Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Futility of Theodicy

Several weeks ago on his blog, Christian apologist James Anderson plugged Greg Welty’s newly released book on the problem of evil on his (Anderson’s) blog. Readers can find this in his entry Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? Though not an in-depth review, I’m afraid it’s more of the usual syrupy praise for the labors of a fellow-traveler in the faith doing what he can to strengthen believers’ devotion to the imaginary.

Of course I have to admit upfront that, whenever I see another book come out which, once and for all, presumably puts the problem of evil to rest (why else would a Christian theologian publish a book on the problem of evil to begin with?), part of me (the mature, adult part of me) is inclined to yawn, down a hot cup of delicious coffee, and go on with my day teeming with productive labor. Another part of me (one more inclined to playfulness) says “Oh goodie! Yet another effort to battle this untamable dragon!” and likewise yawns and moves on to another fulfilling day of personal achievement. That is to say, I probably won’t be running out to buy Welty’s book any time soon. 

Now, in Welty’s defense, Anderson does list a number of reasons why his colleague’s-in-arms book is to be recommended over others on this topic. But among them I did not find the reason that “Welty finally solves it!” while all those which came before (Welty being an apostle not seen since the days of Saul of Tarsus) are implied to have fallen short of the mark, or glory, or what have you, of finally defeating the problem of evil in the absolutistic, resolute and authoritarian manner that the believing mind so desperately craves. That would imply too much, of course, not only about previous efforts to tackle the problem of evil, but chiefly about the problem itself! So while I have not read Welty’s book, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Death Star exploding into oblivion as a result of it.

But on the bright side, maybe with Anderson’s endorsement Welty will sell five hundred copies of his precious book. It can sit high on bookshelves, ready to be pointed at when conflicted seminary students enter the dean’s office for consolation in times of wavering faith. More practically, if it has enough pages, it could serve some use as a doorstop for those administrators who otherwise need some plausible deniability in order to say, “My door is always open.” Otherwise, I suspect it will be forgotten as soon as everyone’s retinas recover from the flash of its arrival.

If I seem bitter here, that’s a misinterpretation of the words I’ve set down on this page. Rather, I’m scoffing not out of resentment, but out of disgust for the kind of systemic dishonesty, self-delusion and pretentiousness that jointly function to motivate believers to undertake such protracted work (really, Welty had nothing better to do?) and celebrate it with a shiny cover from Christian Focus. Hang on for the book tour!

Yes, that is my reaction to such efforts, as acerbic as it may come across to you, my reader, and believe me when I say I’m holding back out of courtesy, a weakness of mine I hope eventually to overcome as I prepare to enter the third stage of my life. But to assure my detractors, I’m not trying to infect my readers with a bias against Welty’s book or similar theological works, but rather use this opportunity to vent my personal disdain for any concerted enterprise, no matter how clever it might happen to be, to concoct ways of defending theism in the face of even cursory awareness of the insidious, pervasive and monstrously destructive evils that have thrived vibrantly throughout human history, often with little or no opposition. “For God so loved the world that He appeased the evildoers by allowing his own son to be tortured and murdered in order to offer those evildoers redemption from their evildoing.” What kind of “father” would choose to do that with his own child? What could be more morally loathsome? And to call that an “act of love”? Indeed, what man can oppose the will of the creator of the universe when the latter has chosen to send his own child into the hands of vile men in a most vain effort to conquer the evil in the hearts of those same vile men?

But why would there be evil, vile men to begin within a creation created by an all-good, all-loving and perfect creator? Given all the omni characteristics it’s supposed to have (no hyperbole, we’re assured), how could a creator with such credentials fail to produce a universe that is precisely what it wanted to create? And if it’s continuing to call all the shots as the course of history unfolds (as Cornelius Van Til himself tells us on page 160 of his book The Defense of the Faith, “God controls whatsoever comes to pass”), what we find throughout history must, by clear inference, be precisely what it had ordained all along: an unending series of human epochs marked by wanton destruction and suffering so often moving forward without any opposing force, punctuated only occasionally by efforts, on the part of noteworthy or forgotten individual mortals here and there, to stand against the devices put in motion to cause such destruction and suffering. That’s the problem of evil – namely a sober realization of the actions of many men (and women!) throughout the millennia destroying each other in orgy after orgy of carnage and slaughter.

But this is where the compartmentalization of religious belief allows the believer to see the tree and ignore the forest. For all too often it is the creation, the product itself, that is blamed for its deficiencies. The religious mind delights in crediting a creator for the wonderful beauty and virtue we find in the world (and of that there is much!) but all-too readily blots out the creator part of “creator” when it comes to the origin and continuing reign of evil throughout that creation. To inject evil into the world and create man with an inclination to be drawn by the power of sin bears great resemblance to a postmodern artist who chooses to take something wondrously beautiful and dunk it into a tank of feces and expired postage, calling the result “good” out of sheer vanity, then charging admission without warning the curious public to hold their noses or bring sick sacks. Visitors to such a spectacle would be right to ask, “If you had any skill or talent, why did you choose to create such ugliness?”

And theologians wonder why there is so much evil in the world? Well, we dare not ask the architect why his building has so many defects. After all, he couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it!

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...

Hey Dawson,

You wrote: "The religious mind delights in crediting a creator for the wonderful beauty and virtue we find in the world (and of that there is much!) but all-too readily blots out the creator part of 'creator' when it comes to the origin and continuing reign of evil throughout that creation."

Right! It becomes a case of a mind unanchored whenever the Christian is confronted with the notion that the invisible magic being he or she worships could, in any way, be the author of evil. On the Christian's very own terms, how could that not be the case?

It can't be the case — unless one's standard is an unanchored mind floating on a sea of conceptual contradiction.

As you've noted on many occasions in your blog, and with tons of material to back it up, the Christian god, imaginary though it may be (like Blarko Himself!), does indeed have a "cozy relationship with with evil."

An attempted escape I sometimes get whenever I bring this up to a Christian is:: "No, God allows bad things to happen."


Hmm. Okay. So if I "allow" my child to run out in front of a bus, or if I permit my child to pick and eat poisonous mushrooms, I'm off the hook as far being evil goes, right?

I mean, really, what's the diff?

Blank out.

Or should I say "Blarko out."

Thanks again!


Unknown said...

I have some questions on the refutation of presuppositionalism. May I have your email address?