Thursday, November 15, 2012

Three Unusual Solutions to the Problem of Evil

Church window illuminates the aisle

The Problem of Evil is one of the most pointed attacks on theistic religions period. It is based on logic and reasoning where the traditional Christian God with all his assumed qualities and characteristics becomes a matter of doubt. How can such a God be omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omnibenevolent (all-good) and still allow suffering to exist in the world?

This is a seriously troubling issue and the traditional answer of free will does not cut it because it is just not satisfactory enough. At best, we may accept suffering when it comes to adults and their history of making wrong and harmful decisions, but what about children? Why are there children suffering the horrendous and heart-breaking consequences of war, starvation and pain, all of which are brought upon them by abusive and ignorant parents, societies and governments? Why are some children born with mental and physical deficiencies, being marked for a life of suffering?

I have personally struggled with this question because there seems to be no justification for this. There must be something wrong with our conception of God then. His non-existence would be the simplest explanation, but I doubt that too because, believe it or not, there is a lot of good around the world. I think that a godless world combined with the many dark characteristics attributed to humans would have been a much more evil place to live in.

In fact, we would not be existing right now and had probably destroyed ourselves ten times over. Yes, we have had world wars and other types of devastation, but somehow there is something commendable and yes, god-like, about the human spirit that I find it hard to cross God completely off our list.

That being said, there have to be some adjustments made to our concept and understanding of God. The easiest answer would be obviously that the Lord works in mysterious ways and that we just do not understand how God operates.

This is, however, both a sloppy and lazy answer because it evades the question. It may be close to the truth, but because of its self-defeating purpose, I will ignore that answer here and will offer three - as mentioned in the title - unusual or unorthodox answers to the problem of evil. I must disclaim that I do not in fact agree with any of these ideas personally, but that I am simply throwing them into the mix for the sake of argument and debate and perhaps something good may come out of it after all.

The Gnostic Answer

There is the idea that what we may conceive and refer to as our God is but a demiurge, an impostor, a weak-willed, albeit relatively powerful minor deity. It is akin to the son rebelling against his parents; thus he would be influencing control over his creation the same way a teenager may take out his frustrations on his pet.

If that is the case, then a lot of the answers will suddenly make sense. There is evil and suffering in the world because our God is not perfect himself. To accept a God limited in powers may make us shift our focus.

But it is also a serious reconsideration of his characteristics. He will not live up to the extremely high standards we have set up for him, namely that he represents the highest good, power and knowledge.

Such a God lacks perfection, and we will be forced to ask ourselves why should we pray to such a minor deity. Yet it would be also a kind of awakening namely that we have been deluding ourselves with the belief that our God is an amalgamation of superheroes with superpowers; he simply is not all the members of the Avengers team combined into one, but rather a (slightly?) flawed being after all. The question would remain though, if he is not the ultimate power and driving force, who is and where are God's superiors?

Equal Balance of Good and Evil

On the other hand, it may just be that his fallen angel is not as inferior as we tend to or are made to believe and that he actually poses a serious threat and is a dangerous rival to the Almighty's plans. It seems a bit paradoxical to claim that one should be aware of the powers and temptations of the Evil One and still assert that God is much more powerful and ultimately running the show.

Why then does God not simply stamp and erase the devil out of the equation? With a swoop God would stop the fallen angel's evil emanations, his nefarious influence and foothold on the world.

That he doesn't may either mean that he doesn't want to or - and this is our assumption here - that he is not fully able to. It might be that they are close in their range of powers (like the brothers Thor and Loki) or that they are not as independent and powerful as they may seem to us; rather it may all depend on people's (free) will that decides who will gain the upper hand down here with little or no interference from above.

Yet for our present purposes, we can see them struggle in rather equal strength, day versus night, good versus evil, and it may be this kind of tension that creates the schizophrenic and fluctuating nature of our own existence. We are capable of magnificent feats and inventions and at the same time are at each other's throats killing each other and our very own living environment to boot.

In other words, the problem of evil exists simply because there is discord upstairs where the two strong forces quarrel with each other, while we are but pawns in this “game.”

God is Just Way too Busy Running a Multiverse

Imagine running a company with more than 7 billion people employed. Not only that but you have to watch them 24 hours non-stop and answer their calls and act upon their wishes around the clock.

At the same time, you need to ensure that they do not take foolish actions (which is their tendency) and you need to create a damage control contingency plan for the environment and for the maintenance and necessary balance of the ecosystem.

Let alone having to deal with all the unseen presences, from souls in the afterlife to all the angels and demons that surround and often challenge him on a daily basis. At the same time, he would have to deal with his often rebellious son who may, more often than not, criticize his own father.

And now let us expand it a little more and look at the whole universe, which is perhaps only a fraction of a wider and maybe even endless multiverse that, like a mirror-to-mirror reflection, may be containing other multiverses ad infinitum.

How is all that feasible and manageable, even for God Almighty himself? I believe that the demands and responsibilities on God are too high even if he has infinite powers and patience. So even God must employ others to deal with “pettier” issues, his own staff of angels. And since they are not as perfect as he is, there will be a mix-up or two along the way and God would have to rectify the whole thing because ultimately, he is the one responsible as the Commander-in-Chief of Heaven and Earth.

Finally, it is also possible that the problem of evil may be due to a combination of all three factors. Our expectations of God may end up ultimately so high and demanding that not even God can satisfy them. And hence, evil will exist, but we can only hope and do our utmost best to ensure that good will prevail overall.


Nelson said...

As you say at the start, “the problem of evil ... is based on logic and reasoning.”

I suggest that the problem would not have arisen in the first place if Christian theologians had not insisted on trying to be rational about God. They tried to take on board the impact of Greek logic and philosophy, and present a unified vision of the world in which everything added up. The poet John Milton was well aware of the problem and wrote Paradise Lost trying to explain in mythical form how evil arose from a rebel angel called Lucifer.

I’m not sure where the theological notion that God is almighty, all-knowing and all-loving arose in the first place, but I suggest that theistic religions don’t in every case stand or fall by this belief.

God is experienced subjectively and irrationally by the individual soul, or else accepted on trust as conforming to taught doctrine.

I have no hesitation in declaring the taught doctrine as going beyond the known; so if it is self-contradictory, the contradictions result from inadequate theory.

But insofar as God is experienced subjectively, there is no problem at all. Subjectively, I may know God one day but not another, just as we can see the sun on a cloudless day, but not on an overcast one. Scientifically, we know that the sun is still there. But theology has not reached the status of science. I cannot know that my God is the same as your God.

So the problem of evil isn’t quite as you say, “one of the most pointed attacked on theistic religions period“. A religious person may have a more subtle notion of God than the one you depict. And it’s plainly the case that many do, because they are not all morons, and the “problem of evil” has not shaken their faith; and I think there are few amongst them who depend on the three alternative answers you spell out.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Yes, Vincent, I agree with you that there is a clear distinction between religion as experience or based on faith versus dogma and doctrine. Emotions have a logic on their own and are not too worried about contradictions or logical fallacies.

But as you say, we cannot know if my God is the same as yours. So why are people trying to convert each other then? Why is there such a thing like established religion that combines to agree on specific dogma?

And these are the ones that are most likely to be attacked and feel threatened by the problem of evil. How can they justify their God logically so that they can convince others and convert them to their religion?

Those who live happily within their faith and claim to know God from the inside will most likely not be perturbed by the problem of evil.