Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wondering About the Existence of Evil PT 1

John R. Houk
© March 9, 2010

In spite of the best efforts of Leftist utopians there is classical evidence a global war is in planet Earth’s future. Islamic purists dream of the glory days when Islamic empire was spread by the sword with a goal of global conquest to establish a theo-political Islamic Supremacist world.

I think most people would agree that war is evil. Thinking metaphysically or theologically, why is there evil in human civilization? In religions that believe in a Creator-deity, why would the deity allow evil to exist?

Just out of full disclosure I have to own up to the fact I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. I am uncertain that I am even qualified to be an armchair theologian or philosopher. I am one who dabbles in contemplation. Contemplation is an exercise that does not require a formal degree or a path of expertise. Certainly there are many that believe contemplation is a matter of expertise in which the exercise thereof is a ritualized practice which is attained by experience. The reality is any individual is capable of a moment or period of inner reflection in which flashes of insight is possible.

The only problem with individual contemplation is the heart of the individual. The more Light one’s heart possesses the better the individual’s insight will work toward the good of the individual or the many. The more darkness one’s heart possesses the more an insight will work toward evil for the individual or the many.

This returns us back to the query of a Creator-deity and evil. How or why can a deity who is representative of absolutes hence absolute good, allow the existence of evil in His creation? Is it not contradictory that absolute good would create and allow the existence of evil?

I like this explanation from Come Reason Ministries (Christian perspective):

The problem here is that you have a faulty premise. Evil and sins are not "things" in and of themselves. They do not exist autonomously. Rather, they are the absence of the perfect which God did make. This becomes complicated, so let me give you a couple of examples. I have the ability to create a vacuum of space. Now I do this not by making something out of materials, but by removing all the air and particles out of that space. The void that remains is what we choose to label a vacuum. It isn’t a thing in itself, but it is a term we use to state that everything else is gone. Likewise we use the term cold to describe a lower temperature. Any air conditioner man can tell you that to cool something down you don’t put cold in, but you have to take heat out! Cold is the absence of energy that causes heat.

Sin and evil are regarded the same. These things cannot exist as "things" that are independent of circumstances, but are the labels given to actions or characteristics that do not meet the goal of perfection. Now, you might say "Aha! If these things are actions that can be performed, then they must exist autonomously." That is not true. My wife recently suffered a very severe dislocation of the elbow. All of her bones were misaligned. If she could have stood the pain, she was able to bend her arm in ways that are impossible for you and I to duplicate. Our arms just cannot bend behind themselves like that. Now, just because she possessed this ability, we did not consider it an asset to be attained, but we rightly sought medical attention to put the elbow back together so it would function properly. We knew if we left it that way, there would be more detriment to her overall ability than asset.

Just like that broken arm, evil and sin are the painful results of a fall. The world and all that is in it was created perfect, but the fall of man created ramifications and consequences that we are still struggling with today. They are not abilities or goals to be achieved, but they are the terms we use to convey the idea of absence of righteousness. This is why when someone reads that God cannot lie and they try to claim that God could not be omnipotent because He lacks something, they are mistaken. The act of lying is really an act of not being able to tell the truth. When you ask why God allowed humans to have the capability for evil, you are not framing your question fairly. You might as well ask why did God create us with joints that could be broken. He did not want us to break His rules, but once we did (and every one of us has) He had to take steps to repair the state we are in.

The point is God did not create or establish evil. All the Creator created was created good. When righteousness (rightness or right standing) was removed the good then the absence of the circumstances which makes perfect transmutes good to degrees of evil. Good becomes twisted and hence the explanation of inherent evil in humanity and creation. For good to return in absolute terms, that which was removed must be restored. In Christianity that which is returned is the Righteousness (rightness or right standing) of God in Christ Jesus. After one meets the terms to be in Christ the untwisting of evil in the human spirit is straightened restoring the good to the human inner spirit which many Christians believe is the real person as opposed to the outward decaying flesh still under the circumstance of the absence of righteousness.

Christianity looks for the return of Christ to complete the full restoration of righteousness that is absent from a corporeal ever decaying physical material plain.

Now let’s look at the explanation of evil from some of the world’s religions other than Christianity. Again I need to remind you the exploration is armchair and not expert. In this case the exploration is the courtesy of a search engine, mostly Google.

Evil Buddhism

Evil is the perpetuation of illusion by the factors that fuel the chain of dependent origination (paticca-samuppada). Ignorance in perceiving that the world is impermanent, devoid of a self and in constant becoming leads to suffering. The Buddha proclaimed that in fact the whole of existence is suffering:

    The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha) is this: Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; dissociation from the pleasant is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering - in brief, the five aggregates of attachment are suffering (Samyutta Nikaya 56,11).

There are three fundamental defilements of the mind that combine and interact leading to suffering: greed (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (avidya). Their origin is desire to experience existence in personal form. As personhood is nothing but an illusory result of the temporary gathering together of five aggregates, the desire to perpetuate the illusion of personal existence produces suffering, so its extreme solution must be the abolition of personhood. There is no suffering if there is no person left to experience it.
(The problem of evil in world religions)

Here is a good summation of evil in Buddhism:

… The important point is that in Buddhism "good" and "evil" are less about moral judgments than they are, very simply, about what you do and the effects created by what you do. (Buddhism

I wonder what Buddhism’s creation myth is? Anyway, evil exists because sentient humans exist. It is not that evil is inherent in Buddhist thought, rather human life itself is suffering. Humans tend to make decisions that perpetuate suffering; hence there is evil in being attached to this life.

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was a part of Hinduism before his (ahem) enlightenment. Hinduism is the major religion of India – a very populous nation. On a side issue Islam is probably the second largest religion in India. This never would have happened except Muslim conquerors took the sword with incredible brutality to convert or (initially) kill Hindus for that religion is considered polytheistic by monotheistic religions. In Islam’s conquest of the Christian Middle East and North Africa the inhabitants were (officially) given the option of convert, non-rights dhimmis or death. Christians (and Jews) benefitted from Merciful Mohammed’s inclusion of Judeo-Christianity as people of the book. In Islam polytheists are particularly heinous in their existence; ergo the choice of convert or die. The amazing thing about Muslim repressive brutality in India is that Hinduism was able to survive as the majority religion whereas Christianity was reduced to a minority status in the Middle East and North Africa. I could speak volumes more as to the reason for this but that would digress from the thoughts about the existence of evil.

At any rate, Hinduism’s thoughts on the existence of evil run something like this:

Hindu Vedas

In the hymns addressed to Varuna evil is a matter of humans not fulfilling his laws or not performing the ritual properly. … Those who commit evil deeds must repent before Varuna (Rig Veda 5,85) and try to repair their evil deeds through ritual sacrifices.

Hindu Upanashads

The Upanishads ground a pantheistic perspective on Ultimate Reality and introduce karma as the explanation of evil in the world. Ignorance launches karma into action and karma brings suffering. As the manifestations and dissolutions of the world have no beginning and no end, so is karma, meaning that suffering is a part of the eternal cosmic cycle. Suffering in the present life is the natural consequence of past lives’ ignorance and it has to be endured without questioning.

Evil in Samkhya-Yoga

Although the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas are not pantheistic, they follow a similar view in defining evil. It is a matter of how much one is caught in the psycho-mental illusions generated by the primordial substance (prakriti). Two of the three gunas (rajas and tamas), are causing the manifestations of what we call evil in the world, both in the physical and in the mental realm.

Hindu Epics and Puranas

The writings of Hindu theism adopt a middle way in explaining evil, between the dictates of karma and the responsibility of the gods in producing it as sovereign agents in the universe. As these two elements are irreconcilable and mutually exclusive, the solutions to the problem of evil are themselves contradictory. The character of the gods becomes quite ambiguous in the Epics and the Puranas. They are responsible for producing both good and evil. …

These ambiguous solutions to the problem of evil in Hindu mythology are caused by the fact that the gods cannot be at the same time sovereign, and in tune with karma. If the gods are responsible for the existence of evil in the world, they either create it willingly, and then are evil themselves, or are forced to create it by the higher law of karma, and then are weak.

The source of the complicated Hindu explanation of the existence of evil is evolutionary and variegated as the periods of time their holy writings were written. I say variegated because I am unsure if the concepts of evil’s origination evolved linearly or is accepted according to a particular Hindu sect or both.

Evil in Hinduism seems to be a combination deity causes and/or the result of human existence in the realm of choices, karma and suffering. It seems to me old Gautama focused his enlightenment on Hindu’s suffering-karma paradigm.

Taoism originated in China and today is practiced in the China-Southeast Asia area. This is Taoism’s concept of evil.

Since any aspect of the world is a manifestation of the Tao, corresponding to a different participation of the Yin and Yang principles, nothing can be considered to be essentially evil in the world. Even if Yin is termed as a negative principle, it never manifests itself alone. …

Every positive factor involves its negative or opposing one. What is usually called evil, as physical and mental manifestation, is the result of a lack of balance between the two opposing principles and corresponds to a bigger participation of the Yin principle. Evil belongs to the nature of the world, so humans have to subscribe to the universal harmony and respect the equilibrium of the two polarities. Tao is eternal and so are the two principles Yang and Yin, so that good and evil must be eternal, as necessary elements of our world.

In Taoism it appears evil is a part of eternity and is manifested when Yin and Yang are out of balance. The more balanced harmony the more there is good.

Sikhism is one of the world’s largest religions. Here is Sikhism on evil.

Sikhism does not have a concept of the devil as in Christianity. Sikhs believe that demons are entities which are driven solely by ego. Sikhism teaches that ego is the prime cause of evil doing. Ego has five basic components:

    • Pride
    • Lust
    • Greed
    • Attachment
    • Anger

Sikhs believe that involvement with ego creates a state of duality. The soul experiences a sense of separation from the divine, which causes all suffering.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion derived largely from Hinduism. God does not originate evil for he is pure. Humanity is evil as long as a person or persons choose wrong actions. Ego-self is the source of all evil and the way to be one with God is empty one’s self of ego. Sikhs are not big on ritual however the source of the path to divine oneness is based on the action of the person.

How does Baha’i deal with the origin of evil.

Origin of Universe and Life

God created all from nothing and controls all phenomena that modern science reveals about the origins of the universe and life.
They support scientific study and education, as they believe science serves to reveal rather than dispute God's awesome creative powers.

After Death

Literal interpretations of resurrection, heaven, and hell are regarded as figments of imagination. Resurrection is the spiritual awakening that occurs upon the appearance of a new Manifestation. Heaven is the indescribable bliss of closeness to God, harmony with God's will as revealed by the Manifestations--eternal spiritual life. The closer one is to knowing and loving God, the greater the joy of paradise. Hell is the self-made torture of isolation from God--spiritual death. Unlimited spiritual growth toward perfection continues after death.

Why Evil?

No original sin or Satan. The human nature that God created is all good, including both animal and spiritual aspects. God also gave people free will, and some will choose to express their inherently good nature in imperfect ways. The concept of Satan in the scriptures is symbolic for humans' choice to express the lower or animal side of their nature in ways that separate them from God. Those farthest from God are most prone to wrongdoing.

Undeserved Suffering

All suffering, including that caused by natural disasters, are God's will as a punitive, educational, or remedial response to individual or to humanity's denial of God and disobedience to the Divine Commands. All of humanity suffer when one commits wrong, and all benefit when one does good. The best often suffer the most for humanity's misdeeds. Nonpunitive suffering is part of God's plan to challenge the soul with adversity. Suffering educates the sufferer and aids spiritual growth toward perfection. Suffering helps people to remember God in their grief. The suffering of innocents will be greatly rewarded in the world to come.

The Baha’i stand on evil is a bit muddled. The Baha’i God creates everything yet takes credit for causing suffering for humanity as a lesson toward perfection to bring a person or humanity closer to God. The Christian God is often given credit for suffering (acts of nature, war and so on). Insurance companies blame divinity by separating ‘acts of God’ in certain insurance policies. In Christianity Satan is the one that should be blamed for suffering. The Christian God will withdraw his hand of protection and mercy from a person or people that have separated them self from the Justice of God’s morality.

Look Part Two Tomorrow

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