"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What is evil?

The previous post pointing towards a little side debate I have going with Stephen Law turned into a really interesting discussion about the existence and source of evil. From the atheist bench the argument goes something like this:

If God is the source of all things and we know evil exists, then God must be responsible for the existence of evil.

The theists then respond:
No no. God did not create evil. He created free will, thus we all have the possibility to disobey God and choose evil. Satan was the first to make this choice.

The atheist then retort:
But why? Why would an all loving God create us with an inherent possibility to choose that which is evil? If Satan is the source of evil, then God created him with the capacity to become such; therefore, God must still be the source of evil.

There are some good points raised here, but I think there is a flaw in the starting points. Let me attempt to offer a few points that may help bring a bit of clarity to this idea of evil.

First of all I'm hearing the work 'evil' often used as if it is a separate ethic; independent of what we call good. Perhaps some think this is the case then make the right conclusion form the wrong assumption: If evil exists it must have a source. The leap is then made to "the devil".

This is not an uncommon belief, but I think it is flawed from the very start. Evil is not a separate ethic. Evil is the denial, perversion, twisting or otherwise manipulation of an already extant good. Now according to Christianity this "extant good" is God. If anything in this existence is to be ultimatly good, it can only be so by being in conformity with the character of God. There are many things that we call "good", but I would say that the use of the word "good" in an ultimate sense, does not apply here. We would be better to say: "I find this to be agreeable to me", or "This give me pleasure". In each of these cases we can then put a moral spin on the word "good" and ask: "I hear what you are saying, but is it "good" for you to feel these things?" Only if there is God does such a question have any meaning.

The question is then raised:
Why would God create us with the inherent ability to act against His will?

I'd respond to that by asking, what if what I've been saying all along is true? What if the calling on our lives is to be created out of love, by love, for love, to love and to be loved? What if this ethic of love, that most all humanity acknowledges as the greatest of virtues, really is the highest calling on our life? What if God, being the ultimate anchor of all reality, is Love?

Love must contain the option of being rejected. If the option of rejection is not present, then love is not 'true'.

The next question the atheists raise is:
If the calling on our life is love, and God is love, why would anyone reject a God like this.

I think the root of this objection is based in the idea that love is simply a warm fuzzy feeling that is always desirable. I would submit that this is not the case at all. To love God is to choose to submit to his authority. Now when you have your own program you are running this is not an easy task. In fact, I'd say it's impossible. Impossible, I say, without the same resurrection power that raised Christ from death. There is a reason Jesus says we must be 'born again'. We do not have it in us to conform ourselves to God's character. We must submit to Him and let Him change us.

So when I hear Matt say: "why should I submit to His judgment? I have my own standard. " it sends chills down my spine. He is echoing the words of the first fall in all creation and the same defiant words repeated down through history. If God is true, these are the words of death.

In the context of where Matt said these words he was responding to his conscious which tells him "suffering is bad". He went on to say: "If God decided to wipe out an entire people (as I believe he did a few times in the OT), you have no basis for saying that this action is anything other than good."

His sentiment is correct. ANY human should feel revulsion at such destruction of life. Having those words read to me as a child prompted me to tell my mom, through tear stained eyes, "STOP! don't read this to me any more!". I believe will all my being that was an appropriate emotional response to such things. I believe God feels the same way. He tells us He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. I believe Him.

I would say the sin Matt is committing is not his feeling of horror at these events, it's revealed in the statement: "I have my own standard". It's not trusting God. In short, that's the only sin there ever is. That's what evil is.

If God is true, Matt is evil...

If God is true, I am evil...

If God is true You are evil.

What could be done about this? We are all doomed to destruction.

Look to the cross. Look to Easter. Trust Him.



Labels: ,

30 Comments:

Blogger Liz said...

It's the ego in each of us, I think. We are made in God's image with that sense of 'who i am' but when we allow our self-interest to become more to us than God then we are heading down the path of sin/evil.

We need a certain amount of self-interest to survive but Satan, for example, allowed his self-worth to take control and to think he knew what was best, to refuse to submit.

And, as you mentioned, God gave us free will. There's no point giving us that if it is a limited freedom. There has to be the freedom to accept or reject, otherwise it's meaningless and we are puppets.

1:48 PM

 
Blogger moe said...

Alex......word

Still waiting for your post about my dilema.

1:53 PM

 
Blogger Damien said...

"So when I hear Matt say: "why should I submit to His judgment? I have my own standard. " it sends chills down my spine. He is echoing the words of the first fall in all creation and the same defiant words repeated down through history. If God is true, these are the words of death."

There's that appeal to consequence again. Seems to me that this god relies a lot on fear to make people love him. In every other aspect of life we are conditioned to respond to such individuals with suspicion. We apply our reason and assess their motives.

And yet, we are not supposed to apply reason to our knowledge of God. We are to simply to unquestioningly accept his authority. It's a characteristic I would more readily apply to a malevolent being; one with have a vested interest in his victims not asking complicated questions.

Indeed, when a man says "Reason is the whore of satan", I'm thoroughly suspicious of his intentions. What doesn't he want me to know?

Fear, destruction, fire and brimstone. Why bother with free will if one is simply going to terrorise people into submission?

"Follow me, and it's all you can eat Ambrosia; don't follow me, and an eternity of buggary with hot spiky poles is on the cards."

Why grant people the capacity to think for themselves, and then deny them knowledge? And when they are given it by another enitity, one which we only have God's word to say is evil, we are punished?

I can see where the Cathars were coming from. If you actually think about it, it's hard not to cimagine God as a slightly comical melodramatic villain.

3:45 PM

 
Blogger Damien said...

Oh, there goes my anonymity. Sort of.

Inci

3:47 PM

 
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Here's my answer.
Love is about trust.
It's about loving someon even when they hurt us.
That's how much love God had for us when he made us.
He would love us throughout the hurt we gave him.
Love us so much he'd scrifice himself to redeem us from our rejection of him.
'But I say to you, love your enemies'.
God made enemies, that he could bring back to himself through his love.
That's just my take.
God is too self-assured to create automaton. He knows that love will triumph, however much hate goes into th orld.
Why? Because it's him. Love. God IS love.

5:07 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Damien,
Oh, there goes my anonymity. Sort of.

wha??? Was it really needed in the first place?


Your post is filled with assumptions and leaps of logic that fit nowhere in the God I believe in. If this is the attitude you have towards God it sounds as though you've been around some pretty stuffy, frightened and petty believers.

Not sure where you are getting your info from, but it's certainly not from this site, the records of Christ or any of the other Christian sources I've read.

Moe,
Gimme some time bro. Still have more to read.

Liz,
I think you nailed it.

Ingsoc,
Well put. I wish I could do a better job of laying that out. When I listen to "damien" I don't even know who he's talking about. God's love and beauty are are all around us... for those with eyes to see.

8:45 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

It's not trusting God. In short, that's the only sin there ever is. That's what evil is.

This, I think, is the crux of the matter.

Whenever I have conversations with religious believers, it normally comes down to this: trust in God/Allah/Buddha/etc. and everything will become clearer.

But in each case no real reason is offered for me to do so.

If I don't feel that God exists, and there's no real evidence for his existence, then why should I believe?

6:20 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Here's my answer.
Love is about trust.
It's about loving someon even when they hurt us.
That's how much love God had for us when he made us."


Love is certainly about trust. However, conventionally it involves putting trust in the honourable actions of a loved one whom you know to already exist, rather than putting pure faith in that existance in the first place.

"Damien,
Oh, there goes my anonymity. Sort of.

wha??? Was it really needed in the first place?


Not at all. Although that profile is associated with a professional blog I just put together for the Biophysical Society, so I probably won't use it much.


It was Martin Luther who associated reason with the whore of the devil. His sentiments are of course not representative of Christianity, or even Protestantism. However, that sentiment is not dead in today's society, and certainly contributes to the current antipathy towards science, IMHO.

8:04 AM

 
Blogger Liz said...

Matt M said, "But in each case no real reason is offered for me to do so."

Matt, what about Jesus? There is a lot of evidence for his existence. The disciples and early followers went through hell because they believed. Jesus is the most convincing proof of God's love. If you decide that Jesus is a story then that's up to you. We cannot convince you; words cannot convince you. Only God himself can convict you of his existence.

12:53 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Matt, what about Jesus?

Equally: what about Buddha, or Muhammad?

7:54 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Equally: what about Buddha, or Muhammad?

Of those, who rose from the dead?

matt will say:
but I don't believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Alex will say:
Is that because the evidence doesn't support it, or because you just don't believe it?

Matt will say:
Have you ever seen someone rise from the dead? Besides there was some other guy who was killed and his followers said he rose from the dead too.

Alex will say:
No I have not seen someone rise from the dead. But then again I have never seen a star nosed mole either. Just because I haven't seen it does not mean it's not true. I'll have to look into that other guy, but I doubt the history that surrounds him is anywhere near as convincing as the records surrounding Jesus.

Matt will say:
So just because you haven't seen it doesn't make it false then ay? Well I've never seen the pink elephant that lives at the center of the earth, shall I believe in him as well? Regarding that other guy that rose from the dead, he was way cooler than Jesus. I think he invented the guitar solo as well. Pretty sweet stuff. Who you going to believe in now, hu?

So when Liz says:
words cannot convince you. Only God himself can convict you of his existence.

I'd say she is right on. Try and keep your head and heart open Matt. You just never know what will happen.

8:17 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

My commenting feels a little redundent. ;-)

Of those, who rose from the dead?

Why is that the best criteria for deciding who's right?

Besides, the propositions that 'God is true' and 'Jesus rose from the dead' are separate - unless you want to argue that there's absolutely no possible way that he could have done it otherwise?

Besides, even if it happened, how do you know that it wasn't a demonic trick?

No I have not seen someone rise from the dead. But then again I have never seen a star nosed mole either.

There's a slight difference between the two: The star nosed mole isn't a disputed historical event which - if true - would directly contravene the known natural laws. Nor is anyone asking me to base an entire metaphysic outlook on facts about the mole. Were they to do so, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd require a considerably high level of proof before accepting any of their claims.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof - and when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, that level just isn't there.

11:58 AM

 
Blogger Lord Nazh said...

Evil by definition is simply the opposite of good.

Love without free will is not love.

Of course you all have said these things, but words will not sway those who's hearts and minds are against G-d.

5:56 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
“It is simply not possible to investigate whether Jesus rose from the dead without taking a view about how probable it is that there is a God likely to intervene in human history in this kind of way. If the reader thinks that all the evidence suggests there is no God of the traditional kind, or that although perfectly good he would not intervene in human history, then the detailed historical evidence about what happened in Palestine in the first century AD is perhaps not strong enough to make it probable that Jesus rose from the dead. And this despite the very striking coincidence that the one prophet in human history about whom there is the kind of life was also the one prophet about whom there is the kind of evidence not too unexpected if his life was culminated by a super-miracle. There is significant historical evidence that Jesus did satisfy the requirements, and the coincidence to which I referred must be taken seriously. If the background evidence leaves it not too improbable that there is a God likely to act in the ways discussed, then the total evidence makes it very probable that Jesus was God Incarnate who rose from the dead.” —Richard Swinburne

Nazh,
Thanks for commenting! When you say words will not sway those who's hearts and minds are against G-d. I would agree with you. However, I think we must never assume we know the reality of anyone's heart, regardless of their professed position on these matters. Only God knows us in that way. For all I know, many of the atheists I deal with may have responded to God in the best way they know how. I just don't know. When it comes to those matters the only person you are responsible for is yourself. IMHO at least.

10:08 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Can you find me a non-Christian who argues that there's "detailed historical evidence" that Jesus came back from the dead?

10:18 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Can you find me a non-athiest that argues that we are the product of blind undirected processes?

Sorry... couldn't resist.

10:25 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Most of the claims of historical support for the resurrection rely on the accuracy and authenticy of Biblical texts - yet most non-ideological sources state that these texts are extremely controversial in terms of origin and authorship. Just check Wikipedia.

That Jesus Christ was a real person, I think the historical evidence supports. That he was anything more than that, I've yet to see - and I have looked - any credible argument.

10:34 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I refer you back to this statement:

If the reader thinks that all the evidence suggests there is no God... then the detailed historical evidence about what happened in Palestine in the first century AD is perhaps not strong enough to make it probable that Jesus rose from the dead.

To wish and desire for more evidence and a more clearly delineated path to the truth is something we all would like. Unfortunately we are talking about ancient history here and the fact of the matter is by ancient historical standards the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is actually quite good.

Once again, one must be referred back to Swinburne's statement. I truly believe that is the heart of the matter.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to take another beating over at Stephen's! ;-)

10:58 AM

 
Blogger Lord Nazh said...

Alex, I didn't say we should not talk to them and try to bring them to the light :)

I said that words will not sway them that have turned against G-d. Of course you and I would not know who in the midst was hardened or who not, I was just posting that some people are indeed lost.

11:27 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Swinburne is not a historian though, so I'd take his comments with a pinch of salt.

12:01 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
To be fair, neither are you. So who are you going to believe? Do you need a highly specified Ph.D to make an valid assertion?

1:45 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Do you need a highly specified Ph.D to make an valid assertion?

Pretty much.

So who are you going to believe?

A qualified and respected historian or archeologist.

Listening to Swinburne on historical evidence is a little like listening to Dawkins on theology - they might have some interesting points, but they're no substitute for an expert.

2:19 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Unfortunately we are talking about ancient history here and the fact of the matter is by ancient historical standards the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is actually quite good."

I disagree. The gospels can't agree on the specifics and the the two best historians contemporary with Jesus didn't mention it (Josephus and Philo; both Jews, and both likely to pay attention to a massiah in their midst, or at least a wannabe). Later, at about the same time the gospels were being put to paper, Tacitus neglects to mention a resurrection at all, despite acknowledging Jesus as the instigator of 't mention it at all.

As for Josephus, the Testamonium Flavium is a terrible fake (read it in context with the book it is written in; it's hysterical). What isn't fake is Josephus alluding to the fact that every man and his uncle was claiming to be the massiah at that time.
It's weird that the news of a man rising from the dead took 150 yrs to make the headlines. At which time you have to question the second hand evidence of what the "witnesses" saw. For a Jew (especially an upstart) who could command the attention of thousands to be completely ignored by two prolific writer of his time is simply astounding.

If you hold the resurrection under the same historical scrutiny that historians use to determine when Ceasar invaded Briton, or when 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians stood their ground at Thermpophlae, you realise the facts of the resurrection are somewhat wanting.

Belief in the resurrection is based on faith, IMHO, and it's best for both Christianity and science if it remains so. Barring any outstanding archaeological find, of course. Indeed, belief in many of the miracles of Jesus' life are devoid of any evidence whatsoever, but I think that's the point. Again, it's about faith. Searching for 'evidence' undermines the whole point of the mythology.

2:50 PM

 
Blogger Lord Nazh said...

"What could be done about this? We are all doomed to destruction.

Look to the cross. Look to Easter. Trust Him."

Just wanted to say, I've read the book... we win in the end :)

5:36 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Nazh,
I didn't say we should not talk to them and try to bring them to the light

I know. And I'm sure your heart is in the right place, yet whether you intended it or not I hear in your comment an attitude that I am struggling to jettison. It's this idea that "I know the ultimate truth and professing atheists are all dark hearted stiff necked fools."

Now don't get me wrong, I still believe atheists are dark hearted stiff necked fools. ;-) It's just that these days I've begun to realize that I'm not any better. My point is simply we must watch the words we use. Your comment touched a nerve because I heard my own voice in your words. We are not talking to a pack of atheists here. This is a discussion between people — people I consider my friends.

Matt & Incitatus
Let me admit that the historical side is not my passion. I've been slow to comment here because I've been doing some reading in an attempt to discover where I stand on these issues. It's difficult because it seems that everyone who comments on biblical history has an axe to grind. Having said that I'm doing my best to read on both sides of the debate. It's good that you bring these things up, as they've always been soft spots in my world view.

When Incitatus says: For a Jew (especially an upstart) who could command the attention of thousands to be completely ignored by two prolific writer of his time is simply astounding. He takes the words right out of my mouth. I don't have anything to say on this just yet.

6:44 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

It's difficult because it seems that everyone who comments on biblical history has an axe to grind.

It's annoying, isn't it. The best way that I've found is to use Wikipedia as a starting point and then using the information there to judge specific arguments for or against. The discussion pages are also worth checking out to see the thinking behind the specific articles.

I've mentioned Tom Paine's 'The Age of Reason' before, and I think it's another good starting point as Paine was a deist rather than an atheist, and so - to an extent - is less biased than those openly for or against Christianity.

7:52 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

It's annoying, isn't it.

profoundly.

This may take a while. I have a lot more fun punching holes in strict naturalism. ;-) My passionate opinions run dry pretty quick when start hashing over historical theories.

I'll dig in and see what's there.

8:56 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"It's difficult because it seems that everyone who comments on biblical history has an axe to grind."

For that reason, you should take what others say with a pinch of salt. Better to research texts as close to the originals as possible - being wary of the translator's personal bias - and decide for yourself.

Everything from Philo to Eusebius is online for free. I think you would get a lot out of reading the early fathers' works (that are available at least), because they of course had to confront many of the issues we've been discussing in this blog. In short, they had to make a very similar journey to the one that I think you have embarked upon, so you might relate to their writings.

9:31 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Let me admit that the historical side is not my passion."

Oh, it will be. It's terribly addictive. Especially early Christian history. That, by the way, is why I rattled off that tired old collection of arguments in my historical rant earlier. It's bait, you see. You can only refute it by research, by which time you'll be hooked. Within a year you'll have a sagging bookcase of ancient texts, some in the original language (which you will tell yourself you intend to learn, but never do), and a wife getting increasingly pissed-off with having to remove those well-thumbed copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Seneca's Letters, from the shampoo rack in the bathroom.

It's like smoking. The only way to feel better about it is to get some other poor fool stuck on it.

10:00 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Yeish... And you are so addicted to this why now? The ONLY reason I'm going to have to dig into this is because in many ways my professed world view hinges on the answer to a very basic historical question: is this likely to be actual history, or is it more likely to be made up stories. What's your excuse?

I was going to rattle off the standard rebuttals to your arguments, but it's been so long since I've dealt with the historical questions I figured it was probably time for a refresher. Thanks a lot. ;-)

I doubt I'll be able to embrace this elicit addiction to the degree you have. This is already starting to feel like homework!

10:31 AM

 

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