Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Courage to Think For Yourself, philosophy/religion: God, Evil and Atheism - Why is there evil in this w...

The Courage to Think For Yourself, philosophy/religion: God, Evil and Atheism - Why is there evil in this w...:                                              Introduction                In the monotheistic religions of the world  God is  conceived...

God, Evil and Atheism - Why is there evil in this world? Who or what is God? Who or what is man? Is a perfect world possible? Does existence of evil make this world totally meaningless? How is the problem of evil understood within Christian religion.


               In the monotheistic religions of the world  God is  conceived as all good and  also omnipotent  Creator of the Universe which is  not  perfect in any way but mixed with a lot of imperfections and  evils both natural and man made evil.  The problem is very important  because the presence of evil in the world  is for many a scandal and a cause of rejection of religion altogether.
                 When things develop  more or less smoothly in life it seems reasonable to believe in the goodness of God and His benevolent Providence, but when unexpectedly and suddenly  tragedy develops and  destroys  quite often the most precious in our lives then we are bewildered
confused and our faith in God  melts quickly into  bitter rebellion. Someone who is close and beloved person in your life is  killed in an accident , your only beloved child  dies of  unknown sickness, some member of your family  stricken by sickness lingers on in terrible suffering sometimes for many years before death. When such things happen to others we somehow  seem to understand  but when it hits ourselves then we rebel  :  Why me? Why now ? Why is God so  cruel to me?  and the next step is rejection of faith in God altogether .  God somehow appears as  a projection of the human mind  and  as such is simply not real anymore. This happens quite often and to many people  in our life here on earth. Of course  atheists are  very  fast in pointing out  the  evil nature of the world and consider the so called goodness of God  unrealistic  childish superstition diverting human attention and efforts from concrete tasks of real life  towards  an unreal figment of   the human mind. The duty of  facing the problem of evil  and  defending the  rationality of belief in a good Creator rests with believers. It is not the concern of the atheists,  for  the atheists can always say: ...well, that is how  things are... and that is the end of your  childish beliefs.
         The problem is extremely important because it throws the  name of God  in a big question mark. In all religions  alive now  God is worshiped as Infinite Goodness but all the ingenuity to solve the problem will not be able to convince anybody that evil is not very real it is not only , as some believe an appearance but very real and life is full of irrationality and meaningless destruction and death. For example  what should the Jews think about goodness of God after the Holocaust, the many  concentration camps not only Auschwitz   where the bestiality of man to other man had  practically no limits at all. Did the Good Jehovah  completely forget His chosen people? If not  then  how can  His Providence be understood? Or is there any sense even in trying to understand it. The same problem of evil had been discussed in may ways by most serious philosophers and theologians. For example John Hick  expressed  his  consternation when  facing the question of evil because according to him  it turns around  the  principle whether the end justifies the means, whether all growth in the world  can justify the suffering of one child even. Dostoevsky in the novel Brothers Karamazov  has  Ivan give up the ticket for life in which  even one tear of a child is  unjustified. His brother Alyosha  is very  quiet during this discussion and  sadly  acknowledges  Ivan's statement.
      Many contemporary existential thinkers , especially with an atheistic bend of mind bring this out again and again ( A. Camus , J.P. Sartre, David Hume and many others) consider the problem beyond any solution and because  God  who "tortures " innocent children cannot by any stretch of imagination be called good or the word good is emptied and meaningless and  to worship  any god who is insensitive to the suffering of his creatures although he , being omnipotent could of course create the universe without suffering, sickness , dying  and all the miseries  of human existence is irrational. 

         The problem must be faced with all rational  rigidity without any emotional overtones because  it is a matter of not only some sort of emotional religious belief but it is the question whether the  Creator  deserves our adoration and   love. We will have therefore to consider the problem in the following steps :
                     1.  Who or What is God?
                     2. Who or What is man?       

                     3. Is a "perfect" world possible?
                    4. Does existence of evil  make the whole    universe totally meaningless and evil?
                    5. How is  the problem of evil  understood within the Christian religion?

                    6.   Conclusion
                                                     I.   Who or What is God ?

        There is a crucial distinction  between  the God of the philosophers  and the God of religion . The God of the philosophers is the God of Plato, Aristotle , Thomas Aquinas , Leibniz , Jacques Maritain , Etienne Gilson and all  philosophically inclined believers . 
             Our problem is the  possibility of justification of the existence of evil  and  God who is responsible for the creation of the world including the great amount of destruction , irrationality, inhumanity of man to man , sickness and the necessity of dying. It is important to take into account the reality of God within the context of  religious fundamental  dogmas.  We shall understand here the God and Creator in the three living religions of the world:
         Judaism, Islam and Christianity are the three  monotheistic  living religions, however most of our thinking will be  drawn  from Christian understanding of God . In each of those religions God is conceived as infinitely good and powerful. However  we must remember here  the  nature of God as Creator  and  the position  of man as creature and we must look at the total  picture of  God's relationship to the universe and man and  man's prospect as  a finite spirit, destined  for eternal life with God after the physical death , which in this context is  nothing else but  freedom from aging body and transition into eternity to meet the benevolent Creator.  Some remarks are immediately  important at this point.
            (a) God did not have to create world at all , creation is a complete undeserved  gift.
             (b) Man's essential nature relative to God the Creator is that he is a creature completely dependent in his  existence on the  grace of God.
         These two points are very important to remember. Otherwise we narrow down our vision to  the limited abilities and anthropomorphic thinking  from which the problem of evil loses it's clarity  and possibility of rational solution. Our knowledge of God is  analogical and  very mysterious to the human mind.  Even Thomas Aquinas  maintained that we know that God is  but we don't know what God is . Only within the context of a revealed religion  we get more  insight into the what of God. This however  does not completely make God understandable or comprehensible to the finite and limited human mind. Most religions however agree on at least  the point that God is the Creator of the universe and  as a benevolent Creator  He deserves worship.  Religion always gives some assurance and even promises of eternity after the physical death . With this the question of  haven or hell  and the possibility of eternal happiness or  eternal  complete perdition  becomes very crucial and  inspires  not only feelings of obedience and love but fear and quite often rebellion  and rejection of a God who " tortures little children."  God is Absolute and  completely transcendent to His creation , however it is important to remember that God is not static as it were frozen, in His self-perfection.  God is active as Thomas would say " Actus Purus."  Creation  did not start at some point in the past and stopped later. It is going on  eternally present  as true today as i was  some fourteen and half billion years ago as contemporary physicists estimate the time which lapsed between now and  the big bang. Creation is therefore not finished or completed and  this universe is a developing process.   We therefore  do not have  a complete understanding of the final plans of God  in creating this universe and there always maybe  and will be  surprises in the overall evolution of the cosmos, it's history and man's  changing situation in it. 
                                                                                         II. Who or what is man?

                   There are many definitions of man depending  on the philosophical theories and  in recent times scientific description of man  pictured within the context  of scientific reductionism. In  biology man is  considered as  little higher animal  on the scale of evolution and there are other descriptions. We shall not discuss those different concepts of man. But here, we will analyze   man  as a creature and relationship to God, man and his nature, his destiny  within    the evolving universe. . In religious language, the personal  and spiritual God  created man  in His own image:

                                     " What is man that You think of  him?
                                       mortal man that  You remember  Him? 
                                      Yet You have made him little less
                                      than God, You have crowned him with
                                      glory and splendor."                             (Psalm 8: 4-6)
                                     "And so man, created as a personal being in
                                      the image of God, is only the raw material
                                      for further and more difficult stage
                                      of God's created work".                           John Hick
                                     "Man surpasses himself indefinitely"         Blaise   Pascal
                         "...The spirituality of our nature makes us
                                     potentially God-like. The potentiality
                                     must be actualized. " Thomas Merton
              Man is not finished  yet   but he is in process of growth  towards the  Divine. As the image of God  he is personal  self-conscious  Self  with  the  freedom of decision and responsibility towards his growth and self development. Freedom of choice  makes man the source of good in moral terms but also of evil. This is the nature of freedom. If man  were determined to  one level of action only he would be perhaps very efficient automaton but he would not be human. The personal God did not want to have  robots but  free  human beings capable of  self sacrifices, love service to others and unreserved love of God, His maker . It is clear therefore that the very nature and dignity of humans  gifted with free choice and decision making  implies not only possibility of good but also possibility of evil, destruction and realization  of maximal hateful  brutality and murder towards his fellow humans. God therefore is by no means  directly responsible for the  enormous amount of evil perpetrated in history  towards  other  man.   
                   Man's freedom , his personality and his  dynamism towards growth is possible because he is  free. Man is not alone but he is on his own and he must face the world as it is and within it realize his freedom . Every human action is an act towards growth or diminishment,  moving higher towards God or retreating  to the level of the sin-affected animal. Since there is the inevitable duality between  good and evil, that is why evil has the source in good. Without evil  goodness would not be possible at all. To destroy completely evil would be at least also  to destroy good. God as Omnipotent Creator with His always present impact on  nature He does not violate universal laws because it would turn this world into  chaos. In such situation knowledge would be impossible , free choice would be non-existent and  within the context of  the evolving universe  man simply would not exist.

                                                       III.   Is a "Perfect " world possible?

            The word "perfect" is very confusing word  because when we ask ourselves  what really is perfection we are more and more emerging into confusion. Usually by perfection we mean something that is complete in itself, lacking nothing and not subject to any change . For example God  since He is Perfect cannot change Himself radically  or stop existing . God is  pure infinite existence Itself but  He is also active  cause of all finite reality. Now the universe    as known by modern astronomy is not static in any way it is constantly developing, changing and expanding  from the very beginning which astronomers called the big bang. The process of  development and change is by no means finished . However  in face of the unimaginable  immensity of the known universe  we cannot accurately predict even it's future: will it continue expanding infinitely or will at some point  the all pervading gravity  make it  crunch  together? Modern astronomy confirmed  the old saying of Heraclitus of Ephesus  everything  flows (panta rei). The important point  to remember here is that the universe is temporary and it had a beginning and it is not eternal in any way as many philosophers before  used to believe. If there was a beginning then  there must be some transcending being to  creatively let the universe exist. From religious view point it has been traditionally accepted that God created this universe out of nothing, that is  make it be simply because of His infinite omnipotence. If  it is true that universe is in the process of becoming then it is not finished, complete or in any way perfect. The universe is neither  good or evil it is simply is  a challenge to conscious  human beings to change it as much as possible for a better place. In this effort  man himself grows inside as a person and responsible free agent. The changing universe its therefore  a necessary opportunity for humans to create under human level and to produce more and more  moral and material good . The  fact that the universe is changing is the field of growth for human beings . This growth however is not easy or passive , small and comfortable existence . It is clear therefore that this  universe in which we live is a necessary  challenge  towards perfection. The  difficulties  of living and conquering the forces of nature are  not  in themselves evil but they call for the effort towards the good and humans.
              The physical insignificance of man in the immensity of the cosmos  does not detract his calling or dignity but on the contrary it elevates man. Only  an imperfect world  in process of   development  creates the proper environment for a developing man.

          IV. Does Existence of Evil  make the universe meaningless? 

Perhaps religious thought is not intellectually rigorous   ? Perhaps we must simply take a " leap of  faith"  that all is  somehow ultimately for the best . Can there be a future good  so great  as to  make the whole human experience with all it's wickedness and suffering meaningful.
            We already pointed out the duality existing between good and evil and  the mutual implication of this fact. An analogical duality is found also in the structure of the universe. All things develop in duality. This is true  from the subatomic structure of  the particles between themselves, as well as on the macroscopic level most   visible in the realm of life. The male and female relationship  running practically through the whole kingdom of evolving universe of life. It is crucial to remember that the existence of evil does not in any way make this universe meaningless or evil. If  evil would be more powerful than the good ,the universe would simply be nonexistent  since the very act of existing in itself is good and it contains the possibility of growing  practically to the infinite degree.
          The most destructive is of course annihilation because it simply reduces even the smallest  existing reality into nothingness that is it robs it of it's perfection of being. It was already discussed that because there is  the shadowy side of  being  in the universe light is possible.  The universe therefore remains a proper field for humans to grow practically to an infinite degree . This growth and development makes of life  always a meaningful challenge  to  more goodness, creativity and  development of free personality practically into infinity. All those who cannot see  the adventure of being  towards infinity must of course also lose  the  realization of meaning in this life. That is why we have such statements of some contemporary  existential thinkers like  Sartre, Camus and so many others  that life is radically absurd and leads nowhere at all. Such statements  are based on  already assumed  conviction that God does not exist and therefore  life cannot have any durable meaning at all for it is absurd. It is a vicious circle thinking , first we assumed that God does not exist then we conclude  that life is absurd which in turn make religious belief nonsensical .  This universe is constant becoming  that is developing it's potential and actualizing it's intrinsic possibilities  but the same applies also to man who are called to actualize there possibilities on all levels not only the spiritual level although the spiritual level is central and the most important . Within  the religious  prospective man are  possessors of  spiritual seed of immortality and physical death  is only a transition to another existence : the eternal. It follows from the above that life as a gift from  the Creator  is always meaningful and  the universe is a kind of training ground for development of the best in man.
                           V.  The Problem of Evil  and Christian Religion?

           We are very much aware  that there are  several at least religions and  by drawing our conclusion from Christianity  we do not deny that in the Mosaic religion or in Islam there are  true religious insights  concerning man's relationship to the transcendent being, but in Christianity and the event of Christ we have a historical  greatest event of salvation. Christianity is the  solution also to the question of evil. Christians believe  that God Himself  became human  in all except sin . God had in a way of speaking  diminished Himself and accepted as a human being the whole human condition. His coming  was  the conquest of the power of  sin and evil in human life, that means  by His  suffering and resurrection He gave all human beings who accept Him as their savior the power to conquer evil in their lives  and enter into everlasting existence with their Maker. Christ accepted  all the  negative  evil responses of humans   of   His time. He was hated by many, called the worst possible names , sentenced to a cruel passion and crucifixion.   His  disciples at the moment of crisis when Christ was arrested fled for their lives, Christ had to  face  the prospect of  the cruel death on the cross in complete loneliness. What  remained  was his  absolute  trust in his Father  and obedience to the necessity of  taking upon himself all the sins  and man made evil . This is the essence of what Christians call  salvation. Salvation however does not mean  that if someone becomes a Christian he/she  will be free from  the  normal evils of human life . Christ Himself stressed several times that  whoever wants to be his disciple must take the cross and follow him.  He did not promise   any other secular goods  or consolations for Christians believers. Saint Paul made it very clear when he said  :
                                     ...If Christ did not rise from the tomb we Christians
                                     are the most miserable of all man, but now Christ
                                     rose from the dead....
          There exist suffering, there exist  disappointment , sorrows and  aging  , sickness and death. All of this however  loses it's sting in the context of the future eternal fulfillment in God Himself.

                                                                               VI. Conclusion 
        It seems therefore that the problem of evil which for many  is a scandal and a proof of God's cruelty towards His creatures is not when carefully analyzed any  detraction from the Holiness of God  and the meaningfulness of   human  life and  man's destiny . Man is
destined for eternal life and therefore  whatever happens to him in this life can  with  God's grace be overcome and  made for more closeness  to God. Men of course are free,  they may believe whatever for some reason  they decide to accept or reject. This is  the exercise of freedom even to the rejection of God and his/her fellow  men. The essence therefore of evil  lies  primarily in man's  choice .  The stakes are not only temporary but they have eternal consequences. Knowing  the love of Christ and His unconditional  offer of  forgiveness , the Christian is able  to pray  the most beautiful  prayer which  Christ taught people: Our Father who art in heaven hollowed by name... Any good father listens to his children. 


                                                                                                   Selected Bibliography

                  Altizer, Thomas, J. ,  The Descent into Hell,  Lippincott, Philadelphia, New York: 1970
                  Aquinas, Thomas ,     Summa Theologiae, Ed. by Thomas Gilby, Double Day Image
                  Books, Garden City, New York: 1969 
                  Berdyaev, Nikolai,    The Destiny of Man, Harper and Row, New York: 1960
                  The Bible , Both Testaments, Any edition
                  Bronowski, J.,             The Ascent od Man,  Little and Brown, Boston: 1973
                  Frankl, Victor , E.,      Man Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press, New York:  
                   Hick, John,               Evil and the God of Love, Harper and Row, San Francisco: 1966