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Wrestling with God and with Evil

Philosophical Reflections


编者 Hendrik M. Vroom

The fact of evil continues to raises questions – questions about the relationship between God and evil but also questions about human involvement in it. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is now time to see the existence of evil not just as a problem for belief in God; it is a problem for belief in humanity itself as well. For human involvement in evil is not simply a matter of coping with evil but also concerns the fact that humans themselves often seem to do wrong and evil inevitably. Human finitude, ignorance and the unforeseeable consequences of good intentions as well as of neglect can often lead to tragedy.
This volume contains contributions from an equal number of male and female scholars in Western Europe and America. It contains discussions of thinkers like Kant, Kierkegaard, Barth, Weil, Levinas, Naber, Caputo and Johnson. It deals with issues like tragedy, finitude, critiques of Western culture, violence and God, and the question of whether theodicies are needed or are even honest. This volume offers an interesting survey of ‘wrestling with God and evil’ from a variety of perspectives in the philosophy of religion on both sides of the Atlantic.


Wendy Doniger

This contribution argues for the value of certain myths as metaphors for radical evil. Taking as examples the American reactions to 9/11 2001, South Asian sources that might temper reactions to the tsunami of December 26, 2004, the imagination of the end of the human race at the close of the great ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, and Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on the philosophy of evil, the conclusion will speculate on the consequences of naturalizing moral evil and moralizing natural evil.


Jacqueline Borsje

This contribution describes what is understood by evil, as perceived within Irish medieval texts, both by the authors and by the groups described in the texts. It attempts to include the points of view of possible audiences or readers of the texts as well. The definition of evil employed here thus covers multi form aspects of evil as found in these texts. These manifestations of evil are represented by various kinds of perceived danger, ranging from bodily to spiritual harm. The coping strategies discussed here refer to the belief in the power of words as a form of postulated protection.


Marthinus L. Daneel

The main focus of this contribution is the exorcism work of the Zimbabwean bishops Nyasha and Kiyai Zawa as they combat evil caused by wizardry and spirit possession. They confront practicing wizards (sorcerers and witches) and the spirits that induce such activities in their “holy places,” where they use Christian symbols of deliverance and liberation against the backdrop of beliefs in magic. These bishops help people to cope with evil through the all important interrelations between the healing prophet and patients—many of whom are self-confessed wizards. Their counseling sessions help the afflicted wizards and witches (varoyi) and provide a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation in society via membership in “churches of reconciliation.”


Martijn de Koning

This article analyzes how images of evil are used by Muslim young people to categorize the other and to define themselves. The concept of evil plays a role in the construction of a Muslim identity and therefore widens the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. This contribution will also show how young Muslims change this concept in order to close the gap between themselves and non-Muslims. This article sees Islam as a complete repertoire of activities, a type of toolbox containing practices (such as prayer and fasting, the wearing of a headscarf) and beliefs (such as in Shaitan [the devil], taghut [tyrant or false god], kafir (unbeliever), dajjal [liar, anti-Christ] and evil) and experiences. Most Muslims see evil as coming from outside. Every Muslim is born neither good nor evil and has the possibility of reaching perfection. At the same time, "evil" is not a clearly defined element of the Muslim repertoire but something that has to be negotiated. This means that "evil" is part of the identity politics of young Muslims: the negotiations about the definition and interpretation of ideas, practices and experiences that constitute a certain identity. Distinctive for Muslim identities or Muslim politics is the reference to experiences, beliefs, practices, symbols, and traditions that constitute "Islam."


Petruschka Schaafsma

The idea that religion provides ideas and practices that help people cope with evil is widespread. It may be used in a neutral way to define the function of religion but can also be used by both adversaries and advocates of religion. Thus religion may be criticized for “easy coping,” for providing cheap, comforting theories. Religion may also be appreciated for giving an anchor or focus to life in hard times. In this paper, the coping thesis and the presuppositions behind it are confronted with the example of Karl Barth’s view of evil and Christian belief. Barth deals with evil under the term das Nichtige and aims to understand God’s relation to it. He criticizes the idea that human beings by themselves can know what evil is and how they should cope with it. Thus, Barth’s view seems to differ on important points from the coping thesis. What does this mean for the value of this thesis?


Beverley Clack

Theodicists have sought to show that belief in an all-powerful, all-loving, personal God is not at odds with the existence of evil and, in particular, with the extreme suffering that results from it. This paper, in common with other antitheodical approaches, argues that the attempt to show that God and evil can coexist invariably leads to the distortion and misrepresentation of suffering. At the same time, it builds upon such criticisms, proposing an approach that does not seek to provide a solution to evil conceived as a puzzle. Rather, it contends that the philosopher should take suffering seriously, allowing it to challenge the assumptions that underlie Western philosophy of religion. In particular, it accepts the limited significance of theoretical claims in the light of events that often challenge any attempt to impose meaning.


Conrad Wethmar

The aim of this paper is to give an account of the interaction between Christianity and African Traditional Religion found in African Christian theology. The comparison is made with special reference to the respective conceptualizations of evil present in each of these traditions. The paper commences with a brief survey of the manner in which the notion of evil features in the Christian Scriptures and tradition. A brief outline of the African world and life view is then presented in order to provide the back-drop against which an analysis of the notion of evil in African Traditional Religion can be attempted. This analysis is mainly made with reference to recent research on witchcraft and spirit beliefs and is followed by a portrayal of the interaction between the traditional Christian views of evil and those found in African Traditional Religion. This interaction exhibits the twofold structure of rejection on the one hand and accommodation on the other.


Victor A. van Bijlert

The problem of evil has vexed many Hindu thinkers throughout the ages. But unlike Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which hold to the belief in an allpowerful benign creator-God of the world, Hinduism never explicitly held that God is good. Rather, God is impersonal, like the universe itself. Thus, as the universe, God created everything but in an impersonal way. The creator- God of the three Abrahamic religions is a person, even a legal person, who enters into a contract with His people and Who promulgates irrevocable legal texts. This idea is unknown in Hinduism. God is not a lawgiver. In Hindu thought, the question of evil is relevant only in the social world. Moreover, evil is the outcome of (social) human action, driven by desire, anger and avarice. These three vices are regarded as the sources of evil. This idea is illustrated by relevant passages from the Bhagavad Gita, a rather abstract theological scripture and the Devimahatmya, a very popular narrative Hindu scripture. With respect to both scriptures, it is important to note that (a) they promulgate the idea of an internalized renunciation of the world as the source of ultimate human good, and (b) they place the origin of evil squarely in human hands. God, the ultimate Spirit of the universe, is not responsible for evil. Evil has a human source and it takes human effort to overcome it within oneself by renouncing the three vices of desire, anger and avarice.


Martien E. Brinkman

In early Christianity, the descent into hell was the symbol of the range of the resurrection: even the dead would be liberated from the evil powers holding them captive. Together with the phenomenon of exorcism during the baptism rite in the night of Eastern it is a clear indication of the strong awareness of the influence of evil powers upon the living and dead in the ancient church. This contribution will discuss the continuous struggle with evil for the dead and living believers. It confronts us first with our beliefs on the place of our ancestors and, second, with our own position regarding bad (evil) spirits, even after our baptism. By speaking about demons, the New Testament intends to underline the seriousness and power of the temptations to which human beings are exposed and to which they repeatedly succumb. The prayer “deliver us from (the) evil (one)” indicates that we need strength from elsewhere to be delivered from the grip of evil. Evil, then, not only has to do with a good or bad will or with a concretely good or bad deed but also with a third power which we cannot apparently denote in a different or more adequate way than by means of such words as demon, devil, Satan, etc.