Monday, March 21, 2016

As Flies to Wanton Boys

The belief in a loving deity, one that created the universe and we humans, one that is good, one that responds to prayers, intervenes in the universe and our lives, has always posed a certain difficulty to any thinking person.  The difficulty arises from the fact that a thinking person cannot help but feel that the universe is in some respects, perhaps in many respects, not good at all.  Bad things happen.

Most importantly as far as we're concerned, bad things happen to us.  Those bad things are not necessarily caused by other people, and so it can't be said that some person or persons are to blame.  The blame for natural disasters, if it's appropriate to speak of blame in connection with them, clearly must lie with something more than human, or at least other than human.

The "Problem of Evil" as it has been called necessarily arises in regard to this belief.  Why would such a God allow evil things to exist, to happen?  There have been several responses to this problem.  One has been to respond as does Shakespeare's Duke of Gloucester in King Lear, and to maintain that there is no such God, and there is instead a God or gods for which we are nothing more than flies are to wanton boys, and who kill us for their sport.

Another response is to ascribe the evil of the world to a supernatural being such as the devil.  This doesn't do much to address the issue, though, if that being is subject to God; a lesser being.  Then the question simply becomes why does God let the devil cause evil?  If such a being is claimed to be an equal--a kind of rival--to a loving God, God isn't necessarily responsible for evil directly or indirectly.  However, in that case God isn't all-powerful, either, and God's omnipotence is something most believers revel in; so, this Manichean approach isn't favored by most.

Then there is the option which posits that we are the cause of evil.  Perhaps we brought it into the world, or Adam and Eve did, and we are tainted by their Original Sin.  This approach isn't entirely satisfactory, though, as it doesn't account for the evil (suffering) which results from natural disasters.  But there are some, of course, who think we cause those as well, usually by being bad in some fashion.  Sexual misconduct seems preferred as a cause for hurricanes and fire from the sky, but in any event we act wrongly in some sense and God punishes us through manipulation of natural forces, and such punishment is just.

A kind of catch-all or what perhaps may be called a default response is that what we perceive as evil isn't evil in fact.  It is actually good for some reason we're too dense or limited to comprehend, but is manifest to God.  Thus there is no "Problem of Evil" as there is no evil.  There is merely the working of God which will eventually, perhaps in a time so far distant as to be beyond the insight of humanity, result in good.

There is a problem even with this latter response, though, and that is probably a consequence of the fact that what we tend to think of as "good" is what would be good for us humans, i.e. what we perceive to be good.  What good, so to speak, would what God may have determined is a good result for the universe do us if it is millennia or millions of years in the future, when we may not even be around as a species?

Perhaps we can get around that problem by believing the universe was made just for us or with us being utmost in God's mind.  In that case, what is ultimately good must be good as far as we are concerned.  Or perhaps we can claim that once dead, we become immortal, and will experience and benefit from the ultimately good outcome of the universe.

Clearly, the belief in a personal God possessing human characteristics or concerns regarding fate, good and evil, results in complications of this kind.  The more speculations and arguments are required to explain or justify what happens in life from such a perspective, the less justifiable such a belief becomes, it would seem.  Or the more mysterious life and the deity become.

Perhaps the recent popularity of Stoicism as a quasi-religious view is in reaction to the manifold machinations required to make sense of the universe given belief in a personal, human though superhuman God.  A God immanent in the universe wouldn't necessarily create the universe for a particular purpose or end.  Being immanent in a universe of unimaginable size, such a God wouldn't have peculiarly human concerns or desires and wouldn't be concerned in any particular sense with humanity.  But as a part of the universe ourselves, we participate in God and by exercising our reason, our peculiar ability, we act in accord with our nature and that of the universe.

Such a belief at least prohibits us from thinking ourselves flies to wanton boys, and other things.

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