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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Laughing at Evil

Evil itself provides no challenge whatsoever to God—the existence of or the belief in. This may seem like a small, semantic point, but I think it’s actually big and essential. Evil implies God. This is not to say that God is evil but that evil cannot exist if God does not. Without God, “evil” is just a hyperbole for events that leave us feeling very sad or very scared. We may want to say “for events we can’t understand,” but without God these events are perfectly plain—whether they be the extermination of millions or the torture and slaughter of a single child, a hurricane that wipes out a whole tribe or the man-caused heat that burns a living planet to the ground. Without God there are only things we do or things that happen. Such events are in the total calculation of the universe random events, no different than the formation of a star via the coalescence of gasses or the massacre of a tribe of termites by a tribe of ants.

But I do not believe that humans can experience “evil” events this way—as meaningless. And I don’t think that this is because we find these events really really sad. The truth is that the murder of a child doesn’t just feel incomprehensible—it is incomprehensible. Despite the fact that, without God, it is easy to comprehend, it is experienced as something that should not have to have happened. It is experienced with the same deep affect which accompanies (although I’m saying this backwards) the literary form known as tragedy, which Aristotle famously characterized as “pity and fear” but which I would think better understood with that italicized phrase: It should not have to have happened. Of course with the murder of any individual child or with any “evil” or “tragic” event, looking at immediate causes, we can always see ways it might have been avoided. Every individual event is contingent and therefore, in theory, avoidable. Pulling back, however, we have to see that from what we know about the universe such events in general are unavoidable. Given the moral and physical structure of the universe, such events must be possible, and therefore, to paraphrase Derrida, whatever can arrive must arrive.

The question we are left with is whether the moral structure of the universe is really an amoral structure—which is to say, does not exist at all. Put another way, we are asking whether our reaction to Oedipus the King or the murder of Sally Jones is something we should take seriously or ignore, something we should believe in, or something we should pass off as an illusion founded in the chance wiring of our common circuitry. It seems to me the burden of proof is on those who contend that the profound experience of injustice or tragedy is not to be taken seriously, that whenever we are tempted to say or feel it should not have to have happened, this is mere apophenia, we are imposing a Darwinian impulse onto a random set of data—that our reaction to such events is in fact so out of proportion to the events themselves that any truly rational species peering down at us through their telescopes would be laughing.


  1. This is such a good post, I hardly know where to begin! You are right, in saying that evil exists because God exists. I've been putting a lot of thought into this lately...the fact that God, who is not evil, has used and even intends evil for His purposes. Many would say that this is an indication that God is therefore evil, since He didn't get rid of it once and for all.

    The Law came through Moses to bring us to the awareness of sin, which is why It leads us to death and shows up our need of Jesus, our Saviour. God has had a plan all along, a plan which includes all of Himself. If all that we knew was the Light of the world, it would make far less sense than if we knew of Him in the context of a dark world.

    The simplistic concepts are oftentimes the most profound AND the most illusive. Simplicity is the victory over hard fought battles.

    Without God, there would be no evil. Without Him, there would be no use to thinking about what is an did not moral.

    Some of the most difficult issues in regards to morality, you have brought up here...the issues of injustice and abuse. I like what you say, that it is not merely a feeling, like Hawking likes to say, but it is in fact, a universal absolute. There is such a thing as absolute evil and absolute good, which is beyond or out of the confines of ones feelings.

    One of the blessings that I see, is that God has the ability to contain and define what evil is. Evil can never nor will ever do this. And the entire point of our existence in an evil world is to help to become aware of how desperately we need God. Not just His absolution for our sins, but His definitions of what good and evil truly are. That's a hard thing to desire in a day and age where Moral Relativism reigns. It's hard to attain to when we've been told that we deserve our rights.

    In many ways, we have so far to go. And yet in others, we've gone farther, endured more than any other generation has ever had to. I pray for His kingdom to come and for His will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Otherwise, the rocks will cry out.

    Thanks for this post! This is the kind of stuff that gets me thinking for weeks. And I personally think it very fitting that you should mention Derrida here.

    1. One essential function of evil (not I think sufficient to justify its existence but still relevant) is that it gets us thinking. The concept of evil (whether actual evil exists, whatever it means to say that evil exists) is fundamental to thought, certainly to the evolution of the pre-frontal cortex. Every fiction writer and everyone who has ever been interested in a story knows that without resistance there is no story. The ocean needs the moon.