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 Post subject: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 3:39 pm 
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I just wanted to re-hash the ancient question, from Epicurus, and get your take on it. Again, cards on the table - I'm an atheist. So suffering is completely understandable from my perspective - a product of our biology and natural forces.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
-Epicurus

(I know this is based on Aristotelian philosophy, and that some of you may dispute this. Please feel free to share.)

This begins from the observation of both moral evil and needless suffering of innocents. If your God can help these people (presumably he's powerful enough, being either omnipotent or just powerful enough to create the universe), then why doesn't he?

Just to take the few theodicies I generally hear:

Do you believe there is a higher-order good that justifies the suffering and death of 7+ million children under the age of 5 every year? I often hear free will cited as the example. Or do you think heaven justifies the suffering of innocents, that a reward after death 'makes up' for needless suffering of innocents? Or do you think that we cannot know/understand your God's explanation, but that there must be one regardless?

I think this is the argument that made me turn from theism when I was very little, learning about the Holocaust as a young Jew. It seemed there was no good God, or at least no God that cared, and thus no reason for prayers, proficiations, or any of the other rituals of religious worship.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As always, I am attempting to express my views, and not be impolite. Any criticisms of your faith should not be taken as personal criticisms, but intellectual challenges. I hope you will show me the same respect.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:06 pm 
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Your entire exercis is incorrect. The initial premise is not complete. The questions, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?"
God gave us 'free will' so that we might earn our passage to Him and heaven. A little bit like risk and reward that you might think of when you make an investment.
God does help us prevent evil in a number of ways, but your problem is first to do your homework.
I would start with the "Star of Bethlehem," move on to the Jewish prophecies, the miracles of Christ and then His disciples and coming up through the centuries, I would take a hard look at Our Lady of Guadalupe (takes all of 10 to 15 minutes).
You say you are an atheist, prove your point and learn about your enemy first.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:17 pm 
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Evil is a privation, a lack of good. It does not exist. Ergo, there is nothing for God to prevent.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:49 pm 
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Sammyjohn: Before I begin, I've studied plenty of Christianity and other religions, and was not looking for proof of miracles. If we get to that discussion, I can explain why I disbelieve them, and why I find them to be poor evidence. This post is about unnecessary suffering. I don't see religions as my 'enemy' either. Let's talk ideas, not criticize the credentials of the other.

The validity of the argument stands, so far as I can tell. You assert that the initial premise (perhaps you mean set-up of the argument) is incomplete.
Which premise are you disputing? It seems that you are accepting all of them.
If so, you are then suggesting that God is able to prevent evil, but not willing. He is not willing, then, because he prefers to put us in a celestial test, where we have 'free will' and use this to make good or bad choices (or perhaps to be believers or not?)

You therefore offered free will as the reason why this suffering is so, which I referred to in my above paragraph. Free will is the 'greater good' or perhaps the test of life is part of your God's plan. Does this sound correct? That is, your God lets millions of children suffer and die every year so that people like you and I can make moral choices, so that we can "earn our passage to Him and heaven."

The death and suffering of the innocents is just necessary 'baggage' required by the free will plan? Let me know your thoughts.


Pax: I'm not sure how the semantic redefinition (or exclusion) of evil is helpful here. Unnecessary suffering is unnecessary suffering. God could prevent it. So there *is* something for God to prevent.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:54 pm 
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dschiff wrote:
Pax: I'm not sure how the semantic redefinition (or exclusion) of evil is helpful here. Unnecessary suffering is unnecessary suffering. God could prevent it. So there *is* something for God to prevent.


I reject your definition of evil simply because there is no such thing as unneccessary suffering. Just because you cannot see its purpose does not mean there is no purpose.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 11:45 pm 
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dschiff wrote:
(I know this is based on Aristotelian philosophy, and that some of you may dispute this. Please feel free to share.)

No, it isn't.

Quote:
moral evil and needless suffering

You need to define these terms if you want a proper answer.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:25 pm 
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Dschiff:
Catholics hold that God did not create evil, it is not a 'created' thing. To help you along: What is suffering? (Here's a hint. Suffering is also a privation. A negative 'value') How does physical pain like burning help? How does spiritual pain help?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2012 8:30 pm 
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dschiff:

God has given us the hope that we be with Him for all eternity. To share in His Knowledge, His will and His Love for us and all the saved. We have done nothing to deserve this. In fact, we have done nothing to be anything else but nothing. I have trouble seeing any greater love or benevolence, as you call it, than this. In the end all will either be in Heaven or Hell. The suffering or pleasures of this life will be as nothing. This truth is what the Catholic Faith is witness to. As you say you have studied and informed yourself about what Catholic Christians believe you must see that the argument you started this thread with is not very persuasive.

As noted by others the words " unneccessary suffering" comes with a unargued conclusion.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:53 am 
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Pax: Okay, you claim there is no such thing as unnecessary suffering.
So 27,000 children are going to die today, and this is necessary. That is, it is part of your God's plan and is necessary for some greater good. Is this correct?
Your God could not save these children and still bring his plan to fruition?

Can you offer me a potential purpose that, for you, justifies this?

Or is your answer "an unknown purpose must exists, but I cannot see it or conceive of it." If so, I think this is the weakest answer one can ever provide. Your justification is "there must be a justification."

What was God's purpose for the Holocaust?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:59 am 
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Jac: It was my understanding that the idea of God as omniscient, omnipotent and so on was Greek, originally. The God, in the old testament, doesn't seem particularly omniscient or omnipotent. See: destruction of Sodom, the flood, the tablets.

If you're going to just say "no," might you offer the actual history of these ideas?

Moral evil: a human doing cruel things to another human, for example
Needless suffering (or natural evil): A tornado killing innocent humans

These are quite well defined in philosophy of religion, as per John Lennox, who I was listening to the other day (obviously not a Catholic).


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 11:01 am 
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Sunmumy: So God did not create evil?
What exactly did God create? Our psychology? Did he kick us out of eden and bring death to us? Did he create malaria? Ebola? The capacity for intense pain and suffering?

It seems to me, if he didn't directly create those things, he allowed it.

Right, suffering is pain. Your God allows it. I'm not sure I understand your points. Physical pain versus spiritual pain? Please clarify. How does evil's non-creation make this not a valid point?

Let's say there is no 'evil.' Why did God allow the Holocaust? Same Epicurean question applies.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 11:12 am 
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Everyone: I wanted to outline all the arguments that I've seen thus far.

Why does God allow millions of innocent children to die every year?

1) There is some reason, but it's unknown. God is good, and we refuse to accept the conclusion that there is no purpose, so we claim there is one. It is unknown, invisible. In fact, we can't even conceive of an explanation. So it's not like there are a few candidates and we're not sure - we can't even come up with an answer. This, to me, seems like the weakest answer one could ever give for anything, if that makes sense to you all.

2) Heaven makes all the suffering of innocents okay. It erases the past. This doesn't make sense to me either. If I tortured you for years, and then gave you medications to erase your memory, millions of dollars and a lifetime of happiness, it wouldn't erase the horrible torture that was done. This is analogous to God. If this is your theodicy, you are claiming that God looks past these millions of people every year who are experiencing real suffering, and says, hey, you *might* get a reward later. But this can't make up for it.

3) Evil doesn't exist? Or suffering doesn't exist? I don't understand this defence. You can define evil however you want, but the challenge remains. Explain why 27,000 children will die today and why your God 1) will not intervene, 2) cannot intervene, in which he is 1) not omni-benevolent, or 2) not omni-potent.


If you're going to criticize the argument Epicurus presents and deem it uncompelling, please explain which premises are incorrect, and why. Above represents my attempt to classify the 3 arguments provided so far by those of you kind enough to respond to my question.

Notably, you offer different versions, which are not necessarily compatible. This, in itself, is interesting, and perhaps a problem. Do you ever worry about this problem of suffering? Or does it seem obvious to you that 1), or that 2)?

The Holocaust was probably when I realized, as a child, that there was no loving, theistic God. Somehow, all of you were able to move past this. Which of the above did you appeal to, and and what age? Was it hard to reach this conclusion?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 11:19 am 
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dschiff wrote:
Jac: It was my understanding that the idea of God as omniscient, omnipotent and so on was Greek, originally. The God, in the old testament, doesn't seem particularly omniscient or omnipotent. See: destruction of Sodom, the flood, the tablets.

If you're going to just say "no," might you offer the actual history of these ideas?

Would you like to offer a history of them? Asserting that they are Greek ideas isn't "offering the actual history." You made the claim. You need to back it up. As to the biblical references you cite, none of them say that God is not omniscient, omnipotent, etc. You may be interpreting them as implying as much, but I would suggest that you distinguish between your interpretation of texts and the ideas you find in them from the actual words of the text itself.

But back to Epicurus--you didn't say that his ideas were Greek. You said they were Aristotelian. Do you understand that Aristotelianism is only one strand of Greek thought? Do you understand the relationship between Epicurianism and Aristotelianism? Further, do you understand the relationship between natural theology and Aristotelianism? This is rather important, because it goes to your assumptions about how a philosophical theologian, and a Catholic specifically, would answer the question.

Quote:
Moral evil: a human doing cruel things to another human, for example
Needless suffering (or natural evil): A tornado killing innocent humans

These are fine examples. I didn't ask for an example. I asked for a definition.

Quote:
These are quite well defined in philosophy of religion, as per John Lennox, who I was listening to the other day (obviously not a Catholic).

Then please provide the definition you are working from. I'm not picky and I don't really care about proper attribution. You could steal Lennox' own words and use them as your own for all I care. What I do care about is hearing you actually define the terms you are talking about.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 11:49 am 
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Jac: Sure thing.

I'm unsure about the history. I've heard from friends who study religion that the tri-partite version of God as omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent is based on an Aristotelian mistake. Is it Thomistic in origin? I am currently looking for sources on this. And yes I do know that Aristotelianism is not the only strand of greek thought, and that it differs from epicurean beliefs... thanks.
How would you describe the relationship between natural theology and Aristotelianism? You seem quite the expert.

I thought the examples were clear, but I can abstract away from them it that helps you. First hit on wikipedia.

Moral evil: "Moral evil is the result of any morally negative event caused by the intentional action or inaction of an agent, such as a person. "
Natural evil: "or surd evil, is a term generally used in discussions of the problem of evil and theodicy that refers to states of affairs which, considered in themselves, are to be avoided and not to be promoted, and for which no agent is morally responsible"

Why scripture doesn't show God as the above (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent):
1) He doesn't know how many good people are in Sodom, and Abraham queries him.
2) He doesn't know adam/eve are going to betray him.
3) He orders genocides of infants, and slaughters many innocents (in the flood, slaughter of Amalek, etc.)
4) Satan has some control over earth, ergo God is not omnipotent.


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 2:18 pm 
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dschiff wrote:
I'm unsure about the history. I've heard from friends who study religion that the tri-partite version of God as omnipotent/omniscient/omnibenevolent is based on an Aristotelian mistake Is it Thomistic in origin? How would you describe the relationship between natural theology and Aristotelianism?

If one of your friends wants to come discuss those matters, let's do so rather than having a three way conversation with someone who isn't here. As to the three "omnis" you've been talking about, they can be derived from Scripture or Reason. Suffice it to say that Aristotle certainly did not develop them in the way the Church has.

The Church has (rightly) used Aristotle's general methodology for approach reality and reality's God. Again, I'll recommend to you the same thing I did in the previous thread. Get Feser's Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide.

Quote:
Moral evil: "Moral evil is the result of any morally negative event caused by the intentional action or inaction of an agent, such as a person. "

What is a "morally negative event"? What makes an event negative? What makes it morally so?

Quote:
Why scripture doesn't show God as the above (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent):
1) He doesn't know how many good people are in Sodom, and Abraham queries him.
2) He doesn't know adam/eve are going to betray him.
3) He orders genocides of infants, and slaughters many innocents (in the flood, slaughter of Amalek, etc.)
4) Satan has some control over earth, ergo God is not omnipotent.

Are these four statements the only possible interpretations of the biblical references in question?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 8:10 pm 
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Jac: I was pleading ignorance about the origin of this tripartite definition of your God. Are you saying Aquinas was the origin? Not Thomas? Or do you not know?

A morally negative event: You asked for examples, then the abstract. I will give you an example again. Torturing a baby is a moral evil. The intention is to harm, to cause suffering. This makes it a moral evil. In general, we can conceive of pleasure as good and suffering as bad, as one way of making sense of positive/negative outcomes.
What makes it negative? Our evaluations. What makes it morally negative? Moral is a concept we apply to agents that have the capacity to understand moral reasoning.

So Cheetah's killing gazelle's isn't evil. Humans killing other humans is.

Are there other interpretations? I'm sure. Do you want to defend the idea that the God of the OT is omniscient? Planned adam and eve, and their betrayal? Planned the flood? Wiped out all the innocents? Is omni-potent but let satan win? Omni-benevolent but killed the first-born egyptians?

To my mind, these are nice ideas that were attached to make the God more powerful and pleasing, to elevate Yahweh above the other local Israelite and Cannanite gods (el, bhaal, asherah, etc.)


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:06 pm 
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dschiff wrote:
Everyone: I wanted to outline all the arguments that I've seen thus far.

Why does God allow millions of innocent children to die every year?

1) There is some reason, but it's unknown. God is good, and we refuse to accept the conclusion that there is no purpose, so we claim there is one. It is unknown, invisible. In fact, we can't even conceive of an explanation. So it's not like there are a few candidates and we're not sure - we can't even come up with an answer. This, to me, seems like the weakest answer one could ever give for anything, if that makes sense to you all.
That's because you don't accept Revelation. If Jesus showed up in your home, in such a way that you could no longer deny His divinity and God's Revelation, explanations such as these make quite good sense. It would, in fact , be the most certain thing you knew. If you are trying to understand Christianity your arguments just can't ignore basic Christian assumptions.

Quote:
2) Heaven makes all the suffering of innocents okay. It erases the past. This doesn't make sense to me either. If I tortured you for years, and then gave you medications to erase your memory, millions of dollars and a lifetime of happiness, it wouldn't erase the horrible torture that was done. This is analogous to God. If this is your theodicy, you are claiming that God looks past these millions of people every year who are experiencing real suffering, and says, hey, you *might* get a reward later. But this can't make up for it.
Why not? There are no scales that can balance temporal pleasures and pain and our eternal fates.

Quote:
3) Evil doesn't exist? Or suffering doesn't exist? I don't understand this defence. You can define evil however you want, but the challenge remains. Explain why 27,000 children will die today and why your God 1) will not intervene, 2) cannot intervene, in which he is 1) not omni-benevolent, or 2) not omni-potent.
Do Christians deny suffering? Please try to keep up. As you enter a Catholic Church your attention is drawn to a representation of God being tortured to death. The notion of evil as a privation of good is a theological/philosophical one which likely doesn't mean much to the average Catholic like myself although I am glad to know there are great minds who have explained the faith through the use of metaphysics. I know evil is not created by God and thus merely a privation of good because I accept Revelation. If I was St. Thomas I would understand it better.


Quote:
If you're going to criticize the argument Epicurus presents and deem it uncompelling, please explain which premises are incorrect, and why. Above represents my attempt to classify the 3 arguments provided so far by those of you kind enough to respond to my question.

Notably, you offer different versions, which are not necessarily compatible. This, in itself, is interesting, and perhaps a problem. Do you ever worry about this problem of suffering? Or does it seem obvious to you that 1), or that 2)?

The Holocaust was probably when I realized, as a child, that there was no loving, theistic God. Somehow, all of you were able to move past this. Which of the above did you appeal to, and and what age? Was it hard to reach this conclusion?


Now I hope this doesn't sound too rude but do you really have to keep name-dropping for what is a very common argument. I don't know if what you say is a proper interpretation of Epicurus or not. He might have said it but I also hear it from the guy at work. Have you read Lewis' The Problem of Pain? Simple enough and written for people like myself and, quite frankly, I think for you. Are you serious in wondering if Christians "ever worry" about suffering?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:28 pm 
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Canadian:

1) If Jesus showed up in my home and I accepted revelation, I would still have to know which interpretation of religion is true. There are countless versions of Christianity. Jesus would have to say "be a Catholic," or I could have a wildly divergent range of possible views.

But assume that somehow Catholicism was proven to me.
Then I would simply trust that God has an answer, even though I cannot conceive of one? I would know that God is good, and that there must be a good answer. Yet the answer would not correspond with justice on this world, it would rely on an inaccessible afterlife. That is, I have no positive explanation. Just an inconsistency you reject.
1) God is omni-benevolent (religious claim)
2) Omni-benevolent beings don't allow innocents to suffer and die unless there's a good reason (definition of omni-benevolence)
3) There is no good reason (apparent problem of suffering)

You have to discard one of these. I would reject 1. You reject 3, that there is no good reason. Then you fail to offer a reason.

So you're right, if I take on every assumption, it becomes coherent. That doesn't mean it isn't the weakest kind of argument possible. Not an explanation, just an assertion that an unknown explanation exists. On this filter, there is nothing that could possibly shake your faith. Every innocent child suffers and dies at once? All humans are tortured to death? By your logic, I can still justify God's goodness, by simply rejecting the last premise, the apparent problem, without explanation. So you aren't even open to the question of whether some evil in the world would shake your faith, in principle.


2) Suppose I tortured you for 20 years in horrible ways. Then I gave you a medication that would have you forget it all, and feel so much happier that it was totally worth it. Does that 'feel' right to you? If so, then I'm at a loss. You can't make up for evil done with a reward later, even if you make them forget that memory. Most people seem to think God helps out in this world. The idea of a God who saves people from the occasional car crash and lets 27,000 children die a day is incoherent to me.

3) It would be helpful if you could stop being pejorative. Please don't ask me to keep up.
Your explanation is simply that evil is a 'lack' of good. This semantics does nothing for your argument. God allows horrible suffering of innocents. Even if you regress to the point that you don't even call that evil, you still must justify the horrible suffering. Changing the name of it does nothing. The fact remains to be explained.

4) Name-dropping? I mentioned Epicurus. It's the common basis for the problem of evil, a major part of philosophical literature. And no, I haven't read Lewis. What's the gist of the book?

I'm asking if they 'every worry' about reconciling it with their idea of a loving God, not if they care about suffering, which I know many of them do. Does the problem of evil ever trouble them?

Should the people in the Holocaust be unquestioning in their faith that everything is for a good purpose? The parents who pray for their children and watch them die? I'm asking this genuinely, because the strong answer in my heart is "no."


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 10:31 pm 
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Jerome: Great, you've offered the 'greater good' defense.
God allows evil because of some greater good.

What is the greater good caused by the 7 million children under 5 who will die this year?

Will 7 million more be saved as a result of these children dying?
Could God not spare these innocent children? How can this be part of a plan? I would like your explanation.

2) Interesting. Do you think someone who dies at the age of 5 will 'awaken' in heaven with a developed adult-like consciousness, and then absorb memory and knowledge, and with that knowledge, rationally decide that his suffering from ages 0-5 was deserved somehow? In what sense do you think suffering of toddler and infants is just?


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 Post subject: Re: The Problem of Evil - What is your theodicy?
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:55 am 
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This is a poor explanation for your questions but here goes:



The problem of evil is, the problem of Zero. Zero is a negative value. It is nothing. You can only give someone a theoretical 'nothing'. What you are actually doing is withholding a positive thing. That is why God did not 'create' evil. The point of explaining this is to show that evil is not just that it is a thing God wants (he did not create it), but that is indeed not in the nature of God to want it because he IS (the affirmation of being). So lets use a different term for evil -- evil is the absence of good. (Now, Catholicism makes very few assertions, but THE Catholic theologian per excellence, Aquinas drew a distinction between the physical absence of good and the spiritual absence of it.)

Does God allow us to choose the absence of Good? Does he allow us to rape and kill? Does he allow us to reap the consequences of that in the physical world?
Yes, God allows us to make free choices because he is being loving to our human essence, our spirit and free will.

Does that make God evil? No.
He no more wishes us evil than I wish evil to my son when he disobeys me and gets hurt. I could sit there and Guard him 24-7 never let him feel conflict, but this would not allow him to develop a conscience. Ten years from now, he would be the same conscienceless 5-year old, except with a driver's permit.

Now, you object to the idea of God letting us suffer things like the Holocaust. However God has let us reap good also out of all that suffering. As negative as the holocaust was, we today have for a time a renewed commitment to stop religious persecution, so temporal good has come. But also the spiritual Good of people having put out the anti-semitism in their own hearts around the world. God has used that for our conversion. He has softened our hearts to learn how the absence of love for our Jewish bretheren bore poisoned fruit. Physical good came from hearts being moved to correct the absence of Good. Also spiritual Good. Yes, people died, many of them made spiritually better by their suffering and many were made better by helping Jews flee or dying in martyrdom with them like my favorite Saint Edith Stein. I'm sure many cursed God and refused to submit to his will too. But they were given a choice. Unlike other religions Christianity ACCEPTS suffering. We don't go looking for trouble but we are not looking to escape it when it is necessary for the love of God, but to develop an inner disposition, a spiritual freedom.

If this subordination of the physical world to the spiritual good seems cruel, it is not because you are overstimating how much it hurts to be raped, to suffer a broken arm, to die. But because you are underestimating the importance of the Spirit. That Christians believe in life after death makes this faith possible.... All that being said we do not and cannot earn our salvation, we have nothing that God has not made. Everything we can offer him, is already his. So anything we do is merely a gesture, even dying for him. Its like my daughter offering me an orange. I bought the orange and I thought her to share, so even the work and the words are mine. So she is giving me back to myself. So it is with God.

Now the things that happen in the world are not baggage, any more than soldier's killed in the war are unimportant. Because the parts of the created world that he made and loved are being destroyed. Yes, the world's cause and effect must be upheld for the good of our conscience.

Now, I have explained this in Lay Person terms, other folks can probably fill in the more technical terms, but that's about the size of it.

The ability to accept suffering is the crux of Christianity. See the cross. That is not an intellectual task.Its a task of the will and spirit. So consider it for some time before you make up your mind. It is NOT an easy thing even for those of us who understand it intellectually, it may even be harder actually. Some questions need long incubation periods....


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