlightened secularists --- and the Church which abolished this evil practice was guilty of a greater evil still, that of cultural imperialism, the supplanting of a native religion and culture centered on human sacrifice with a culture and religion centered on loving God and man. In reality, however, the secularist denounces both --- but on distinctly unequal terms: one for ritually exterminating life in the name of religion, the other for abolishing, in the name of religion, the culture that ritually exterminates life. That one is a religion of death and one a religion of life is immaterial. If the same glass can hold poison or water, break the glass ... and drink neither.
There is only one solution for the secularist: abolish God and you abolish both.
Such an approach is not without precedent. Marxism and Communism invoked the same solution to the problem of economic inequality. Belief in God and the exercise of religion were "the opiate of the masses" inasmuch as they inured man to his suffering rather than galvanizing the proletariat to revolt in a class conflict against the bourgeoisie. Inasmuch as God and religion were complicit in the suffering of the proletarian masses by proffering spiritual rewards in place of material
incentives, both must be abolished as impediments to the realization of the Socialist ideal.
Criminalize God and you exonerate man. Lay the root of evil (in this case, the suffering of the proletariat) at the foot of God, proceed to abolish God, and you abolish the root of the evil.
Such a programme failed to work for Communist secularists ... and it will fail to work for other militant secularists as well, and It will fail to work for the same reason: God is not the cause of evil.
Our original question asked why secularism is making such deep inroads upon religion --- and succeeding. It is, at least in large part, because we have failed to coherently articulate the genesis of evil. We know the narrative, but we have failed to grasp the ineluctable implications. We have read, as from a primer, the account of the genesis of evil as though depicted in pastels that stir our imagination, the imagination of children --- and have failed to follow the sad but invincible logic inescapable within it. As Saint Paul tells us, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child."2
As (then Cardinal Ratzinger) reminded us in his Pro Eligendo Homily ....
How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.
"No single factor is invoked more often in people turning away from God, or in their failing to believe in Him, than the occurrence --- note that I do not say "existence" --- of evil, especially as it manifests itself in suffering."
What innovative, Western thinking is this? Evil is real, tangible and exists. The modern West has a problem with that which, frankly, the rest of the world doesn't. And it is that self deluding blind spot which has contributed to the very situation the author of this piece decries. How does a recognition of the existence of Evil ipso facto mean that its all God's fault?
I think that non-Catholics will get a lot out of this too.
This is the crux of the problem in society today.
~ PRAYER ~
St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle
Be our protection against the wickedness
and snares of the devil;
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
Thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits
who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
It is a reference to the classical definition of evil in the West. Evil is nothing more than the absence of good. Evil is like darkness is to light, not a "positive" force but the absence of something. A defect in what is good.
What is interesting is that this is starting to be reviewed in theology. In the book "An Exorcist: More Stories", the writer (can't remember his name) talks of evil as a real force, not just an absence of good. It was striking enough that it stuck in my mind, and drew some criticism for the author.
Which makes more sense, and is close to what I learned in confirmation class. But that isn't (or at least hasn't been at times) the typical western Christian view of evil. Many books, including some of the earlier Church Doctors, hold the view that evil is only the absence of good, for a Scholastic reason. If evil is something in and of itself, then God had to create it, so God is the author of evil. Which leads to all sorts of dark places and a more fatalistic view of creation and God. To view evil as the something created by God, it would half to be "good" since everything God creates is good. So it is easier to define evil as the absence of good, then to say it is a real "positive" (not sure that is the right term, but I mean a real force) force.
To be honest, the problem of evil and the fall of Man is one of those mysteries that won't be answered for sure in this life. It is on the list of "Things to ask God when I get to Heaven".
God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. If evil exists - and it does - only two of these "alls" make sense on the human level of understanding. The answer? Finite man cannot understand grasp the infinite -- the infinite mind of God.
Seems the writer's a confused ex-Marxist who has lost his way... Baa, baa, black sheep...
"Many books, including some of the earlier Church Doctors, hold the view that evil is only the absence of good, for a Scholastic reason."
Figures those guys would be behind such a notion.
"If evil is something in and of itself, then God had to create it, so God is the author of evil. Which leads to all sorts of dark places and a more fatalistic view of creation and God. To view evil as the something created by God, it would half to be "good" since everything God creates is good. So it is easier to define evil as the absence of good, then to say it is a real "positive" (not sure that is the right term, but I mean a real force) force."
God created Satan. It doesn't follow however that God therefore created evil. He created us in the image and likeness of Himself, with free will among other attributes, but it doesn't follow that because Adam fell, He is therefore the author of the Sin of Adam or any other sin we have committed since then. What was their thinking?
God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good. If evil exists - and it does - only two of these "alls" make sense on the human level of understanding. Three don't make sense. The answer? Finite man cannot understand grasp the infinite -- the infinite mind of God.
Seems the writer's a confused ex-Marxist who has lost his way... Baa, baa, black sheep...
You know, it just occured to me that perhaps the modern Western notions about Evil not really existing, simply happening, might be a result of Protestant "once saved, always saved, theology and the whole "God demanded the blood of His Son as payback for our sins" idea.
--You know, it just occured to me that perhaps the modern Western notions about Evil not really existing, simply happening, might be a result of Protestant "once saved, always saved, theology and the whole "God demanded the blood of His Son as payback for our sins" idea.
What the heck are you talking about? Elaborate please...
"So it can't be because of the Reformation, but something before it."
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say it was. I did mean to say that Protestant notions certainly play into and give additional life to the idea.
I was never taught, "once saved, always saved", nor that God demanded the blood of his Son as "payback", so I'm somewhat baffled by your comment. Are they common teachings by a lot of different "mainstream" Protestant churches that I somehow missed or are they teachings of some smaller fringe groups?
When was Protestantism ever cohesive enough to pull off redefining something as important as the nature of evil for wide swaths of the Western world? Most of those I've come across that deny evil have strong secular leanings & they tend to try using it as a wedge in arguments against faith in God.
Both sin and evil existed before we were ever here and will continue after we leave. We aren't able to remove sin or evil, but they may effect us.
Plotinus dedicated one of his lectures in the Ennead to what evil might be. This puts the problem well pre-Christian.
God created Satan good. But when Satan willed to become evil, he was not creating some new phenomenon in the cosmos. Rather, Satan took his originally good nature and essentially threw it in the garbage. He denied himself every good attribute that God gave him and sabotaged an already existing good by not cooperating with it. That was all that was in his power to do--because he was creature and not Creator.
It is in that sense that we say that evil is a privation of a good. And it doesn't come from a mistranslation of the Our Father, it is rooted, as redgolum said, in the absolute certainty that God cannot create evil against His very nature. And creatures cannot create at all, so that evil must be (rather than a dualist force counterbalancing the good of God), a "blocking of the flow" of God's good graces.
(No theologian I, so take my thoughts for what they are worth :)
FYI...the Angelic Doctor on the nature of Evil:
(some quotes from Augustine in there as well...perhaps the ones you were looking for, redgolum)
Apologetics 101: Secularists who make a logical argument steal the Christian worldview to do it. They have to believe in randomness, chaos, and chance. Order is of God.
The mistranslation in Our Father grates me too. (It is really a case where Latin, with its absence of a definite article, allowed for "deliver us from evil" blandness without St. Jerome intending it). When I pray privately, I say "deliver us from the evil one". I also agree that the modern thinking tends to treat evil as an ostrich treats an IRS agent (or whatever it is that ostriches treat stupidly).
However, let us not knock the scholastics. The foundational verses are:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
as well as
God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living.
God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world
Evil is absence of God as darkness is absence of light. But just as darkness is no less real because of its essence as an absence, evil is no less real because it is a product of the pride of Satan which resists God.
I think, what happens is that the modern imbeciles take the perfectly sound scholastic theology and play new age games with it. The author did not need to go there: the problem of evil is only a problem for post-enlightenment deists who could not fit it with the clockmaker God hypothesis. But then they are the ones responsible for the modern secularist mess in the first place.
The relationship to Protestantism in this error is probably the opposite. The Western mind faced the problem of evil most intently in the Black Death. To that there was no simple explanation because the age that preceded it was the age of great faith.
Think you that these Galileans were sinners above all the men of Galilee, because they suffered such things? No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.
In the second half of 14c it looked to these poor people that they did enough penance, yet they were perishing. The clergy was nearly eliminated by disease in some towns. The best went first; the corrupt survived. The temptation to rewrite the Gospel in simple, more therapeutic terms was irresistible, and Christianity Lite was invented.
LOL! That is a great illustration!
Wasn't trying to knock the Scholastics (though they did have problems) but trying to remember where that definition of evil came from. I also pray "deliver us from the evil one" privately (sometimes it slips out during the liturgy), and don't like the reduction but understand how it happened.