March 04, 2006

Evil unveiled

The Russian philosopher, Nicolas Berdyaev, once said: The existence of evil is the greatest mystery in the life of the world and causes the greatest embarrassment to official theological doctrine and to all monistic philosophy....A recent writer, Richard Rubenstein, has expressed part of this shape of the problem of evil. The problem for him revolves around excess human evil and is rooted in man’s inhumanity to other men. For Rubenstein, far more harm has been done by man down through the ages than by natural catastrophes. He thinks that the real objection to the existence of a personal or theistic God is that God’s tolerance of hideous human evil cannot be reconciled with his perfection.
After the horrible experience of the Nazi death camps, no Jew should accept the omnipotent God of history or the doctrine of the election of Israel as God’s chosen people. Jews can remain a religious community without such doctrines. That God acts meaningfully in history is a terrible mistake, for if God acts meaningfully in history, then he is the ultimate author of Auschwitz. Should God tolerate the suffering of one little child, he would be infinitely cruel or hopelessly indifferent. Rubenstein is influenced by Fyodor Dostoevsky who, in The Brothers Karamazov, gives a number of examples of cruelty and wickedness in the world.
Ernest Becker’s suggestion makes more sense here. Men have abdicated their natural rights over goods and power, and have let others make crucial decisions for them. Mistaken decisions lead untold masses of men to death and destruction. Human beings do not have to give in to the tendency to engage in violence. Peaceful adventures can supply the passionate enjoyment that some men find in the exciting events of war. The deep-rooted apathy or greed that leads some men to ignore the plight of other humans who need their help desperately is a clear-cut failing of which we should not be proud. Perhaps Jung was right when he said "the principal and indeed the only thing that is wrong with the world is man.
While Rubenstein indicts God as cruel because he allows terrible human evil, David Hume holds God responsible for all the evils of man’s existence, including those resulting from natural disasters. Either God is not good because he does not prevent such evil, or God is put down for lacking the power to prevent evil, no matter where it is found. According to Hume, if God’s power is infinite, then whatever he wills is executed. However, neither humans nor animals are happy, and, hence, God does not will their happiness. God has infinite wisdom and never makes mistakes, and yet, the course of nature does not tend toward human happiness. Hence, God did not intend man’s happiness. Philo says that misery does not come about by chance. Its cause cannot be God’s intention, for God is benevolent. Misery, however, cannot occur contrary to God’s intention, for He is almighty.
  • A present-day thinker, Edward Madden, sees the problem of God and evil as revolving around the existence of an excessive amount of evil in the world. The existence of some evil in the world would not constitute a problem for the good and omnipotent God, for it could be needed as a means for developing character or for appreciating the good. The trouble is that there is too much of it.
  • Jesuit theologian, G.H. Joyce emphasizes the idea of the human mind reflecting on God and his relation to the world. This is important, for it opens up the possibility that the problem of evil is rooted in man’s conception of the world, as possibly a problem unique to the human mind which makes value judgments.
  • The theologian, Dom Mark Pontifex points to the importance of the absolute character of God’s goodness. If God is absolutely good, and the source of all that exists, then how can he be the source of evil? Or, how can evil have any basis at all in reality? How can evil exist if all that exists comes from the absolutely good God?
The Indian philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, like Dom Pontifex, has difficulty reconciling evil with a good and omnipotent God who stands above the universe, ruling and watching. This is especially so if the inexorable law of karma holds. If we take pain as a trial and an ordeal, then we are led to an all-powerful, cunning, psychologist-God who is cruel or morally insensible. The same would hold if moral evil is the result of ignorance. If pain is a punishment for moral evil, then we can ask why moral evil exists or must entail such pain and suffering? Such difficulties led the Buddha to reject the existence of a free and all-governing, personal God.
For Aurobindo, all things that exist are what they are in terms of an ultimate reality; Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, a consciousness that is both creative and infinite self-delight. This leads him to ask, how can pain and suffering exist at all if this is so? If this ultimate reality, called Sachchidananda, is God, then he is all good. If so, however, who created pain and evil? Aurobindo’s answer to the problem of evil is that the Divinity also bears the evil and suffering that we find in the creature in whom he has embodied himself. Aurobindo points out that the law governing the world takes no cognizance of good and evil, but only of the force that creates, the force that arranges and preserves, the force that disturbs and destroys impartially.
We do not blame the tiger for ripping apart its prey, nor the storm because it destroys whatever is in its path. The urge of Sachchidananda towards self-expression is central. This satisfaction of the conscious-force of existence develops itself into forms and seeks in that development its delight. Delight of being--universal, illimitable, self-existent-- seeks to realize itself as delight of becoming. This delight seeks in mind and life to realize itself by emergence in the becoming, in the increasing self-consciousness of the movement. As it seeks new forms of itself, pain and suffering occur.

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