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Author Topic: The necessity of evil?  (Read 1754 times) Average Rating: 0
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Seamus ODonnell
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« on: June 25, 2008, 01:00:29 AM »

Greetings and Salutations,

I was taken aback when I read this quote supposedly from the Buddha;

"There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it."

I cannot say that this is the most profound bit of wisdom I've heard, but it seems to answer a few questions regarding evil.  Perhaps god/God (if indeed such a being can be said to exist) did not create evil but rather, allows it only so that we may truly know/understand what good is?  I know/understand daytime because there is a nightime.  The same can be said regarding sadness/happiness, truth/false, and so on and so forth.  Thoughts?

Respectfully,
Seamus
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2008, 01:16:14 AM »

Seamus,

I haven't had time to thoroughly check the following article again, but somewhere in my memory I recall it was appropriate to the topic of evil. It was written after the horrific tsunami of 2004. If it doesn't add anything useful to this thread, I apologise.

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Tremors of Doubt
What kind of God would allow a deadly tsunami?
by DAVID B. HART
Friday, December 31, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

On Nov. 1, 1755, a great earthquake struck offshore of Lisbon. In that city alone, some 60,000 perished, first from the tremors, then from the massive tsunami that arrived half an hour later. Fires consumed much of what remained of the city. The tidal waves spread death along the coasts of Iberia and North Africa.

Voltaire's "Poëme sur le désastre de Lisbonne" of the following year was an exquisitely savage--though sober--assault upon the theodicies prevalent in his time. For those who would argue that "all is good" and "all is necessary," that the universe is an elaborately calibrated harmony of pain and pleasure, or that this is the best of all possible worlds, Voltaire's scorn was boundless: By what calculus of universal good can one reckon the value of "infants crushed upon their mothers' breasts," the dying "sad inhabitants of desolate shores," the whole "fatal chaos of individual miseries"?

Perhaps the most disturbing argument against submission to "the will of God" in human suffering--especially the suffering of children--was placed in the mouth of Ivan Karamazov by Dostoyevsky; but the evils Ivan enumerates are all acts of human cruelty, for which one can at least assign a clear culpability. Natural calamities usually seem a greater challenge to the certitudes of believers in a just and beneficent God than the sorrows induced by human iniquity.

Considered dispassionately, though, man is part of the natural order, and his propensity for malice should be no less a scandal to the conscience of the metaphysical optimist than the most violent convulsions of the physical world. The same ancient question is apposite to the horrors of history and nature alike: Whence comes evil? And as Voltaire so elegantly apostrophizes, it is useless to invoke the balances of the great chain of being, for that chain is held in God's hand and he is not enchained.

As a Christian, I cannot imagine any answer to the question of evil likely to satisfy an unbeliever; I can note, though, that--for all its urgency--Voltaire's version of the question is not in any proper sense "theological." The God of Voltaire's poem is a particular kind of "deist" God, who has shaped and ordered the world just as it now is, in accord with his exact intentions, and who presides over all its eventualities austerely attentive to a precise equilibrium between felicity and morality. Not that reckless Christians have not occasionally spoken in such terms; but this is not the Christian God.

The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all. Perhaps no doctrine is more insufferably fabulous to non-Christians than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe, that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is the shadow of true time, and that the universe languishes in bondage to "powers" and "principalities"--spiritual and terrestrial--alien to God. In the Gospel of John, especially, the incarnate God enters a world at once his own and yet hostile to him--"He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not"--and his appearance within "this cosmos" is both an act of judgment and a rescue of the beauties of creation from the torments of fallen nature.

Whatever one makes of this story, it is no bland cosmic optimism. Yes, at the heart of the gospel is an ineradicable triumphalism, a conviction that the victory over evil and death has been won; but it is also a victory yet to come. As Paul says, all creation groans in anguished anticipation of the day when God's glory will transfigure all things. For now, we live amid a strife of darkness and light.

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms--knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against "fate," and that must do so until the end of days.

Mr. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, is the author of "The Beauty of the Infinite" (Eerdmans).

« Last Edit: June 25, 2008, 01:16:39 AM by Riddikulus » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2008, 01:27:01 AM »

From an Orthodox (and my) point of view, evil has no independent "existence" in the sense that it is parasitic. Evil requires the existence of good in order to misuse it, but good does not require evil in order to exist. An evil is a distortion, a twisting out of shape of something that is good. The abundance of the fruits of the Earth is a good, a famine is an evil because it is a distortion of the abundance of the fruits of the Earth. Even if famine did not exist, the abundance of the fruits of the Earth would still be a good. But if the fruits of the Earth (the good) did not exist, we would have no concept of famine (the evil). This is what is meant by the concept that evil has no independent existence and is parasitic on what is good. So while evil depends on good for its existence, good exists independently of evil- there does not actually "have" to be evil. And one day, we Orthodox Christians believe, it will cease to exist.
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2008, 09:41:40 AM »

Quote
And one day, we Orthodox Christians believe, it will cease to exist.

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow,
nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away."
-Revelation 21:4

Maybe what the Buddha meant is that only on our plane of existence does there has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it, because of the Fall. The Fall brought about this unnatural parasitic relationship. Like OzGeorge said, one day, God will come and take back the World that is rightfully His.
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2008, 09:42:44 AM »

Greetings and Salutations,

I was taken aback when I read this quote supposedly from the Buddha;

"There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it."

I cannot say that this is the most profound bit of wisdom I've heard, but it seems to answer a few questions regarding evil.  Perhaps god/God (if indeed such a being can be said to exist) did not create evil but rather, allows it only so that we may truly know/understand what good is?  I know/understand daytime because there is a nightime.  The same can be said regarding sadness/happiness, truth/false, and so on and so forth.  Thoughts?

Respectfully,
Seamus

Evil is necessary to free will. If an alternative choice to good didn't exist. We wouldn't have freedom. Evil one day will not exist because of a choice to not give it life. This is done in freedom.
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2008, 09:59:45 AM »

Demetrios, you mean that the Angels in Heaven can choose to do evil, but they have the higher intelligence to not choose it?
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2008, 12:45:14 PM »

Evil is necessary to free will. If an alternative choice to good didn't exist. We wouldn't have freedom. Evil one day will not exist because of a choice to not give it life. This is done in freedom.
CORRECTION:  The potential of doing evil deeds is necessary for free will to exist.  To speak otherwise is to speak of evil as an "essence" with an independent existence.
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2008, 01:01:53 PM »

From an Orthodox (and my) point of view, evil has no independent "existence" in the sense that it is parasitic. Evil requires the existence of good in order to misuse it, but good does not require evil in order to exist. An evil is a distortion, a twisting out of shape of something that is good. The abundance of the fruits of the Earth is a good, a famine is an evil because it is a distortion of the abundance of the fruits of the Earth. Even if famine did not exist, the abundance of the fruits of the Earth would still be a good. But if the fruits of the Earth (the good) did not exist, we would have no concept of famine (the evil). This is what is meant by the concept that evil has no independent existence and is parasitic on what is good. So while evil depends on good for its existence, good exists independently of evil- there does not actually "have" to be evil. And one day, we Orthodox Christians believe, it will cease to exist.

What an excellent summary. I was thinking in this regard: maybe that's one key difference between the Orthodox and the Eastern (Hindu, Buddhist) understandings of good and evil - that we do not recognize evil as having existence in itself, while they do? If I understand them correctly, in their philosophy, "being" (sansara or samsara) is pure undiluted evil. "Good" is actually "non-being," "moksha," nirvana - that is, freeing oneself from the horrible oppression of sansara.
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« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2008, 01:10:50 PM »

From an Orthodox (and my) point of view, evil has no independent "existence" in the sense that it is parasitic. Evil requires the existence of good in order to misuse it, but good does not require evil in order to exist. An evil is a distortion, a twisting out of shape of something that is good. The abundance of the fruits of the Earth is a good, a famine is an evil because it is a distortion of the abundance of the fruits of the Earth. Even if famine did not exist, the abundance of the fruits of the Earth would still be a good. But if the fruits of the Earth (the good) did not exist, we would have no concept of famine (the evil). This is what is meant by the concept that evil has no independent existence and is parasitic on what is good. So while evil depends on good for its existence, good exists independently of evil- there does not actually "have" to be evil. And one day, we Orthodox Christians believe, it will cease to exist.

While I agree with what you wrote there, I think that evil is necessary in order to understand good as good.  Insofar as we are discussing good and evil, we are discussing something qualitative, and any discussion of quality is of necessity comparative.  To use your example regarding the fruits of the earth, while in the absence of famine, the abundance of the fruits of the earth would be a good, we would not be able to recognize its goodness if it were the only thing we ever experienced.  It is only when we experience famine that we understand that what we had all along was a good, and what we experienced as famine was not a good.  Could that lack of awareness of good and evil, due to knowing nothing other than good, have been part of man's innocence before the fall (a thought that just occurred to me)?
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« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2008, 01:22:10 PM »

Demetrios, you mean that the Angels in Heaven can choose to do evil, but they have the higher intelligence to not choose it?
Yes. There are two ways of gaining Intelligence. One is participation the other is observation. One doesn't necessarily have to fall to know what evil is. They can watch others fall. Like Satan. Wink
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Excellence of character, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect.
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« Reply #10 on: June 25, 2008, 03:08:40 PM »

Quote
One doesn't necessarily have to fall to know what evil is. They can watch others fall. Like Satan.

And if he's unavailable, there's always Hollywood! Cheesy
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« Reply #11 on: June 25, 2008, 03:22:34 PM »

CORRECTION:  The potential of doing evil deeds is necessary for free will to exist.  To speak otherwise is to speak of evil as an "essence" with an independent existence. 

Right.  Evil is permitted to be an option by the will of the Lord to grant us Free Will - in order to have the ability to choose God, we must have also the ability to refuse God.  With the first refusal (Lucifer), evil was given a champion and persona, forever bound together since it was he who chose to be the other option besides God.  But outside of Lucifer and his minions, evil itself does not have an independent existance - no ousia, no hypostasis.
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« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2008, 03:23:27 PM »

CORRECTION:  The potential of doing evil deeds is necessary for free will to exist.  To speak otherwise is to speak of evil as an "essence" with an independent existence.
I completely agree. Existence is dependent on not doing evil.
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« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2008, 03:41:56 PM »

I completely agree. Existence is dependent on not doing evil.
Non sequitur  We're not talking about personal existence here.
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« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2008, 03:50:28 PM »

Non sequitur  We're not talking about personal existence here.
If evil makes a decision to do evil than it has independent existence. No?
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Excellence of character, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect.
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« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2008, 03:58:46 PM »

If evil makes a decision to do evil than it has independent existence. No?
Oh, no.  I'm not following you down this rathole. Wink
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« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2008, 04:00:15 PM »

Oh, no.  I'm not following you down this rathole. Wink
Wise move. Wink
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Excellence of character, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect.
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