The Problem of Evil


 

Warning: The author of this web-site and this blog post has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, a particularly nasty psychological illness. The root of his disorder is religious in nature. This post has been heavily influenced by said disorder and the so-called “delusional” belief system it has engendered; some may find it offensive; well, okay, everyone may find it offensive. For more information regarding the specifics of this disorder, click here.


 

The problem of evil is an age-old philosophical question that has been the source of much debate through the ages. In simplest form, it can be stated as follows: if God is all-powerful and all-good, how can evil exist? The traditional answer is, of course, free-will. But before we deal with that, let us go back a step and set up some context.

First, what do we mean by the term “evil?” I won’t give a philosophical definition, as that is not pertinent here, but I will refer to a few examples. To me, it seems that there are two different types of evil. A man murders another man. That is a form of sentient evil: evil committed by a conscious, sentient being. Compared to this is natural evil. For example, suppose a tornado destroys a house killing a family of four. Such natural evil is generally regarded as non-sentient; it is the action of inanimate forces that leads to bad events.

Now that we’ve made that distinction, let us return to the traditional answer to the problem of evil. According to the religious, God will not infringe on the free-will of others; hence, evil is allowed through the actions of freely-choosing humans. The man who kills another is responsible for the evil of the deed, not God. Although such a position answers the problem of evil in the case of sentient evil, it falls short when it is applied to natural evil. Most people don’t think a man’s free choice has any impact on a tornado (although the Butterfly Effect might differ with us there, that still seems to be a stretch). This leads us to the question: Is the death caused by a tornado truly evil? Perhaps, ‘evil’ is the incorrect term and it should just be noted that it is something ‘bad.’ Either way, the problem of ‘evil’ (or badness) remains. How can God be all-good and all-powerful and yet allow a tornado to kill four people?

Natural evil is either the result of a sentient being’s choice, or it is not. If it is the result of a choice, it is either good, evil, or neutral. If it is not the result of a choice, it is either good, evil, or neutral. If sentience is involved (pantheism or divine intervention), in my view, it is difficult to imagine how it can be anything but evil. The only way it can be good is if it can be understood in some grand scheme that humans are too limited to understand. I suppose that would be an act of faith, trusting that God knows what is best in the grand scheme. In this case, it is a necessary evil inflicted for a greater good. Similarly, it could be a neutral in the grand scheme of things—as it is understood to be something that is balanced out somewhere else—but again, that denies the initial, gut reaction and may only be true on some grand scale that humans don’t fully understand. Regardless, either way, it is a bitter pill to swallow when you or someone else is dying. If natural evil is not the result of a choice, the options are quite similar, but more accidental. As such, the options for good and neutral can still be there, again in the “grand scheme of things,” but there is no divine guarantee that this is the case. If it is to be understood as truly evil (or perhaps just ‘bad’), the scale doesn’t matter, the evil is at it is and is obvious.

To sum up, the faithful might accept that sentient evil is the result of a flawed human’s flawed choice, while natural evil is something we fail to fully understand but the omniscient Deity does. From God’s point of view, what we think of evil in natural evil is actually good or necessary.

As I’ve said previously, I suffer from a mental illness (at least that’s what my psychiatrist tells me). One of the issues I struggle with is the nature of Satan. From my “illness,” I came to an unusual solution to the problem of evil. I decided that natural evil is a form of sentient evil. I came to the conclusion that Satan was the universe and the universe is evil. So, when the tornado kills four innocents, it is a result of Satan exercising his free will and taking delight in the killing of innocents. God gave Satan free-will, just like he did man, and as a result God won’t infringe upon Satan’s free will, so Satan will do what he wishes, and there is very little man can do about it. Well, except maybe pray to God for protection (but won’t that count as interference?).

Advertisements

On Proselytizing and Conversion

Defn: proselytize: v. convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another (New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition). Christians, of varying sects, have a reputation for proselytizing. And they catch a lot of flak for it. There are other religions that proselytize, but I think the most active at this endeavor are the Christians.

There are two types of conversion. The first is conversion by the sword. Basically, the practitioner of one religion approaches a non-believer and by threatening him or her with death, forces him or her to convert to the aggressor’s chosen religion. This conversion, however, is virtually meaningless as it is not genuine; there is no freely given heartfelt choice. Instead, it is a decision sprung from and enforced by the insecurities of the proselytizer. He believes that everyone must join him because he can’t accept the notion that he might be wrong. He needs brothers in his belief to strengthen his supports, or he fears they will weaken and fail. To the target of the proselytizer the proselytizer is frightening, violent, and dangerous. They convert to save their lives, but as I said, it is not a genuine conversion. Later generations, of course, may become more sincere, but for the original convert the entire religion is based on fear. Some religions are more likely to practice this form of conversion than others. But, thankfully, this particular practice is fading into the past where it belongs (although it still plagues some countries still).

The second type of conversion is peaceful. It is conversion through active dialogue. The target is invited to personal reflection and a shared discussion. Questions posed should be honestly answered by the proselytizer. Any aggression on the part of the proselytizer is entirely verbal in nature; it springs from zeal for the religion in question, and the truths they believe it teaches. In civilized nations, free speech rights protect the rights of the peaceful proselytizer (Countries that pass laws against peaceful proselytizers do not earn the moniker of ‘civilized.’ They are in the wrong, completely and totally.). To the target of the peaceful proselytizer, his words and actions may sometimes seem annoying. But such should be borne with grace and aplomb. In all likelihood, the peaceful proselytizer is not as likely to be as successful as the proselytizer with the sword. However, when it is successful, it is likely to be better grounded and more lasting because it is inherently more sincere.

Now for my personal confession. I’m Catholic (sort of) and I’m terrible at proselytizing. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even tried. But I know it is something I really can’t do. It’s taken my whole life to convince me that there’s a God. Add to that my current condition and belief system (see “The Crazy Stuff” page above), and I just don’t know where to begin. A few times I’ve been on the receiving end of a proselytizer’s speaking, and yes, it was annoying. Regardless, proselytizers mean well and they should be respected. To that end, I have never resorted to harsh words against a proselytizer, just perhaps, a “No, thank you,” and that is all.

Ultimately, the religious have the right to try to persuade others to their religion—provided it is done peacefully (Christians have been doing this for centuries—although not always peacefully, but most of the time). Conversion by the sword is grossly immoral and has no place in the civilized world.

On the Omnipotence of God

What follows are some musings about the nature of God’s omnipotence.

First, is a second hand story. A religious friend of mine once told me this: A young man was perplexed by the nature of God and was trying to discern certain philosophical issues. In his musings, he came to a startling question that made explicit his profound difficulties with the nature of God. How, he asked, can an entirely spiritual being communicate with a material one? The young man, after several minutes of serious reflection, decided that such was impossible. Having resolved the question to his satisfaction, he noted a small piece of paper on the floor; he reached down and picked it up. Turning it over, he noticed writing: it said, “He just does.”—as if in answer to his original query.

From my own experience, I have another tale to relate—this one a little less inspiring, if a little more amusing. I was at Mass one day, and the priest was blessing the congregation. Half-jokingly, he said that the blessing would extend all the way to the room in the opposite corner of the church, even though the holy water never reached it. I, of course, started to analyze that proposition wondering what kind of properties a blessing would have and how it could be transmitted from the priest to the room. I imagined kind of an energy field, fluctuating and moving, that transferred divine power. Then, I realized that was kind of silly. If God wanted to bless the room, he wouldn’t have to rely on energy fields to do so. Much like the communication above, it just would happen.

Similarly, if He wants to give the Eucharist a special blessing, he can do so with no effort.

Effort is key here. Whatever God wants to do, He does, and it doesn’t require any particular effort on His part. He doesn’t operate like we do. He doesn’t take a series of steps to perform a task; He simply does the task. Immediately. Completely. And without breaking a sweat. That’s what it means to be omnipotent. Or at least, that’s how I understand it these days, which is a far cry better than my understanding just a few short years ago.