I work in news. I’m not exactly a journalist. I’m not exactly part of the media. But I read and commentate on anything and everything that goes on in the world. Yesterday was not a good news day. Every story I read was doom and gloom. Governments are taking people’s money and cutting their necessary benefits, like healthcare so they don’t die. Other governments are committing offences against their people that include murder. Bob Hoskins, who I will always remember as Smee in the movie Hook, has died. Any news out of the Ukraine. Sexual assault is trending almost every day. There are tornadoes and floods in the Midwest, an area of America that has a special place in my heart. My mom’s side of the family lives there (and I’m praying they are safe), I went to university there and my best friends (who are really my chosen family) still live there. Basically, the news yesterday (and probably today, I haven’t checked yet) was horrible and depressing.
Is there any good news?
One of the problems that Christians face is how do we explain evil. My atheist sister-in-law asked me last we talked how I account for the problem of evil with my belief in God. Philosophy and religion have often considered this problem. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy opens its entry on The Problem of Evil in this way:
“The epistemic question posed by evil is whether the world contains undesirable states of affairs that provide the basis for an argument that makes it unreasonable for anyone to believe in the existence of God.”
That is basically what we talked about. As always, this problem haunts me. It does pose a challenge to my beliefs. Not because I think it disproves God, but because it challenges every single belief that I have in the good that Christianity is supposed to do in the world. My sister-in-law (who is a very intelligent woman) argued that evil disproves God. That is an intelligent argument to make. I, however, argue that it proves that Christians have failed in their mission. Or, less religiously, I argue that men simply don’t do anything about the evil in their world.
Religion Doesn’t Matter
Honestly, the problem of evil argument against the existence of God is a red herring. Evil is a problem, but not because it implies anything about God. It implies that human beings have failed to take care of the world they live in. As far as you can tell from looking at the news, God doesn’t perpetrate rape, murder, pillage, genocide, unfair taxes, the taking away of necessary basic care, or censorship. Only men do that.
Oddly, people’s religion doesn’t matter when it comes to how people act towards others. Christians impose all sorts of abuses on their fellow men, including (but not limited to) denying people in Africa the use of condoms that could keep them from contracting aids. Muslims are famous for Jihad. Jews participate in the genocide of Palestinians. And I’m only naming the top three religions in the world. As far as I can figure out by looking at the news, only Buddhists haven’t committed a huge offense against humanity, but I don’t actually know a lot about Buddhist history.
I will at this point include a disclaimer:
Not all Muslims, Christians, or Jews perpetrate evil on other people. All I’m pointing out with this is that religion is associated (in some cases quite closely) with some of the worst evils that have been perpetrated on other human beings.
In the end, your religion doesn’t matter when it comes to who doesn’t commit evil. Some people who are religious commit evil against others. Some people who are not religious also do that. And some religious and non-religious people are doing a lot of good for the world. You cannot stereotype people based on religion or non-religion. We are all both bad and good.
The Old Saying
The title of this post comes from an old saying that you may know: All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. I believe that this concept comes from the Golden Rule. If you do unto others what you would want done to you, then you’re not going to do nothing. In both of these ideas is a call to action for religious and non-religious alike.
In practice, it doesn’t matter whether the problem of evil disproves God. No one is going to come to a consensus on that. Belief in God is based on other things than philosophy or logic and that’s how it should be. But there is something that we can come to a consensus about, namely, that the problem of evil proves we aren’t doing enough good in the world.
My sister-in-law disagree on only one point (God), but everything else we do agree on. We agree that it is up to people to make the world a better place, not a God or God-like being. When I look at the news, it is depressing. But it is also a wake-up call that I have to put something good into the world. By myself, I will never be able to fix the world. Even if I gathered people around me and tried to have a lot of impact on the world, I probably wouldn’t even make a dent in it.
Religion might be able to do something. In 2013, the BBC reported that there were 1.2 BILLION Catholics in the world according to the Vatican. According to Google, there are over 7 billion people in the world. Do some math, and Catholics account for about 1/5th of all people. Religion has the numbers to do good in the world. But it isn’t. Ultimately, religion is not what matters when it comes to doing good in the world.
God or Not, Do Something
Whether God really exists or not, it is up to us to do good in the world. Evil exists. We can do something about it. These are the facts. So do something. Follow the Golden Rule. Through action, something good can happen. And when it does, when you improve the world, or when I find people who are doing good, I’ll write a story about it. And maybe I won’t be quite as depressed when I show up to work.