This lecture investigates a comparative analysis of the theodicy problem (the existence of evil and human suffering) with a focus on the religious traditions of Christianity and Buddhism. In addition, the lecture’s introductory part offers the contrast and comparison analysis between the two religious contexts and their patterns. While Christianity is the theistic religion of salvation with an emphasis on the eschatological concept of time, and therefore perceives time as the fulfillment of a progress towards the final goal, Buddhism is a religion of the personal enlightenment and inwardness that emphasizes growth of one’s consciousness in present time. Although the religious concepts appear to be contrasted, there are some striking similarities in the interpretation of the sources of human suffering and causes of evil.
Philosophy always posits hard questions when it comes to consistency and the logic of the arguments based on given premises. When comes to Christianity, the critical questions stem from major presuppositions of the Christian theology: How is the ultimate human suffering possible in the world where God is the absolute cause of the whole creation including the origin of humanity? In theological terms, if a God is defined as omnipotent, omniscient (all-knowing), and all-loving, how is the fall of human nature or the existence of evil even possible? Why is suffering or evil a part of life? Why would such a God impose any suffering? Why do suffering and injustice unfold in such a world and affect everybody? Why Ece Homo
, the son of God was scourged in a pain on the cross of the ultimate suffering? Why the suffering of the innocent people, children, or pious men and women?
According to the Genesis story shared by all three religions of the book, a human being is created in the image of God. As God created the world “ex nihilo,” out of free will, so analogously, the human being is created with the power of being free and having free will. Why is it that the first created man and woman, Adam and Eve, failed and followed the seduction allure of the evil serpent’s spirit? Is the serpent part of created nature? In Christianity, the interpretation of the first human fall has an enormous theological consequence known as the original (ancestral) sin, where by which every human being springs from the seed of sin (St. Augustine
). This Christian sword of freedom puts a human being to choose to act virtuously, lovingly, and as a moral agent to bring harmony to human relationships and into the community, or to act ingeniously “evil” in a furry of “wrath sin,” or deceit that can break any moral sense of honesty, trust, and benevolence. The best expression of this freedom sword is presented in the Reconnaissance philosopher, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola:
“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.” Pico della Mirandolla, Giovanni. Oration on the Dignity of Man. http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Mirandola/
In the Christian tradition the evil caused by human actions is presented in the symbolism of the seven deadly sins –pride, envy, anger, dejection, avarice, gluttony and lust. These are the free actions that defeat human longing for “the other,”
but the hope is that evils could be defeated in life and sanctioned in terms of the coming eschatological absolute justice (Judgment Day, the second coming of Jesus). Even if humanity could overcome moral evils, still the more difficult logical question is where do natural disasters and cataclysms come from in the world which stand on the presupposition that is created by the power of the creationist God?
If the cause of all human suffering in the world is evil, how and why has evil been created? Is evil a part of the creation or something separated from its absolute cause? Is it something that is imposed onto the world from a cosmic source such as the radical evil, for which Satan (Devil), stands as a known symbolic forms that represents the cosmic force in the Christian tradition?
Is life suffering, as Buddhism claims, and are we ultimately responsible for any suffering? Do we cause any suffering? Our senses, desires, emotional attachments, sensual responses, and causal reasoning are all deterministic, and Buddhism teaches that only the defilement of these bad cycles opens the mind and one’s consciousness for further growth.
For Buddhism, the evil is within. One causes evil simply by interpreting evil as being a force outside of one’s self and the mind. When the bad cycle of perpetual actions and reactions is followed, the only option for a person is to step out this closed circle and find a space for liberation. For Christianity the cause of evil is in a transcendent cosmic force that resides outside of a person, human nature, and God, but is seeded through Satan, the radical evil that can corrupt human nature through sin, and it can corrupt people, even nations, and the whole world. Christianity sees the world unfolding as a possible battlefield between good and evil, where the knowledge of God leads to a refuge from the possible corruption from the evil force. Although the two religious explanations of evil are seemingly opposed from the perspective of their context and pattern, both of the religions share equal intensity in giving this topic one of the central place in their religious traditions that mirror the riddle of the ever changing world, nature, and humanity. The theodicy problem reflects the everlasting religious, theological, and metaphysical plea that everything in the world and our lives happens for a reason, the place of philosophical investigation is to always question reasons and ways of such justification.
What are solutions to the theodicy problem, the justification of evil and suffering in the world? Why tragic, or bad things happen? Have I imposed any suffering onto myself? How one can explain unjust death, killing, dying before time, suffering in sickness, premature death of children, and the innocent victims? Is there any answer? Must we have the answer? Why are we asking this tough questions anyway? Bite an apple and give us some of your perspectives to this ultimate questions.
“By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another.” (Dhammapada, chapter 12, verse 165)
The Wheel of Life
, the interactive website that explains the cosmological representation of a full circle of the samsara, the evil held in hands of the evil spirit Yama.
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Revelation 12:9
The full lecture of Dr. Siebert on Critical Theory of Religion and Longing for the Other:
Alternative Futures, Trailer:
The Problem of Evil/Comparative Analysis Buddhism and Christianity–Philosophy of Religion
(You can skip video time from 4:54 to 8:28 due to the technical problems)
, Original Sin
, Philosophy of Religion
, Problem of Evil
, Radical Evil
, Rudolf J. Siebert
, The Wheel of Life