Saturday, January 08, 2005

Maltheism

Since the tsunami has everyone in a theodicic frame of mind, and perhaps because I'm reading this book, I have maltheism on the mind today. It's a possibility one oughtn't discount out of hand: God exists, and is evil. For a brief introduction to the idea, wander over to the Maltheism blog, which I stumbled onto today. Start at the bottom and scroll up. There's a sad sweet story embedded there, and I offer my condolences to Craig. To frame the issue from the top, we begin with whether there is a divine presence. Supposing one decides that there is (whether from miracle, first cause, design, etc.), one next faces the questions of whether God is one or many, and the ethical alignment of those god(s). In a class on the problem of evil that I took from Mark Larrimore, I remember we discussed dualist beliefs such as Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism, i.e. that there are opposed good and evil supernatural influences in the world. Polytheist religions often have gods of a mixed character; one need only inspire the wrath of Juno once to understand that the divinities are fickle. And of course, some versions of Christianity place more emphasis on the existence of Satan, a divine but not omnipotent figure who works for evil. All of these systems capture a feeling of dynamic struggle that resonates with me, and apparently with many others throughout history. Against the "struggle" view are the twin possibilities of a single beneficent God, and a single malevolent God. The former seems to me to compel a Panglossian hypothesis that we live in the best of all possible worlds. To maintain that this the best of all possible worlds, one must undertake a series of contortions to explain how just this much suffering is required, lest we live in a still worse world. Such lines of argument strain my imagination to its limit, and don't particularly resolve the emotional problem of evil. Instead, they feel like a theological neat trick that seems more designed to defend God than to help the human. Or, we consider the (historically rare) maltheist position: there is a malevolent God. An omnipotent, malevolent God immediately poses a complementary "problem of good": how does any good exist in the world? As we discussed in Larrimore's class, most definitions of evil take the form of evil as a privation of good, i.e. a deficit of a good. So the existence of at least some good seems to be required. Now, is this really the worst of all possible worlds? Do we have a malevolent, omnipotent God coaxing things along to be just good enough to keep the wheels of life turning around, so as to permit the next generation's catastrophe? I admit this strains credulity. Surely there could be worse possible worlds, ones of unmitigated suffering (perhaps punctuated by 30 minute stretch breaks to remind us how bad we have it). But framing this problem against its converse suggests the outline of an antinomy to weigh with the others. This leaves me with the possibility of a malevolent God that is not omnipotent. Rather, there simply exists some dark being out there, throwing us curveballs and tidal waves. What I like about this proposition is that it that restores the focus on human action. Rather than wondering whether we're pleasing God, and how best to avoid his wrath, we simply assume he's out to get us, and so must strive in every way possible to ward Him off. We may just be ant underfoot, but we've got a bit of maneuvering room, and so must get busy to keep our fragile way of life together.

1 Comments:

Blogger Dominik Hoffmann said...

Here is something from C.S. Lewis's essay, Evil and God:

The moral difficulty is that Dualism gives evil a positive, substantive, self-consistent nature, like that of good. If this were true, if Ahriman existed in his own right no less than Ormuzd, what could we mean by calling Ormuzd good except that we happened to prefer him. In what sense can the one party be said to be right and the other wrong? If evil has the same kind of reality as good, the same autonomy and completeness, our allegiance to good becomes the arbitrarily chosen loyalty of a partisan. A sound theory of value demands something different. It demands that good should be original and evil a mere perversion; that good should be the tree and evil the ivy; that good should be able to see all round evil (as when sane men understand lunacy) while evil cannot retaliate in kind; that good should be able to exist on its own while evil requires the good on which it is parasitic in order to continue its parasitic existence.

The whole essay is worth reading. Also, refer to his The Case for Christianity or, of course, Mere Christianity. Remember, C.S. Lewis is one of the few people known to have reasoned himself from Atheism to Christianity.

Basically, in Christian terms, the Devil has to avail himself of good means, like intelligence, in order to be maximally evil. God, on the contrary has no need to resort to any evil means, in order to accomplish the ultimate good. Therefore, God is greater than the Devil, and thus more fundamental.

12:51 AM  

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