Theodicy

durer-07sm.jpg

As Geoff observed in a previous thread, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wrote an op/ed piece for the UK Telegraph conceding that faith may be disturbed by the horrible disaster in Asia:

The question, ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?’ is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t – indeed it would be wrong if it weren’t.

In a comment prompted by my post on the view of the Anglican Dean of Sydney, Philip Jensen that “Disasters are part of His warning that judgment is coming”, derrida derider set out the problem of theodicy well:

But if you believe god is omnipotent (hence also omniscient) then it is not logically possible to simultaneously believe she is benevolent while any substantial suffering – whether through natural or human causes – exists in the world. The only ways out of this dificulty are to deny god’s omnipotence (a la the Manicheans), deny god’s benevolence, or (with Liebniz) assert that the structure of logic is such that this is the best of all possible worlds (ie has the best logically possible ratio of good to evil) – a very curious and dubious proposition.

I don’t think those are the only ways out, as I’ll go on to argue.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that given his theology, Dean Jensen’s remarks are probably provoked more by an eschatological apocalypticism than theodicy, this issue has arisen in the media on a number of occasions, most recently in an op/ed piece by the Religious Editor of The Age.

ELSEWHERE: Dr Rowan Williams’ article has been published by The Age, Fr Paul Stenhouse puts the Catholic view in the Australian.

UPDATE: Joel Parsons at Approach the Bench puts Dean Jensen’s comments in their Calvinist context. Additionally, this post from Tubagooba.com is worth a look.

I’ve admired Dr Williams for a while. I think he’s a good person, and a theologian who really does wrestle with the philosophical and existential challenges to theistic belief and its expression in Christianity. He’s probably right to say that any sort of awful disaster raises the issue of how a benevolent and powerful God could allow it to happen.

It may be of interest, then, to consider the problem of theodicy (briefly stated – an answer to the question – why does God allow evil?) from the standpoint of the analytical philosophy of religion, before proceeding to some broader reflections.

When I was doing some postgrad study in UQ’s Department of Studies in Religion nine years ago, I enjoyed wrestling with problems in the philosophy of religion. I personally saw the decision for or against faith as grounded in something other than rational choice, but it’s instructive to consider the issue of whether theistic belief is philosophically coherent.

William L. Rowe, in his article in the American Philosophical Quarterly, ‘The Problem of Evil and some Varieties of Atheism’ (16, 4, October 1979, pp. 335-41) presents both the formal argument from suffering to atheism and a refutation:

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Rowe goes on to discuss “the G.E. Moore shift” which the great English logician and philosopher used to refute skeptics such as David Hume. Rowe writes:

We’re given an argument: p, q, therefore, r. Instead of arguing directly against p, another argument is constructed – not-r, q, therefore, not-p – which begins with the denial of the conclusion of the first argument, keeps its second premise, and ends with the denial of the first premise as its conclusion….

I. p
q
_
r

II. not-r
q
_
not-p

It is a truth of logic that if I is valid, II must be valid as well.

The equivalent argument that the theist might make to II is as follows:

not-3. There exists an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.
2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
not-1. It is not the case that there exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

As Rowe says, “since the arguments are the same so far as the second premise is concerned, any choice between them must concern their respective first premises”.

Rowe goes into this in much more detail, but where I think this leaves us is that the question as to whether suffering proves God does not exist is undecideable in those terms. A theist and an atheist will both have logical grounds for arguing either way, which suggests that this really is not a problem in the sense that suffering is not evidence for or against God’s existence or his qualities.

What this really turns on is whether one considers truth as justified belief. The easiest move for a religious person to make is to deny that rationality is the only way of reaching justified belief. This then shifts the argument from what is presented above, which is strictly speaking the problem of evil rather than a theodicy, which is a justification of God in the face of evil. One of the more persuasive theodicies is the argument that a certain amount of evil is necessary to pose a challenge to people to be good, but God does not allow more than a sufficient amount of evil. This argument is associated with the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz. It doesn’t satisfy though. All suffering should move us to empathy, and a desire for a just world where it does not happen.

The great German sociologist Max Weber argued that theodicy was conditioned by its social and political context. An argument such as Leibniz’ found favour in eighteenth century Court circles because it seemed to justify the order of society as it was. By contrast, liberation theologians have argued that sin and evil are structural and that Christians are called to struggle always for their abolition through the radical transformation of social structures. Both arguments can call on a respectable theological and scriptural basis.

Where does this leave us? What I would suggest is that Rowan Williams is worth another listen:

Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up in comfort and ready answers. Faced with the paralysing magnitude of a disaster like this, we naturally feel more deeply outraged – and also more deeply helpless.

And so is Pope John Paul II:

In Rome yesterday, Pope John Paul II addressed the challenge to faith posed by the disaster, saying that with the birth of Jesus, God “has come to share our existence.” “Faith teaches us that the most difficult and painful trials ¢â¬âas in the recent calamity in Southeast Asia ¢â¬â God does not abandon us,” John Paul told pilgrims in St Peter’s Square before the noon Mass.

It’s also worthwhile noting that the problem of evil is only a problem for believers of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This may, and perhaps should, make us pause to think.

In arguing for a radical trust in God, the Catholic theologian Hans K¼ng writes:

Psychological, philosophical or moral arguments, which are meant to transform into light the darkness of suffering and evil… are too abstract and too general to be of much help in concrete suffering… Suffering, doubting, despairing man finds an ultimate support only in the forthright admission of his incapacity to solve the riddle of suffering and evil; in the calm renunciation of any claim to be a neutral and supposedly innocent censor pronouncing judgement on God and the world; in the decisive rejection of mistrust, as if God were not really good to man. Positively, in that certainly unsecured and yet liberating venture, in doubt, suffering and sin, in all inward distress and outward pain, in all fear, anxiety, weakness, temptation, in all emptiness, desolation, anger, simply and straightforwardly to show an absolute and unreserved trust in the incomprehensible God. Yes, to cling to him even in an abslutely desperate situation, simply empty and burnt out, when all prayer dies out and not a word can be spoken: a fundamental trust of the most radical kind, which does not externally appease anger and indignation but encompasses and embraces them, and which also puts up with God’s permanent incomprehensibility.

So, while it is understandable and right to think that horrendous events call into question faith (and I think here also of the horrible suffering of the survivors of the Holocaust and the Jewish people generally), anyone, either religious or non-religious, should put aside the “problem” of evil and make an existential decision to engage it, to relieve suffering, to ensure that evil is forfended.

And any Christian believer might find this vision of the end moving, and reflect on it, rather than searching for signs of an impending judgement and purporting to pronounce that judgement which is not reserved to Deans of Cathedrals:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.’ Then the One sitting on the throne spoke, ‘Look, I am making the whole of creation new.’

(Rev. 21: 1-5)

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness.”

that’s something I’ve remembered from going to mass as a young girl, and always loved…

Amanda
2022 years ago

Some of my best friends are theologians and we’ve butted heads on this many times. I am grateful for your characterisation of it Mark but my problem has always been that, well, its all just words isn’t it? Beautiful, wonderful, glorious, breathtaking words to be sure. Hans Kung (and you and the biblical writers) can make *anything* sound acceptable, even to be hoped for.

I love poetry, but I don’t trust it.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

Great post.

Link
2022 years ago

Good post agreed, a bit too much information to get one’s head around. Suffering is relative. Planet earth is a volatile, dangerous place for all life. As a believer in an omnipotent God – who sometimes intervenes and while not in favour of the abrupt end of lives, I think we are far too concerned with the point of death and far too little concerned about what happens after that. This disaster (US miltary intervention aside) while horrible, unimaginable and of Biblical proportions gives the opportunity for a great deal of good to be generated. No hatred (thus far) has has arisen as a direct result of the tsunami.

Nothing but good proceeds from the Divine. Human beings are solely responsible for all the evil in the world. One cannot call a tsunami ‘evil’- that is plainly ridiculous. One cannot call death evil. The cause of death at the hands of men is evil, corruption is evil. Anything which seeks to block the truth is evil.

This remainds me of the joke about a school of philosphical fish, sitting under a coral reef, argueing about the existance of the ocean.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Barney Schwartz’s article in the Age is a good one.
Unfortunately when issues such as this arise people want a simple answer.

Sometimes there isn’t one. We never find out in Job why he suffers despite God being responsible for it.

We do know all this is part of the fall however that is an unsatisfying answer.

I might add I am amused by the retort that God should act as a puppet master thereby denying freewill.

also there are no innocents on the earth. We are all sinners and were in our mother’s womb so David tells us in the Psalms.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

How does omniscience or omnipotence rule in or out benevolence?

As far as the tsunamis go surely we have to argue it all from God’s point of view, not ours – in the same way the Great Flood was a useful tool from God’s point of view.

If God is omniscient then anything at all that happens ultimately serves his greater purpose.
We also know that God loves testing his followers. He deliberately makes them suffer specifically so that their faith in him gets stronger.

If the cost/benefit anaylsis of the tsuanami is in God’s favour then it is sensible for him to do it to make more believers.

The net gain to God from the tsunamis might very well be positive (and he would know) eg people thinking they’ve had a miraculous escape and returning to God or becoming more fervent; and the giving of vast amounts of aid might reaffirm people’s inherent belief in humanity and thence God.

For those Christains who died, they have gone to heaven so neither God nor they lose out by dying.
Most of those who died weren’t Christian so God hasn’t lost anything by their deaths, indeed if it frightens some into becoming Christian then he wins followers.

Since the tsunamis have prompted so much discussion then it is feasible that it was God’s way of getting the Americans or Russians or anyone really to rethink their attitudes to the suffering of others and thus reconstruct their domestic and foreign policies so that there is less suffering in general. If the gain from this is more than the loss from the tsunami then the tsunamis were worth it from God’s point of view.
This, after all, is exactly the reasoning behind Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Amanda, yes I take your point, but I suspect that what Kung is trying to do is to create an attitude that transcends words.

harry and Link, it’s interesting to consider the development of the character of the Divine in the Jewish scriptures. It’s arguable that in the early period of Jahwistic belief, both good and evil were seen to proceed from the Divine. The book of Job is a case in point. Jung’s reading of Job in ‘Answer to Job’ is eccentric but interesting.

Link
2022 years ago

How does omniscience or omnipotence rule in or out benevolence?

This is a good point Harry.

For those Christains who died, they have gone to heaven so neither God nor they lose out by dying.
Most of those who died weren’t Christian so God hasn’t lost anything by their deaths, indeed if it frightens some into becoming Christian then he wins followers.

This on the other hand is deeply worrying.

Mark, I don’t agree with this interpretation of Job. Job was the one being ‘God-like’ and as Harry pointed out, our faith is often tested. Job was a case in point for that.

I also don’t necessarily agree with ‘Jewish scriptures’ and see no real evidence, other than the hand of man in them. No sorry, it is we who are the sole perpetrators of evil. There is no autonomous indepedently acting devil out there somewhere, he/she lives in individuals. God is not a duality. And Harry he accepts anyone who’s soul is not completely debased, regardless of their fucking religion!!

Link
2022 years ago

Sorry folks, sometimes my Tourettes’ gets the better of me, also forgot to put in quotes.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Link, I’m not saying that’s what I believe – just the way that Yahweh was conceived historically at a certain point in time. I’m not suggesting a dualistic God.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

So what youse guys are saying is that not only do you not know why God lets bad things happen, you also don’t know why you don’t know this.

Personally, I lean towards the theory that this terrible event was caused by vast teutonic plates grinding against eachother.

But hey, what would I know about unknown unknowns? Last time I spoke to God, she told me she didn’t exist and that if I wanted the truth, I should go and ask a Cretan.

And Homer, stop calling me a sinner, you sinner.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Vast teutonic plates” is dangerously close to engendering an invocation of Godwin’s Law, Nab. :)

It does kind of make you wonder how Creation Theorists stack the as-new-and-fully-finished-in-6 days biblical stuff with the pretty much unfinished
business inherent in tectonic plates grinding away.

Irant
2022 years ago

Geoff,

Wonder no more how creationists reconcile plate tectonics into their world view.

http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/tectonics.asp

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

I was actually referring to the delayed aftermath of the Oktoberfest.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Gary Sauer-Thompson talks about tectonic plates and fundamentalist reactions here:

http://www.sauer-thompson.com/junkforcode/archives/002724.html

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Hi Link,

What’s so deeply worrying?
It makes as much sense as anything else suggested depending on how they define God. And since examining the motives of God is the ultimate in hypothetical I thought I’d throw it in. Comparing the tsunamis with previous behaviour, such as the Flood, would suggest that God’s reasons are similar.

“And Harry he accepts anyone who’s soul is not completely debased, regardless of their fucking religion!!”
Your God is not the same as the God who only accepts people into heaven if they accept that Jesus is their saviour.
I like your God much better.

Nabs wrote: “So what youse guys are saying is that not only do you not know why God lets bad things happen, you also don’t know why you don’t know this.”
I know! It sounds like a discussion about economics, eh?
At least God is meant to be ultimately unknowable.

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

Unfortunately when issues such as this arise people want a simple answer.
Sometimes there isn’t one. We never find out in Job why he suffers despite God being responsible for it. – Homer

Two things, Homer:
1) Why bother to believe in a God who doesn’t give simple, or at least reliable, answers? After all, if we’re content with complicated answers why should we not accept the answers given by modern cosmology and modern evolutionary theory and discard god as an unnecessary hypothesis.
2) IMO the Book of Job was ruined by its Hollywood happy ending, where all was restored unto Job (‘cept of course that didn’t help his dead wife or children much …). The point here is that the authors of the book of Job could not ultimately reconcile divine omniscience and divine benevolence – they had to rig the result by claiming that god was “just testing” and giving everything back to Job when he passed the test.

Mark’s answer in his post veers very close to the Liebnizian position. I consider that position odd because it preserves logical consistency at the cost of violating our everyday empiric experience. As a teenager I first began questioning the faith I was brought up in when I read Ezekiel’s (I think) line about “behold I have lived long upon the earth, yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken”. Even then I knew enough of the world to think the old bastard must have been wandering around with his eyes closed.

Nope, people believe because it’s more comfortable to ignore the facts – “Philosophy is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe by instinct” (Bradley)

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m trying not to be Leibnizian actually, derrida.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m more with Pascal, I think.

woodsy
woodsy
2022 years ago

I have little to add to the debate, which I find is very interesting, except to make the point that not only Christians believe in God. When Harry says,”Most of those who died weren’t Christian so God hasn’t lost anything by their deaths, indeed if it frightens some into becoming Christian then he wins followers.” I suspect the families of the majority of those killed would want some sort of explanation of why Allah didn’t send some sort of warning to his followers. It will be interesting to see how the fundamentalist mullas play this.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“No hatred (thus far) has has arisen as a direct result of the tsunami.”

Actually there has been the odd bit here and there. And now we have news of children being stolen for adoption rings and the sex trade.

I haven’t the energy for the ultimate questions right now, except that I find the Australian Jewish spokesperson’s statement that the mind of God is imponderable and that we should concentrate on being humans more attractive than many. Being human is quite difficult I find.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Who can argue with that jacket Brian.

But yeah, just being a decent human being is a full time job.

Who needs others second-guessing their own relationship with their prime mover to tell you how and how not to behave and feel?

You work it out as you go along, drawing upon whatever you personally discover outside your quotidian life that speaks to you.

Organised religion can provide a framework and rituals to help make that discovery happen, but ultimately no person’s god/sense of transcendence speaks truly to anyone but them.

This 18 year old Macallan single malt I’m chewing on right now is certainly doing the transcendental thang on my pagan arse.

Warbo
Warbo
2022 years ago

According to Rowe up top, as reported by Mark, the second premise of both positions is that: “An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”

Doesn’t that “unless…” rather make a mockery of the whole idea of omnipotence? In the matter at hand, it would have been perfectly possible for an omnipotent being to have permitted the tectonic plates do do their thing yet have caused the resulting tsunamis to have simply vanished before they reached land. No-one’s free will would have been violated, as no human agents had been involved in generating the waves. The laws of physics would have been broken, but what’s that to an omnipotent being? According to most religious literature, it happens all the time – or at least used to.

In such circumstances, I just can’t see how you can believe in a God who is both supremely benevolent and all-powerful.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Mark

Surely Rowe’s solution is just a variant of the appeal to ‘mystery’. But like all the others, it runs up against Occam’s Razor. Why agonise over the mysteries of evil, transsubstantiation and the Trinity when there is a much simpler solution? To me, the interesting question is the psychological one: why does religion exert such a hold on people who, at an abstract level, can see there is no evidence for God?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Well, James, I think you’re right in a way. Yes, it’s an appeal to mystery. I think that such problems as Rowe wrestles with are an interesting intellectual exercise and may have relevance for those who see faith as being susceptible to rational argument. There’s no doubt that the problem of evil is a real one for believers, though. But if asked to choose, I’d pick Kung’s God of Abraham over the God of the Philosophers (Pascal’s terminology):

“Psychological, philosophical or moral arguments, which are meant to transform into light the darkness of suffering and evil… are too abstract and too general to be of much help in concrete suffering…”

There’s no doubt that in a rationalistic culture, belief can be conflated with evidence. But again, I think Pascal had it right – there’s a big difference between philosophical doubt and radical doubt. Conversely, one could be convinced of theism by argument (hypothetically – all the philosophical arguments for the existence of God fail) but still not have faith. Faith is a different kettle of fish.

Nababov
Nababov
2022 years ago

Warbo, brilliant logic chopping. If I wasn’t so pissed I’m sure I’d have thought of it too.

James, one possible answer to yer question is in the age-old confusion between ends and means.

As far as I can see, the traditions and rituals of organised religion evolved out of ways to help the folks grasp the transcendence of life, as their cults struggled for official recognition.

But the organised bit then acquired a life of its own and became the end not the means -thereby often separating mass religion from personal spirituality.

Or to put it another way, I just watched Fellini’s “Roma” on DVD, for the first time in yonks and the Vatican fashion parade sequence is still one of the funniest pisstakes of all time of all the “bells, smells, robes and modes” pomp and circumstance crap that grabs people at a purely mortal level so that they never raise their eyes above the pope’s ring. Turning “mystery” into “ceremony” so the folks will believe “divine” means “hierarchy”.

A real god doesn’t need a religion and pretty much all religions would find a real god suddenly turning up to be a severe embarassment at the very least. ‘Cept in India, where the entire pantheon would just be stuck in the baggage claim area at Chennai Airport, like for several kalpas. “Has anyone seen Ganesh’s trunk?” “And Kali’s four mobile phones?”

Amanda
2022 years ago

After reading alot of Martin Gardener’s skeptical books, I have been reading a bit about “philosophical theism,” there seems to be different strands of it with varying orthodoxy about their beliefs. I haven’t been able to get his Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener yet in which he sets it out at length. I wonder if any of the theologians and philosophers here have any comment on it. If the trick is in balancing faith and reason, consciously dispensing with reason altogether seems a neat solution.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Surely the ultimate logical demolition of the benevolence of God is the existence of Hell.

How can a God who is all merciful and all forgiven allow eternal damnation? It simply doesn’t mesh.

The catholics work around this by having a number of years in purgatory – where the number of years served is commensurate with your sins, right?

As far as the tsunami is concerned: Since mass death by innundation by the sea is the modus operandi of God any conclusions about the benevolence of the tsuanmi must be consistent with the Great Flood.

Nabs,
Depends what type of pagan (or how serious) you are but I’m assuming you have neither heaven or hell. To me this makes sense and is philsophically stronger than heaven or hell.

Woodsy wrote: “It will be interesting to see how the fundamentalist mullas play this”
They’ll say “In’sh Allah” and that’s that.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Nabs may be thinking of the Grand Inquisitor passage in Dostoevski’s “Brothers Karamazov”.

Amanda, good questions… Most of the philosophy of religion stuff I read at Uni seemed mostly to be an intellectual game – though it’s intriguing to read argument about whether the notion of life after death is philosophically coherent. I accept that this sort of line of reasoning might help some, but to me as I said, it’s not necessarily productive of faith per se. One can be intellectually convinced, but not believe. Paradoxically, to be intellectually persuaded that theism is incoherent will lead to doubt.

It was about at this time that I (provisionally) gave up on Catholicism. But I think that was for unrelated reasons, though I can’t rule out some subliminal impact.

The book by Hans Kung that I quoted from is extremely interesting on all this – “Does God Exist?”

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0394747372/qid=1104894293/sr=1-9/ref=sr_1_9/102-8649144-1996122?v=glance&s=books

Kung suggest that medieval Thomism (the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas) tried to unify faith and reason. He sees the Catholic Church’s diversion from science in the 17th century as a massive problem. There are some intriguing suggestions about how the thought of Teilhard de Chardin and A. N. Whitehead’s process philosophy might hold a key to reconciling faith and reason. Certainly, the Catholic tradition has always argued faith and reason are complementary (in fact, it’s a dogmatic definition).

In my reading at the time, I seem to remember that there was a lot of interesting stuff in this vein based on Wittgenstein’s philosophy – but I haven’t looked at all this stuff for years. I decided at the time that studying religion at postgrad level was unlikely to do anything for my employability. Some day I hope to return to thinking about these questions.

michael carden
michael carden
2022 years ago

An interesting thread with some disturbing comments. It seems Dean Jensen is not alone in some of his beliefs.

Personally, I have a problem with the notion of an omnipotent god who can do/create anything at all. As was pouinted out the earthquake/tsunami was the result of plate tectonics. IOW it’s a natural part of life on this planet. We know this planet/solar system etc does not exist in a steady state but is continually in process.

I regard the divine as the fountain of life (adapting a line from the Russian liturgy), the matrix of creation. However I think omnipotence as geenrally debated in the western traditon reflects notions of the divine as the parent in control of everything. IN some forms of Islamic and Jewish thought that is not a problem but at the same time they agree with Isaiah that God creates both good and evil. One must say inshallah and accept the divine will.

With the exception of some forms of Calvinism, that is not an option for most Christian traditions who insist on god as all-loving and all-good as well.

Indeed, in some schools of jewish esoteric thought one finds the notion that by creating the universe the divine voluntarily underwent a diminution of itself. Furthermore, God now requires conscious life forms e.g. humans to collaborate in and bring to completion the process of creation.

In Christianity these ideas are found in teh notion of the self-emptying of God in Christ such that the Christian representation of the divine is Jesus dead on the cross. Similarly there is the Christian notion of divinisation – that God became human so that humans could become divine. Divinisation thnking fits well with Whitehead’s process philosophy and the process theology that has developed from it.

roo7flat5
roo7flat5
2022 years ago

Amanda,
do read Martin Gardner’s fine ‘Why’s’ book. I don’t subscribe to it, but his suspension of reason for philosophical theism has some appeal,at least in the way he presents it. Here’s some very untrustworthy poetry quoted by Gardner from Emily Dickinson..
‘Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower
The frost beheads it at its play-
In accidental power-
The blonde assassin passes on-
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.’

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks Michael – I think the stuff about Wittgenstein I was trying to remember also linked in with process theology.

As an aside, I was interested to read recently that the phrase “the death of God” was first coined by Hegel not Nietzsche – taking it from a Lutheran hymn – and referring to God’s self-emptying in the crucified Christ. Hegel saw Christ’s sacrifice as an example of the dialectic in action!

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Mark,

The reason why philosophy of religion may seem to be an intellectual game has a lot to do with the irrationality of religion. The application of reason to religious thought can only come to one conclusion: that God, as DD elegantly put it, is an unnecessary [and unproven] hypothesis.

Talk about the “unknowability” of God and the status of faith as “beyond reason” are simply code for placing sacred ideas beyond critical scrutiny. The moment you do it, you sacrifice your pretension to reason.

Take a long view of human history, and religion can be seen as the chief means of “filling in the blanks” for the curious ape. Where did we come from? What makes lightning? What will happen to me when I die? Before science, religion provided answers (mostly wrong) to these questions, and us unenlightened apes went away satisfied that we had the answers. Now that we have reason and science, we don’t need priests to guess the answers for us, and I for one am very happy about this.

Equally, take a long view of Judeo-Christian religion and realise that it, like most religions, stands on a huge pile of fiction, revision, discarded ideas (and gods) and borrowings. To know the history of the OT and NT is to understand that much of it is largely fiction, and subject to tremendous social and political pressure throughout its creation. How anybody could know this and believe the text somehow reveals a coherent set of truths about the nature of God and Jesus Christ is baffling.

P.S. liked the Durer print. Are you raiding art history books?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Fyodor, the image struck me when I was reading about the dissemination of apocalyptic ideas and the millennial interpretation of the invention of printing in the 16th century.

Great book – ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe”

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0521467012/qid=1104901410/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-8649144-1996122?v=glance&s=books

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“Equally, take a long view of Judeo-Christian religion and realise that it, like most religions, stands on a huge pile of fiction, revision, discarded ideas (and gods) and borrowings.”

Yes, organised religion is just the politics of the centuries.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

can anyone clarify this for me? I’ve been thinking about Dean Jensen’s comments. (while he’s apparently been ringing talkback at 2.30am –
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2005/01/05/1104832176874.html )

are the sydney anglicans calvinists? does he believe in predestination? or does god make some sort of choice as to greater evil/lesser evil?

I just can’t get the psychology of believing that god’s hand is in a disaster that kills, maims and ruins – how could one feel good about a god who would do that “as a sign of his impending judgement”!!!

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

forgot to mention that I received an email which I assume to have been generated by my comments on this topic trying to set me straight about why God allows suffering.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Not too sure about the Sydney Anglicans’ beliefs, yellowvinyl but I agree it’s a most unappealing sort of God who uses disaster to send a message.

Dean Jensen’s talkback adventures are most odd!

Joel Parsons
2022 years ago

The Jensen brothers are Calvinists. Not all Anglicans are. I wrote a post about it here if you want to read a little about it:

http://thebench.blogspot.com/2005/01/calvinists-and-arminians.html

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks very much, Joel. I’ve linked to your post in the main entry for easier access for this thread’s readers.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t.” – Jules “My dad was a right bastard” Renard.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I am sooooo ignorant, Nabs. Who is Jules Renard?

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Jules R. was a late 19th century writer who was trying to do a Tarantino to Flaubert’s Leone.

But he wrote crap novels and he’s now remembered as a very pithy epigramist and good one-liner artiste.

If he was alive now, he’d be writing for “The Simpsons” or “Six Feet Under” while flogging a shitty knock-off David Foster-Wallace or Dave Eggar coming of age novel around the publishing traps.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Flaubert’s Salammbo is one of the wildest books I’ve ever read…

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

And they still haven’t made it into a movie, even though it’s out of copyright, and has lashing of sex, exotic locations and the ole ultraviolence.

Speaking of which, you do realise John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (starring Marion Morrison) was directly based on Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”.

Now there’s a remake waiting to happen. In outer space. Fuck that bloated “Chronicules of Riddick” shit. David Twohy should have put the Vinny D. character into “Spacecoach de Suif”.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

proper film of Salammbo could revive the Oz film industry. Pitch Black was good though.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Only because of Radha Mitchell.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

the link from the trackback is quite interesting:

http://www.tubagooba.com/archives.tubagooba.com/000470.html

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Those interested in an explanation of why people have religious belief, even though they know it is not rational, might be interested in the brief article by Tor Norretranders on this page:
http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_2.html
(scroll down from the top of the page)

Polly
Polly
2022 years ago

Did anyone else see the documentary a few weeks ago looking at the historical possibility of the parting of the Red Sea? (I think it actually covered more of the story but I only saw this bit)
They concluded that the Red Sea was an error in translation and should have been the Reed Sea and that the parting of the waters could have been the initial stages of a tsunami when the water is sucked up into the wave and the following wave washed the armies away.

As to the discussion about a benevolent omnipotent God – I find it rather amusing because the believers will find a way to justify their belief (God’s will, the greater good, part of his plan, whatever) while the non-believers will argue it is proof of his non-existence of God or at least his lack of benevolence.
Neither will convince the other because that is the nature of belief – you believe or you don’t.