Theodicy

Theodicy, the “problem of evil”, is the recognition that there is a serious contradiction in the belief in an all-powerful and all-loving god, and the very obvious existence of evil in the world. Consideration of this problem has led an uncountable number of persons to give up religion altogether, adopting instead Atheism or Agnosticism (non-commital Atheism), and doing incalculable damage to church membership and the incomes of the preachers, priests, and rabbis, all of whom live on charity [1].

Although I applaud the de-conversions of those bright enough to recognize the problem of evil, I think that they over-reacted and have come to Atheism for inadequate reasons. They could have been more creative in looking for solutions to the problem. In particular, they need not have given it all up; they could have simply tweaked the material to find a compromise solution [2].

For example, some religions postulate a second all-powerful god, called Satan, whose role is to commit all the evil, leaving the original god’s schedule open for good works [3]. So when we see evil in the world, we know it is not the good god’s fault, because he, she or it is all-loving. This solves the problem of evil. If a person believes this strongly enough, he or she can overlook the fact that two gods cannot be all-powerful at the same time, or that he or she already believes that the good god made the universe, which obviously includes the evil god, which idea seems to throw us back onto the horns of theodicy.

A more reasonable approach would be to recognize that we are making some bold assumptions when we claim that the New Testament is right about the god being all-loving, while the Old Testament is wrong about the god being jealous, spiteful, erratic, bloodthirsty, and all the other characteristics that are depicted quite plainly in the text. Why not admit what the text tells us: that the god very obviously is not all-loving? In other words, give up the untenable portion of belief, rather than the entirety. There is evil in the world because the god is evil. That solves the problem [4].

There is a far more creative solution that persons stumped by theodicy seem to have missed: Postulate that there is a Christian god, a Muslim god, and a Jewish god, and that each is all-loving toward its own believers, but often evil to others. These gods share power, and often work to undermine the good works of the others [5]. This way, each of the monotheisms can have its god and praise it, too [6].

What happens instead is that persons who seriously consider the problem of evil tend to overreact. They begin to see that none of it makes any sense, that contradictions arise at every turn, and they begin to feel uncomfortable with all of it, so they give it all up. They might go through an emotional hell on that journey, but the journey, once started, becomes an imperative.

In sum, although I question the reasonableness of coming to Atheism through consideration of theodicy, I certainly admire the courage of those who do it. Welcome to reality [7].

Notes

[1] This is unfair to the preachers, priests, and rabbis, since they have no useful skills with which they could be productive citizens and earn respectable livings.

[2] They could follow the examples of their preachers, who “tweak the material” every sabbath to make it fit their own intentions.

[3] To account for the need to fulfill an inordinately heavy schedule, some religions postulate an “angel pool”, like a secretary pool, to take care of ordinary problems.

[4] This clever idea also seems to solve the problem: The gods of the Old and New Testaments are two different gods! But that solves the problem of the texts, not theodicy itself.

[5] The three gods would of course be multilingual, since they would have to read each other’s scriptures to find out what the other gods consider evil, especially the definitions of “sin”.

[6] And the creation of the universe? Perhaps the three gods played rock, paper, scissors to decide which one would do it.

[7] Really, when you cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or touch something (and nobody else can, either) you should have questioned its existence from the start.

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