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Chapter Eight of Religion for Awakening: The Origin of Evil

Awakening at sunrise to meditate

Before attempting to answer the question “What is right and what is wrong?” we must consider a certain difficulty which often stands in the way of a frank and free discussion of that question. It is the difficulty connected with the problem of the origin of evil. Sooner or later everyone who thinks will find himself confronted with this problem. In all ages of which any literary record has come down to us that problem seems to have puzzled the deepest and sincerest thinkers that the human race has produced, not one of whom can be said to have solved it entirely. It is a very interesting problem, and its true solution will doubtless be discovered as we grow in knowledge. At present we are all very, very ignorant, relatively speaking. That great English genius, Isaac Newton, the discoverer of the profound laws of gravitation or the attraction which material bodies, great and small, exercise upon each other, said that the knowledge so far acquired by scientists was but as a few pebbles on the shore. That is true. Compared with what still remains to be known, the knowledge that any one of us, even the Newtons amongst us, presently possesses is a mere nothing. We must, therefore, be patient. When we cannot solve a problem such as this problem of evil, we must not assume that there is no solution of it; still less must we jump to a false conclusion when we have not sufficient facts at our disposal to form a conclusion at all. We must wait and see.

The problem, briefly stated, is this: How is it that in a universe or system which God, the Absolute One, has designed and is creating there is any such thing as evil, or any possibility of it? How is it that there is all this evil, which we know to exist all around us–in human beings, in the lower animal kingdom and, so it seems, in invisible beings? If God is good–and only one who is good is worthy to be called God–why did He allow evil to enter into His work? If we had been God, we sometimes say, we would not have allowed any evil, with all its attendant suffering in the human and sub-human kingdoms, to come into creation; we would not have created the locust, the cobra or the diphtheria bacillus, nor would we have allowed the instinct which impels the cat to torture the mouse; still less would we have allowed evil to take possession of human beings. Perhaps not. If we, being neither greater nor wiser than we are here and now, had had to create a universe, we might have designed it differently. But then almost certainly we would not have made the success of it that God will have made by the time that He has finished it.

The Solution

Our knowledge being so limited, we need not and cannot expect to find the entire solution of so perplexing a problem so long as our knowledge is thus limited. But that is no reason why we should not strive to increase our knowledge and so get nearer to the solution. We will only venture to make a few suggestions which may serve as a useful guide to any who feel that they must pursue the problem as far as they can–suggestions which may commend themselves to the intuition more than to the intellect. In the first place, we suggest that there can ultimately be only one God, and He must be good. There cannot be two Absolutes–one good and the other bad. Even to speak of two Absolutes, or of one Absolute, as being either good or bad is absurd. If instead of “Absolute” we speak of “Cause,” our language will be less absurd. Whatever else we may mean by God, we mean at least the first cause, or the uncaused cause, of all that is. There can be only one such first cause, not two.

There have been teachers, notably in Persia (Iran), who in their attempt to solve this problem to have taught that there were two first causes, one the cause of good, and the other the cause of evil. This teaching is generally known as Dualism. The Christian religion has always opposed this teaching, and so have the greatest teachers of any religion or philosophy that the human race has produced, or that have come to the world from beyond the human race. Whatever be the true solution of the problem, Dualism is not it. Ultimately there can be only one God or first cause. That suggestion we leave with confidence to the intuition.

Then, following from that, we may safely proceed to reason that, however ill things at our level may seem to be, all is really well at the source. We know that good is good, and evil is bad. How do we know? By intuition. The God in us knows–the God in us being good. We want the good even when we do the bad. It is the God in us that knows the good and wants it. If God were not wholly good we should not know that good is good, nor prefer good to evil. From that we may proceed still further and say that the evil, which sometimes seems so real, is either a delusion, or that, if it is as real as it seems, it is at least only a passing phase–it cannot last, for only that which has God in it can last. Further still, we may go along this line of reasoning and say that even if it is real it is only real at our level. Evil is only on the surface. Beneath the surface, and not so very far beneath, either, there is only good. That which we know as evil–such as envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness–never proceeded from God as such. That which we know as evil here originally proceeded from God as good, but it has been perverted or twisted out of shape on the way down to our level through the seven planes of matter. From the information we are able to gather from those who know about the soul, whose permanent habitat is the upper level of the fifth or mental plane, there does not seem to be evil there, except in some very rare cases. Imperfection may be found there, but not evil. The soul–in the sense of the higher self–of what we would call an evil person is without the evil that is so conspicuous in his character as we know him–that is, in his lower self. In his case the lower self has not yet developed the opposite and corresponding good that is in the higher self.

We are well aware that these suggestions cannot be substantiated on purely intellectual grounds, nor do they pretend to be a complete solution of the difficulty. We cannot prove them, but we claim that the first suggestion, namely, that ultimately there can be only one God, and that He must be at least as good as the highest goodness that we can conceive, commends itself to the intuition; and that the remaining suggestions seem to follow from that starting point. Therefore, if in reasoning we find ourselves heading towards the conclusion that God is evil, we may as well say “which is absurd” and start afresh on another line of reasoning with other premises. And at least let us be sufficiently humble to admit to ourselves that after all we do not know very much at present, not nearly enough to come to such conclusion as that God is not good, or that He is impotent.

Read Chapter Nine of Religion for Awakening: Right and Wrong

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Chapters in Religion for Awakening:

Introduction to Religion for Awakening

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