Some people are accused of wearing rose-colored glasses, but you won’t be surprised when I say that it’s actually a much grander problem than that. I have endless amusement (and sometimes consternation) that an objective event can be interpreted radically differently depending on someone’s background. For example, imagine a man telling a woman “Nice ass!”. My first reaction to this scenario is that the guy is a douchebag (What does it say about me that that was my first interpretation? And why did I create such a colored scenario to begin with?). But if the two people are lovers and into complimentary objectification, that could be welcomed as a delightful observation.
This was a basic example just to get the point across. The more interesting case is when it’s not quite so obvious that a statement could be taken differently. This happens constantly in political and religious conversations or debates and I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the time, the source of the misunderstanding is never reached. I’ve been guilty of this myself in myriad conversations, and I probably will continue to suffer from these misunderstandings because debating like a philosopher and defining each term you use up front is such a drag.
I was listening to This American Life’s re-podcast of episode #304: Heretics, a story about Reverend Carlton Pearson, a protégé of Oral Roberts and apparently one of the early black preachers running a mega-church. His father and grandfather were ministers and he spent his entire childhood following in their footsteps. So it’s ironic that he apparently had never answered the problem of evil until after he was a popular mega-pastor. The problem of evil has been resolved in many ways over many years, here are some popular solutions (I’m not suggesting they are all correct):
- Evil happens because of free will. People have the choice to commit evil, therefore God cannot prevent evil.
- God is not omniscient. Rather, God is a bumbling idiot god who makes a lot of mistakes.
- God does not exist.
In particular, the evil that bothered Carlton was that in many parts of the world people would be born, suffer, die, and then go to Hell because they never had the chance to believe in Jesus:
…The God we’ve been preaching is a monster. He’s worse than Saddam, he’s worse than Osama bin Laden, he’s worse than Hitler; the way we presented him. Because Hitler just burnt 6 million Jews but you know God is going to burn at least 6 billion people, and burn them forever. There’s this customized torture chamber called hell where he’s gonna torment, torture, not for a few minutes, a few days, a few hours, a few weeks, but forever.
He wrestled with this immoral behavior of God and ultimately solved the problem by resolving that Hell does not exist. This theodicy straightened out Carlton’s theology, but he ended up being disowned by most of his community for his heretical theological shift.
Other Evangelicals see the same problem and their solution is to try to “save” every single person on the planet. Which is the rational behavior once you believe that all the billions of people you aren’t “saving” are going to hell.
Skeptics will look at the problem and think it’s a trivial matter - neither Hell nor God exist in the first place so there never was a problem. But it’s not surprising when someone has built their entire universe, their identity, their career, their purpose around a set of assumptions; they may be incapable of discarding more than one assumption at a time.