Thursday, October 26, 2017

God, Evil, and Excuses

I received an actual stranger comment on one of my old posts - and one that's not trying to sell me counterfeit pharmaceuticals or infect my computer with a virus. It references a post on "Atheism and the City" addressing the failure of traditional theism to properly address the problem of evil. I wrote a response to that post that I thought might be good to share.

I found this piece because of a comment on my blog post about never having been born.

I appreciate the valid critique this post gives to a certain theistic perspective on evil, although I do tend to see some flaws in the analogy. First, the bag of money - the notion that there is an end or reward, while very common in religious circles, isn't something I'd associate with the teachings of Jesus (my only real frame of reference, religiously speaking). At the very least, I'd argue he says the means are the end - whatever "reward" or "goal" is in the process, not the conclusion. Therefore the gifting of a bag on money, in this sense, doesn't really represent my understanding of how the world works. I do grant that it's a very common religious (and especially Christian) perspective - but I have just as many problems with it, as someone trying to take Jesus and the Bible seriously, as you do as an atheist. This is the kind of critique of which we need more.

I'd also point you toward theist philosopher Thomas Jay Oord, who's recently been writing a lot about the problem of evil, especially as it comes to determinism. He works with principles of Open and Process Theology to challenge the notion of God's omnibenevolence. I can't say I'm totally on board with the direction of his work, but I do agree with him (and you, apparently) that those "omni" claims are more problematic for Christianity and theism than most people want to admit.

My personal views are that we're too quick to individualize everything in the modern western world. While I do recognize the place, worth, and value of individuals, I tend to see existence itself as more of a coherent whole and advocate the necessity of evaluating individual participation in the whole through that context.

I don't find as much need for addressing the problem of evil as many others - it just doesn't keep me up at night in the same way - I tend to see evil as a reality in the world and I just don't have much impetus to ask why. I do tend to ask "what should I/we do about it," and my answer is generally "love."

I don't think it's a complete answer, but I do find a certain beauty in redemption (the reconciliation of warring or aggrieved parties) that simple isn't possible without pain. I know there's a sometimes-distinction made between pain and evil (cheating on your wife vs genocide, for example), but I'm less inclined to believe in it. I feel like a poor philosopher saying it so simply, but I find great peace in the notion that pain breeds pain and love breeds love. I have great hope that the latter can eventually defeat the former - or that, if I'm wrong, a life lived with that expectation is worthwhile even if it's ultimately futile.

1 comment:

Thomas Jay Oord said...

Good post, Ryan. And thanks for mentioning my work. I'm currently doing a book that solves the problem of evil by identifying 5 key beliefs necessary not only to say God is not morally responsible for evil but also to heal from evil and overcome it.