2011/06/29 – C.S. Lewis and the Cosmic Sadist

“Suppose the truth is God always vivisects?” C.S. Lewis

The Problem of Evil is one of the most rational and obvious of objections to religious belief systems one can have. It also happens to be the best argument against the existence of God. And yet, defenders of the faith have used this deadly theological weakness as a cornerstone of faith. The weakness (of course) is the lack of a satisfactory answer of how a “good God” could allow suffering and evil into the world? This question is specifically dealt with, very unsatisfactory, in the Old Testament Book of Job, where Job demands an answer of why God has singled him out for undeserved suffering. Does God reveal to Job that the cause of his suffering was originally a cosmic bar bet with Satan? Well, that would have been nice, but instead Yahweh dissembles and puts on a great show of force, demonstrating how great He is while claiming that His motives are not to be questioned and that human beings should just simply have faith – which completely evades the question of why innocence suffers.

Within the narrative of the New Testament, the Christian instrument of Jesus Christ exploits suffering as a necessary act which grants reconciliation with God and entrance into Heaven. Whoever wrote under the name of “Paul” took great pains to appeal to the suffering example of Christ as the obedient slave of God, unto his death, and in this providing the West with the template of the acceptance of suffering as a virtuous consequence of God’s infinite wisdom.[1] But there is that nagging problem that the religionists can’t satisfactory rid themselves of. When the Bible asserts that God’s creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), it sure as hell doesn’t seem that way in the real world. We all live under the “curse of God,” according to the Garden of Eden myth, presumably for eternity, given by an insanely enraged God with whom forgiveness is an alien concept. Not only is the first human couple cursed “above all animals,” but God also curses the earth to give up nothing without pain and toil. Such are the ways of the ancient tribal god of the Hebrews. Yahweh curses His creation to suffer and then demands His creation to be “obedient.”

There is something tragically and ludicrously unfair about this scenario. If there exists no one else but God who responsible for creation, what about that ol’ talking serpent that just happened to be “more crafty” than any other being God created? God apparently refuses to take responsibility for the serpent, his “craftiness” or the consequences –  and just pulls rank and orders everyone out of Paradise and into a cursed world. Oh, that Yahweh! His ministers always have assured us He is “Love” and “All-Loving,” perfect and omnipotent. Too bad the story doesn’t make any sense. The theologians find themselves painted into an untenable, illogical corner.

Enter “Theodicy” – a curiously composed word formed from the Greek theos (God) and dike (righteous) – a term invented by the Christian rationalist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) – which attempts to justify or defend God’s relation with the problem of evil by answering the following question, commonly built upon these assumptions: God is all good and all powerful (and, therefore, all knowing). The universe/creation was made by God and/or exists in a contingent relationship to God. Evil exists in the world. Why? Witness how religions use the greatest argument against itself to its greatest advantage. Simply claim that all suffering as an essential “learning tool.” Suffering is not a consequence, but a “necessity,” and here religion and spirituality justify the existence of abuse without having any reason to end it at all. How awesome is that?  ‘God’ or ‘Source’ placed it there for ‘learning lessons’ needed for ‘spiritual evolution’ and for establishing ‘faith.’ And yet, they do not see it as the point that should open their eyes to an obvious lie. If “God” and his buddies all implore us to stand against evil, why did God place it here in the first place?  It’s like a parent setting the next-door neighbor’s house on fire and then locking the family inside while screaming that it is the family’s duty to save themselves! Question: would that be a sinister act by a madman, or the actions of an all-perfect, loving deity?

Apologists for the faith have resorted to all kinds of logical fallacies in twisting obvious malevolence that causes suffering in the world as “lessons learned the hard way,” or as “trials” sent by an invisible, wholly transcendent “God” to mold a being’s mind into a “faithful,” believing slave. God’s ultimate purpose for creating such a scenario remains known only to Him. The modern Christian apologist for the faith C.S. Lewis was very crafty at presenting questionable premises built upon rational structures of logic. In his seminal work, The Problem of Pain, Lewis explains that suffering exists because of the free wills involved, and if God removed or excluded suffering, He would have “excluded life itself.” Really? Without suffering life would be “excluded?” How did Lewis come to such a stretch? And what does that even mean?

Lewis could only present such a ludicrous assertion within the confines of the accepted premise that God is “good” (faith), but it is a poor version of logic to state that free wills which cause evil is the only condition that Life could exist within. As an apologist, Lewis was forced to work within the framework of his faith, and that’s why he had no choice but to contort himself into convoluted, pretzel-logic positions. Like this one: ‘The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. The doctrine of the Fall asserts that the evil which thus makes the fuel or raw material of the second and more complex kind of good is not God’s contribution but man’s.”  When did C.S. Lewis become privy to “God’s own assumption?” Did God tell these things to Lewis, or did he just dream them up on his own? It’s an interesting flowchart, in any case, as Lewis constructs a curious diagram of the “good” cascading down from Heaven only to have it “disturbed” by inferior, evil “creatures.”

In Lewis’ book, A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote in the aftermath of the painful loss of his wife who died after a long illness. At one point within the depths of his bereavement, Lewis rightly considers God nothing more than a “Cosmic Sadist.” This embarrassment of Lewis’ a brief loss of faith is usually glossed over by Lewis’ followers as a novel convention of someone struggling and not the way Lewis actually felt. I don’t buy it. Lewis’ grief over his wife was genuine and notoriously deep, and such questions would naturally arise. Hadn’t Lewis prayed to God to make her well, and didn’t she enter a remission?  And wasn’t it after that teasing, promising rebound, did Lewis’ wife – the love of his life – die shortly afterwards, anyway? Lewis bitterly writes:

“No, my real fear is not materialism. If it were true, we–or what we mistake for ‘we’–could get out from under the harrow. An overdose of sleeping pills would do it. I am more afraid that we are really rats in a trap. Or, worse still, rats in a laboratory. Someone said, I believe, ‘God always geometrizes.’ Supposing the truth were ‘God always vivisects’?” [2]

Indeed. What if God is not “All-Loving,” but rather a sinister Cosmic Sadist who derives pleasure from the suffering of His creatures? Would anyone know the difference? Is there any evidence that would prove otherwise? Returning to Lewis’ appeal to the Fall and the Adam and Eve myth quoted above as some sort of corroborating evidence of God’s benevolence, we find that such a plea is not a good idea, because it forces Lewis into supporting his Christian speculations atop more speculations, with the foundational premise and starting point based on acceptance that what is said in the bible is “true.” Lewis’ optimistic view of the goodness of God is neither defensible or all-encompassing, for an alternative explanation of the world as “a dance” of good and evil could simply be that Evil is far stronger than the good, which would most likely happen to suit a Cosmic Sadist just fine.

Another Christian champion who tried to gild the theodical lily was Paul Tillich, and he claimed that the only acceptable answers to the question of suffering was… wait for it… prayer and faith. If your loved one gets abducted by a cult, pray about it and have faith. If your family is ill and have no money for medicine – pray on it! This seemingly nonsensical, magical-thinking approach has been a religious and New Age spirituality staple ever since prayer was created. Amazingly, Tillich speculated that petitioning the Lord with prayer influences God to intervene into the world and place the petitioner into a participatory role in making the world into a better place. Tillich takes the position that existence is grounded into the “being” of God. This is all well and good if vain speculating of religious beliefs is what you’re into, but again it is only speculation.

Karl Barth, another modern theologian had an even more terse perspective as to the problem of evil, and like Yahweh in the Book of Job, he claimed that was anyone posed such a question was in danger of judgment! Rejecting theodicy, Barth no doubt had seen the inadequacy of his liberal Christian faith dealing with the problem of evil, and preferred to take it head – on. Suffering and evil were the cards humanity had drawn. Deal. Besides, Barth explained that God was “wholly other” (echoing Marcion) and could not be comprehended by limited, earthbound creatures, it was useless for theologians to speculate. [3]

However, Barth didn’t realize he was committing the same offense with his own Christian speculations about prayer and faith, and in fact was happy to exist within inside the logical boundaries of faith. Where does that leave us? This ‘necessity of suffering’ is how religion and spirituality justifies the existence of abuse without having any reason or way to end it for all, since they believe ‘God’ or ‘Source’ placed it there for “learning lessons” needed for “spiritual evolution.” What these religionists fail to grasp is that evil does not need “God” to define itself. However, religion does need “God” to explain itself, which is why Religion have constructed as many doctrines and tenets and explanations as there are voices to explain them. They all fail, because the speculative nature of the explanation, which produces an “explanation gap” about the thing being explained. Speculating about the nature of reality is something that is never going to be absolutely true or free from error. By definition, a speculation can only be a conjecture about a subject without firm evidence. Same as Faith. We are seemingly forever cursed with having to deal with people will assert their speculation as “truth” when all they are doing is riding from one conjecture towards another.

The problem of Evil should be enough to dissuade anyone from belief in the existence of an all-good, omnipotent and benevolent “God.” But it is to our detriment that it’s not. Suffering is instead seen as a fulfillment unto death; the ultimate fulfillment of a life – a suffering that is promised to be justified after you die. But you have to die first.

How does that justify faith?

***

[1] Phil. .12; 2 Cor. 22.7; 12.21 [2] A Grief Observed By C.S. Lewis, HarperOne. 2001 [3] Karl Barth: theologian of Christian witness By Joseph L. Mangina, Westminister John Knox Press. 2004

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “2011/06/29 – C.S. Lewis and the Cosmic Sadist

  1. Pingback: My Homepage
  2. Reblogged this on Process: 2014 and commented:

    The problem of Evil should be enough to dissuade anyone from belief in the existence of an all-good, omnipotent and benevolent “God.” But it is to our detriment that it’s not.

  3. “What if God is not “All-Loving,” but rather a sinister Cosmic Sadist who derives pleasure from the suffering of His creatures? Would anyone know the difference?”
    Thanks for the CS Lewis eye-opener.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s