February 2, 2006

Theodicy – Part l

Posted in literature, non-fiction, philosophy of religion, theodicy at 6:55 am by Jerry

“Theodicy, in the narrow sense, allows the believer to maintain faith in God in face of world evils. Theodicy, in the broad sense, is any way of giving meaning to evil that helps us face despair. Theodicies place evils within structures that allow us to go on in the world. Ideally, they should reconcile us to past evils while providing direction in preventing future ones.” p.239.

Here’s Pierre Bayle’s response to a theodicy in the theological sense — quoted by Neiman:

“If you say that God has permitted sin in order to manifest his wisdom, which shines forth more in the midst of the disorders that man’s wickedness produces everyday than it would in a state of innocence, you will be answered that this is to compare God either to a father who allows his children to break their legs so he can show everyone his great skill in mending their broken bones, or to a king who allows seditions and disorders to develop in his kingdom so that he can gain glory by overcoming them.” p.120.

Many have explained away the presence of evil by stating that it’s a result of the freewill given to humanity from God. Bayle has a comment about this “present” also:

“Supposing God were not a sage and nurturing father, but one who let you fall to the bottom of his own narcissistic needs? Supposing God were not a protective and loving mother, but one who allowed you to ruin yourself forever–perhaps out of envy? Does any attempt to maintain God’s benevolence by claiming He was only trying to offer us presents provide a better picture? …If God even suspected we could so abuse our freedom as to cause our eternal damnation, He should have kept His gifts to Himself.” p.123.

Are Bayle’s comments valid? And, upon reflection of the Christian beliefs, is our reality in such a way that we should reinterpret Jesus’ death as ultimately a redemption of God, and through this redemption, the redemption of humanity? Neiman also says:

“The worst of evil makes its victims accomplice to crime.” p.190

“Evil is not merely the opposite of good but inimical to it. True evil aims at destroying moral distinctions themselves. One way to do so is to make victims into accomplices.” p.287.

Are we God’s “accomplices”? The man who coined the term ‘Theodicy’, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, used the term as a title for a philosphical defense of God. He explained, “This world is the best of all possible worlds.” Neiman says:

“Leibniz’s assertion is no claim about the goodness of this world; it simply tells us that any other world would have been worse. Those who want to reject it will be told that they don’t know enough to do so, and this is surely true. The statement is just as impossible to disprove as it is to confirm.” p.22.

“So Schopenhauer, his tongue only half in cheek, presented an argument that this world is the worst of all possible. For a world slighty worse would cease to exist.” (italics hers) p.198.

Could our world be both — the best, and the worst? This reminds me of Dickens’ beginning of his A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..”

Stay tuned for “Part ll”.

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9 Comments »

  1. Dixie said,

    Hey Jerry! Welcome to the blog world! I feel like we have a special connection — married to spouses who blogged before us, and yet when WE blog ourselves, it ends up to be so much more philosophical and insightful!!! (just kidding, Becky!… oh, and Marc.)

  2. Gil said,

    Welcome aboard Jerry, nothing like jumping in with a bang! Interesting discussion on a difficult subject here. I agree with your understanding of theodicy as an effort to understand and give meaning to evil. I don’t find Bayle’s argument against the tradition ‘freewill defense’ all that convincing. As I understand your summary he is essentially saying ‘God should not have given us a gift that he knew we would abuse so badly.’ Whatever blessings came as a result of human freedom, the curses are worse therefore God should never have bothered.

    I agree that there are shortcomings with the freewill defense but I don’t think this is one of them. I would say that a theodicy that presents God as allowing freedom is misunderstanding the goal of what God has done. I would say that, for God, the highest goal was not merely to create free creatures (as if ‘freedom’ were some unqualified ‘good’) but to create creatures that could love. Freedom is simply part of what is necessary to make love possible. There could still be disagreement about whether the possibility of love existing was worth the price of evil but I think this places the debate in its proper context. The Bible seems to present love as somehow fundamental to God’s character in a way that freedom is not.

    An interesting follow-up question. Theodicy rightly asks about who gets the blame for evil. Do we need to start another conversation about the ‘problem of pleasure’? If evil demands an explanation, so do goodness, beauty, and ultimately love.

  3. Jerry said,

    Hey Dixie! Thanks for the welcome and for visiting my new blog and pointing out the true nature of our blogs in particular 😉

    Hey Gil! It’s cool to be on this side of our discussions!
    You said, “Freedom is simply part of what is necessary to make love possible.” Are you saying the causality in God’s choices (the Creator/Sustainer/Redeemer) has no bearing on our choices to love others?

  4. Gil said,

    I’m not sure I understand your question Jerry. I think love requires freedom. To love someone there has to be the possibility to ‘not love’ them. I was trying to point out that freewill theodicy doesn’t go far enough in describing what God seems to be after. God has not placed some kind of premium on human freedom and then decided that evil was worth the risk. God has created people with the capacity to love (or hate) and freedom is necessary for that to be real.

  5. Jerry said,

    Sorry Gil, I’ll try again. You said: “Freedom is simply part of what is necessary to make love possible.”

    Is freedom necessary to make evil possible? And if it is, did humanity create evil out of nothing? And, regarding Genesis, where did the evil in the snake or the evil in the tree of knowledge come from? And are ‘committing evil’ and ‘creating evil’ the same thing? How much did God know about what he was going to create, and its future, before he started to create anything? Did he know everything, nothing, or only somethings?

  6. Jerry said,

    Hi Gil, I don’t know if you’re planning on responding to my last comment, but when I read over a sentence of yours — “To love someone there has to be the possibility to ‘not love’ them,” you got me curious about your reasoning behind the statement. If you’re still in this discussion, would you be willing to elaborate on this sentence? Why does there have to be a “possibility to ‘not love’ them” in order to love someone?

  7. Gil said,

    Thanks for the clarification Jerry,
    For me, the possibility of love is the basic reality of the kind of universe God chose to create. At some point God decided to make us and he, for reasons we might never understand (or agree with) wanted us to love him freely. To me love is only love when it is chosen. In order for that choice to be meaningful it has to be free. To borrow from the metaphor of marriage: If I had been the only man on earth, I wouldn’t feel all that loved when my wife ‘chose’ to marry me. That seems essential to me. Love is meaningful because it means that someone has chosen to value you when they could have just as easily ignored or mistreated you. So I would say that if the possibility of ‘not loving’ did not exist, neither could love.

  8. Jerry said,

    “To borrow from the metaphor of marriage: If I had been the only man on earth, I wouldn’t feel all that loved when my wife ‘chose’ to marry me. That seems essential to me. Love is meaningful because it means that someone has chosen to value you when they could have just as easily ignored or mistreated you. So I would say that if the possibility of ‘not loving’ did not exist, neither could love.”

    I agree that if there was another man on the earth and your wife chose to love you, that choice would be more meaningful (it’s a contradistinction). However, if you were the only man, your wife’s love for you STILL would hold A LOT OF MEANING and is capable of happening without another man to choose from.

    I think love has meaning in its very action, without a necessity to choose it to happen. But there’s nothing wrong with us differing on this subject is there?

  9. Gil said,

    Nothing wrong whatsoever…


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