Either God wants to get rid of evil, but he can’t; or God can, but he doesn’t want to; or God neither wants to nor can, or he both wants to and can. If God wants to, but can’t, then he’s not all powerful. If he can, but doesn’t want to, he’s not all-loving. If he neither can nor wants to, he‘s neither all powerful nor all-loving. And if he wants to and can – then why doesn’t he remove the evils? (De ira Dei, Chapter 13)
In the quotation above, a Greek philosopher named Epicurus (341-270 BCE), enunciates clearly the conundrum of believing in an all-powerful god, while at the same time acknowledging the presence of evil in the world. This enigma has inspired volumes of writings by early Christian leaders all the way to modern Christian apologists today. Let’s try to unpack this dilemma.
Whether worship involved the mother earth goddess, the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods or the modern religions of today including the three Abrahamic traditions, adherents have posited that their deity was all powerful. It is interesting to see the evolution of the notion of an all-powerful deity. The earliest religions honored the power of the earth – the fertility goddesses, the veneration of a mother goddess, etc. The deity was the earth and all its mysteries. The mother goddess’s power came from within. As more and more understanding came about the functions of the earth – moon cycles, seed generation, seasons, etc., this deity moved to the top of the mountain. Remember all the references to finding god at the top of a mountain? Moses climbs Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments from god. Later, however, god became defined as beyond the earth, in heaven – a nebulous area that keeps getting farther away as our science explores the universe. In Biblical times, the heaven was beyond the sky, but pretty close to the earth, probably just beyond the clouds.
It is fine to posit an all-powerful god, beyond the reach of humans, but then how do you explain evil? Let’s take Epicurus’ first point – god can’t get rid of evil. That will not work as an explanation because you can’t be all powerful if you can’t even get rid of evil. This is why Christian apologists can’t quite adopt this notion. The second point Epicurus makes is that god doesn’t want to get rid of evil. This point has been dealt with in numerous ways, the most common one is the story of the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, everything was perfect but humans ruined it. That darn Eve wanted to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why wouldn’t she want to? God put that tree in the perfect Garden of Eden didn’t he? Was god tempting humans to try it? In any event, Eve, and then Adam, did partake of the fruit and evil was created. Again, not the best of justifications for evil, although as I pointed out in last week’s blog post, St. Augustine made the most of it, expanding this act into the notion of original sin.
But how about Epicurus’ point about god being all-loving? If he (or she) were, wouldn’t this deity want to get rid of evil? Christian apologists posit the notion of a savior that was sent to earth to free us from original sin. Aha. Mystery solved. But how did that work out? Did evil leave the world? Of course it didn’t, not even for the firmest believers. Because of this, Christian apologists had to come up with a new explanation. The one they settled on over time was that god always has a purpose to what happens. Really? So a faithful adherent to Christianity loses a child to a tragic disease or accident and he/she is supposed to be happy that god chose their child for another purpose? I can hardly stand the Facebook posts that people write when someone is ill, has an incurable disease, or has a loved one who just passed away. They offer their prayers, they state that god has a larger purpose or a meaning that we are unable to understand. Would this pass as an answer to anything other than crazy beliefs in a supreme being? Most of the people I have met who are of Jewish heritage claim they are secular Jews. This means it is an issue of heritage and culture that they affiliate with, not the belief in supreme being. How many disasters does it take for Jews to realize Yahweh isn’t helping them? First, the destruction of almost all humanity and life on the earth with the Great Flood. Second, the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BCE of Judah with the expulsion of the educated to Babylon. Somewhat later, Nebuchadnezzar returned and destroyed the first temple – their holiest of places in Jerusalem. Then the Romans destroyed the rebuilt temple in 70 CE. Jews, already scattered throughout the Roman Empire, became even more dispersed after this conquest. And finally the Holocaust. I truly do not understand how anyone can believe in Yahweh after this event. How tenacious can a person’s belief be to survive after all of these events?
Epicurus’ last statement is that if god wants to remove evil and can but doesn’t, he can’t be all powerful and all-loving. I rest my case. God does not exist or does not exist in any form that anyone should buy into the propaganda. A recent study by Pew research sought questions as to why there are more “nones” who do not profess a strong belief or adherence to a religion. One of the major reasons they gave was they “question a lot of religious teaching.” And they should. Yahweh was created by people in the Iron Age. It doesn’t take long in reading the bible with all its duplicate lists of commandments, two creation stories, supernatural events, to question whether this really happened or not. Yea to the nones! We must depend on the millennials to finally get rid of religion by refusing to adhere to these Iron Age beliefs and stories. Fortunately, they are more likely to be nones than any other age group. There is hope!
Karen L. Garst
The Faithless Feminist
September 15, 2018
 Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), 60.
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