Post written by Andrew Bowen
The existence of evil is one of my favorite theological/philosophical topics because, like the argument for/against God(s), it never goes away. Because I’m a promiscuous lover of all faiths, I have a vantage point from many sides of the podium.
First of all, let’s define evil:
1) Having a nature of vice.
2) Tending to cause great harm.
3) Being morally corrupt.
4) Creating distress.
These are a good start, however like defining God, the definition also depends on whom you ask. If we have a Christian or Muslim in the room, evil might be the manifestation of Satan (or in some circles, a tool used by God for teaching purposes). If we go farther east and asked a Buddhist or Hindu, evil then becomes a highly subjective term. Evil is not something manifested by God or some evil spirit, but a point of view held by one who allows their own suffering. Then again, even within the non-theistic realm, you might have moral relativism. One’s man’s good, according to the social mores and norms of their culture, becomes another man’s evil.
Again, like the argument for who God may be–or even its nature–, like evil, cannot reach consensus. But for this post I will take an Eastern view, and as such I have a few issues with how our Christian host “solves” evil with the Judeo-Christian God.
Personal evil. We are provided with an example of how God deals with the personal evils of man (genocide, rape, sex trafficking, etc.) by suggesting that God meets violence and corruption with more violence (justice). Here, we see the heavy-handed Old Testament Yahweh throwing down the divine hammer on civilization after civilization (including his beloved Israelites) by using natural disasters and even sending an invading army or two to purge the wicked. This does sound a little mafia style, to be honest. I can see why C.S. Lewis used evil as a catalyst for his eventual theism, especially if he (like many of us) needed a justification and hope for an eventual renovation from said evil.
As an Easterner, I have two problems with this. One is the idea of karma. Karma is not a divine punishment, but a natural order of cause and effect outside the influence of any divine being. In fact, karma is so powerful a law, that even God(s) is under its sway. Why would the God of Moses have to send armies and natural disasters to deal with evil? What goes around comes around. The second problem: Armies in those days typically raped, pillaged, murdered, and took slaves from those they conquered. If God was sending these armies to teach folks a lesson about morality, doesn’t he come across as a hypocrite? Do two wrongs make a right?
In this case, it seems as if evil is only evil if we mere mortals carry out the act. God in this case is made to say “Do as I say, not as I do.” Furthermore, even here the existence of so-called “evil” does not exclude the existence of God(s), it simply implies (as evidenced by the Bible) that both God and man have the choice to use it for their “greater good.”
Evil in nature. I don’t buy the idea that evil exists in nature, i.e. natural disasters. Nature isn’t full of malice. It doesn’t pick someone and say “Hey! I’m feeling a moody today. I think I’ll wipe out a family.” Nature occurs as a innate process of the universe. We perceive some of these acts as evil because of our attachment to how we think things ought to be. Once we let go of the illusion of permanence and control, we see these acts of nature as nothing more than what they are. If we are to believe that a God(s) created this universe, then we must accept that there are mechanisms in place which run the machine. Every time we experience an earthquake it means the earth’s crust is replenishing itself due to convection. Believers ask why so many had to die in a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. God might answer: “You were stupid enough to live near the fault line.”
The temptation to explain random violence of natural phenomena is what draws many of us into trouble. Only in letting go of that need and seeing things as they are without building a speculative narrative around the seemingly unexplained will we be free from the illusion of evil in nature. That tornado destroyed a town because the town was built where the tornado was going. Nothing more, nothing less.
Health-related evil. Again, considering any health-related issue as evil is another form of attachment. We want to live forever. Or we want perfect bodies (or just healthy, sound ones). Okay, Jesus may have healed a few folks, but sickness and the reality of death remains. Even Christ died. If we accept the fact that death is a natural part of life, that sickness is a given, then we are at peace because we live in a space where the transient stimuli around us does not affect our innate joy. We are cool with our reality. Do we need to categorize illness as evil? If so, who is doing the evil? Both God and Satan are credited with causing sickness, disease, and death. Who is worse?
Again, I do not think health-related issues are a deal-breaker for the existence of God. That is because once we free ourselves from labeling illness as evil instead of one of many causes of our inevitable death, we have no one, nothing, and no mental construct to blame. God is free to exist simply because it exists, and death exists because it is a part of how the universe works. Let go.
I won’t address the Christian standpoint on the doom of evil as it relates to the mission and station of Jesus. That’s a point of faith, and there are places where we must yield to respect and peacefully agree to disagree.
In response to the Christian’s last section, evil as it is defined here, does exist by our choice. Where our paths diverge is in considering the source of one’s moral compass. If God has used evil in the past, can we truly rely on it as the guide for morality? The Buddha once said that we must meet evil with good, hatred with kindness, violence with peace, aggression with gentility. One might argue that God exemplified these qualities in the person of Jesus. This is true, however because the God in heaven was attached to his own “holy anger” he was driven and compelled to basically seek vengeance and send a man (Jesus) to slaughter. In the philosophy of the Buddha and the Hindu holy men, associations with good and evil disappear once we release ourselves from the prison of desire and form. There can be no evil if you are free from wanting.
No, I do not see the existence of “evil” as a signpost declaring the non-existence of God. I see the existence of evil as our attempt to categorize the world and thus create battle lines. We understand the universe as “us and them”, “this and that”, yet freedom comes with non-attachment to forms and names which are temporary and manifest only within our conditioned minds. The day a rock becomes a rock and not an asteroid sent by God to crash into earth and initiate The End Times will be the day humanity is “saved” and is truly free.