Evil. Part one of a 437 part series.
OK, just kidding about the 437 parts. Of course. But what a big topic. Where to begin?
The typical place to begin is the classic “Problem of Evil”, which is usually presented as the philosophical problem to theists like Christians, Jews and Muslims: “How could a all-powerful, good, and loving God allow evil to exist?” This is a vexing problem indeed, and so is the atheist’s analogous “Problem of Good”: “If the world is a product of randomness, why is there so much of this world that makes me want to praise and celebrate it?” Those questions take various forms and are posed with various levels of philosophical sophistication. Whatever our worldview, though, honest experience can lead us to ask the question, “Is this world some kind of sick joke, sometimes making me want to rejoice in its goodness, other times making me want to despair at its terribleness?” NT Wright pointed my attention to a book by Susan Neiman’s, which sounds very interesting. Her claim is that the history of modern philosophy can be told as a story of people coming to grips with evil–why it’s there, whether or not we should study moral evil, and what to do about it. Though the problem of evil presents itself to us in different ways depending on how we view the world, it’s a problem for all of us, because we all deal with evil. Or at least with things we don’t like.
Anyway, those are interesting questions–why do bad things happen, why do we think some things are bad and other people think they’re good, why do we think things are bad or good at all…. but guess what. The rule this week is, let’s avoid those “why does evil exist?” questions. Maybe we’ll come back to that someday. I’d like to address another related question. It’s one that we’re constantly talking about at work, at home, in the political sphere, everywhere–and at the same time, it’s a question that we avoid like the plague. “What do we do about evil?” Not how do we conceptually explain its existence and get our heads around it, but how do we actually respond when evil things happen? How should we respond? What’s a mature way to deal with it? Or, if you prefer not to believe in evil or prefer not to use that work, pick a word that describes those unpleasant things that happen in this world that you object to–whether they be moral problems, natural disasters, or what have you. What to do with this unpleasantness?
So when something bad happens, there are ways that people often respond, and I think they might fall into some general categories. In these simplistic descriptions, it will sound like I’m gently mocking some of them. I am. It doesn’t mean that I agree with the ones I couldn’t come up with a witty description for. I’m not saying these are bad or good. That’s up for discussion. So, when responding to evil, you might:
1. Deny it. You can say that there are no values, good and evil are a construct.
2. Ignore it. This is the approach I find myself taking when I haven’t seen the news in awhile and things in my own life are fine–I just sort of forget that there are child molesters out there, that I can be self-deceptive, and that death is very much a part of life.
3. Dismiss it. This can take many forms, like the “Oh, it’ll all be ok in the end” or “Everything happens for a reason” kinds of responses.
4. Transcend it with human progress. This approach is reflected the cultural assumption and/or assertion that science helps us cure diseases, psychology helps us understand things and will help us live together in peace, and the dance rock of the 80s was so much better than disco.
5. Judge it. Evil is out there. It’s those bad people doing evil things that are the problem.
6. Apologize for it. Evil, it’s all my fault.
7. Accept it. Discomfort and pain are a part of life. The path to peace comes through the path of acceptance.
8. Forgive it. Sometimes, this comes awful close to #3.
Man, there are so many directions we could go with this. We probably will go in most of them. 🙂 I think the overarching questions I want to answer are, “How do you respond when bad things happen? How would you like to respond?” You can tease that out by answering one or more of these:
– What’s right about some of the above approaches?
– What’s wrong about some of the above approaches?
– What’s your natural reaction when you see bad stuff happen on the news?
– What’s your natural reaction when you realize you really hurt somebody? Or if you’ve never hurt someone, how do you respond when confronted with something you really don’t like about yourself?
See you here, or on Thursday!
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