The devil dunnit
Did the devil kill my Hamster?
Well did he? Behind this gentle jibe lies a major philosophical and spiritual quandry! In this hub I am going to attempt to delve into an argument that has raged behind doors in communities of faith for centuries. It has also been one of the contributing factors in the loss of faith of many and the clincher in the atheism of others.
Yes, I am daring to tackle the twin problems of a) the accountability of deities, and b) the existence of evil.
It is something which I have thought long and hard about for personal reasons and have until only very recently, really struggled with philosophically.
A lovely piece of philosophical/spiritual thought from Mr Archer - check it out :)
- What if we...
We are all, well most of us anyway, taught to pray for, to care for, to hope for the betterment of others. Everybody? Do we really do this for everybody? What if we did this? What could happen?
Here goes nothing...
I shall start this exploration by looking at a point of view expressed recently by a fellow hubber - the link to his hub is on the right. Though the main content of the article had a beautiful sentiment (this being the suggestion of praying for the devil's repentance and redemption rather than directing negative energy towards him) what caused my internal cogs to begin whirring was an assumption in his treatment of a piece of anecdotal evidence.
The piece was written in response to the devastation and loss of life resulting from the horrific tornadoes of 2011. His town was hit badly and as anyone who has lived close to such a scene - the ripple effects of loss and trauma can shake a community to its core. That kind of hurt lives on in the memories of locals like a jointly felt psychological scar.
He had some interesting things to say - some controversial which I always like. I won't spoil it all for you, use the link and get it from the horses mouth.
Anyhoo, (and correct me mr Archer if I'm wrong) he proposed that the devil himself had caused these horrors somehow; that somehow this horrific natural disaster could be viewed as one of the devil's tools in making people lose their faith. Although where he goes with this idea I did like - this idea in and of itself - that the devil creates disaster and calamity to lure the faithful from the bosom of the creator, does not sit well with me at all..
The 3 problems
1. To say that God is all powerful and yet the devil is capable of evil acts such as tornado creation implies two possibilities. Either God is not truly all powerful and somehow the devil can sometimes slip one passed Him... or God is for some reason turning a blind eye and is thus complicit in the act of 'evil'.
2. My second objection is that any intentionality or purpose of will is attributed to a natural phenomenon.
3. My final objection is to the way the concept of 'Evil' with a capital 'E' has been assumed as if there were no uncertainty in its definition.
Each of these objections is a philosophical can of worms in their own right. I shall approach the first in this unholy trinity now. Be aware... We walk in territories of thought and belief that often seduce people into emotional or self-righteous argument. I will endeavor to stay on course and please, if objections to my lines of thought occur to you, feel free to let rip in the comment section below. I'm game if you are! :)
Useful background reading
- Jesus, the Last Great Initiate Index
Jesus, the Last Great Initiate, by Edouard Schuré, , full text etext at sacred-texts.com
Further Background Reading
The problem of the existence of evil
Okay, so this is the one all the atheists get excited over. I used to be one, so I'd know. During the most militant stage of my atheism I would look forward to opportunities to raise this line of questioning with any innocent believer who tried to persuade me God was anything other than ridiculous and outmoded. I have changed my tune since... but that doesn't mean the line of questioning is wrong! If anything it makes the importance of exploring this issue deeply all the more pressing.
The basic problem that we can extrapolate from Mr Archer's innocent assumption of the devil's culpability are derived from attributes that are accepted as The Divine Attributes. The attributes of God are as follows:
He is... all-present i.e. in everything everywhere (omnipresence), all-powerful (omnipotence), all-knowing (omniscience) and just to cap it off all loving (omniamando?) and all merciful (omnipropitius) as well!
The vehement atheist raises a distinguished eyebrow at this point. His time has come.
If God is all powerful then how is it possible for the devil to trick him and get away with the creation of evil and destruction and suffering in the world? Surely that's a logical fallacy? God is all powerful and yet there is something out of his power (namely satan)?
In my honest opinion, the only way I can see of balancing the books on this one is to confront the fact that if God created everything and He is 'omnipotent' then everything attributed to the devil is in the end nothing but his own work. His grand design, if you will.
Where many atheists fall down at this point is that they assume that if the easy cuddly version of God doesn't exist then it's game over. This simply isn't the case. All we have identified is that human suffering is occurring on God's watch. I must impress the point also that this is more than just human self-harm through war and other ridiculous squabbles over lines in the dirt. I'm talking, cancer, aids, hurricanes, earthquakes.... the lot!
Here is where we come up against another of those damned divine attributes:
How can a supposedly all-loving God be the cause of so much suffering and pain?
There are a few possible responses to this that I can see. The first (and in my opinion utterly unsatisfactory) possibility is that God actually isn't all that loving after all. Indeed he is at worst malicious and at best apathetic. See what I mean? Not a great outcome.
The next position (and equally unsatisfactory in my opinion) is that God is in some way incompetent and has made a bit of a hash of things. A bit of an embarrassment that eh?
Man: What gives God? All the pain and suffering and stuff? Seriously? You love us? I'd hate to see what would happen if you didn't!!!
God: Human suffering.... urm... yeah, well.... this my first go at creation right? I gotta learn from my mistakes like everyone! Note to self - next time I make an Eden leave out the talking snakes. They screwed it right up this time around!
The next position, which is mostly cast aside as a total cop out by the naysayers is that 'God moves in mysterious ways' and 'There is a divine plan' which is all a bit wishy washy. It sounds a bit too much like 'dunno!' when taken at face value. The important thing I have discovered with all religion and spirituality is that nothing should be taken at face value.
I do subscribe to one version of this last wishy washy sounding position and that is the 'divine plan' version. Let me be clear that my position is not that the suffering is somehow okay because its for 'the greater good' in some nebulous sense. Instead I believe the suffering we experience via the circumstances of our lives present us with great opportunities for self realization.
My current Christianity (if I allow myself to be labelled with a single faith for a moment) is an esoteric reading of the teachings of Jesus cross-referenced with the words of other men and women whose enlightened connection to and understanding of the divine intertwines through all faiths with identical messages.
Understanding Christianity in this light adds a deeper level of meaning to all spiritual matters.
To the heart of the matter
Until the relatively recent development of a proper dialogue between faiths the various priesthoods tried to present an impression that the main religions are too wildly different in doctrine to be reconciled. Closer examination and comparison soon dispells the illusion of seperateness. When stripped back to the basic teachings, a startling similarity becomes apparent. Christian teaching mirrors perfectly Hindu Vedic lore, the words of the Bhudda, the Daoist wisdom of Lao Tzu, the mystic teachings of the mystery schools and so on.
What then do all these spiritual masters, these sons of God have to say between them about the problem of evil and of human suffering? I have gathered some snippets of their teachings along these lines of enquiry and grouped them here for you. Please read them and do me a favor - when reading through for the first time, try not to analyze the teachings intellectually. Instead take them in without judgement and let insight make its more organic understanding of how things fit together become apparent.
On the subject of Evil and suffering...
Bhudda: There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it.
Bhudda: You must understand that all beings in this world are not able to avoid suffering. We always have some problems. The only way to solve these problems is by accepting them, and letting them go. This is the only way of going beyond life and death, and towards a state without suffering and illness!
The Ramayana: Life and death, joy and sorrow, gain and loss; These dualities cannot be avoided. Learn to accept what you cannot change.
Rig Veda: The real happiness in life is in doing Karma
Anon: While we may judge things as good or bad, karma doesn't. It's a simple case of like gets like, the ultimate balancing act, nothing more, nothing less.
Jesus: Grapes are not harvested from thorns, nor are figs gathered from thistles, for they do not produce fruit. A good man brings forth good from his storehouse; an evil man brings forth evil things from his evil storehouse, which is in his heart, and says evil things. For out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil things.
Jesus: Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life.
Jesus: Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the Father. Blessed are the hungry, for the belly of him who desires will be filled.
Jesus:"When will the Kingdom come? It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.
Lao Tzu: Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow forward naturally in whatever way they like.
Lao Tzu: If you realize that all things change there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying there is nothing you cannot achieve.
And now from a modern master:
Eckhart Tolle: Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could spare them from all suffering? No, it wouldn't. They would not evolve as human beings and would remain shallow, identified with the external form of things. Suffering drives you deeper.
Suma Ching Hai: we cannot say that the evil is within or without us. It is both, just like God is within and without us and everywhere. It depends on our perceptions, our conceptions. If we think in a Godly way... then we are always in God's presence. If we practice the ways of evil then we are always in the presence of Satan. Satan is not a personality... it is a force released out of our negative thinking, actions and speech. It exists everywhere.
Instead of turning this long article into a book by separately examining each quotation I shall summarize for you what I got from the combined sum that remains relevant to explaining God's hand in our suffering. Like tearing of a plaster - much less painful if done quickly!
Most human suffering is caused by internal resistance to changing circumstances. Circumstances will always change. When change occurs in our lives it is happening because this experience is essential for us to grow. Evil is not a malicious person creating chaos to increase the gap between you and God. Evil is the lurker within, the indulgence of selfish desires for temporary physical, sensational or material gain. Indulgence in this sort of behavior and thinking brings about through Karma circumstantial opportunities to deepen our conscious awareness. This occurs because when we suffer beyond a certain extent we begin to discern the difference between our true selves and the desires that we are expending our energy on. Evil and the suffering that results from it are necessary to force a spiritual introspection on us that elevates us to a greater understanding of ourselves, a closer relationship with God and a more compassionate and loving interaction with the world and the living things we share it with.
So... God's fingerprints are all over our suffering... but that's fine. In fact it is one of the greatest gifts we've been given and we should give thanks for it. As the big man said:
"Blessed are the persecuted..."
Links to other hubbers' varying opinions in this area
- Who is the Devil?
Who is Satan? What is the devil? Is it all just bad press? It is not a coincidence that Satan is depicted as a half man, half human horned icon brandishing a serpent. This ancient figure was a powerful deity in Celtic times.
- Stop blaming the Devil
People constantly search for a scapegoat, to escape taking responsibility for their behavior and this is no exception. The devil allows us to have someone to externalize guilt and that is not what God wants, because then you never have to truly be so
Links relevant hubs by me
- The importance of Philosophising
A hub explaining why I believe it is important to philosophise...
- Why do Atheists argue with the faithful? (a response to CertifiedHandy's question)
A response to CertifiedHandy's question 'Why do you think Atheists argue against something they don't believe in?'