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Objecting to theodicy and the legitimacy of protesting against evil

Tim Middleton
S & CB 29 (1)
April 2017

Abstract

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and the concomitant debates among eighteenth-century intellectuals set the stage for the modern project of theodicy – the task of reconciling the existence and goodness of God with the reality of evil. Yet the validity of the enterprise was questioned by writers such as Voltaire and Kant right from the beginning. With this in mind, this article seeks to explore four interlinked concerns of the anti-theodicist. Firstly, why do people write theodicies at all? Some are crafting works of Christian apologetics; others have a deep-rooted desire for understanding; but why do we assume that evil must be intelligible in the first place. Secondly, many theodicists defend their writing by inserting the caveat that they do not intend to offer a pastoral response. However, there are good reasons to think that this distinction between intellectual and pastoral questions is a false one. Thirdly, many grand, cosmic, theodical schemes marginalise the plight of the victims. Evil must be engaged with from a first person, not a third person, perspective. Lastly, many Christian theologians neglect the incarnation and crucifixion in their theodicies. Yet it is the narrative of Christ’s life that should form the basis of a Christian outlook. Instead of theodicy, it is argued, a better response to evil is to follow the path of moral outrage. Crucially, though, this need not lead to protest atheism – indeed jettisoning God might even undermine the grounds for protest. A combination of silence and lament, shared by Christ on the cross, is a viable and properly Christian reply.

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