The thing I use to love about Francis Schaeffer lectures, was his ability to simplify complex concepts. In my simpleton undergrad days, I saw the man as an intellectual giant. But now, I don't think that was his fortitude. His gift was taking typical philosophical concepts, those discussed in any community college level philosophy class, and translate them into a language that the lay person could understand. Sort of like chewing up a little steak for the evangelical community, which was only use to intellectual Sweet-tarts. He would often say something to the effect of, "When things are said and done, there are really only a few people left standing in the room." I think his style appealed to me because he too suffered from dyslexia and had a great challenge in organizing not only letters within a word, but words within a concept. So for his own sake he had to structure things in an orderly way.
|Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions|
There really are only two basic questions of life, the metaphysical and the moral. Within the metaphysical question rest the universal problem of existence . . . why are we (or why anything is here for that matter)? You can't escape the question. The fact that you exist begs that question and creates a real dilemma that is hard to answer. What I mean by "why" in this context isn't the purpose of life, but more basic. How did we get here and does that existence have a meaning? As I've said before, there are NO easy answers. So the real answer must have great difficulties. Those atheists who claim that they are the only ones who don't put their brains in neutral and take the most logical approach are as much fools as the evangelicals who think that their answers are the only logical ones.
But now that I've wasted so much time on the introduction, I want to think about the question of morals and (related) the problem of evil. Again, this is the very basic question of morals, not discussing ethics in detail, but the big question of why is there evil . . . or suffering? So the film, Blue Like Jazz, started me thinking about this . . . you know, the confessional booth scene.
With the problem of evil there are only a few people in the room . . . actually four. They are like the four corners of a box, like in Malevich's painting above.
In the first corner are the pure atheists, those who take atheism seriously and not like the claims on a middle school playground of pop-culture atheism. These are mature atheists who have taken their belief to the full meaning. In this corner, the problem of evil and suffering, like everything in their world, is meaningless. I say this factually and not as an accusation. It is irrational (and middle-schoolish) to inject meaning where non can possibly and rational exist, except in a Star Trek or Cosmos episode.
If the universes, with its physical laws and idiosyncrasies, happened purely by chance with a spontaneous (absolutely spontaneous) explosion of something out of nothing, then all within the sphere of existence has no meaning . . . by definition. So, the fetus that gets terminal cancer in utero and is born and lives a tortuous week and dies a terrible death is no different than the gifted genius who lives a perfectly healthy life until he/she is 110 and dies peacefully in their sleep, after changing the world in a profound way. In the same thought, there can be no difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler. The two are interchangeable, and balance the equation when they rest on each side of the "=" sign. Living or dying is indifferent. Those middle school atheists, such as Carl Sagan, know that they cannot live that way, so they cheat and inject meaning . . . "The Universe wants . . . " Or the sociologist would say, "What is best for the herd is what is good." No. If all life forms disappeared today, it would have no meaning. If the entire universe would implode into nothing the same way it exploded out of it . . . would have no meaning. We are all, absolutely ( and infinitely) insignificant in the model. This is the corner of pure nilism and that is the only real choice of atheism, unless you take an irrational detour into existentialism meaning.
Within the second corner, I will combine the animists and polytheists. Within this framework, the gods and spirits are as much victims of evil as we are. Bad spirits or bad gods can ruin your day and your life, in the same way they might ruin the life of the weaker good god.
In the third corner is the escapism of pantheism. Here evil (as defined by The Buddha) is the manifestation of desire or wanting. If we transcend this world and suppress the personal wanting then evil goes away. While on the surface, the American translation of pantheism is appealing ( all religions lead to the same sea so us all hold hands and get along in peace and harmony), on the deeper levels it presents some real problems with evil. In its definition ("Pan" = everything) then within the bosom of the god-force must rest everything, the wonderful and peaceful people as well as the most hideous evil. The worst racism in the world is practiced by pantheists, who suppress and abuse people based on skin color (being justified by the notion that they deserve it for doing bad things in a previous life).
In the final or fourth corner rest the monotheists, but that corner actually has at least two, very different slopes. On one side is what I would call the Moslem + colloquial Christianity + orthodox Judaism. What I mean by "colloquial" here, is the common beliefs of Christians in the street, not true, theological Christian positions. In this framework, God is seen as the infinite-micro-manager. Nothing happens without, not only, God's stamp of approval, but His intention. So then evil becomes part of God's plan, often as either a punishment for personal shortcomings or as a test to improve one's character (or to guide someone in a certain direction in the same way a cowboy uses a cattle prod). Less often evil is seen as the devil who sneaks in while God is not watching (the Why Bad Things Happen to Good People scenario), to ruin your day. But most of the time, the fault resides in you and your personal sin.
In the second slope of the final corner is the "Biblical" Christian view. Now I use the term "Biblical" with great hesitation because that word is mostly used to manipulate people into a very precise and ego-stroking theology. But what I mean, is the basic Christian theology that most Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants would agree with, even if they don't practice it in their own homes and daily living. Now that I've reached my corner, you would expect me to smile and say that this corner is a no-brainer, and the only logical place to be. But it isn't that easy. The Biblical Christian corner has its own problems . . . and they are not benign.
In this corner's slope, we see this world as created by a perfect God with the intention of being perfect. But then evil (an inferior-to-God evil) was allowed to enter into the world. This evil (for reasons that no one knows and is just one of many difficult parts of Christianity) became congenital. So, in the Christian story, if a human was born and lived a perfect life, he/she would still suffer the consequences of evil as a punishment for the sins of the fathers. At this point Christianity appears unjust.
But part of some confusing plan, God allowed evil (even though He had the clear power, unlike the polytheistic gods, to smash it) to penetrate the world and making it only a shadow if its intended perfect self. Then of course, God took the punishment for the sins of man and will one day restore the universe to the intended perfection. But the logical questions, which we often surpass in our junior high Sunday school classes) is why did it have to happen that way? Why did God allow evil? Why did he set up this strange plan where He had to become a man and die a human death to take the punishment away from us and then one day recreate a perfect world? There are a thousand legitimate questions being begged in this story . . . all of which we have no logical answer here, but a hope that beyond our intellectual ability there are answers.
I don't think the choices are equal as I do subscribe to the last . . . but it is no a slam dunk. Most who subscribe to the last are under the false impressions (just like those in all the other corners are) that there way is the only logical way.
With this said, I come back to my original intent on suffering. We "Biblical" Christians believe that evil entered the world and much of it was not caused by us . . . although some of it was. So, there is a place for the evil to seek forgiveness of the sufferer. It would not be appropriate for God to ask for this forgiveness as this was not a mistake, at least not His mistake. Yes, like in the movie, some of the suffering was caused by the Church, and as part of the Church, I can ask for forgiveness from those who have been harmed by her. However, much of the suffering was not caused by the Church or any entity that I'm personally associated with. Maybe it is Satan that should be the one asking for forgiveness for these things . . . but don't hold your breath. So, in a fictional exercise of the soul, imagine that I am the perpetrator and I set up my booth where you come in, not to confess, but to hear a confession. So here goes.
We knowledge that God loves us and intends for us to have a perfect life of fulfillment, so anything less than that is wrong and you do deserve perfection, because that is how God intended things to be..
I'm sorry that you were born with imperfect bodies. That you have the tendency to gain weight, are not as tall or handsome as you want to be. God loves us and we deserve (because this is the way that God intended us to be) to look beautiful or handsome. I'm sorry that didn't happen.
I'm sorry that you were born with a genetic defect that interferes with a pain free life of strength and ability. You deserve the later because God loves you and intended for you to be whole. I am sorry for that.
I am sorry that your parents were not perfect. I'm sorry that they didn't laugh with you, but used you to fill the whole in their own souls. I'm really sorry that they physical or emotionally abused you. No child deserves that. All of us deserve (once again because God loves us and intended perfection for us) the perfect parents, who loved us deeply nurtured and protected us.
I am sorry that you didn't have the right personality or physical gifts to be popular in high school. I'm sorry for you having emotional baggage, either from genetics or from your upbringing, that made you socially awkward. You deserved to be the most popular person on the planet because God loves you and wanted perfection for you. I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry for the physical injury that happened to you, that has left its physical mark on you. That mark may be pain and/or limitations. You deserve to be whole because God loves you and wanted perfection for you. I'm sorry for that.
I am sorry that the person you loved intensely, didn't love you back the same way. That you suffered intense heart ache that seems to never heal. God loves you and intended perfection for you, meaning that those you loved intensely, love you in return even more. I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry about those you loved being taken away from this planet and from your touch. You can't hear them, feel them, share the same air with them anymore, and you loved them dearly. You can't show them in a tangential way your love and that is the worst part. It is not fair that they were taken. God loves you and intended for you to be side by side with the people you love for all eternity. I'm so sorry for your loss and you didn't deserve this because God loves you and intended perfection for you.
I'm sorry for the way our biology works, that as we age, we loose. We loose our beauty, our strength, our freedom from pain, or ability to think and remember. I'm very sorry for that. God loves you and intends for you to live forever with a healthy and pain-free body.
I'm sorry that you have a terminal illness, even if that illness is simply aging and natural death. Of course I'm sorry much more if it is an illness that will lead to a pre-mature death, where you will be the one that will leave, missing the pivotal events in the lives of those who you love. I'm am so sorry about that.
I'm sorry that you had to struggle financially your entire life, even though you are smart and have worked very, very hard. It is unfair when others have put in much less effort but have done so much better . . . due to chance. That is unfair and I'm so sorry for that. God loves you and intended a perfect justice for you, where your labors would be rewarded appropriately.
I am sorry that you feel unfulfilled. That you question the paths you have taken in life and now it may be too late to change. I'm sorry that the information that you based your decisions on were erroneous and deceitful. You deserved a fulfilled life of success and happiness and anything less is not what originally intended.
I am sorry for those who have sinned against you in a variety of ways. Maybe they stole from you. Maybe they mistreated you, lied about you, took rewards intended for you. Maybe they took love that was meant for you. I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry for the fact that answers to all the questions of life don't come easily. That you have to struggle to find truth and even if you think you've found it, it is not a slam dunk. I'm sorry that in the state of the fall, truth is not always obvious.
I am sorry for you being hurt by the Church. It could be something as grossly wrong as being sexually abused by a priest or a youth pastor, or it could have been a manipulative pastor. Maybe it was simply the people of the Church who mis-judged you. I'm part of that Church so I personally do ask for forgiveness.
For all these things, imagine for a moment that I was responsible for all of them, and in a token gesture I tell you again that I'm very, very sorry and I ask for your forgiveness. I'm sorry we live in an imperfect world, where true evil does exist and bad things do really happen.