Tag Archives: Problem of Evil

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Hasa Diga Eebowai

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Hasa Diga Eebowai”.

Temporal and Spiritual Needs
“If you don’t like what we say 
Try living here a couple days.
Watch all your friends and family die.”

To the first point, see this post. Also, I talk about the balance between temporal and spiritual needs in this post about the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.

To the second point, that religion has no application until tangible, basic needs are taken care of, I contend that religion is as much for our happiness in this life as it is to prepare us for eternal life in the world to come. True principles provide a framework from which to face and conquer problems, and not having experience with the full breadth or depth of the evil in the world does not make the things missionaries teach untrue. There are gems within the gospel that can strengthen us to stand.

In 1 Corinthians, we’re told that we will face no temptation that we cannot conquer (1 Corinthians 10:13). In Philippians, Paul tells us that we can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). Certainly God is willing to help us through our pains and trials; what’s more, he’s prepared to do so, to succor us, having gone through and felt everything we will face (Alma 7:11-13).

Not only can a true belief strengthen us against trial, but it can allow us to draw closer to God than we might have been able to otherwise. An experience that illustrates this principle is the hardship of the Martin and Willie handcart companies. In the early days of the Church, many converts were emigrants from Europe. They desired to join the Saints in Utah, but were too poor to afford oxen or horses and a wagon. As a result, they were forced to pull handcarts carrying all their belongings across the plains. The Martin and Willie companies left late in the year, and became stranded in the deadly cold of winter. Many died as a result of exposure or starvation.

In a Sunday school class, some individuals criticized the members of the company for taking such great risk, and the leaders of the Church for permitting it. An older man listened for a moment, and when he could stay quiet no longer, rose and said this:

“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.

“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (read more in this talk).

Life is difficult. There are people in the world who face more evil in a week than I may in the course of my lifetime. But it is in our darkest times that we need light the most, not least.

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Hasa Diga Eebowai

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Hasa Diga Eebowai”.

Naive Utah Missionaries
“Excuse me, sir, but you should really not be saying that. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.”

One of the themes of this musical is that missionaries are naive and inexperienced, and they immaturely try to solve tangible problems with ethereal spirituality.

I think that on the one hand, this can be a fair criticism. Coming largely from the United States, many young men and women who serve as missionaries have yet to encounter the incredible hardship found throughout the world. Difficulty, for them, has been getting a date for prom, not wondering when or where from they’ll get your next meal. For those focused almost exclusively on basic human needs like safety, shelter, and sustenance, young people preaching religion can seem empty and weak.

To the first point, that missionaries are immature and inexperienced, I contend that it is neither maturity nor experience that make one an effective minister. Rather, our ability to “bear fruit” depends on our willingness to stay connected to the True Vine (see John 15). The Lord has said that he will use “the weak and the simple” to proclaim his gospel unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers (Doctrine and Covenants 1:23). I, for one, am grateful that it is not experience, maturity, or intellect that qualifies us to serve.

In Preach My Gospel, missionaries are told this:

“As the Lord’s representative, you are to be “an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Strive to live according to God’s commandments and keep the covenants you made in the temple; know the scriptures; be courteous, on time, and dependable; follow missionary standards of conduct, dress, and grooming; love the people with whom you serve and work. Honor Christ’s name by your actions.”

To see the second point, see this post.

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Hasa Diga Eebowai

All the posts in this series.

Go back to “Hasa Diga Eebowai”.

The Problem of Evil
“When the world is getting you down,
There’s nobody else to blame.
Raise a middle finger to the sky,
And curse his rotten name.”

The concerns that the villagers bring up could be summarized thus:

  • God (if He exists) is responsible, at least in part, for the evil the villagers face

In the end, the villagers aren’t interested in getting to know a God who allows such great evil in their lives. And make no mistake, it is great evil. Death and disease, rape, child abuse, crushing poverty, brutal violence and warfare, all make their mark daily in the lives of these people.

The Problem of Evil is not a uniquely Mormon concern. It has been discussed for centuries by religious and non-religious alike.

I’ve covered The Problem of Evil in detail already on this blog in a three-part series, specifically focusing on the question of how Mormonism can answer the problem more sufficiently than mainstream Christianity can. Because of that, I will refer you to that series. You can find Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 here.

Mormon Observations on “The Book of Mormon” the Musical – Hasa Diga Eebowai

For a list of all the posts in this series, see here.

In the interest of giving you a fair warning, there is a lot of offensive language in this song. I’m going to censor some of the language, but it’s not difficult to get it from the context.

Background

The two missionaries arrive in Uganda, only to be robbed at gunpoint by soldiers of a local warlord. Dejected, they meet Mafala, a local tribesman. Mafala and local villagers explain the extreme conditions they live in, including famine, violence, poverty, and AIDS. Their song is a way of making their lives seem better.

Full Lyrics – “Hasa Diga Eebowai”

Mafala: In this part of Africa, we all have a saying. Whenever something bad happens, we just throw our hands up to the sky and say “Hasa Diga Eebowai”!

Elder Cunningham: Hasa Diga Eebowai?

Mafala: It’s the only way to get through all these troubled times. There’s war, poverty, famine…. But having a saying makes it all seem better!

There isn’t enough food to eat.
Hasa Diga Eebowai.
People are starving in the street.
Hasa Diga Eebowai.
Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Price: Well, that’s pretty neat!

Elder Cunningham: Does it mean no worries for the rest of our days?

Mafala: Kind of!

We’ve had no rain in several days.
(Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

And eighty percent of us have AIDS.
(Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

Many young girls here get circumcised,
Their ***** get cut right off. (Way oh!)
And so we say up to the sky
Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Now you try. Just stand up tall, tilt your head to the sky, and list all the bad things in your life.

Elder Cunningham: Somebody took our luggage away. (Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

Elder Price: The plane was crowded and the bus was late. (Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

Mafala: When the world is getting you down,
There’s nobody else to blame. (Way oh!)
Raise a middle finger to the sky,
And curse his rotten name.

Elder Price: Wait, what?

Elder Cunningham: Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Am I saying that right?

Elder Price: Excuse me, sir, but what exactly does that phrase mean?

Mafala:Well, let’s see…’Eebowai’ means ‘God’, and ‘Hasa Diga’ means ‘**** you’. So I guess in English it would be, “**** you, God!”

Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Price: What?!!

Mafala: When God ***** you in the butt.
(Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

**** God back right in his ****.
(Hasa Diga Eebowai!)

Hasa Diga Eebowai!
Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Elder Price: Excuse me, sir, but you should really not be saying that. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

Mafala: Oh, really? Well, take this ****ing ***hole, Mutumbo, here. He got caught last week trying to rape a baby.

Elder Price: What!? Why?

Madala: Some people in his tribe believe that having sex with a virgin will cure their AIDS. There aren’t many virgins left, so some of them are turning to babies.

Elder Price: But…that’s horrible!

Madala: I know!

Here’s the bucher, he has AIDS.
Here’s the teacher, she has AIDS.
Here’s the doctor, he has AIDS.
Here’s my daughter she has A…

…Wonderful disposition.
She’s all I have left in the world.
And if either of you lays a hand on her –
I will give you my AIDS.

If you don’t like what we say 
Try living here a couple days.
Watch all your friends and family die.

Hasa Diga Eebowai!

Hasa Diga Eebowai!
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you in the eye! 

Hasa Diga Eebowai!
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you, God, in the ***, mouth, and ****
**** you in the other eye! 

Hasa Diga Eebowai!

The Problem of Evil Part 3 – The Mormon Solution Appendix

See the original post here. Because I changed from one blog to another, below are the comments I did not want to lose.

First Comment – deb.bacharach@gmail.com

Thank you. I appreciated your clear thinking and clear presentation in this series.

Question: I understand your case for holding Hick’s soul making theodicy inadequate. But it appears you then say the LDS view succeeds to account for evil based on Hick’s idea.

From your section titled, An Eventual Rest: “God could allow rest without allowing evil, but the “soul-making” necessary to become gods could not be accomplished without it.”

So on one hand I think I hear you saying Hick fails, then I think I hear you saying LDS succeeds because of Hick.

I must be missing something. Thanks in advance for helping me understand your thinking.

My Response

That’s a good question. Perhaps this will help you understand my view better.

Hick’s argument, as I see it, is basically this:
(1) Man exists in an incomplete state
(2) Experiences with evil/opposition allow man to grow and mature towards completion
(3) This growth and maturation could not happen without these experiences involving evil/opposition
(4) God allows evil to exist so that this maturation can happen, and this is just because of (2) and (3)

I see Christianity and Mormonism diverging from here on out.

Christianity would add:
(5) Man, more complete due to their experiences with evil and opposition, enter an eternal rest with God.

With only Christian theology, this argument falls victim to the failing I talked about in Part 2. It leaves itself open to questions like, “Was all of that evil necessary?”

Mormonism, on the other hand, would add:
(5) Man, more complete due to their experiences with evil and opposition, enter an eternal existence where they continue to grow until they live the life God lives, and in fact until they become gods themselves.

The problem of Hick’s original argument is overcome by the doctrines unique to the teachings of the LDS Church, those we believe were restored by Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith the prophet.

I was somewhat brief here, but perhaps with this outline the sections in Part 2 and Part 3 will make more sense. Keep in mind that the focal point isn’t necessarily Hick’s argument, but Hick’s argument in light of two different perspectives – the Christian perspective (ex nihilo creation and eternal rest) and the LDS perspective (co-eternal beings and eternal godhood).

The Problem of Evil Part 3 – The Mormon Solution

In Part 1, I introduced the problem of evil, and discussed Augustine’s view that evil is an illusion. I disagreed with this view, and gave examples of evil that would be difficult to consider as an illusion.  First, I summarized an excerpt of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan describes terrible evil to brother Alyosha. Second, I described some of the suffering in Haiti as a result of the recent earthquake. I concluded that those who think evil is an illusion are like Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series, who see an illusion only because they have no experiences of true evil and suffering.

In Part 2, I introduced certain complications that enter into the question because of traditional Christian theology.  The first doctrine that causes complications is the creation ex nihilo, which makes an omniscient God an “accessory before the fact” to all evil done in the universe.  The second doctrine that causes complications is the idea that our post-mortal life will only be a rest.  If man is only working towards an eternal rest, then it is hard to see the necessity in suffering here in mortality.  Both of these Christian additions to the Problem of Evil make it rather impossible to answer the atheist’s charge that there is no God without help from restored truth.  I also discussed Hick’s “soul-making” defense and Plantinga’s free-will defense.  Both answer some questions, but neither are completely adequate.

Redefining God

We’ve already discussed some of the various responses to the contradiction which is the Problem of Evil.

It seems easiest to deny the existence of God (though as we all know, the easy answer is rarely the correct answer).  This is where atheist groups begin, and it is somewhat understandable since the western Christian world basically agrees on who God is.  Their definition of God leaves little wiggle room, so to speak.

Interestingly enough, the LDS position on the Problem of Evil begins with redefining God.  Latter-day Saints believe that the understanding of the nature of God has been corrupted by the creeds and philosophies of men.  Using the revelations given to Joseph Smith as their guide, they redefine God to correct the apostate traditions discussed in Part 2.

A Creation Ex Nihilo?  The LDS Take

LDS theology does not define God as a creator ex nihilo.  In fact, Joseph Smith taught that there are three things co-eternal with God.  The first two are “the mind or intelligence which man possesses” (or “primal person,” as Paulsen refers to it here) and “chaotic matter.”  Because these things are not created by God, he is not an accessory to any wickedness committed by them despite any foreknowledge he may have of their actions.

So why can’t God simply remove these sources of evil in the world?  He is still omnipotent, after all.  The third co-eternal entity is important in answering this concern.  Joseph Smith defined it as “laws of eternal and self-existent principles,” and this necessarily limits God’s omnipotence.  God is bound by these laws, and cannot bring to pass logical impossibilities.  Paulsen cites an example in Mormon theology regarding the happiness of man.  He writes that “there are apparently states of affair that even God, though omnipotent, cannot bring about. Man is that he might have joy, but even God cannot bring about joy without moral righteousness, moral righteousness without moral freedom, or moral freedom without an opposition in all things.”

Thus God’s role as creator and his omnipotence are both redefined.  Such limits to his creative power and omnipotence are not in the least bit heretical, for God’s power to save and exalt his children is not limited when he is bound by logic (i.e., he cannot create a square circle) or his own eternal principles (i.e., only righteousness brings happiness).

An Eventual Rest?  The LDS Take

LDS theology does not teach that rest is all that awaits us in the next life – that view, while true, is incomplete.  Instead, Joseph Smith taught that those who meet the requirements set by God shall one day experience godhood themselves. (This claim is one of the most controversial points of Mormonism, but it will not be examined here in detail except as it helps to solve the Problem of Evil). What is meant by “godhood” is simply living the kind of life that God lives. In essence, it is continuing family relationships beyond the grave, and continually growing and improving throughout eternity. With that much time, what could we not accomplish?

Joseph wrote, “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end;… then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20).  When considering this prize, and the strength of character that would be required to faithfully serve under such a stewardship, it is not hard to consider evil (even atrocities like those described by Ivan Karamazov or the evils happening in Haiti [see Part 1]) as a necessary part of earthly experience.  God could allow rest without allowing evil, but the “soul-making” necessary to live the kind of life that God lives could not be accomplished without it.

An Objection to Restoration

In redefining God’s omnipotence and role as creator, and in clarifying the end purpose of creation, the issues raised by the Christian Conundrum are completely circumvented, and both Hick’s and Plantinga’s  arguments are enhanced.  Yet many reject to these clarifications in fits of neophobia.  The theology of the LDS Church is unique among modern Christianity, and this distinctiveness is often met with disdain among other more mainstream theologians.  Still, it is important to note that the rejection of Joseph Smith’s teachings are primary an objection is to the manner in which Smith claimed to receive these teachings.

Those who reject Smith’s arguments against the Problem of Evil based on his experiences are accountable to provide their own arguments to defend the existence of God.  These arguments, though, have not sufficiently shown the Problem of Evil to be invalid.

It is clear that only with the teachings of the LDS Church is Christianity able to reconcile the presence of evil with the existence of God – a God that is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful (within his logical limitations); who organizes existing matter into creation; and who has created mankind for eventual godhood.

(Because this is a post from an older blog, I’ll include an appendix where you can view older comments and exchanges I had.)

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Haiti, Harry, and the Reality of Evil
  • Part 2 – The Christian Conundrum
  • Part 3 – The Mormon Solution

The Problem of Evil Part 2 – The Christian Conundrum

In Part 1, I introduced the problem of evil, and discussed Augustine’s view that evil is an illusion. I disagreed with this view, and gave examples of evil that would be difficult to consider as an illusion.  First, I summarized an excerpt of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan describes terrible evil to brother Alyosha. Second, I described some of the suffering in Haiti as a result of the recent earthquake. I concluded that those who think evil is an illusion are like Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series, who see an illusion only because they have no experiences of true evil and suffering.

The difficulties associated with God’s omnibenevolence, God’s omnipotence, and the existence of evil can be seen in the conventional rendering of the problem of evil, demonstrated by Epicurus and Hume (see Part 1).  Yet there are additional complications to the Problem of Evil when certain traditional Christian doctrines are taken into account. These doctrines are, namely, a creation ex nihilo and a post-mortal rest.  I will discuss these below.

A Creation Ex Nihilo

The first complication comes when coupling God’s omniscience with his creation of the world ex nihilo. In his “Theology and Falsification,” Antony Flew offers that because God created all things with an absolute foreknowledge as to how they would act, he then becomes an accessory to all the wickedness done by mankind, and responsible for the deficiencies of creation. Flew states,

“We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.”

Certainly, if God created the world ex nihilo he becomes an accessory to all the evil in the world.

An Eventual Rest

Christian doctrine concerning the post-mortal existence focuses mainly on a heaven and a hell – eternal damnation and suffering for the wicked, and an eternal, blissful rest in the presence of the Lord for the righteous. Is it any wonder that the Christian world looks forward to a heavenly peace when the Savior bade his followers, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29; emphasis added). Christians look not only for temporal rest, but an everlasting rest in the company of their Savior.

Yet this second doctrine is as problematic as the first we dicussed. Remember Ivan’s comments to his brother Alyosha. He asks if such a rest merits the horrendous tragedy they both admittedly see in the world:

“Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature… would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”

His brother Alyosha answers in the negative, as any reasonable person would answer when faced with actual instances of evil that are found in the world, particularly the evil Ivan highlights.  If all we are going to do in the end is rest, what is the point of all this evil?

John Hick and “Soul-Making”

John Hick is one religious philosopher that has attempted to make a defense against these accusations. Admitting that God is omniscient and the creator ex nihilo, he argues that the evil we find around us is necessary as a “soul-making” agent. He argues,

“Instead of regarding man as having been created by God in a finished state… [some] see man as still in process of creation…, only the raw material for a further and more difficult stage of God’s creative work.”

Hick excuses the evil present in the world as necessary for the development of the human soul, and later suggests

“that there will in the final accounting be no personal life that is unperfected and no suffering that has not eventually become a phase in the fulfillment of God’s good purpose.”

This is one of the better Christian defense against the problem of evil.  Latter-day Saints completely agree that the evil in the world is necessary for us to grow (see Part 3), and opposition is a key element to the LDS conception of the Plan of Salvation.

Yet there are several problems with Hick’s defense, one of which is described by Edward H. Madden and Peter H. Hare. They argue that the dichotomy Hick has set up is inaccurate. Certainly opposition and evil can indeed be soul-making agents, but couldn’t just a portion of the evil currently present in the world be sufficient? Is so much suffering necessary?

Do innocent girls need to be beaten by parents and smeared in excrement in order to experience soul-making? Do innocent boys need to be mauled to death in front of their mothers in order to merit their rest? Is the burning of villages, or murder, or the rape of women and children, or the nailing of prisoners to fences by their ears necessary to achieve peace or growth as argued by Hick?  Certainly not.

Plantinga and Free-Will

Alvin Plantinga takes a different approach than Hick, arguing instead from free-will.  Plantinga summarizes his argument thus:

“A world containing creatures who are significantly free… is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.… The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

Plantinga’s argument certainly creates allowance for moral evil; still, there is no allowance created for natural evil, like the evil we have seen recently in Haiti.  The free-will of mankind has no bearing on the winds, or the waves, or the movement of the earth, and we may still ask if such natural evil, or so much natural evil, is necessary for the ends willed by God.  Plantinga’s free-will argument makes no attempt to answer that question.

Something More

While Plantinga’s argument perhaps comes the closest to reconciling the existence of God with the existence of evil, it does not sufficiently answer all of the questions.  Neither does Hick’s “soul-making” defense sufficiently justify the existence of evil.  They come part of the way, but are incomplete; we need something more to answer the questions raised by the Problem of Evil.

What’s more, a creation ex nihilo (making God an “accessory before the fact” to all the evil done by his creations) and a post-mortality of only peace and rest (unbalanced when considered with the immense amount of evil in the word) still cause what I like to think of as the Christian Conundrum.  This conundrum cannot be solved by either Hick’s “soul-making” defense or Plantinga’s free-will defense.

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Haiti, Harry, and the Reality of Evil
  • Part 2 – The Christian Conundrum
  • Part 3 – The Mormon Solution

The Problem of Evil Part 1 – Haiti, Harry, and the Reality of Evil

On 12 January of this 2010, as many of you have probably become aware, Haiti experienced a 7.0 earthquake, the largest ever in its history.  The earthquake devastated the entire island, leaving catastrophic damage and rising casualties.  The horrific images and stories emerging from Haiti have caused many to question the existence of a divine being.  How could God allow such unimaginable suffering to occur in the lives of millions?

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil has taken many forms over the course of history, but each form essentially argues the same thing.  Perhaps Epicurus presents the problem of evil most succinctly.  He asks,

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent.  Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

David Hume phrases his question a bit differently.  He asks,

“Why is there any misery at all in the world?  Not by chance, surely.  From some cause then.  Is it from the intention of the Deity?  But he is perfectly benevolent.  Is it contrary to his intention?  But he is almighty.  Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive….”

The contradiction many see is that evil would not exist if God really is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good.  From the existence of evil, they conclude that there must be no God.

Harry Potter and the Problem of Evil

The school year after Harry’s godfather is murdered, Harry and his two friends return to Hogwarts to continue their education.  In all past years, they have been taken from the train station to the school in carriages that are self propelled.  This year, though, something is different.  Harry sees grotesque, horse-like creatures called Thestrals pulling the carriages.  What’s more, he is the only one (besides Luna) who can see them – to all others, including his closest friends, they are invisible.  As he and Luna talk, Harry discovers that it is because both he and Luna are the only ones to have ever seen and experienced death.

What might this have to do with the problem of evil?  Keep reading.

Augustine and the Illusion of Evil

St. Augustine, rather than deny the existence of God, chooses to deny the existence of evil.  He claims that evil is an illusion, and simply the absence of good.  If something exists, then it must be good, and what we call evil is just the absence of that good.  Since evil doesn’t exist, there is no contradiction in God existing as well.  He says in prayer,

“And it was made clear to me that all things are good even if they are corrupted…  So long as they are, therefore, they are goodTherefore, whatsoever is, is good. Evil, then, the origin of which I had been seeking, has no substance at all; for if it were a substance, it would be good.

“To thee there is no such thing as evil, and even in thy whole creation taken as a whole, there is not” (Confessions, Book 7, Chapters XII and XIII).

Dostoevsky and the Reality of Evil

Dostoevsky, in a section entitled “Rebellion” from The Brothers Karamazov, tells the story of two brothers, Ivan and Alyosha.  Alyosha wants to dedicate himself to God and become a monk.  Ivan spends the section trying to convince Alyosha that such an endeavor would be a waste, as there may be no God at all.  Ivan tells his brother of hideous evils that have occurred all around them.  To make the evils that much more poignant, he confines his comments to evils involving only innocent children.

As a caution, the following descriptions are quite violent.

Ivan first describes the Turks, who burn villages, murder, and rape women and children.  They nail prisoners to fences by their ears and leave them till morning, at which point the prisoners are hanged.  They cut unborn children from their mother’s wombs, and toss babies up in the air only to catch them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes.  They take small children, point pistols at their faces, and after making the children laugh with glee suddenly pull the trigger.

Ivan tells the story of the “Frenchman Richard,” an illegitimate child who was given at age six to some shepherds on the Swiss mountains by his parents.  The shepherds taught him nothing, and scarcely fed or clothed him.  At age seven he was sent to herd the flocks in the wet and cold.  He longed to eat the mash given to pigs, but was beaten when he stole from them.  When Richard grew old enough he left and lived on the street as a thief until he was executed for the murder of an old man.

Ivan tells of a Tartar father who beat his daughter with a birch covered twig so that it stung more.  He would beat her until she screamed, then until she could no longer scream, and finally until she could only gasp “Daddy! Daddy!”  He was brought before a court, but quickly acquitted.  Ivan tells of Russian parents who beat, thrashed, and kicked their five year old girl for no reason until her body was bruised.  They shut her overnight in the cold and frost in a privy because she didn’t ask to be taken up.  He own mother smeared her face with, and forced her to eat, excrement.  The daughter beat her heart with her aching fists, and wept alone.

Ivan last tells of a Russian general.  An eight year old boy of a servant threw a stone and hurt the paw of one of the general’s dogs.  The boy was taken and shut up all night, then in the morning he was stripped naked before all the servants.  The general shouted at him, “Run!”, and as the boy ran, sent a pack of dogs after him.  Before his mother’s eyes the dogs catch him and tear him to pieces.

After concluding the stories of these atrocities, Ivan then asks Alyosha:

“Tell me yourself, I challenge you – answer.  Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that little child beating its breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?  Tell me, and tell the truth (emphasis added).

Alyosha answers:

“No, I wouldn’t consent.” And he agrees that other men would share in that sentiment.

Are such evils as Ivan describes an illusion?

Haiti and the Reality of Evil

When we look at a map of the island, it is hard to comprehend what took place there.  We are detached from the suffering, and, from our vantage point where we see only colors of decreasing intensity, evil might be considered only an illusion.

But the earthquake in Haiti is not just a red and yellow ripple.  It is death.  It is suffering.  It is real.  It is evil (albeit mostly natural evil).

Almost half a million people are homeless.  These homeless are without basic needs like nutrition, sanitation, clean water, or other essential services.

Hospitals have collapsed all over Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands without a source for much needed medical care.

Roads, airports, and even phone networks have been damaged, creating difficulty in communicating or getting aid to where it is most needed.

Dead bodies are being buried in mass graves.  Others have been left to rot in the humidity and heat, leaving the smell of decomposing bodies to waft in the air.  Some bodies have been burned, or taken to dumps to be buried in trenches dug by earth movers.  Some estimate that as many as 200,000 have been killed

Violence and looting has broken out where distribution of supplies has been slow.  A 15-year-old girl named Fabienne Cherisma was killed by police for looting.  She was shot in the head after taking paintings from a wrecked shop.

There are growing fears of child-trafficking in Haiti, where orphans are in danger of being snatched up and flown out of the country to face all the horrors that child-trafficking entails.  Children sleep next to the corpses of their dead family because they don’t know where to go.

Augustine was wrong.  This evil is not an illusion.  This evil is real.

Harry Potter Once Again

There are some who believe, like Augustine, that evil is an illusion, only the absence of good.  They may not say it in so many words, but numbers of Christians are able to reconcile their faith with the evil in the world almost effortlessly.  They defer to their faith, and hold fast to scriptures like Isaiah 55:8.  These individuals are like Ron and Hermione.  They cannot see the creatures pulling the wagon, and take the feat for a magical illusion.

Yet these people who believe that evil is an illusion must not have seen the evil that Ivan describes, or the evil that we see on the news each night, or the images on TV and the internet of the evil that is taking place in Haiti as we speak.  When they, like Harry, finally do experience the evil in the world, when they really understand the horror that is happening all around them, they understand that there is no illusion.  Evil is not just the absence of good.  Evil is very real.

This is a problem that merits serious consideration.  This question deserves more of an answer than simply that God is good and in control.

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Haiti, Harry, and the Reality of Evil
  • Part 2 – The Christian Conundrum
  • Part 3 – The Mormon Solution

The Invention of Lying Appendix

See the original post here. Because I changed from one blog to another, below are the comments I did not want to lose.

First Comment – stsixtus@gmail.com

Despite your claim, some contradictions set forth in Christianity (or any other religion) are never resolved. This is where the element of faith comes in. In fact, it was a result of our questioning of authority (“really [thinking] about things”) that led to atheism in the first place.

That being said, are you really so simple as to believe a comedian did not understand the underlying tenets of Christianity? Is it not also possible that he willfully exploited obvious contradictions for the purposes of entertainment and humor? If that latter is possible, aren’t you being too simple minded or lazy to “figure out” his intent? Instead, it would appear as though you vilify Gervais as anti-Christian in order to garner the support of your largely – devout – Christian readers. It is a shame that very few of them will see your charade as just as farcical as Gervais’s “insane claims.”

I hope you see my comments as no more (or less) offensive than your own attack on Ricky Gervais and atheism.

My Response

I’m happy to respond to a few mistakes in your comment. I hope that if you would like further comments approved that you would edit more carefully your remarks.

First, there is a difference between a contradiction and an unanswered question. Contradictions are (go figure) contradictory, while unanswered questions are not. Christianity has many unanswered questions. For some, those questions are so important that they cannot believe. Others have faith that those questions will be answered in time. Either way, it doesn’t mean those questions are contradictory.

As an aside, you could still argue that there are contradictions in Christianity, but you’d have to get into them one by one because generally there are reasonable explanations. As I said above, the explanations may not be reasonable enough for some, and that’s why they do not to believe. This is just fine – I don’t need what’s reasonable for me to be reasonable for everyone else – but you still need to make this distinction if you want to sound more informed and less troll-like.

Second, asking questions is good and does not always lead to atheism. I mention in my post that Christianity supports active faith as opposed to blind faith. Many ask questions and, as a result, have a much more active belief. Others ask questions and find themselves lacking. Again, it’s all about how what is reasonable for some is not reasonable for others.

Third, regarding my “simple” assumption about Gervais – what he said was inaccurate, so there are really only two conclusions. One, he could be lazy. Perhaps he didn’t do his research, or he didn’t let his theories cook long enough, or he misunderstands Christianity, or he’s just plain dumb. Two, he could be dishonest. Perhaps he knowingly portrayed inaccuracies in order to add strength to his position, something which is much different than “willfully exploit[ing] obvious contradictions” (I refer to this practice in my post as the “straw man” fallacy). Personally, I don’t think it matters which conclusion is right. What he said is still inaccurate, and you can read why in my post.

Besides, being a comedian does not qualify him to speak on anything. It’s very possible that “a comedian” could misunderstand or misinterpret “the underlying tenants of Christianity.” He’s not a theist. He’s an actor.

Fourth, I answer your objection about it being “just for entertainment and humor” at the beginning of my post where I talk about satire.

Fifth, my attack is not on a belief system (including atheism), or even Gervais as a person, although he should make sure his position is based on accurate fact and not Christian caricatures. The attack is on what he supposes Christianity to be, as I discuss in my post.

Finally, many people see my beliefs as a “collection of lies.” We often do this to anyone who believes different than us. If we are ever going to be effective at understanding each other, we need to recognize that what we consider as unreasonable is quite reasonable for another. What they believe in is not a lie, i.e. an intentionally misleading falsity– it’s just something we don’t accept. The sooner we stop this definitional slandering, and stop categorizing the beliefs of others as “lies,” the sooner we can all have productive, meaningful conversations with each other.

Second Comment – martinchnz1@gmail.com

I like believing in a God who “allows” 22000 children to die everyday. It makes me happy to know he’s lazy too. It’s cool because it’s all their “plan” and he’s just so mysterious.

Why don’t you turn your cheek at all his stabs at christianity instead of critisizing. It’s not very nice to be so mean about his ability to tickle your funny bone, you’re supposed to love all of your fellow people and that is what the father has written… In his amazing book, which was compiled by the almighty pagan emperor Constantine with the 4 gospels out of a couple hundred that he decided were best. Constantine must have just been the “vessel” for God to choose which gospels to include…. yay. I love being such a “non-blind” faithee.

Good for you snuggles. Enjoy

My Response

Snuggles? Anyway…

First, if you are really concerned about the supposed contradiction between evil (in the form of 22,000 children dying every day, or some other form) and the existence of a kind God, I invite you to read my post on the problem of evil. You can find the first of three parts here.

Second, as for turning my cheek to the attacks of others on my belief, that’s just silly. I don’t think it’s best to go out looking for a fight, but I won’t allow any uncontested slam dunks against things which I believe. Besides, as part of the covenant I made when I chose to follow the Savior I promised to stand as a witness (Mosiah 18:9; see also verses 8 – 11). Standing as a witness of Jesus Christ includes correcting false ideas propagated by others.

And in relation to that, I didn’t intend to be mean. I did intend, though, to be blunt, and Gervais should have been more responsible with the claims he made.

Third, you make a common mistake regarding the relationship of “love” and “allowance.” I don’t have time to go over it here in a comment, but if you’re interested in learning more I invite you to read a sermon entitled “Love and Law” by Dallin H. Oaks about this relationship here.

Fourth, your Bible history is a bit rusty, but your point is well taken. If you’re interested in learning what Mormon’s think about how the Church was influenced after the death of the apostles, see here.

Clearly, what is reasonable for me is not reasonable for you. That’s just fine. Perhaps as you learn more and become better acquainted with more accurate principles regarding the concepts you’ve brought up, my position will become more understandable.