Sunday, November 6, 2005

Musings from the Shower

First: I want to forwarn that all of the below was written this morning right after jumping out of the shower -- meaning more important than the fact that this was early in the morning, that my thoughts here reflect what I think about while showering in the morning. I'm weird -- I already know this.

Second: A lot of this is out of my league, I am no trained philosopher, so I probably have made some embarassing blunders.

I think most would agree it is hard to dissolve the notion of the existence of evil. All of us are painfully aware that this abstract notion of evil exists, that evil is done in the world, that we experience the effects of evil, and hopefully the honest fellow would admit that we participate in evil.

My concern is the latter case. Are we really evil? Well, what first must be established is can people be evil? An important qualification here is the notion that most traditionally evil folk are far from 100vil. This means, that while there may be a lot of evil in their actions, thought, and life, probability dictates that there is likely some good, albeit a small percentage.

My thought is this: it seems that while we are naturally receptive to this small part of good in a person, there is a threshold in man that decides at some point, the level of evil is so great that one must respond to the person as if they were wholly evil.

My example is a reaver: lets remove for the sake of argument that they actually kill people. Reavers rape, eat, and defile the flesh of a dead person. In addition, they defile themselves by tearing on their own flesh, sewing the flesh of a dead person to their flesh, and adorning their body with various metallic contortions (not of the piercing type, but random metal fragments). I seriously doubt that anyone would be naturally inclined to find the good in such a creature. While from myth, it is possible there is some good here. Perhaps he feels such treatment of others is their salvation, or perhaps I don't know. Most are more creative than I. The point is, goodness may be found.

However, were one to come across such a creature, I feel that the only appropriate response would be one of disgust, and to treat such a creature as evil. I think this is a simple fact: we have a choice of how to treat a person, as good or bad. If we choose the latter, it is not that they are in of themselves entirely bad, but that they are bad enough to warrant such treatment.

Hitler is a second example. Hitler clearly did many evil things. While he had some good (unifying and rebuilding Germany, being an excellent speaker), clearly, if any allied individual were to come across him, the morally right thing to do would be to stop him, to treat him as evil.

This threshold clearly is not a well-defined thing, but definitely involves the prevention of harm to others, the corruption of innocence, and the willful subjugation of others (slavery, hunger, etc.). Clearly, in the presence of such things, one must act for the sake of the other. Issues such as "it is right for him though" based on his culture, upbringing, and social circumstance. All of this becomes rubbish though in that moment of choice.

The abuse here though is that some lower this threshold so that the presence of particular kinds of evil warrant complete rejection. Capitalism, conservatism, and liberalism all fall here.

I think there are two types of response to evil: there is the above-mentioned threshold, and then there is separation. Wrongness and some evil can be tolerated. I mean not accepted, for this would be contradictory, but does not warrant the full force of complete rejection. If we see a man steal something of little consequence, we are not faced with whether or not to take his life, but rather with whether or not to call the appropriate authorities (or possibly venture to tackle the fellow).

These differing layers of response are due to our own imperfection. At some point, the evil of others is not seriously afflicting bystanders, yet the evil present in our own lives prevents us from responding. To do so would make us a hypocrite.

My point, while having been a bit scatter brained, is simply this. If it can be agreed that such a threshold exists, let us turn to the idea of God. Lets assume that God does exist, and that God by definition then is perfect. The goodness of God is inconsequential, because the very concept of good and bad finds source in His nature. For it to be anything else, then God would be a contradiction and consequently cease to exist.

What must be grappled with is if God is perfect, (all powerful, all God, all knowing, etc.), what of evil in the world? I do not want to get off track here: so I will simply answer that in order for there to be true freedom (i.e. to choose to accept or reject God), He had to allow the possibility of evil in his creation. This is a common conservative answer, and I think is sufficient.

However, could God have such a threshold? Could there be a point were God is morally demanded to respond either positively or negatively? Evangelicals do not like to discuss the wrath of God often, because it makes us sound like the fundamentalists of last century. Fire and brimstone and such.

However, putting this aside, could this be the case? I think the perfection of God demands such a threshold. Because he is all good, /any/ evil of any sort demands negative response. Our limitation here is because we have evil ourselves. While it would be nice to say let God focus on the good in people, as we should, however, I do not think this statement does justice to the idea of a morally perfect being. It is trying to constrain the nature of God into human terms, something that is natural for us to do yet I think would still impose an impossibility on God.

So then, if I am right, God is morally free to condemn the entire world. This is where the grace of Christianity shines brightest. The notion that God would solve this dilemma, and find a way to purify a person so that such a person could actually come into contact with God is mind-boggling.

While knowing this can be of little comfort to the person suffering, I think that such an experience of God can.

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