Monthly Archives: January 2009


The problem with the problem of evil

I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the end of January and the seasonal affective disorder is finally getting to me, but lately I’m having a hard time reading the news without feeling sick to my stomach.

For example, earlier this week I read about a family with 5 kids who’s father shot them all, before killing himself. Then I read about a little 2-year-old girl who was murdered by her mother, and as one of the last acts of the toddler’s life, she reached out to her mama and said “I love you.” That story really got to me, especially when I think about my own little 2-year-old — who I could never imagine harming in such a brutal way.

What do you do with these stories that reveal the worst parts of human nature?

As a Christian, I used to be able to sate myself by saying “God will make things right.” Even if my God didn’t do anything to stop these brutal things from happening in the first place, I could still find comfort in thinking of some future vindication. I also could view evil as Evil — in other words, personified into the enemy.

But now, as someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in a justice-metering God, how do I negotiate the problems associated with theodicy?

I started thinking about what I will say whenever Emma asks me about these types of acts, and the reasons why they occur — am I at a disadvantage, since I can’t refer to a supposedly objectively-moral deity? Who has the tougher job explaining evil — the theist or atheist?

I’ve been dwelling on this question for a while now, and the more I think about it, the more I think the theist has the harder position than the atheist. Sure, they’ve got the trump card of eternal punishment (to look forward to?) on their side, but theists also have to navigate the reasons why these evil acts occur in the first place — despite having a god present, who (presumably) doesn’t like to see his creation suffer.

I don’t have to justify or explain the reasons why these acts occur. I don’t have to promote a personal God, and then try to explain his absence or his condoning of acts that could have been prevented. I don’t have to be an acrobatic theologian, in order to smooth over inconsistencies of my faith.

Plus I don’t have to have “the answer,” either. Sure, I can pursue different answers, but the drive of certainty doesn’t necessarily apply to me. Just like I don’t have to KNOW how the universe began, I don’t have to pin down the reason behind some of these heinous acts fellow human beings commit.

That said, though, I also don’t have the luxury of hell. I can’t look to ultimate justice to right what’s been wronged. This means that rather than as a theist explaining and looking forward — as someone who doesn’t believe in God, I have to be active in preventing and punishing, in this lifetime.

For more on this issue, I’ve listened to this debate on the problem of evil between agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman and theologian Richard Swinburne — and I’m definitely not satisfied with the arguments on Swinburne’s side. A few weeks ago I was able to grab Ehrman’s latest book (on sale!) God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, and I’ll be interested to read the specifics of his argument.

[I realize I'm opening the door to free will arguments here, but I think I'm willing to take them on.]

Stay classy, Catholic church

Here’s the newly reinstated Bishop Richard Williamson, who the Pope un-excommunicated this week. He’s definitely someone you want out there representing your church:

Let’s recap:


Sounds about right.

Another reason for me to stop while I’m ahead:

The demand for humanities PhDs has long been tight — for four decades, the number of jobs requiring them hasn’t kept pace with the number of people earning them. But by all indications, recent university hiring freezes and evaporating grant money have reduced the world’s most elite degree to junk-bond status.

“Every single academic, especially in the humanities, has a tinge of buyer’s remorse” about their PhD, she says. “You see your peers in law or business school make down payments on homes and buy cars and go on vacation. But as a PhD student, you’re in your 30s, still renting an apartment and driving a ’84 Corolla. It’s not cute.”

Is a GED more valuable than a PhD?

Two year olds don’t pose

I’m finally getting around to uploading all of my xmas pictures and other pictures that have been sitting on my harddrive for over a month.

I give you: a photographic chronicle of the attempt to get a cute picture of Emma with her cousin Oscar –

It used to be so easy!

Ballet + Joni Mitchell music = my Saturday night

A friend has invited me to be her date for tomorrow night’s performance of The Fiddle and the Drum. Here’s the description:

Alberta Ballet & Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum

In the winter of 2006, celebrated singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and Alberta Ballet Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître joined forces to create an exhilarating and emotional production blending Mitchell’s music and art with Grand-Maître’s choreography. This semi-abstract narrative ballet danced in neo-classical style will include Mitchell’s most relevant music. The dynamic stage fully designed by Mitchell will also include her latest artwork, which will be projected on stage canvas screens during the ballet.


It’s perfect timing, particularly since I’ve been on a Joni Mitchell kick as of late. Rumor has it that she’ll be in the audience, too!

I suppose I’ll brave the -$%#! temperatures for a night like this.

Purpose driven tax evasion?

How much clout does Rick Warren have?

The California megachurch minister and opponent of gay marriage who will deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration had his income tax returns audited in 1996. When the IRS tried to collect the taxes it claimed he owed, Warren went to court. Congress then passed a law granting Warren’s tax deduction, pre-empting the US Court of Appeals from even taking up the case against him. The votes in the House and Senate were unanimous.

[rest of article]

I suppose judicial and legislative activism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it gets you out of paying back taxes you owe?