The Role of Good and Evil in Western Traditions

The Role of Good and Evil in Western TraditionsAll religions advise people to do-good deeds and refrain from doing evil. But what is the benefit of doing good? What is the value of morality? We often say "Good deeds bring about good rewards, and evil deeds hard retributions. What role does the concept of good and evil play in the Western traditions? Western traditions believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all things. We would not even be self aware, let alone aware of right and wrong, if God had not created within us His image, and therefore the ability to make moral distinctions. The truth is we have no reference point for all this discussion about morality except as God reveals it. For us to argue with the source of morality is for the clay to argue with the potter. Some philosophers say that for God to define what is right or wrong is arbitrary. God is not arbitrary; He is the source of all life and therefore the source of all truth. We have no basis to even understand the concept of being arbitrary except in reference to an unchanging God. If we recognize the nature of man, which is if man were not fallen, i.e., not corrupted by sin, we would have limitless potential to create from within ourselves a universal moral code. But, we are a fallen lot, every last one of us, and therefore incapable of fully knowing what is good (Rom. 3:23). We are even incapable of carrying out what we do know to be good (Rom. 7:18-21). So the question of right or wrong has everything to do with the origin of our belief, not just the substance of it. No matter how sincerely I believe I am right about some moral decision, the true test is in the origin of that belief. And God is the only universal and absolute origin to all morality
The role of Maya in the Eastern traditions is God?s technology that he employed in creation. Maya is the veil that prevents us from Self-realization. God gives this veil to us. He thus puts us under the lower prakriti. Because of maya, we do not see us all delivered from the One God, united in Him, but see ourselves in the resulting multiplicity as rootless individuals. It is similar to original sin. As everything is based on Dharma which means all events and things in this world. All phenomena that we know in this world is not absolute. This may be explained in two ways: all things, from human beings to the earth that we live on are in constant change, they are not permanent and not ultimate. Everything in the world is relative. When there is good there will be bad; when there is birth there will be death; when there is a rise there will be a fall; when there is this, there will be that; when there is this family, there will be that family. This is how the world stands. It is relative and full of contradictions. Hence the phenomena in this world cannot be considered absolute. Since everything in this world is relative and changing, human existence cannot be regarded as ultimate either. Great deal of emphasis is placed on the Law of Cause and Effect. Thus, one must believe in the existence of pure causes and effects: i.e.: cause and effect that are free from defilement, free from the attachments of ego. Pure causes will produce pure effects. Thus one?s ideal goal would to have pure causes and their corresponding effects (Madigan, 1997).

The classic problem of evil is an issue only certain monotheistic religions like Judaism and Christianity which assumes the existence of a perfectly good, all powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient) creator God. If God is all-powerful, all knowing, and every where (omnipresent), why is there evil in the world? In religions where God is not necessarily perfectly good, or all-powerful, or all knowing, the problem does not arise. In early Judaism, for instance God is sometimes said to cause evil (hardening Pharaoh?s heart, tempting David to conduct a sinful census), and even repent (the flood). But Judaism eventually evolved to insist on a perfectly good God. The Judeo-Christian concept of God as Omniscient needs to be defined more clearly. In Webster?s dictionary, omniscient is listed as ?having total knowledge; knowing everything? (Shick, 1997).

There is a better way of understands God?s omniscience: supporting both the understanding of God as being all knowing, and at the same time affirming human free will. Consider an illustration. I walk out of the house in the morning to go to work. There are many choices for me to make: time to leave, direction to go, speed at which I will drive, what I will listen to on the radio, how I will respond to traffic jams, etc. God does not plan out my day for me, but rather knows every possible choice (I repeat: God knows every possible choice) I might make on each of these. For instance, God knows that I might take one of many back road routes, or the highway. God knows that I might travel 30 mph, or go as fast as 75 mph, depending on the route I chose, the time I leave, how much of a hurry I am in. God knows that if I drive relaxed and am not in a hurry I will likely drive more slowly and more carefully, but if I?m running late I might go faster and take more risks. But even knowing all of these possibilities (which makes God more powerful and all-knowing than tying God to knowing only one set of choices) God is open to the moment that I exercise my free will and make a choice. And in the moment of my decision, God either rejoices or grieves and already knew the emotion that would go along with my action. At times I will make the incorrect choice, and I am responsible for it. If I swerve at the wrong moment and accident results, and someone dies or is severely injured, it is the human choices mine and others that are responsible, not God. An evil thing has happened. But God?s omniscience was much greater than my knowledge, and God knew there were better options for me, but out of love and a desire that I have a free will, allowed me to make them, my choices are responsible for the results (Shick).

Did God anticipate and know that the accident would occur? Yes, God knew that if I made a certain sequence of choices and carried them out, then the accident would occur. God could foresee that. But God also knew, and could foresee, that if I made other choices, the outcome would be different. In either case, I am responsible for my decisions and actions. What God knows (omniscience) will forever be beyond our understanding. If a person says that God?s omniscience means that God has already planned out every action of our lives, then that understanding of God is too limited. God?s knowledge (omniscience) is even greater. Is God responsible for evil? No, God does not inflict evil, but allows it. Or else we would only be puppets in God?s hands. Through free will we are the ones responsible God is the one who continues to reach out in love and tries to correct our bad choices, and encourage us to make good ones (Shick).

Evil is necessary in life. If there was no evil, how could we determine what was good and what happiness is? With evil in our presence, it forces us to experience the bad side of things, which in turn allows us to appreciate the finer things in life. I also tend to believe that evil is a test of faith from God (to those who firmly believe). Everything happens for a reason. To be truly happy, unfortunately, we must experience tragedy (Casey, 1997).

I contended that God wants us to choose a path for ourselves. He wants us to select the good path on our own, not just say that it is right. I also argued that sometimes one must just trust in God and in his plan for the universe, even if we do not understand his intentions. I am not sure if God exists. I like to think he does. I have to believe that there is a better place waiting for those who suffer in this life.

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