Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A New Theodicy: What If Ivan Karamazov Was Right?

After watching a special on E on the 15 most horrific acts of violence (e.g. Columbine and Virginia Tech), I was absolutely disgusted. I’m quite familiar with the popular theodicy’s (explanations of evil in a world where an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good being exists) but they fell flat on their face. I was reminded of the speech by Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov.

Ivan, the philosophical foil to his pious brother Alyosha, recounts many horrific events that have taken place. He is mostly concerned with the tremendous suffering of innocent children. He laments to his brother Alyosha, “Listen: if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer, and why they should buy harmony with their suffering."

Ivan goes on to proclaim that he wants nothing to do with a world where such suffering exists, even if the suffering is somehow needed. He proclaims, “Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it's beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

Ivan notably does not proclaim that God doesn’t exist. Nor does Ivan attack God’s omniscience, omnibenevolence, or omnipotence. Having read this several times, I never picked up on the fact that Ivan doesn’t reject God. Ivan only rejects the world he is part of. This is truly odd.

But what if Ivan was right? What if that’s exactly the point?

I always viewed Ivan as one who copped-out. Alyosha seeks to love his neighbor and to carry on in spite of such evil in the world. Ivan just wants to quit. Noble? Maybe. Courageous? Hardly.

The more I think about it, the more I think Ivan’s act of rebellion is the correct path. We should be horrified by such violence, and we should want no part of it.

The key to siding with Ivan is in understanding what it means to return one’s ticket. Ivan doesn’t want to play by the rules of this world which allow such evil. The rule of this world which allows such evil is the rule of free will.

God gives us free will. When we direct our free will away from God’s will, we sin and create evil. Freedom then is actually pretty awful. The only way to ensure that there is no evil is to have all beings obedient to God’s will. But surely this is incompatible with free will.

The only way, then, to return one’s ticket would be to surrender one’s freedom and become obedient to God’s will.

Perhaps this is the whole point of evil and suffering. We are to learn that obedience is to be cherished over freedom, so we can freely choose to be obedient to God.

Imagine a world where God creates free beings in paradise. Why would the beings choose to serve God? Who among you would return your freedom to God? But, unless you return your freedom for obedience, you will inevitably turn away from God and do evil (for if you follow God’s will 100% of the time, you are being obedient and you are not free).

Now instead imagine that God allows these beings to see the horrific evils which their freedom creates. Perhaps then the beings will return their freedom and choose obedience to God.

This was a recent epiphany, so I apologize for it being relatively unformed at this point. I expect to think extensively about this in the next few days. Perhaps I can further refine my thoughts then.


Claire Margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire Margaret said...

Hey Matt,

Great post. I can't comment much right now, because I am supposed to be writing a paper for tomorrow, but your post reminded me a lot of this article (, and I thought you might be interested in checking it out. If I understand correctly, Hart definitely agrees with you, and I think his final paragraph in particular is beautiful, because it is so true. (It certainly stuck with me when I read it as fifteen year old.)

オテモヤン said...