Thursday 10 November 2022

Is it Irrational to reject God?

There is a common line of argument in Christian theology - which is rooted in the 'omni' conceptualization of God as creating everything from nothing (ex nihilo) - which concludes that evil is necessarily irrational, i.e. evil makes no sense even from its own perspective

(This is sometimes extended into asserting that - therefore, sooner or later - all Men will 'come to their senses' and choose salvation; even those who initially choose hell or are sent to hell.)  

But I regard this as mistaken: partly because its premises (omni-God and creation ex nihilo) are wrong; partly because it fails to acknowledge a core aspect of Christianity - specifically, which is that it is an 'opt-in' and chosen religion; and partly because it fails to grasp the potential rational appeal of evil

To be Good is to affiliate oneself with God's will and creation; evil is to oppose this. 

To be Good is to desire to live in harmony with God and God's wishes and with other Beings who have made the same choice; to be evil is to set oneself against creation (and, usually, of other Beings). 

But why oppose creation? There might be several reasons that are rational - one is to resent the fact that God created thus, and not otherwise - and with these aims and not others.

Such resentment comes from our-selves as free agents, as (eternal) Beings who have our own wills and creative potential. Evil may therefore be rooted in a conviction that 'I' personally disagree with God, 'I' dislike Gods plans and methods; and 'I' therefore refuse to affiliate-myself with God's work. 

Such resentment amounts to a preference for 'myself' over God (despite that this is God's created reality - indeed perhaps exactly because 'I' am compelled to dwell in God's created reality). 

Consider: whatever the nature of my disagreement may be, the disagree-er nonetheless finds-himself already-within God's creation. 

Evil amounts to a preference of myself (and my desires and motivations) above God and this world he made, including the changes God made to me - without asking for my agreement!

Thus evil is correctly described as a form of pride - of regarding oneself as The Being who ought-to-be God. 

So far this might be a purely private 'preference', as leading merely to opting-out of God's creation. In theory a Man might disagree with God's reality, and simply desire not to be a part of it...

But in practice, much evil is also fuelled by resentment against God

Because he cannot do what God has done; because he cannot' replace God - the evil Man (or other Being) develops an active dislike of God and divine creation... 

Because he knows that he cannot replace God, he reacts by the desire to destroy creation: the desire to destroy all that God has done and is doing; simply because it is not what he personally would have chosen to do. 

To be Good is to desire to live in harmony with God's creation and the other Beings who themselves have chosen to live in harmony with God's creation. 

To be evil is rooted in disagreement with this ideal of harmony; and to take up an attitude of opposition to God and creation - mostly including an attitude to other Beings that regards them as instruments of this opposition (because there is no reason to desire harmony with them), and the desire that other beings with will enlisted to one's own assertion as the legitimate creator. 

(Hence the manipulative and exploitative - 'means to the end of destruction' - attitude to other Beings that is characteristic of evil - albeit perhaps not universal... I could imagine an evil that was group-based, rooted in an arbitrary preference for a particular group of Beings - who then manipulate and exploit the other Beings) 

I infer from this way of understanding; that evil is, at root, a personal response to the facts of God and creation; and that evil therefore need not be irrational, nor need it be self-correcting.  

I assume that some Beings (i.e. Men, Angels/ Demons, and indeed any other of the many Beings of which reality is constituted) may choose to adopt evil as their basic stance concerning God and divine creation.

This ultimate choice to oppose God may be based on a genuine understanding of reality; and evil may therefore be an irreducible preference and choice of perspective - which means that such evil is both rational, and also potentially eternal. 


Jack said...

My understanding is that evil can be rational according to petty reason, but not rational according to superior reason / 'Reason' in the grand Platonic sense, which is identical to the Greek Logos , Hebrew Law, Chinese Tao, and Indian Dharma.

The problem with the "I disagree with God and assert my own freedom, preference, divinity, etc., over against Him" reason—and the reason why this conforms to mere petty reason—is that it's a benighted, narrow view of God being used here. God is not a mere ego who happens to be bigger and stronger than ours, such that we can have a reasonable argument or disagreement with Him. Rather, God is the ground and precondition of our existence and identity, such that to the extent we oppose God we also oppose ourselves.

Because we are limited we often forget that, but at some point in your opposition against God you must realise that you are merely undermining yourself and are acting irrationally—at that point if you continue in evil you are simply being malicious.

This is why evil really is cycles of self-refuting petty reason that go round and round and eventually collapse in on themselves. That's why the perfectly demonic mind understands that it IS acting irrationally and out of pure nihilistic self-loathing and self-destruction, simply for the sake of being evil and not for any reason whatsoever—a pure, pointless, futile malice. Hence Goethe rightly calls his demonic type "The Spirit that Denies". The demonic mind that still fancies it's acting reasonably in some way is not the perfected demonic mind, and is merely being petty.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - Well, it is essential to Christianity that a single Man can indeed defy God's hopes and best plans for us, and refuse to follow Jesus Christ - so, no matter how counter-productive or misery-inducing it may be - individual Men can and do reject God and creation.

Since evil feeds-upon-itself, reinforces its own perspective (as we can see all around us in this mortal life) it seems almost certain that this rejection of God can be permanent; beyond a certain point evil probably indeed *tends* to be permanent.

Francis Berger said...

I find it remarkable how much more comprehensible and accessible things become once omni-everything and creatio ex nihilo are set aside. Once that it is done, you can actually start thinking instead of needlessly trying to hammer square pegs into round holes.

a_probst said...

@Francis Berger

Or try to square circles or trisect angles.

My name is Matt said...

This perfectly illustrates the soul-damning error of excluding intellectus and using only ratio. The heart MUST be allowed to warm our thoughts.

Nathanael said...

Thought provoking post Bruce...

Eternal evil? hmmm

I do think God is sovereign over all things and if He wanted to annihilate it He could do.

I agree with Jack that left to its own devices it would collapse in on itself, or die off once it no longer has any more hosts to live off.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nat - In the end; Christians have to decide-between either what Jesus clearly said (and what Jesus's nature showed) concerning the solid reality of human agency; or else the implications of Greco-Roman philosophers ( who pre-dated Jesus) ideas about the abstract attributes of deity, which ideas (apparently) fundamentally influenced the theological assumptions of the early church.

Nathanael said...

Thanks Bruce.

Very thought provoking indeed.