10.02 Discussion (pps.3-5)

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However, theodicy, as hitherto approached and explicated, remains for many, if not most, a weak link in the chain of a religious approach to life. Writings and discourses on theodicy by the Jews, Greeks, Christians, and Eastern religions have graced our planet for thousands of years.10 Theodicy is a problem not for all religions, but rather in particular for monotheistic religions proclaiming a God who is all-powerful and all-good. This clearly encompasses the major Western religions.

The goal of theodicy has generally been a modest one, namely, that of defending the validity of an existing faith. We suspect, however, that unraveling the knot of the theodicy problem will force the resolution of related theological issues and will yield a more dynamic and coherent theology.

Theodicy has been treated by many as somewhat independent of other philosophical issues, and consequently some formulators of theodicies have been justly reproached for operating in a vacuum. At the same time, most theologians would maintain that the formulation of a theodicy must conform to the commonly accepted religious philosophy. However, the problem is of such magnitude that we may have to modify some of our basic philosophical assumption11

Theodicy actually does not pose the same problem to all, even for those who share a common religious tradition. Different thinkers have different thresholds at which the issue of evil becomes a serious philosophical problem. In all probability, an individual reared during the Black Death in Europe would have had a different threshold than one reared in the 1980s in Europe. Camus said: “I continue to struggle against this universe in which children suffer and die.”12 Doestoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov protested: “There is no justification for the tear of even a single suffering child.”13

The gamut of Jewish responses includes the grossly sardonic. The writer Elie Wiesel tells the story of a small group of Jews who were gathered to pray in a little synagogue in Nazi-occupied Europe. Suddenly, as the service proceeded, a pious Jew who was slightly mad–for all pious Jews were by then

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10 Cf. ibid., p. ix. ” . . . so long as men live in this religiously ambiguous world the fact of evil will continue to haunt faith in the reality of an all-loving and all-powerful Creator.”

11 Cf. Hick, “The Irenaean Theodicy,” in idem. Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, p. 508. ” . . . theodicy has a negative rather than a positive function. It cannot profess to create faith, but only to preserve an already existing faith from being overcome by this dark mystery. . . . The aim of a Christian theodicy must thus be the relatively modest and defensive one of showing that the mystery of evil, largely incomprehensible though it remains, does not render irrational a faith that has arisen, not from the inferences of natural theology, but from participation in a stream of religious experience which is continuous with that recorded in the Bible.”

12 Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death (New York: Knopf, 1961), p. 71.

13 Voltaire addresses the same problem in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” as cited in Schulweis, Evil and the Morality of God, p. 37:

…Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
“All’s well,” ye say, “and all is necessary.”
Think ye this universe had been the worse
Without this hellish gulf in Portugal?
… and as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit.


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