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The Problem Of Evil… C.S. Lewis Takes On Bill Maher

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By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

The term “theodicy” was coined by Gottfried Leibniz in 1710 in his “Essay on the goodness of God, the liberty of man and the origin of evil in the world.”
It was his attempt to refute Pierre Bayle’s theory that it was impossible to reconcile the existence of a loving and omnipotent God with the presence of evil and suffering in the world. The medieval scholastics wrestled with the problem as well.
It is the same dilemma that the angry modern atheists — Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, for example — trot out when they seek to discredit religious belief.
Maher is especially fond of the ploy. He will lean back in his chair on his HBO programs, smirk and mock anyone who prays for help from an “all-good God” when that God permits all the horrors we see in the world: abused children, mass murders, the reports of torture and natural disasters on our nightly newscasts.
He will ridicule people who ask for cures for cancer and family distress, but who go on praying for these things when their misfortunes continue.
He is also fond of belittling the miracles in the Bible, eliciting cheers and laughter from his audience when he asks how anyone in his right mind could take seriously the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the whale, and Jesus walking on water. How anyone could worship a God who slaughtered the firstborn Egyptian male children, the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the inhabitants of Jericho when the walls came tumbling down.
It is sometimes hard to believe that there is an audience in our time for such simplistic derision of the Bible, yet there appears to be.
The man’s ratings are quite high, even though his diatribes on religion are like listening to a sixth-grade kid mocking the notion of God because space telescopes find no old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud when they explore the universe.
But even if Maher is little more than a snarky wise-guy, the question he asks about the existence God and the presence of evil in the world deserves to be dealt with. Most of us have found ourselves wondering how God could have permitted some horrendous tragedy or injustice in our lives.
It is intriguing to picture what might happen if C.S. Lewis could be brought back to life and persuaded to appear with Maher to discuss the question. Lewis’ reputation as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia might persuade Maher to let him speak his piece for a minute or two.
But my guess is that it would not take long before Maher would cut him off with string of snarling four-letter words. He does that when he comes off badly in a debate, resorting to the tactic favored by beery loudmouths when they sense that the folks at the bar are beginning to chuckle at their muddle-headed logic.
Lewis knew that it was not as simple as the atheists would have us believe; that the presence of evil and injustice in the world does not disprove the existence of an omnipotent and loving God. Quite the contrary. Lewis dealt with the topic in The Joyful Christian, the 1977 collection of his essays published by MacMillan.
(The essay originally appeared in an earlier book by Lewis, Mere Christianity, a collection of radio talks he made on the BBC between 1942 and 1944. MacMillan published that book in 1952. The passages I quote below come from a chapter called “The Rival Conceptions of God,” in Book II “What Christians Believe” of Mere Christianity.)
He notes that many atheists point to the injustice in the world as a proof that God does not exist. But he then asks, where atheists “got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” What are they comparing this universe with when they call it unjust?
“If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak,” he wrote, then why do atheists find themselves “in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.”
Lewis anticipates the atheist’s objection; he understands they will insist that ideas about justice “are nothing but private ideas of our own.”
But he maintains that response is dodging the question.
The argument against God’s existence “depends upon saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please one’s private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exists — in other words that the whole of reality was senseless,” the atheist is “forced to assume that one part of reality — namely their idea of justice — was full of sense.”
Lewis continues:
“Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
I submit that Peter Hitchens, the brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, draws the appropriate conclusion.
Atheists think the way they do, writes Hitchens, not because logic and reason lead them to that conclusion, but because they choose not to believe:
“I desire, and therefore choose to believe in one kind of universe, one that has laws and purpose with justice woven into its very fabric.
“The unbeliever desires, and therefore chooses to believe in, a chaotic universe where the dead remain dead and actions have no effect beyond their immediately observable consequences.”
And a universe, I would add, where an individual is free to live his life in pursuit of self-gratification as the reason for being, a life one where sacrifice, duty, and self-denial make no demands upon our moral choices.
That freedom may sound attractive on first hearing.
But it strikes me that Bill Maher lives his life with a sneer on his face more often than with a smile.

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