The existence of evil… It’s one of those “dilemmas” of faith apparently, and something that atheists (not me though) like to use as an argument for there not being a god. If there is a deity, how can this deity be anything but malicious? It is hypothetically omnipotent, and yet it still allows evil to exist; ergo, if it exists this deity must be either evil itself or completely indifferent to our suffering, and both instances make worshipping it a silly idea. It’s put a bit too bluntly for my own taste, but that’s what it sort of comes down to.
Now, first of all, I am an atheist myself, so this is not going to be a defence-of-religion thing. I posted this before on an old blog, and a conversation with someone on here (The writer behind http://societystacktrace.wordpress.com, who I usually disagree with but still consider a friend) led me to think about it again.
I came upon this train of thought by considering highly intelligent people. One of the things I have found about people who are truly brilliant is that they often seem a bit autistic. As in, they’re rather detached from our “normal” social interactions, and their mind functions on so different a level that they can appear a bit weird to us. I think that brilliant minds who have to interact with and function in the general populace constantly have to “dumb down” their ways, because we slow-thinking humans just can’t catch up otherwise. It’s not about them not understanding us, it’s about us not being able to think like them.
Take this quote from Einstein:
“Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig.” –A. Einstein.
Now, skip to higher beings.
Why do we think that a truly Higher Being, not just a super-genius but a Deity, would have the same aims and ideas about what is good and bad as we do? Our need for stability, safety, happiness, well-being… it might consider that as completely irrelevant, simply because it functions on a whole other level than we do. Does that make it inherently evil? Perhaps to us it does, in the same way as that the higher thinking of geniuses can make them unpleasant people to us. It is only evil because we can’t understand it, just as it is only unpleasant because we can’t understand it. Our (ethical) standards are determined by our limitations, and those are formed by everything, from our intelligence to our species.
If there is a deity, it might be loving, it might be evil, it might be indifferent… (according to its own standards as well as -or maybe not, or only- to ours…) But we can’t claim to understand it any more than ants can claim to understand humans. Its motives and reasons are completely beyond what we might comprehend.
Everything is scale. Individual acts that we can label as “evil” according to our own standards are comprehensible, because they are still on our scale, within the limitations of our human comprehension. But the existence of evil in itself, with “evil” not being a moral judgement but only a general term for everything that we label as such… to a Deity, it might serve a use that we cannot possibly understand.
This brings me to the Ainulindalë, the creation myth of Tolkien’s world. I am no Bible scholar, but I can claim a certain expertise where the Silmarillion is concerned, and I found a particularly poignant example of what I meant in this quote by Tolkien’s highest deity Eru Illuvatar.
‘Behold your Music! This is your minstrelsy; and each of you that had part in it shall find contained there, within the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added. And thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.’ –Eru Illuvatar
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, the world Arda was created by the Ainur, a race of semi-divine beings who are the children of the greatest power, Eru. They sang a Great Music, and in that music everything that would come to pass was hidden. Evil was created by the Ainu Melkor, who attempted to rebel against Eru Illuvatar by creating deviant, discordant themes in the Music. The Ainur were created from the thought of Eru though, so each and every one of them, even Melkor, was in a way bound by it and could not devise anything that had not its uttermost source in Eru. Which sort of means that evil was meant to exist from the very beginning, and as the quote says, it is “but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.”
Now the Silmarillion is only a story, and my pondering is just the rambling of a strange mind, but still…
I think, for any hypothetical deity, our individual happiness and suffering would be entirely unimportant in the greater scale of things. If you wish (or don’t wish) to believe in the existence of a deity I don’t think this changes anything, but I do think it makes prayer and worship fairly useless concepts, if their meaning lies only in the involvement of said deity. But then, that’s just me.