Facing Evil: Why Christians and Atheists Need Each Other
The biggest and most difficult problem for both Christians and atheists is the problem of evil. Consequently, each side can learn something about the depth of the problem by viewing it from the perspective of the other.
Wow, now that’s bleak. Out of nothing and to nothing. Given that kind of vision it is hardly surprising that the most Allen can offer is for us to try to cope and find some happiness before we’re snuffed out.
Allen’s worldview runs directly into the problem of evil in two ways. To begin with, there is the shattering offense of evil. It seems to me that the breathtaking revulsion we experience when seeing Jeff Bauman being wheeled through the streets of Boston, his legs blown to ribbons by the unspeakable actions of terrorists, signals something about the perceived worth of human beings. We recognize at that moment that this is an objectively evil act, one that has marred a valued and loved creature of God. In Judeo-Christian theology we capture this sense of the worth of human beings with the declaration that we have been made in the image of God. Consequently the victimization and violation of a human being in a terrorist attack constitutes an offense against God and the universe he made.
But if we are merely “an odd little phenomenon that has no meaning”, a “microspeck” from nothing and headed back to nothing, then murder and mayhem don’t present an offense against the order of the universe or a violation of intrinsic worth. Instead, the suffering of those in the Boston bombing is merely one more momentary, inconsequential occurrence in an overwhelming, violent universe.
And that brings me to the second point, that of hope. If Woody Allen is right, then where is the hope? Where is the hope for the victims of the Boston bombing? For the workers in the Bangladesh building collapse? For the parents and children of Newtown? Where is the hope for any of us that we will one day be delivered from the evils we experience and witness every day?
Why we need each other
It seems to me that when facing a problem as great and existentially consuming as evil, we need all the help we can get. And in this endeavor, I find myself drawn to the old adage: as iron sharpens iron. The atheist challenges the Christian to grapple with the depth of evil not only as an abstract concept to be reconciled to two divine attributes. Instead, the Christian must face evil in all its horror as she considers why God would allow such agonizing pain and injustice.
But this is no moment of triumphalism for the atheist who is forced to consider whether his own view is adequate to ground the sense of an objective offense in the experience of evil, and the ultimate hope of deliverance from it. I would hope and expect that through genuine dialogue each side will find themselves moving beyond labels like “fool” and “faith head” as they are challenged to think through the problem of evil with a new depth of rigor and intellectual honesty. And from there we can turn to work together to the next step of fighting the evils we find in our midst.
Randal Rauser is co-author of a new book entitled God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions. With Randal presenting the Christian side and John W. Loftus presenting the atheist side, they seek to engage in civil conversation to help those with differing beliefs understand each other’s point of view.