The Theosophical Forum – June 1944

THE PROBLEM OF GOD AND EVIL — Henry T. Edge

Theosophists with a message for the world must know what that world is thinking and saying; else there can be no point of contact, and Theosophists may fail to command attention. So this magazine fulfils an important function in reviewing current literature on topics interesting to Theosophists; and we accordingly welcome this book by so competent a pen as that of the well-known philosopher, Professor Joad. He reviews, at considerable length and with much perspicacity and masterly sorting and arrangement of topics and headings, the question of religion in its relation to the life of today; giving special attention to the problem of evil in a world supposed to be ruled by a beneficent deity. Present stress has forced most people, including Professor Joad himself, to take stock with a view to recasting their ideals: evil is so conspicuous that we cannot afford to explain it away and put the problem on a high shelf. Though the author has marshalled a vast array of opinions and -isms and -ologies, he admits that he has not covered as much ground as might have been possible, had he taken more account, for instance of Oriental philosophies. Such a limitation of field is however in accordance with his main purpose of giving a picture of what the Occidental world is thinking today.

In his introductory remarks he makes an important distinction between the meaning of knowledge as viewed respectively by religion and by reason — the contrast between faith and reason, or between intuition and intellect. The latter insists on the separation of Knower and Known, or Subject and Object; the former merges this distinction by the declaration that in real knowledge the Knower becomes identified with the thing Known. A dialectical treatment of the subject, like the present one, must necessarily take the rational view, albeit it may recognise the existence and value of the religious viewpoint. The latter would have given us a book of sermons or an IMITATIO CHRISTI.

But the religious way of life cannot be lived without assistance; we are inherently sinful (says religion), and therefore need the help of divine grace, which is evoked by prayer. This view has been fortified of late by our inability any longer to interpret evil as a byproduct of circumstance; it must be endemic in the heart of man.

The truths of religion, he finds, are not self-evident; for in reading "The World's Bible," a large book containing lengthy extracts from most of the world's sacred books, he finds that there is no consensus as to whether God created the world, or whether existence or non-existence came first. A great deal is said as to the numerous theories about evil; by-products of free-will (but pain exists among the insects); that good and evil are opposites (but then are they "logical opposites," such as the outside and inside of a basin, the one of which entails the other; or opposites in the sense of wet and dry, either of which can exist apart?). He decides that they are not logical opposites; if they differ only in virtue of their mutual contrast, why prefer the one to the other? Since men do not pursue evil just because it is evil, but for some expected benefit, it would seem that good is independent, just as a light may exist without a shadow. Evil does not answer an end in itself, but good does. But those who wish to travel in this maze of speculation must read the book for themselves.

As to the supposed need of a God to account for a universe, he points out that we have only shoved the difficulty a step farther; for how account for God? We may just as well accept the mystery of a universe without God as accept the mystery of God. Then comes the question whether God is within or without the chain of causation. If he is without, how did the chain originate? If within, what becomes of his absoluteness? This leads to discussion as to views that have been held, and views which are now held, as to the nature of Cause. The last century view was inconsistent in itself: matter was conceived as made of separate units; how then could cause and effect operate between them? And the same in philosophy, as regards events: if they are separate, where is the causal nexus? And Hume's opinion on that subject is cited. But today, both in science and in philosophy, we recognise that there is no such separation: atomism has been replaced by continuity, whether it is particles or events that we are considering.

Such a full and detailed survey as we have here does not lend itself readily to a brief review, but the author is considerate enough to provide us with a short summary, which we must in our turn attempt to summarize. The balance of logical argument is against the view that the universe is the creation of an omnipotent benevolent God. But argument must be supplemented by data from other realms of experience, aesthetic and moral. We must take into account "values," here regarded as outside the evolutionary process of change. The claim of mystics may thus be allowed; and though their findings differ, the balance seems to favor those who assert a "personal" deity, as against a universal impersonal consciousness. The impersonal God obviates the objections as to omnipotence and benevolence, but affords no firm foundation for the significance of moral experience. The Christian claims as to the uniqueness of Christ and original sin and redemption are implausible. God did not create evil, nor is it wholly due to man's misuse of freewill: the principle of evil is probably independent of God. This is the dualistic view. Finally, the author judges in favor of a religious view of the world, and his agnosticism has now inclined toward the positive side of agnosticism. This means that the universe has a purpose, this life is not all; otherwise this life is a cruel and incomprehensible joke.

Coming now to a few comments on the above topics, as seen from a Theosophical viewpoint, we must mention first the Esoteric Tradition, or Wisdom-Religion, the common parent of all faiths and great philosophies. Though the tenets of this parent religion can be discerned in each of its children, and thus the existence of a uniform foundation can be proved, yet religions in their present form are found to be obscured by overgrowths and corruptions which have rendered their differences more apparent than their unity. Nevertheless there do still exist, in many cases if not all, schools of esoteric teaching behind the outer veil of these faiths; and this is particularly the case with Oriental religions. To take an instance, Professor Joad refers to Persian dualism, and though allowing that such a duality implies a synthesizing or primal unity, does not give sufficient weight to this circumstance. The conception of unity in duality was an essential part of the original Magian doctrine, and we must draw a distinction between esoteric teaching and exoteric, as also between the original teaching and its later degenerated forms. Ormuzd and Ahriman are emanations from Zerouana Akarana or Boundless Time, which latter itself issued from the Supreme and Unknowable Principle. Thus we have not only a One behind the Two, but another One behind the first mentioned: the analysis carries us two stages farther. This teaching is confirmed by reference to other ancient systems, and is thus identified as a cardinal tenet of the Esoteric Philosophy. Ormuzd and Ahriman represent Good and Evil Thought. Further, it is necessary to take into account Cosmic Evolution, for the appearance of this duality represents a particular stage in such evolution. We see from this that what appear to be contradictory or alternative hypotheses may really be supplementary, each giving a view of the Universe at a different stage of evolution, and neither view complete without the others.

The problem of Good and Evil fits in well here, since this contrast arose at the stage when the One became Two, when there set in that duality which is the inalienable characteristic of the whole manifested universe. Neither quality can be predicated of the One. There is no such thing as Evil in itself, no personal Devil or evil power. Good is harmony, wholeness; and Evil, like a shadow, is revealed as a contrast, discord, incompleteness. Moreover the two terms are relative to each other and thus variable in their meaning. The existence of strife and pain in the lower kingdoms is a concomitant of the stage of cosmic evolution in which we are at present. Man must encounter evil, but should not will it: this is a mystical as well as a Biblical injunction. More might be said on this subject, but we may conclude it with the remark that our author would certainly agree that, if we could only define the words Good and Evil satisfactorily, there would probably be no problem left to solve. As to the practical or pragmatic aspect, is it not that man must cease to importune the heavens and must pull himself out of his scrapes by the use of his own innate divinity?

Another important point, which makes a vast difference in our views on every subject, is that the universe is not static but is ever-becoming. Science today is giving up the idea of examining a stationary world, and is recognising that "everything flows." We live in a four-dimensional world, but have not yet acquired free movement in the time dimension, so that we can only see the universe in slices. We thus get a distorted view, or rather, many distorted views, like the attempts to draw a plane chart of a spherical globe — a set of compromises, disagreeing with each other, but all blending into one truth when we survey the globe itself. Unless we keep this in mind we shall fall into error by assuming that conditions which are merely local and temporary are universal both in time and space.

The term "God" stands for a variety of conceptions, which should be regarded as complementary rather than alternative. Platonism and Neo-Platonism postulated a Demiourgos or workman as the builder of this world, but did not confuse him with the Supreme Deity. The existence of imperfection is thus accounted for without impugning the benevolence and omnipotence of the All-Wise; for this Demiourgos was but a minor power in a hierarchy of powers. Moreover this world is but one of a number of worlds preceding it and following it both in space and in time. It may be sufficient and prudent, when restricting our inquiries to regions which more immediately concern us, to ignore these other worlds and the whole subject of cosmic evolution; but if we "presume God to scan," we must be prepared to find that we cannot measure his mighty works by our own local foot-rules. In Christian theology we find that lesser creative Gods have been confused with the Supreme Deity, thus giving rise to the vexed problems alluded to above.

The above may be summed up by saying that the difficulties are due to taking a too limited view. For practical purposes it is convenient to take such a limited view; only in that case we must be content with suitable assumptions without probing into their essential validity or their mutual consistency.


The Theosophical Forum

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE