Beyond the Problem of Evil


The problem of evil is, in my opinion, the best point of
departure for a fruitful dialogue between Christianity,
traditionally conceived, and those strands of modern
philosophy which have been perceived--indeed, have
sometimes perceived themselves--as a threat to that
tradition. As such, I will attempt first, to outline the
problem of evil in the starkest terms possible, presenting
Augustine's approach to its solution followed by a critical
analysis; second, to present an alternative approach to the
questions which give rise to the problem--an approach
derived in large part from Spinoza and Nietzsche; and,
third, to show how this more philosophically acceptable
alternative can be expressed in the categories of faith,
allowing us to reappropriate the tradition .
PART ONE: Augustine's Approach to the Problem of Evil
Simply put, the problem of evil resides in the apparently
unavoidable contradiction between the notion of God as
omnipotent and omnibenevolent, on the one hand, and the
existence of evil (natural and moral), on the other.{1}
Indeed, granting that God is all powerful, it would seem
impossible for us to vouch for his benevolence, considering
our first-hand experience of evil in the world. Likewise,
if we grant from the outset that God is the paradigm of
goodness, then it would seem that we must modify our
conception of his power. However, Christian "orthodoxy"
remains unwilling to modify its conception of God's
goodness or his power-- thus, the persistence of the
St. Augustine was fully aware of this problem and spent
much-- perhaps most--of his philosophical energy attempting
to come to terms with it. In , he writes: Those
who ponder these matters are seemingly forced to believe
either that Divine Providence does not reach to these outer
limits of things or that surely all evils are committed by
the will of God. Both horns of this dilemma are impious,
but particularly the latter (1.1.1). His approach to a
solution to this problem is three-pronged: 1) he holds that
evil is a privation and cannot be properly said to exist at
all; 2) he argues that the apparent imperfection of any
part of creation disappears in light of the perfection of
the whole; and 3) he argues that the origin of moral evil,
together with that suffering which is construed as
punishment for sin, is to be found in the free choice of
the will of rational creatures. As a Manachee, Augustine
believed that both God and the principle of evil were some
sort of material substances, neither deriving its existence
from the other. Evil, although somehow  than God,
was, nevertheless, infinite and presented a real problem
for God to overcome in the course of his cosmic existence.
He describes his motives for believing such things as
follows: piety (however bizarre some of my beliefs were)
forbade me to believe that the good God had created an evil
nature ( 5.10.20). Even after Augustine had
abandoned these "bizarre beliefs" of the Manachees and had,
as a Christian, arrived at the notion of God as an
immutable, spiritual substance, the existence of evil still
troubled him for: Although I affirmed and firmly held
divine immunity from pollution and change and the complete
immutability of our God, the true God . . . yet I had no
clear and explicit grasp of the cause of evil. Whatever it
might be, I saw it had to be investigated, if I were to
avoid being forced by this problem to believe the immutable
God to be mutable. . . . I made my investigation without
anxiety, certain that what the Manichees said was untrue.
With all my mind I fled from them, because . . . I saw them
to be full of malice, in that they thought it more
acceptable to say your substance suffers evil than that
their own substance actively does evil (7.3.5). He began to
arrive at a solution to this difficulty after having been
introduced to "some books of the Platonists" (7.9.13). His
exposure to the neo-platonic notions that existence is good
and that evil is a privation, led him to see that even the
corruptible world is good: It was obvious to me that things
which are liable to corruption are good. If they were the
supreme goods, or if they were not good at all, they could
not be corrupted. For if they were supreme goods, they
would be incorruptible. If there were no good in them,
there would be nothing capable of being corrupted. . . .
all things that are corrupted suffer privation of some
good. If they were to be deprived of all good, they would
not exist at all. . . . Accordingly, whatever things exist
are good, and the evil into whose origins I was inquiring
is not a substance, for if it were a substance, it would be
good. . . . Hence I saw and it was made clear to me that
you made all things good, and there are absolutely no
substances which you did not make (7.12.18). "For [God],"
he goes on to say, "evil does not exist at all" (7.13.19).
It would seem, then, that evil is an illusion of sorts.
This brings us to what we referred to above as his second
approach to the problem of evil which endeavors to explain
this illusion. In , speaking with respect to
those aspects of creation which, if not actually evil, are,
nonetheless, disconcerting to human beings, Augustine
remarks that what delights in a portion of place or time
may be understood to be far less beautiful than the whole
of which it is a portion. And furthermore, it is clear to a
learned man that what displeases in a portion displeases
for no other reason than because the whole, with which that
portion harmonizes wonderfully, is not seen, but that, in
the intelligible world, every part is as beautiful and
perfect as the whole (328-9). Anticipating this conclusion
at the beginning of that same work, he criticizes those who
"think the whole universe is disarranged if something is
displeasing to them," comparing them to those who would
criticize an artisan when they had no concept of the whole
project, having seen only a small portion of it (240-1).
Likewise, in Book Seven of his , he argues
that things appear evil when considered from a finite
perspective, isolated from the totality of which they are a
part. Superior things, indeed, "are self-evidently better
than inferior," but "sounder judgment" holds that "all
things taken together are better than superior things by
themselves" (7.13.19). "All things" include corruptible
things, the destruction of which "brings what existed to
non-existence in such a way as to allow the consequent
production of what is destined to come into being" ( 12.5). Most people would find this explanation
tenable when applied to conflicts which arise among
non-human creatures; or, as an explanation of our aesthetic
displeasure in the face of some seemingly absurd, but
relatively trivial, natural phenomenon; or even, perhaps,
with respect to human suffering, conceived of as a
temporary expedient to a greater good. This perspective
encourages us to trust divine omnipotence and to
acknowledge the limits of human wisdom--neither of which is
ultimately repugnant. It falls short in most people's eyes,
however, if it is intended to convince them of the goodness
of God in the face of human suffering construed as
retributive justice. The notion of eternal torment causes
particular difficulties. This aspect of the tradition might
be overlooked as a "mystery" to be lived with if orthodoxy
permitted one to think that God, although infinitely good,
is of merely finite power. But it seems incomprehensible
that omnipotent God could punish human beings for something
that he, by virtue of his omnipotence, seems (at first
glance, at least) ultimately responsible for. Does
Augustine assert that this seemingly untenable aspect of
reality, which is implied by the conjunction of human
perdition and divine omnipotence, is nothing? Or that it
merely  evil when considered in isolation from the
totality of which it is a part? As we shall see, the answer
is in one respect no, but in another, yes. The answer is
no, insofar as Augustine does not merely dismiss those who
raise this problem by referring them to the two approaches
to the problem already considered. Rather, addressing those
who attempt to lay blame on God for the sin of human beings
and the punishment consequent to that sin, he takes a third
approach, arguing that the origin of moral evil and the
punishment it entails is a consequence of the free choice
of rational creatures. Sin, Augustine argues, is voluntary,
disrupting the order of the universe, while the punishment
is said (redundantly) to be "penal," restoring that order
( 3.9.26). The important point is that
insofar as we must talk of evil as if it were something,
God is not responsible for it, rather his creatures are.
God is to be praised insofar as he is willing and able to
harmonize the dishonor introduced by the evil will of
individual creatures with the honor intrinsic to the whole
(3.9.26). If we inquire as to the cause of the evil will,
Augustine claims an ignorance of sorts, consistent with his
notion of evil as a privation: We cannot doubt that [evil]
movement of the will, that turning away from the Lord God
[our "aversion" to the unchangeable good], is sin; but
surely we cannot say that God is the author of sin? God,
then, will not be the cause of that movement; but what will
be its cause? If you ask this, and I answer that I do not
know, probably you will be saddened. And yet that would be
a true answer. That which is nothing cannot be known. . .
All good is from God. Hence there is no natural existence
which is not from God. Now that movement of "aversion,"
which we admit is sin, is a defective movement; and all
defect comes from nothing. Observe where it belongs and you
will have no doubt that it does not belong to God. Because
that defective movement is voluntary, it is placed within
our power. If you fear it, all you have to do is simply not
to will it. If you do not will it, it will not exist
(2.20.54). Pressed further, he says that "an evil will is .
. . the cause of all evil wills," indicating that no cause
is to be found outside the will itself and suggesting that
to look further is itself evidence of an evil will (Cf.
 12.7). Despite this rather radical appeal
to human freedom and his pious admonition that one ought
not to look further for the cause of an evil will,
Augustine realizes that he is not yet off the hook. He goes
on to show that the necessity intrinsic to foreknowledge,
, is not inconsistent with the notion of free will
(3.4.10). But considering the fact that divine
foreknowledge is coupled with omnipotence, how, in the
final analysis, "is the creator to escape having imputed to
him anything that happens necessarily in his creature"
(3.5.12)? Augustine spends the next 20, or so, paragraphs
attempting to defend God against those who would cry foul.
He begins by insisting that piety requires that we give
thanks to God--period (3.5.12). Then, he reaffirms his
position that sin originates in the free will of human
beings and that we have no right to criticize God for not
creating us without the ability to turn away from him
(3.5.14). He goes on to assert that even the worst souls
are, by virtue of their reason and their free will,
superior to corporeal things and that, as such, God should
be praised for their existence, whatever defects they
exhibit (3.5.16). Then, after once again affirming that
there is no conflict between the necessity of sin and its
voluntary origin, he describes unhappiness as the just
reward of ingratitude (3.6.18). Finally, to those who say
they would prefer not to have existed, he indicates that
they are fooling themselves --that their desire to exist,
even in their misery, confirms that existence is the
greatest boon (3.7.20). Indeed, he argues that the suicidal
person's desire for death actually reflects a desire for
rest, not the desire for non-existence (3.8.23). All this
is highly interesting and very relevant to those who are
determined to come to terms with themselves and with God.
Nevertheless, it would be an understatement to say that it
does not conclusively demonstrate that the origin of every
aspect of creation--including those wills which are called
evil and those creatures which are eternally damned--should
not ultimately be attributed to the will of God. Augustine
senses this, but can only assert that while the human
 to sin--together with the  of
experiencing the misery that accompanies sin)--is necessary
to the perfection of the universe, actual sin and actual
misery are not (3.9.26). These assertions are correlative
with second and third approaches presented above--the
former with his position that the imperfection of any part
of creation disappears in light of the perfection of the
whole; and the latter with his insistence that the origin
of moral evil, together with that suffering which is
construed as punishment for sin, is to be found in the free
choice of the will of rational creatures. But consistent
with the first approach--evil as a privation--Augustine
seems to be saying that inasmuch as condemned souls are
constituted by their evil wills, for which no cause is to
be found outside of their own freedom, they are in fact
. Nevertheless, insofar as they actually
--existing eternally as immortal souls, however
defective-- they must be considered good and we may
attribute their origin to the divine will. If, however, we
ask why God, in his omnipotence, chose to create beings
with the ability to choose eternal self- destruction,
Augustine can only a assert that creation is more perfect
by virtue of these seeming imperfections--i.e. the
 to sin, together with the  of
experiencing the misery that accompanies it (3.9.26). Thus,
it seems that Augustine, in the final analysis, depends
more heavily on the first and second approach, the appeal
to the free choice of the will failing ultimately to
eliminate the problem. Having considered Augustine's
approach to our problem, we are now in position to
articulate clearly what is at stake. The real  in
the problem of evil--the core of it, as it were--is that
granting God's omnipotence, there seems to be no way to
avoid the conclusion that God finds the perdition of an
indefinite number of human souls acceptable in light of the
greater good which their perdition makes possible. Thus,
even if we grant that, it makes sense to talk of a rational
creature freely choosing its own perdition, and even if we
hypothesize that God has in some sense limited his power
with a view to creating more glorious creatures by virtue
of their free will,{2} it is nevertheless the case,
according to the tradition, 1) that, in the light of his
eternal existence, God knows the end from the beginning;
and 2) that he had no need to create; and even if he chose
to create, he might have created differently. As such, we
cannot avoid placing full responsibility for
existence--including every aspect of human experience,
whether in this life or the next--squarely on God's
shoulders. Let us admit that when we bow before God, it is
not because his "justice" has been demonstrated to us. It
would seem more reasonable to say that we bow before his
power. It is pointless to try and defend God against those
who cry foul. A more fruitful approach, as we shall see, is
to understand why we ought, indeed, to bow before his
power.{3} Rather than attempting to , let us show those who would  the foolishness of their objections, admonishing them,
in the Spirit of Augustine, to give thanks.{4} But this can
only be done if we let the dialectic of the problem take us
beyond the confines of orthodoxy and, finally, .{5} PART TWO: Spinoza & Nietzsche on Evil For
Spinoza, evil presents no  in the sense that it
does for Augustine. Not directly constrained by Christian
dogma, he is free to modify the traditional notions of
God's goodness and power--both of which he does. What is
interesting is that many of his conclusions are strikingly
similar to Augustine's. Considered from a strictly
philosophical perspective, Spinoza's position seems to
preserve and explain more fully that which is most
philosophically defensible in Augustine, while at the same
time excluding that which is most philosophically
. Preserved, in a sense, and more fully
explained, is the neo- platonic concept that evil is a
privation which cannot be properly said to exist at all, as
well as the notion that the apparent imperfection of any
part of creation disappears in light of the perfection of
the whole. Excluded is Augustine's assertion that the
origin of moral evil--together with the origin of that
suffering which is construed as punishment for sin--is to
be found in the free choice of the will of rational
creatures. A brief review of Spinoza's metaphysics will
allow us to explain this more clearly. For Spinoza, there
is one substance, God or Nature, which constitutes the
whole of reality and which has infinite attributes, only
two of which we can know--extension and thought. He avoids
the mind/body problem by adopting a parallelism
characterized by the notion that thoughts relate causally
only to thoughts and bodies relate causally only to bodies.
An infinite number of individual entities--modifications of
the divine substance--proceed by necessity from the divine
nature. Our essence is the  with which we endeavor
to persist in our own being ( 3, Pr. 7). Considered
under the attribute of extension, this  would be
equivalent to (or at least analogous to) the genetic code
which governs the growth and development of our bodies.
Considered under the attribute of thought, this 
is called  (E3,Pr9,Scol.). Since , for
Spinoza, is , an individual, acting according to its
essence, endeavors to bring about those conditions in which
its power of activity is increased (See E3 Pref. and Def.
8). As rational animals, the highest good for human beings
is achieved through the intellectual love of God. The
 aspect of this love is important for two
reasons. First, insofar as our  of God (or
Nature) according to the attribute of extension increases,
we are better able to produce those physical and
environmental conditions in which we can flourish; and,
insofar as our understanding of God according to the
attribute of thought increases, we are better able to
control our emotions. Second, insofar as we find ourselves
subject to adverse conditions that are beyond our control,
we find consolation in our understanding of the necessity
of events (see  which is attached to this
paper). According to Spinoza, nothing is good or evil in
itself but only insofar as the mind is affected by it.
Because our happiness and unhappiness depends on the
quality of that which we love, true blessedness is attained
by loving that which is infinite and eternal--viz. all that
follows from the eternal order and nature's fixed laws
( 233-235,
hereafter ). Our achievement of blessedness through
the  entails that we come to know
and love ourselves as we are essentially. We "sin," in a
manner of speaking, insofar as we desire or seem to desire
that which is contrary to our essence. I say "seem to
desire," because, for Spinoza, the self, considered as
such, cannot desire that which is contrary to its own
advantage. And insofar as the self acts according to
reason--which for Spinoza is the only time human beings
really act at all--it will pursue its true advantage and be
resigned in those circumstance that are beyond its control.
However, because human reason and power is limited,
individual human beings are sometimes controlled by passive
emotions. Such emotions constitute our bondage to external
powers. Propositions 4 and 5 of Part Four of the 
state that: 4) It is impossible for a man not to be part of
Nature and not to undergo changes other than those which
can be understood solely through his own nature and of
which he is the adequate cause. 5) The force and increase
of any passive emotion and its persistence in existing is
defined not by the power whereby we ourselves endeavor to
persist in existing, but by the power of external causes
compared with our own power. We see, then, that for
Spinoza, unlike Augustine, evil is something which we
suffer, not something we actively choose. However, this
seems quite consistent with Augustine's notion of evil as a
privation--a diminution of my ability to express my essence
which is due, however, not to the free choice of my will,
but to the force of external powers which happen to
conflict with my essence.{6} I am "free" only insofar as I
will my own essence, which, , expresses the will
of God. The degree of my self knowledge and the extent to
which my essence finds expression in the world is dependent
upon my environment. Insofar as I seem to will that which
is contrary to my essence, I am in bondage and am not,
strictly speaking, willing at all. Furthermore, because the
power and will of God is manifest only in activity, Spinoza
would agree with Augustine that insofar as anything
--insofar as it exists (endeavors to persist in its own
being)--it derives its being from God. In his , Spinoza formulates these ideas as
follows: Whatever man . . . acquires for himself to help
preserve his being, or whatever Nature provides for him
without any effort on his part, all this is provided for
him solely by the divine power, acting either through human
nature or externally to human nature. Therefore whatever
human nature can effect solely by its own power to preserve
its own being can rightly be called God's internal help,
and whatever falls to man's advantage from the power of
external causes can rightly be called God's external help.
And from this, too, can readily be deduced what must be
meant by God's choosing, for since no one acts except by
the predetermined order of Nature-- that is from God's
direction and decree--it follows that no one chooses a way
of life for himself or accomplishes anything except by the
special vocation of God, who has chosen one man before
others for a particular way of life (89-90). The happiness
and peace of the man who cultivates his natural
understanding depends not on the sway of fortune (God's
external help) but on his own internal virtue (God's
internal help) [111]. This is hard medicine, but in my
opinion it constitutes the only philosophically consistent
position that still allows us to make sense out of the
tradition. It remains for us to show how it does so, but
first we must relate Spinoza to Nietzsche. Despite
significant dissimilarities between Nietzsche and
Spinoza--in both philosophy and temperament--Nietzsche
often takes positions that are strikingly similar to his
predecessor's.{7} In --written during
his so called "positivistic period"--we find Nietzsche
taking the following positions: We don't accuse nature of
immorality when it sends us a thunderstorm, and makes us
wet: why do we call the injurious man immoral? Because in
the first case, we assume necessity, and in the second a
voluntarily governing free will. But this distinction is in
error (_102). The man who has fully understood the theory
of complete irresponsibility can no longer include the
so-called justice that punishes and rewards within the
concept of justice . . . (_105). If one were omniscient,
one would be able to calculate each individual action in
advance, each step in the progress of knowledge, each
error, each act of malice. To be sure, the acting man is
caught in his illusion of volition . . . [This illusion],
his assumption that free will exists, is also part of the
calculable mechanism (_106). When a misfortune strikes, we
can overcome it either by removing its cause or else by
changing the effect it has on our feelings . . .(_108).
There are elements in each of these texts--e.g., the denial
of free will, the rejection of the idea retributive
justice, and the recognition of possibility of overcoming
our emotional reactions rather than our external
environment--which resonate with the sympathetic reader of
Spinoza. And while, in later years, Nietzsche loses some of
his positivistic fervor, we shall see that significant
similarities are retained. They can be reduced to the
proposition that .
Recall that Spinoza argues that the degree of blessedness
which we attain is dependent on the quality of that which
we love, pointing out that Strife will never arise on
account of that which is not loved; there will be no sorrow
if it is lost, no envy if it is possessed by another, no
fear, no hatred--in a word, no emotional agitation, all of
which, however, occur in the case of the love of perishable
things . . . But love towards a thing eternal and infinite
feeds the mind with joy alone, unmixed with any sadness.
This is greatly to be desired, and to be sought with all
our might ( 235). >From Spinoza's perspective, then,
if we are to achieve blessedness, we must learn to love
every aspect of that which --which is, in the words of
Kierkegaard, . This includes
loving corruptible things, as such, together with the
process of becoming in general. Nietzsche expresses a very
similar insight, in : Have you ever
said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you said Yes
too to  woe. All things are entangled, ensnared,
enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you
said, "You please me, happiness! Abide, moment!" then you
wanted  back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled,
ensnared, enamored--oh, then you  the world. Eternal
ones, love it eternally and evermore; and to woe too, you
say: go, but return! 
( 435). Leaving aside Nietzsche's
notion of eternal recurrence, his position is quite close
to that of Spinoza. Reminiscent of Spinoza's , Nietzsche posits  as his
"formula for greatness": My formula for greatness in a
human being is : that one wants nothing to be
different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.
Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal
it--all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is
necessary--but  it ( 258). This is not to
say that Nietzsche's  and Spinoza's
 are identical, but only that they are closely
related. , which we may provisionally define as
, depends on
conditions external to our essence (God's external
help/fortune), whereas  depends on our
"internal virtue" (God's internal help). Having granted
this distinction, I would argue that true greatness can
only be attributed to those individuals who, in addition to
external success, are characterized by the especially
appropriate manner in which they relate to the power which
grounds them and, consequently, to their own essence. By
virtue of their right relation to themselves and to God,
such people have, experienced true blessedness. To the
extent that we say  to any aspect of reality--that
which is necessary--to that extent we cut ourselves off
from the only source of abundant life and have, in fact,
negated that which constitutes the conditions for the
realization of our highest hopes and most noble
possibilities. Because our essence and our authentic
possibilities are inextricably intertwined with all that is
and all that has been, Nietzsche's Zarathustra, in the
spirit of Spinoza, teaches that redemption is achieved when
our will becomes harmonized with the eternal necessity that
governs the play of appearances: To redeem those who lived
in the past and to re-create all 'it was' into a 'thus I
willed it'--that alone should I call redemption ( 251). Redemption, in this sense, requires that
we take our stand  and seems to
require that we embrace a kind of determinism. We can, it
seems,  what we will, but we can't  what we
will.{8} Our real project is to discover our essential
will, from whence alone our lives derive their meaning and
purpose. Both Spinoza and Nietzsche seem to be saying that
this discovery is facilitated by our affirmation of those
aspects of reality that are beyond our control, which
requires that we attempt, on the level of reflective
consciousness, not to be controlled by such passive
emotions as guilt, fear, and regret.{9} This is possible
only insofar as we come to know, love, and (consciously)
will ourselves as we are essentially, all of which
presupposes--or, constitutes!--a right relationship to the
power that grounds us. This right relationship to the power
that grounds us is realized to the degree that our
reflective consciousness is characterized by Spinoza's
 and Nietzsche's ,
which are, practically speaking, closely related, if not
identical concepts.{10} We must not imagine, however, that
the breach between our empirical or conscious self and our
essential self is to be completely overcome--at least not
in the course of this embodiment. Relative to
consciousness, our essential self will always retain a
 aspect--in fact, we may refer to it as our
. However, despite the unavoidable
dissonance that exists between the two, we can hope to
experience a narrowing of the chasm that exists between
them as we endeavor to stay attuned to our essential will,
which is, in fact, the will of God. To discover and
exercise our essential will is to experience authentic
existence. If Spinoza is right, and the attribute of
extension expresses my essence as fully, in its own way, as
the attribute of thought, it may one day be the case that
our knowledge of the human body will be complete enough to
arrive at an experience of authentic existence through the
manipulation of our physical organism. At this point
however, such a possibility remains remote and the only
realistic possibility of our achieving the abundant life
which both Nietzsche and Spinoza envision is to change the
way we think. In the past, this was achieved through the
practice of religion. We studied the Bible and entrusted
ourselves to Christian ministers and mystics who functioned
as guides, helping us along on our pilgrimage. For many
moderns, however, the implausibility of the biblical
narrative--particularly the gospel narratives (construed as
a historical, empirical reality)--together with the bad
impression made by those who have promoted a legalistic,
provincial moralism as  way of salvation, have left
them unable to relate to the Christian tradition. This
inability constitutes a great handicap to individuals whose
consciousness, in its most fundamental structures, has been
informed by that tradition. Even if it is possible for them
to come to know and love their essential selves apart from
the categories of Christian faith, it is nevertheless
rendered more difficult by the resentment that they bear
toward the tradition. At times, they come into contact with
elements of the tradition which really resonate with their
essential selves--i.e. with their  or
 selves, in which they ceased to believe when
they rejected the tradition. Such moments are very
disconcerting to those whose conscience has-- perhaps for
very good reasons--been turned against Christianity. They
imagine that to understand and identify with a part,
implies the truth and, thus the necessary acceptance of,
the whole as a literal, historical reality. Their heart,
for a moment, leaps within them at the prospect of
embracing again that which they forsook with such agony,
but a moments reflection suffices to recall their reasons
for rejecting it in the first place.{11} What they fail to
realize is the possibility that a myth, however false when
taken at face value, is not merely a lie. Rather it is a
story that is (or may be) false on the outside, but true on
the inside.{12} It is my opinion that the Bible in general,
and the New Testament in particular, conveys such a myth,
and that insofar as our consciousness, on a very
fundamental level, has been informed by that myth, we would
do well to let go of our resentment, opening our minds to
the possibility of learning from it once again. In other
words, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water.
To be sure, the water is dirty--at certain times and places
extremely dirty. Nevertheless, those who have a real
affinity for this tradition--often reflected in their
resentment toward it--are doing violence to themselves by
refusing to take another look. It is in this spirit, then,
that I offer in what follows an alternative approach to the
Christian myth--one which is intended, practically
speaking, to captivate the imagination, bringing it into
the service of our essential self, without, however,
violating our reason. Its chief theoretical advantages are
that it avoids the problem of evil; is not threatened by
modern philosophy, however "positivistic"; and it escapes
Nietzsche's chief criticisms Christianity.{13} {14} PART
THREE: Reappropriating the Tradition In light of the
discussion in part two, we can now understand why Jesus
said, "The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel;
The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with
all thy strength" (Mk. 12:29). If we love God, we love his
sovereign will and the eternal order that he has decreed.
To the degree that we love him we become one with him and
will be no more confounded by the turn of events than our
heavenly Father is. We are partakers of his divine nature,
and, as such, experience eternal life. Becoming conscious
of ourselves as incarnations of God, we begin to
participate in the life of God, and his image begins to
shine through in our lives. This is not a reason for pride,
however, but for joy and thanksgiving! "We are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, . . . who is the
image of the invisible God, the first born of every
creature: for by him were all things created, that are in
heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible,
whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities,
or powers: all things were created by him and for him . . .
in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto
an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:15-17; Eph.
2:21). We, as members of his body, share in this eternal
purpose. We are, in him, "builded together for an
habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22). This is
why "all things work together for good to them that love
God, to them who are the called, according to his purpose"
(Rom. 8:28). This is why we can have no life apart from
Christ. But the name of Christ does not refer merely to
Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, the truth or falsity of the
legends surrounding the life of Jesus is irrelevant to the
reality of Christ which we can experience first-hand
inasmuch as he represents the concept and actualization (in
the Hegelian sense) of our true self. He is our  or essence (in the Aristotelian sense), as well as
our  or ultimate goal. He is our freedom and
our destiny. Because our essence is the essence of a "for
itself," and not merely an "in itself," we may approach
that essence as a , rather than an --the term of
our transcendence; the Self toward which we are
transcending; an incarnation of God. Our essential self
stands in an absolute relation to the absolute--that is,
our relationship to the power that grounds us (God) is
mediated absolutely and exclusively by our essential self
(Christ in us). As such, a right relationship to our
essential self implies a right relationship to the power
that grounds it and vise versa; and, insofar as human
beings share a common essence, a right relation to our Self
and God implies a right relation to our neighbor, as
well.{15} Suffering and death are intrinsic to life and
must be affirmed (insofar as they are necessary)--Christ is
the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Despairing
in the face of that which this seemingly harsh truth
demands (the garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb), we
flee our essential self and, as such, are automatically in
a disrelation to the power that grounds us--cut off from
the possibility of an abundant life. To the extent,
however, that we come to know and love ourself as we are
, the disrelation we experience is rectified
and we are able to realize our highest potential (Christ in
us, our hope of glory). We begin at once to realize this
potential when in the depths of our despair, we make the
movement of infinite resignation, and choose to bear our
cross, like Christ, freely and innocently and without the
spirit of revenge (Father forgive them, for they know not
what they do).{16} When this movement is made-- completely
and without reservation, holding nothing back--our
resignation is transformed into faith and the world of
which we despaired a short time before is vivified and we
experience the very life and power of the Son of God--this
is resurrection power. Thus, the passion of Christ is, or
at least can be, a symbol of the essence of life--death and
resurrection--rather than a symbol of our despair,
reflecting our dissatisfaction with ourselves and with
existence. The true Christian is one who does not flee
life, imagining that existence is refuted by suffering and
death, but rather bears with patience the problematic
aspects of our existential experience, understanding that
these aspects, too, constitute, in part, the conditions
necessary to the highest expression of life. When we
embrace this faith, we put off the old man, Adam, who risks
eternal torment by virtue of his unfortunate preoccupation
with the polar opposition of good and evil (and who
experiences suffering as punishment for sin), and put on
the mind of Christ, who experiences abundant life, beyond
good and evil (whose suffering is redemptive). Like Paul,
who admonishes us to "present our bodies a living
sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1), we are "crucified with Christ"
(Gal. 2:20) and we "fill up that which is behind of the
afflictions of Christ" (Col. 1:24). From this standpoint,
we begin to see that [Each human being] represents a unique
and valuable experiment on the part of nature . . . the
very special and always significant and remarkable point at
which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this
way and never again. That is why every [person's] story is
important, eternal, sacred; that is why every [person] as
long as [he or she] lives and fulfills the will of nature
is wondrous and worthy of every consideration. In each
individual the spirit has become flesh, in each [person]
the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed
to the cross. Each [person's] life represents a road toward
[himself or herself], an attempt at such a road, the
intimation of a path. No [person] has ever been entirely
and completely [himself or herself]. Yet each one strives
to become that--one in an awkward, the other in a more
intelligent way, each as best [he or she] can (From the
prologue to , by Hermann Hesse). CONCLUSION At the
end of Part One, we came to the conclusion that as orthodox
Christians, we bow(ed)--albeit, more or less,
unconsciously--not to the justice of God, but to his power.
Unable to think this thought, however, we insisted (as
orthodox believers) on affirming the contradiction
intrinsic to judgement that one can conjoin omnipotence and
human perdition without attributing evil to God. But of all
the "evils" that we can imagine, this conjunction is,
perhaps, the only one which it is absolutely impossible to
dispel by an appeal to our finite perspective. We attempted
to make this contradiction explicit so as to permit the
dialectic of the problem to carry us beyond it. In Part
Two, we found that we were able to avoid the contradiction
by jettisoning the notions of free will and moral
responsibility (to any heteronomous law), and by modifying
our conception of God's goodness and power, in favor of a
more comprehensive view. We realized instead that our only
duty is to will our own essence. Furthermore, we saw that
God is, indeed, infinitely good, but can be percieved as
such only by those who love him with all their heart, mind,
soul, and strength. His power, too, is infinite, but , in fact, , and cannot be otherwise.
We are justified in bowing before his power because it is
the power which grounds us. Our unconditional love of God
constitutes perfect self-love. This is not the kind of
self-love which leads to self-destruction, but that which,
for the tradition, is characteristic of the life of Christ.
By bringing this thought to consciousness, we bring before
ourselves the possibility of consciously and deliberately
choosing to enter into that life, or consciously and
deliberately refusing that life. Saying yes to life is
giving conscious assent to that which, as Augustine pointed
out ( 3.7.20), we already choose, viscerally,
as it were, on a pre-reflective level. However, the ability
to say yes to life remains a "grace." We admonish people to
choose it because "it pleased God by the foolishness of
preaching to save them which believe." Insofar as we
recognize the choice and reject the life which is
proffered, we suffer the penalty--unhappiness, Augustine
said, is the just reward of ingratitude (
3.6.18). In my opionion, the tradition has permitted its
adherents to make this choice only on an unconscious level.
It is only by letting the dialectic of the problem carry us
beyond good and evil that we have become fully conscious of
that upon which our life depends. In Part Three, we
presented an alternative approach to the Christian
myth--one which was intended, practically speaking, to
captivate the imagination, bringing it into the service of
our essential self, without, however, violating our reason.
Its chief theoretical advantages were said to be that it
avoids the problem of evil; is not threatened by modern
philosophy (however "positivistic"); and it escapes
Nietzsche's chief criticisms of Christianity. It remains
for the reader to decide whether or not this dialogue
between the tradition and those opposed to the tradition
has been fruitful. For me, its fruitfulness is confirmed by
the renewed relationship I have experienced with my Self
and my God. 
1. This contradiction is presented poetically in --see Appendix "A," below.
2. This is C.S. Lewis's approach to the problem in . See Book Four, Chapter 3, "Time and Beyond."
, Letter XXVII.
3.  of "justice" and "power," the following text
 is quite interesting: "If you are not in
your own
power, then someone must have you in his power who is
either more
powerful or less powerful than yourself. If he is less
the fault is your own and the misery just. But if someone,
powerful than you are, hold you in his power you will not
think so rightful an order to be unjust" (3.6.19). 
4. The Apostle Paul dealt with such objections, not by
the justice of God--and especially not by appealing to
"free will"
--but by pointing out the absurdity of the creature passing
judgment on the creator:
Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and
whom he will he hardenth. Thou wilt say then unto me,
Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his
will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against
God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it,
Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power
over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto
honour, and another unto dishonour? (Romans 9:18-21).
There are elements of this in Augustine's approach, but his
discomfort with the "core" of the problem is evident--a
which is not evident in the writings of St. Paul.
5. At this point, I beg those staunch defenders of
orthodoxy who
truly know and love the Lord their God to bear with me.
the seeming harshness of my criticism, I assure you that I
am not
your enemy. And, despite their reputations, neither are
and Nietzsche, to whom I now turn.
6. Such external powers are not essentially opposed to me.
another context, the same power might work to my advantage.
7. Nietzsche himself calls Spinoza his "precursor" (Portable
Nietzsche 92). His discovery of Spinoza seems to have come
the publication of the Human, All To Human.
8. By "will," here, I indicate our desire to do that which
within our power, not a mere whim or wish.
9. It would not be desirable to eliminate such emotions
insofar as
each has a positive function. 
10. I have emphasized the practical similarity of these

For a more detailed theoretical analysis that emphasizes
differences, see "Spinoza and Nietzsche:  and
" in Volume Two of Yeimiyahu Yovel's , Princton Univ. Press, 1989.
11. What many find unacceptable in Christian thought (or at
in some, not insignificant, strands of it) is that 1) In
the name
of piety, attempts are made to limit freedom of speech and
2) the body, and the temporal order in general, is
disparaged as
intrinsically flawed or evil; 3) it is demanded that one
mythic and religious imagery as scientific/historical
of phenomena; 4) various prevailing cultural norms are
accepted as
absolute moral imperatives, not subject to rational
criticism; and
5) particular texts are idolatrously accepted as the
foundation rather than the creative expression of religious
12. I came across this definition of "myth" in a Jungian
of medieval romance, the title and author of which escapes
me at
the moment.
13. I am merely asserting the last of these three
advantages" and do not attempt to defend it explicitly in
14. At this point, I feel somewhat like Paul, whose gospel
was, to
the Jew, "a stumbling block," and to the Greek,

"Orthodox" Christians imagine (understandably) that the
of their faith depends on the historical truth of the gospel
narratives. They stumble at the notion that countless
past and present, have had a similar experience of faith and
salvation--people who never heard the name of Christ, or
rejected the name because of that which they associate with
people who, despite their ignorance of Jesus of Nazareth,
or their
repugnance to traditional Christianity, may, nonetheless,
Christ--in the Spirit, as it were--just as intimately as any
orthodox believer. Atheists, on the other hand, tend to
all "god-talk" to be foolishness. Preoccupation with such
they might say, is a vestige of a more primitive (or perhaps
infantile) stage of human development--something that one
cast aside in maturity.
15. The right relation to our neighbor is more accurately
as the effect, not the cause of our right relationship to
although it may be the case that the two are inseparable.
16. Zarathustra teaches, ",
that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a
rainbow after
long storms" ( 211).
Augustine, Saint. . Trans. Henry
Bettenson. New 

York: Penguin Books, 1984.
__________. . Trans. Henry Chadwick. Oxford: 

Oxford University Press, 1991. 

__________. , Vol. 5,

Ludwig Schopp (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., 1948)
__________. . Augustine: Earlier Writings,
ed. J.
H. S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1953) 102

Nietzsche, Friedrich. . Trans. Walter Kaufmann.

York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Trans. Marion Faber. Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 

__________.  Trans. Walter

New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
Spinoza, Baruch.  Trans. Samuel Shirley. 

Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1992.
__________. Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Trans. Samuel 

Shirley. New York: E. J. Brill, 1989.
Burns, J. Patout. "Augustine on the Origin and Progress of

. Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring

9 - 27.
Burt, Donald X. "Courageous Optimism: Augustine on the Good

Creation." . Vol. 21, 1990, 55-66.
Evans, G.R. . Cambridge: Cambridge

Press, 1982.
Stewart, Melville. "O Felix Culpa, Redemption, and the

Good Defense." , Vol. 25, No. 3, Oct., 1986, 18-31.
Selections from  [all
from the 5th edition, unless bracketed, in which case they
are from
the 2nd edition]:
[108] Ah, Love! could you and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits--and then 

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
29 Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
30 What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!
78 What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!
79 What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd--
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer--Oh the sorry trade!
[86] Nay, but for terror of his wrathful Face,
I swear I will not call Injustice Grace;
Not one Good Fellow of the Tavern but
Would kick so poor a Coward from the place.
80 Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!
81 Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd--Man's forgiveness give--and take!
[Spinoza] But human power is very limited and is infinitely
surpassed by the power of external causes, and so we do not
absolute power to adapt to our purposes things external to

However, we shall patiently bear whatever happens to us
that is
contrary to what is required by consideration of our own
if we are conscious that we have done our duty and that our
was not extensive enough for us to have avoided the said
and that we are a part of the whole of Nature whose order we
follow. If we clearly and distinctly understand this, that
part of
us, will be fully resigned and will endeavor to persevere
in that
resignation. For in so far as we understand, we can desire
but that which must be, nor in an absolute sense, can we
contentment in anything but truth. And so in so far as we
understand these matters, the endeavor of the better part
of us is
in harmony with the order of the whole of Nature (E4,
item 32).


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