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Theadicy [Nov. 11th, 2008|08:56 pm]
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It's often said that polytheistic religions don't have the same problem with the existence of evil that monotheisms do: when faced with the question of how the all-powerful, completely good deity could create a world with evil in it, we can just say "Well, not all-powerful" or "Nothing is completely good" and walk away.

Those two stands can be done a lot more justice than I just did; but it's also interesting to realize that a theory of multiple universes can help at least as much as a theory of multiple deities. Let's start by supposing that we don't live in the the best of all possible worlds because we can't, because there is no such thing: for every world, a better world is possible, and for that better world, a better world yet; but no best world. This is a familiar concept in mathematics: there is no largest number; there is no fastest-growing series of numbers; for every infinity there is another, mind-bogglingly more infinite.

So for the sake of argument postulate a Goddess who is (almost) all-powerful and (almost) completely good, and who can't create the best of all possible worlds because there is no such thing. What is she to do? Any world she creates will be infinitely less good than one she could have created.

Well, why not create them all, each more dazzlingly wonderful than the next?

Why not indeed? Of course there's still one niggling little question: why create the shitty ones? Why create a world with napalm? With Dachau and Hiroshima? Why create our world?

And part of the answer is that, in the end, most of us would rather exist than not, even in this sometimes-horrible world. And perhaps, to an almost completely good creator, a world that's good enough for most of its inhabitants is good enough. Or perhaps, however hard it may be to believe, the life of every single sentient entity in this universe has been and will be, on balance, worth living. Or perhaps that's only true for most of us, but all the tortured innocents have in some time out of time given their consent to exist, for us, that this universe might exist and so be a home for us.

None of those are easy pills to swallow. But they are easier to swallow than an omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being who could have created the best of all possible worlds and manifestly has not.

Offering:
Feet on the ground,
Ass in the chair,
I look around:
Nobody's there.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: johanna_hypatia
2008-11-12 06:28 am (UTC)
Some years ago, studying the metaphysics of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, I felt I'm come across a better explanation for evil than anything else I'd heard. The basic concept is the Orient of Light, in which light stands for existence, and the Orient being the source of light. Light is brighter closer to the source, and dimmer the farther it gets from its source. The only difference between brighter and dimmer gradations of light is light itself. Therefore everything is the same light. But the farther away from the source, the more diffuse the light, and the greater the chance for imperfections to occur. Extending the light to the farthest extent is necessary for its full development, yet in the farther extents the light becomes too diffuse to prevent imperfections, which we experience as evil. But the imperfect, evil parts are a necessary part of the whole, albeit a minor aspect of it, everything considered. A life can be lived with less evil by living closer to the source of the light.

Even though I got this through Islamic philosophy, I felt comfortable with it because there is no Jehovah-like creator god mythology; instead it's an intrinsically simple metaphysical parable that I found satisfying and compatible with the context of the Sufi practices in my life at the time. It has the advantage of not needing to postulate the creation of infinite worlds just to explain this one.

But now I've moved on and sought a more fulfilling life in feminist Witchcraft. I've gently let go of monotheism Sometimes I think back over my long spiritual journey and think of what from my past can be salvaged and integrated into my present.

I wonder where the Sadrian metaphysics would fit in. It's very compatible with Advaita Vedanta (another male-dominated field), but from a Witch point of view, I'd question why Light has to be everything. It puts kind of a Yang bias on the system. In Witchcraft I've found so much more powerful and personal work delving into dark places and shadows; invoking Crone and Hecate, knowing the need of germinating seeds and babies to begin by growing in the Mother's darkness. Also through Sufism, having embraced Night as the beloved (Layla), the unmanifested aspects of the Divine are the necessary Yin to keep it all balanced.

As Sachiko Murata criticized, Exoteric Islam is seriously overbalanced with its Yang obsession, to be balanced and healthy it needs its Yin too, meaning the softer, gentler, inner states available through Sufism. It was exploring this dark side of Sufism that led me eventually to the Goddess, which is how I met you. Perhaps we can meet on common ground that wholeness depends on the balance of Yang and Yin, and that imbalance is the cause of harm.
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[User Picture]From: angelweed
2008-11-13 03:09 am (UTC)

Imperfectability

from a Witch point of view, I'd question why Light has to be everything.

Yes. My belief is that perfection doesn't exist, that there is no Light from which we are dimmed, that the imperfections of the world are inextricable from its sacredness.
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[User Picture]From: chemalfait
2008-11-12 10:40 am (UTC)
the best possible world would be boring.
there would be no merit in living in a best possible world.
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[User Picture]From: angelweed
2008-11-13 03:11 am (UTC)
the best possible world would be boring.

And thus not the best! A good reductio
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[User Picture]From: america_divine
2008-11-12 05:00 pm (UTC)
And of course there are plenty of alternatives besides monotheism and polytheism. As an absolute monist, I see good and evil as part of the same thing and ultimately a part of myself. And I have no reason to believe that relative human goodness has any relevance to God/s. If there is goodness beyond biological or social considerations, it is possible that Spirit is self-aware and infinite, and that Spirit evolved its self-awareness by privileging the good (which tends to cohesion and preservation). It is possible that this process is underway now, and it is also possible that it has been completed and we repeat it or follow in its wake. The idea that the Divine should be good in human social terms--at least in its fundamental essence--is a bit too human centered to serve my spiritual desire to become more than human, to participate in the ultimate creative agency behind all other creators.

Re: Johanna's emanation/light quotation, makes me think of Meher Baba's monist comments that evil is the residuum of earlier good and that there is no evil, only degrees of goodness.
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[User Picture]From: angelweed
2008-11-13 03:25 am (UTC)
The idea that the Divine should be good in human social terms--at least in its fundamental essence--is a bit too human centered to serve my spiritual desire to become more than human, to participate in the ultimate creative agency behind all other creators.

Being human, I see through human lenses. Since (as I believe) we are all part of the Divine, the Divine (in part) sees through human lenses too. And this part of the Divine believes that the Divine should be good in human social terms, and more (for some value of "good" and some value of "more"). Human goodness and mystery both.

Possibly that's because I don't perceive an ultimate creative agency behind all other creators. Possibly an ultimate creative agency made up of all other creators.
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[User Picture]From: america_divine
2008-11-13 02:00 pm (UTC)
Me too--but I see the human being as a point in process, framed by and existing in a continuum with things or states that are not human. For me, made up or or behind are the same difference--it's the force that makes any sort of coherence or mutual recognition possible. But the starting supposition that seems most evident to me is that matter is a state of consciousness, that consciousness alone has any sort of meaningful reality, and that all things are conscious. I definitely experience things and reap fruits that are more important to me than what my preferences for good would have permitted, and I have much deeper relationships because there is evil in the world. I think the existence of evil is the only reason I value the particular at all--because it is threatened, temporally precious.

But I definitely have a driving and central and religious passion to identify my consciousness with something greater than human, and this would seem in part to be an inherited legacy lodged in my humanity. I imagine this as an ever-unfolding process that is also simultaneously complete--a whole sustained by its systems. If there is any continuity, there is a whole; if it is infinite in all senses, then my emphasis would shift from a countable "one" to wholeness, to continuity's self-awareness as an infinite principle. Why shouldn't it be conscious?

I don't want the Divine to be good in human social terms, since the human concept of goodness still seems to need some development (and because I think it is learned, not innate). I hope it is linked to something further ahead or more encompassing. Maybe I want it to fulfill and model goodness perfectly, while simultaneously calling or pushing us beyond present scope.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-11-13 02:04 pm (UTC)
I do think there is an innate goodness--but that human culture tends to obscure it or militate against it, at least in recent ages. I don't think it has to be that way, though, or that it's that way in essence. But I do think we'll have to collectively feel our way out.
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[User Picture]From: america_divine
2008-11-13 08:50 pm (UTC)
It occurs to me that adhesion (attraction of dissimilar substances) might be a better metaphor for what I mean than cohesion (which defines a single body or the attraction of similar substances), though at some conceptual point the distinction disappears.
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[User Picture]From: america_divine
2008-11-13 08:52 pm (UTC)
But it sounds like we'd both rather be coherent than adherents. ;-)
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