Beyond the Problem of Evil

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Beyond the Problem of Evil Introduction: The problem of evil is, in my opinion, the best point of departure for a fruitful dialogue between Christianity, traditionally conceived, and those strands of modern philosophy which have been perceived--indeed, have sometimes perceived themselves--as a threat to that tradition. As such, I will attempt first, to outline the problem of evil in the starkest terms possible, presenting Augustine's approach to its solution followed by a critical analysis; second, to present an alternative approach to the questions which give rise to the problem--an approach derived in large part from Spinoza and Nietzsche; and, third, to show how this more philosophically acceptable alternative can be expressed in the categories of faith, allowing us to reappropriate the tradition *beyond the problem of evil*. PART ONE: Augustine's Approach to the Problem of Evil Simply put, the problem of evil resides in the apparently unavoidable contradiction between the notion of God as omnipotent and omnibenevolent, on the one hand, and the existence of evil (natural and moral), on the other.{1} Indeed, granting that God is all powerful, it would seem impossible for us to vouch for his benevolence, considering our first-hand experience of evil in the world. Likewise, if we grant from the outset that God is the paradigm of goodness, then it would seem that we must modify our conception of his power. However, Christian "orthodoxy" remains unwilling to modify its conception of God's goodness or his power-- thus, the persistence of the problem. St. Augustine was fully aware of this problem and spent much-- perhaps most--of his philosophical energy attempting to come to terms with it. In *De ordine*, he writes: Those who... ... middle of paper ... ...and so we do not have absolute power to adapt to our purposes things external to us. However, we shall patiently bear whatever happens to us that is contrary to what is required by consideration of our own advantage, if we are conscious that we have done our duty and that our power was not extensive enough for us to have avoided the said things, and that we are a part of the whole of Nature whose order we follow. If we clearly and distinctly understand this, that part of us, will be fully resigned and will endeavor to persevere in that resignation. For in so far as we understand, we can desire nothing but that which must be, nor in an absolute sense, can we find contentment in anything but truth. And so in so far as we rightly understand these matters, the endeavor of the better part of us is in harmony with the order of the whole of Nature (E4, Appendix, item 32).
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