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Showing posts with the label #Theodicy

The Epicurean Paradox: Why is there evil?

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A reader wanted me to tackle the Epicurean Paradox, as it’s called. Yeah, why not.Epicurus of Athens (341–270BC) was the founder of “the Garden,” a philosophy school. He’s a materialist and empiricist; he believed the gods didn’t involve themselves in human affairs; he believed the purpose of philosophy was to promote peace and tranquility and alleviate suffering. Over the centuries “epicurean” evolved into a synonym for “foodie,” which is weird ’cause Epicurus preferred simple meals. He wrote more than 300 works on all sorts of subjects, but we only have three books and various random quotes.The Epicurean Paradox is one of those quotes. For all we know Epicurus didn’t even come up with it; it was a popular ancient meme with his name attached, much like the Prayer of St. Francis. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it predates Epicurus; somebody had to have thought of it before him.In any event Christian philosopher Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (ca. 250–325) quotes the paradox …

Did this coronavirus originate with God?

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As I write this in March 2020, the world is going through a pandemic of coronavirus, specifically COVID-19. We don’t have a vaccine yet—and plenty of fools will refuse it anyway once it’s developed and available—so meanwhile we’re largely under quarantine. I live in California, and people here are expected to stay home. It’s not illegal to leave home, and hopefully never comes to that… so long that people wisely stick to our leaders’ wishes instead of being defiantly libertarian. The thinking is if we all stay apart, the virus won’t spread, and we can spare some of the people who might be hit hardest by it. So for the most part we can only interact via internet, and can go out only for supplies—or if we have essential jobs. (I do, and have been working a lot of overtime.)And yeah, since I’m posting this on the internet, you knew this already. I’m explaining ’cause people may read this article years from now, and know nothing about it, or have forgotten most of it.Naturally people wann…

Why does bad stuff happen in a good God’s universe?

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THEODICYθi'ɑd.ə.sinoun. Explanation or argument for how God can be good, despite the existence or activity of evil.[Theodicean θi'ɑd.ə.si.ənadjective.]Disaster strikes our world on a daily basis.Might be a huge natural disaster, like an earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, or plague. Might be a “man-made” disaster, like a war, famine, mass shooting, or some terrorist activity. Might be a small disaster: One person unexpectedly dies. Or it’s a wholly expected death; a long illness, and we knew that person wasn’t gonna recover, despite doctors and treatments and prayers.Every time these disasters strike, people wanna know why God didn’t prevent it.’Cause that’s his job, they insist. He’s almighty, right? He could totally stop it. But he didn’t. Why the [angry expletive] not? What’s his problem? Doesn’t he care? Does he want evil to happen? Maybe he’s not really almighty. Maybe he’s not really there.These questions and accusations come out of suffering and loss and rage. They’re total…

Elections and God’s will.

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One of the myths American Christians like to tell ourselves, is that democracy reflects God’s will. Vox populi, vox Dei/“the people’s voice [is] God’s voice,” is the old slogan.A slogan which doesn’t come from the bible, of course. It’s a very old Roman slogan… which is actually derived from the old Roman pagan religion. The Romans believed one of the ways they could deduce the gods’ will was to observe the masses. If suddenly everyone in the city wanted something, they figured it was a sure bet the gods wanted it, and were influencing humans to express their desires. It gave them a religious justification for democracy… and at the same time, gave the priests a religious justification to ditch their traditions when they were no longer popular.But it’s not Christian thinking whatsoever. You might recall it was the crowds (riled up by the head priests, but still) who called for Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Mk 15.9-15 You might recall because the crowds regularly defied God, he had t…

The flood story and theodicy.

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As I said yesterday, when skeptics ask me about the flood story, primarily what they wanna deal with is the idea of a global flood. Earth doesn’t have enough water to cover all the landmasses, and the young-earth creationist explanations for whence and whither the water, generally sound stupid to them. Pointing out how Genesis states the land was flooded, not the world, quickly sorts that out to their satisfaction.I have yet to run into a non-Christian skeptic whose problem with the flood story is that God flooded the world. I have met Christians who struggle with it though. Generally their problem comes from their Pelagianism.Y’see, Pelagius of Britain believed humans are inherently good. ’Cause we were created good, y’know. Ge 1.31 But sin bollixed all that, and now humanity is inherently selfish and corrupt—but Pelagians can‘t believe that. After all, they know lots of good people. And optimistically figure all most people need is a nudge in the right direction, provide us good inf…

Evil’s existence, and God’s existence.

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The belief God and evil can’t coexist in the same universe is based on some bad logic.Every so often I bump into a nontheist who complains God can’t be real, can’t exist… because there’s such a thing as evil in the universe.Here’s how they’re figuring: If God’s real, God’s almighty, and God’s good like we Christians claim, he should’ve done something to get rid of evil, right? After all they would, if they were God. They’d have wiped out evil long ago, like with a great purging flood or something.They can’t fathom a God who’d be gracious enough to grant his wayward kids any leeway, any second chances to repent and return to the fold. He’d shut that s--- down on sight. So since God isn’t their kind of God, he must not exist.This is hardly a new idea. It’s been around since Epicurus of Athens first pitched it in the 300s BC. Or at least we think Epicurus pitched it. That’s what Christian author Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius claimed in his anti-Epicurean book De ira Dei/“On God’s…

Hurricanes and bad theodicy.

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The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November: Weather agencies keep track of all the warm-weather tropical cyclones which crop up in summer and fall. (They give ’em names, in alphabetical order, and mix up the names every year.) The heat lets ’em grow in speed, size, and moisture, and warmer-than-usual weather means they grow extra large; often into full-on hurricanes. And if they make it to land, they create extra mess.The United States is was hit with two hurricanes in 20 days. Hurricane Harvey flooded southern Texas on 26 August. Hurricane Irma is currently working on the west coast of Florida. At its largest, Irma was a category 5, with 185 mph (295 kph) winds; this prompted widespread evacuations in Florida, and rightly so.Of course these aren’t the only natural disasters we get in the States. We get wildfires: I live in California, which has fires every year. Has ’em in drought; has ’em in flood years. Fire is how brush naturally clears, but humans built hou…

Misreading and mistreating those who mourn.

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Job 4–5After Job suffered the tremendous disaster of having his children, employees, and livestock all killed in one day, three of his friends came and sat shiva with him. Jb 2.11-13 For a week they said nothing.Then Job vented for a chapter.“Wish I’d never been born; Jb 3.3 why didn’t I die at birth; Jb 3.11 I wish I were dead.” Jb 3.20-22 The usual stuff people say when they’ve suffered an earth-shattering loss, particularly when loved ones die. Stuff we’re supposed to listen to, sympathize with… and watch these people in case they actually try to act upon any of it. (Half the time they’re all talk, but sometimes they’re not, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.)But you know how humans are: We try to fix one another. We don’t leave it in the hands of professionals, who know how to guide people to make good choices. We tell ’em, “You know what you oughta do,” and tell them so. Or worse, we try to do it for them.So in Job, here’s where all the bad advice begins. The first to ta…

Jesus getting abused by his guards.

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Mark 14.65 • Matthew 26.67-68 • Luke 22.63-65 • John 18.22-23I’d already mentioned Jesus getting slapped by one of his guards:John 18.22-23 KWL22 Once he said these things, one of the bystanding underlings gave Jesus a slap,saying, “You answer the head priest this way?”23 Jesus answered him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil. If I speak good, why rough me up?”The other gospels likewise tell of how the people in charge of him began to abuse him. In Mark it was after he’d been found guilty. But in both Matthew and Luke, it was before his actual trial before the Judean senate. They didn’t care to wait for a trial; they’d already judged him guilty themselves.Mark 14.65 KWLCertain people began to spit on Jesus; to cover his face and punch him,to tell him, “Prophesy! Which underling gave that punch?”Matthew 26.67-68 KWL67 Then they spat in Jesus’s face and punched him.Those who hit him68 were saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah: Which of us hit you?”Luke 22.63-65 KWL63 The men surroundi…

God, Job, and the cost of unexamined theodicy.

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Job 1–2.10, 42.10-17Since we’re gonna talk theodicy, it’d be all kinds of stupid to not begin with Job. Worse, to ignore it… as so often happens.The entire book, and entire point of the book, is why bad things happen to good people. The problem? Your average person only reads the beginning and ending, and skips all the discussion in the middle. And the middle is the meat of the book.I intend to bring up Job a lot in the theodicy articles, so brace yourself. I’m gonna dig into it a bit.Job is part of the ketuvím/“Writings,” the third section of the Old Testament, collected round the 400s BC. Job was written at some point in the 500s, as we can easily deduce from the Late Biblical Hebrew vocabulary (with lots of Aramaic loanwords) and historical context.The book’s about iyóv/“Job” of Utz, a land located in Edom. Lm 4.21 Job’s friend Eliphaz of Teman Jb 2.1 had a really obvious Edomite name: The same name as Edom/Esau’s oldest son, 1Ch 1.36 and his city had the same name as Eliphaz ben E…