Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti and the Problem of Evil/Suffering

The great earthquake of Lisbon is said to have prompted a great deal of thought regarding the Problem of Evil, or Suffering.  Perhaps that of Haiti should do the same.  In any case, it's prompting thought by me.

I suppose one possible "answer" to the question would be that of the jovial Mr. Robertson.  An omnipotent, all-knowing God, very capable of intervening in his creation, cannot be blamed for what happens to those who strike deals with the devil--they are themselves to blame for what happens to them, or at best (?) the devil is to blame (though the devil, one would think, if he is as traditionally described, would be content with tormenting the souls of the Haitians throughout eternity; visiting an earthquake upon them in addition to eternal torment would seem something of a breach of contract).

Presumably, then, Robertson's response would be that God does not create evil--his erring human creations do, with or without the assistance of another of God's creations, the devil, who is very able but also, of course, doomed to failure, because God is good, not evil, and God trumps Satan.

God, therefore, has granted us free will, and if we misuse it that is not God's fault.  We create evil in the world, or evil is the result of the acts of another (but to God necessarily lesser) power.

Then again, it must be noted that except perhaps in the increasingly unusual mind of Mr. Robertson, this was a natural disaster--it was not man-made, and need not have been Satan-made.  The result is terrible, but it was not intended, by anyone.  So, it cannot propertly be said to be evil, or the result of evil intent.

I've always found such answers (and every answer to the Problem of which I'm aware) to be unsatisfactory.  If we assume that God has the power to intervene in creation, the question is not merely whether he is the cause of evil/suffering, but if he is not the cause why he allows it to happen when he could prevent it.  Let's say that certain Haitians made a deal with the devil more than two hundered years ago.  God, presumably, was well aware of the fact that this would (somehow) result in this earthquake, and could have prevented it, avoiding the death and suffering which have resulted.  He allowed it to occur, however.  Or, God well knew that the natural disaster would occur, could have prevented it but did not do so.

What are we to conclude?  That he so valued the free will of the Haitians who stuck the deal with the devil (and the free will of humans generally if that is the true cause of evil) that he feels bound to allow the resulting evil to take place?  Why, then, does he value free will to such an extent as to have allowed it to cause such pain and death throughout history?  If the devil is the cause of evil, why grant him full reign?  Why does God feel that nature must take its course even if that course causes terrible pain and the death of thousands?

The answers to the Problem usually given, then, are not answers at all, as they simply create more questions, which ultimately lead to a single question:  "Why?"  And the response to that question is an appeal to mystery, or the fact that we cannot know; or perhaps a response that everything is ultimately for the good, but we can't know how because only God can, and such.  Or perhaps that God loves us so much that he granted us free will even though he knew it would result in evil.  The Problem is thus answered by being evaded through speculation.

Or, I suppose, it would be possible to maintain that God, though Good, is indifferent to his creation.  He is a kind of divine version of Tom Lehrer's Werner von Braun ("once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?").  Or, that he cannot intervene, in which case he is a kind of lesser God.

Not satisfying at all, are they?


  1. The truth is that they did make a pact with the devil.

    Now the significance you put on that pact I guess has to do with whether you believe the devil is real or not.

    But it is one of Haiti's founding myths.

    According to Haitian national history, the revolutionary war was launched on the eve of a religious ceremony at a place in the north called Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caiman, in French). At that ceremony on August 14, 1791, an African slave named Boukman sacrificed a pig, and both Kongo and Creole spirits descended to possess the bodies of the participants, encouraging them and fortifying them for the upcoming revolutionary war. Despite deep ambivalence on the part of intellectuals, Catholics, and the moneyed classes, Vodou has always been linked with militarism and the war of independence and, through it, the pride of national sovereignty.

    So, yeah if there is a devil, Haiti made a pact with it. Might explain why even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the Dominican Republic has been far more successful.

  2. How does one know, though, that the spirits summoned were "the devil"? And, I see no mention of a pact. As to the difference between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, that's an interesting issue, but I don't think I'd look to Pat Robertson for an answer.