September 24th saw the Labour leadership, for the second time in a year, being handed over to Jeremy Corbyn. After winning 61.8% of the vote, he secured his place once again as labour leader with an even greater mandate than last year. Over half a million people voted in this election, allowing Corbyn to collect 313,209 votes in his favour; 199,980 more than that of his competitor Owen Smith. The process is, of course, wholly democratic; anything less would certainly be rejected within the UK. Although, with our generation never having experienced anything different, are we certain that democracy is in fact the best for our country?
One of the prime arguments against the existence of God is the presence of evil on Earth. The problem of evil creates an impossible clash of God’s qualities – otherwise known as an Inconsistent Triad. God is viewed as omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient; but with regards to the presence of evil, the three are logically inconsistent. If God was omniscient, he would be aware of existing evil and suffering in the world; if he is omnipotent, he can put an end to it and if he was omnibenevolent, he would want to. Yet suffering persists, therefore many use the presence of evil to disprove divine existence.
Saint Irenaeus was a 2nd century philosopher, who recognised this conflict of divine ability and proposed what is now known as the Irenaeun Theodicy. This entailed a two stage process in which humans require free will and the experience of evil in order to develop into perfect moral beings. It is in this way that he burdens the blame of earthly evil on God, but with good cause.
He suggested that humans were originally created in the image and likeness of God and, having fallen from this into an immature ethical state, we still retain the potential to achieve moral perfection. God had to give us free will and by doing so he had to also allow the freedom to disobey him, thus permitting the possibility of evil. What’s more, God cannot remove this evil because he would then have to compromise our freedom.
Through struggle and experience of consequences for our actions, we understand the meaning of morality and can begin to distinguish between what is ethically right or wrong. By doing so, we choose to honour God through our actions as oppose to succumbing to instinct. Irenaeus concludes stating that, following this deliberate process of human development, we return to ‘children of God’ having regained God’s likeness.
Irenaeus believed that suffering was firstly useful as a means of knowledge; for example, hunger leads to pain which equals a desire to be fed. Through pain, we have a greater sense of empathy and a more compelling incentive to help lose less fortunate. Not only this, but he also regarded evil as an effective tool for character building. In other words, suffering offers the opportunity to grow spiritually by assessing the consequence of evil actions and amending moral principles accordingly.
Ultimately this theodicy allows the existence of evil and God to be simultaneous. From this perspective, it becomes comprehensible that God may have permitted suffering for the benefit of human values. Through this whole process, humans develop into the likeness of God – consequently evil is not only explained but justified.
John Hick, a theologian and philosopher of religion, has since developed the opinions of Saint Irenaeus, emphasising greatly the importance of individual human development. He likened the goodness of one’s own actions to that of a robot, if God had engineered humans to be perfect from the beginning. Love and morality would be automatic and without deliberation. Thus, he resolved, not genuine. God desires genuine love and obedience, so for that reason, free will is necessary (and with free will, as mentioned before, comes the unavoidable presence of evil).
Their opinions are mirrored by that of many others, including British philosopher, Richard Swinburne who agreed that to make free moral choices, humans must have experience of consequences preceding their own evil actions, so natural evil must exist to provide such choices. In his words “we would never learn the art of goodness in a world designed as a complete paradise.”
However, within this theodicy lie a number of crucial problems. On a fundamental level, through this perspective, everyone is subject to suffering, everyone is a victim. The only way, Irenaeus states, to justify suffering imposed by God is to offer a supreme life in heaven. Therefore every individual, no matter their own actions, must be repaid for their anguish in eternity in heaven – which many would argue is simply unjust. This results in a dangerous lack of incentive both for moral decisions and for individual soul development which is, in itself, detrimental to the aim of the theodicy. Similarly it does not correspond with the biblical teachings of eternal punishment; if every human moved to God’s likeness, there would be no requirement for hell despite the lessons of the Bible.
Finally, and perhaps most contentious, is the extent to which God allows this evil. Surely, the same moral lesson would be achieved through the murder of 1 million, as oppose to 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? How can a God who allows extensive and unnecessary evil remain truly benevolent?
By admitting God’s responsibility for evil on earth whilst justifying his intentions, St Irenaeus’ Theodicy defends the probability of an omnipotent/scient/benevolent God in the face of an evil world, successfully providing explanation for the presence of evil and suffering. God deliberately fashioned an imperfect world in the best interests of humanity – and though this earth is not designed for the maximisation of pleasure or minimisation of pain, it is perfect for the purpose of soul development. Despite this, the main problem is that if the intention of the designer was to encourage good over evil, then the system would be at fault, considering the outcome from both is the same.
There are such a great number of theodicies, including this one, that try to demonstrate how both evil and God can be in existence, with varying levels of success. Though many are convincing, none are without their flaws, with no exception for that of Irenaeus.
News regarding Christianity within the UK has been overshadowed for years because of the declining Christian population. To put things in context, in the 2001 census, 72% of the population identified as being Christian, compared to 60% in 2011. That’s a substantial decrease in a decade, leading some experts to conclude that Christianity will be non-existent within the UK by the end of the century.
Though these figures may be worrying to some, the more significant, and incidentally worse, news is the annual report on church attendance. Even though many identify as Christians within censuses, that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the number of practicing Christians in reality. According to The Guardian, less than 2% of the population goes to church at least one a week. These results were obtained through looking at the month of October in 2014, in which the weekly average of 980,000 people attended 16,000 churches across the UK.
However, a figure drawn out of all the statistics which caught my eye was that only 150,000 children a week attended church. That translates as about 1.5% out of an estimated 10.8 million children in the UK. In many ways, despite myself associating as a Christian, this may be a positive sign. Not least because it’s important that any person should independently determine their own faith without coercion on the part of parents or spiritual leaders. So, less church attendance for young children particularly shows that compulsory church is uncommon.
There is, however, a downside to this too. In this modern age, where many children are feeling increasingly self-conscious because of unrealistic images of ‘perfection’ perpetuated by the media, those that identify as Christians may shy away. Though it’s respectable for people to want to keep their religion personal and private, it’s sad that children feel they cannot express themselves without feeling judged by atheistic children.
Take issues relating to the moral teachings of the church. A common criticism of the church, particularly of the Catholic Church, is that it’s backward and incompatible with today’s society in which people accept homosexuality, sex before marriage and so on. It would certainly be a sweeping statement to argue that all Christians agree completely with these teachings, yet this is a sticking point for many atheists. Though, of course, there are exceptions to this as with any group in society, our generation is widely regarded as accepting and tolerant.
So why does this not apply to young Christians? Why do young Christians get asked invasive questions regarding their personal beliefs, when everyone else is let off the hook?
As a Christian, I agree with gay marriage. I couldn’t care less about whether people choose to have sex before marriage. I accept that as long as people consider their actions before committing to a course of action, then they are best placed to make that decision.
The point is that young Christians sometimes feel separate from other young people. Many in this generation are just as tolerant of people’s religion as with their sexuality, but there is a tactless quality to the treatment of young religious people. UK society certainly appears far more secular than it ever has been, but that doesn’t make it ok for people to be brutally critical of those who associate as religious. Young theists are probably questioning their own faith most days, as teenagers question most things in life. Given the percentage of young practicing Christians, they may feel isolated in their own journey of ‘faith seeking understanding’.
Debate between theists, atheists, agnostics and so on should continue. No one should have strong faith in a concept or religion when it is blind or unjustified. But ask yourself when you debate; am I considering the consequences of my questions and critical statements on the other person? If the answer to that question is no, then endeavour to change and employ empathy into your everyday thinking. In an increasingly cosmopolitan society, such as ours, there’s no space for narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
As with any minority group, Christians should be treated with respect. Judgement should only be laid down regarding someone’s moral character, not because of the God they worship or the colour of their skin.
Inevitably, those of us within society who aren’t professional scientists have to take the majority of science on dependence. One of the things that makes it so straightforward to trust the generic view of theories such as evolution, in particular, are the unknown specified areas of science, too intricate for the average being. Continue reading “Why Science Will Never Be Right”
The Holocaust was a horrendous experience, one should be remembered and never forgotten. So why did God – a being who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent – permit this evil to occur? Why do people worship a God who allowed this evil which claimed so many innocent lives? In this article, I will explain why God might have allowed this disastrous ordeal.
Atheism is an outlook that has been gaining momentum; for some countries, openly acknowledged atheism is at its peak. With this in mind, is spirituality a thing of the past?
The inspiration for this question came during a talk in January by visiting speaker Freddy Naftel as part of the Holocaust Remembrance month. He told a personal story about the events of his own family who were Jews living in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power preceding the Second World War. During the talk, he presented a photograph of a small child and told us that this was his mother.
The jihadist group Islamic State (IS) burst onto the international scene in 2014 when it seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. It has become notorious for its brutality, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings. The group though has attracted support elsewhere in the Muslim world – and a US-led coalition has vowed to destroy it.
It is a common belief that religion is the cause of many of the Earth’s conflicts, today and in history. After all, without faith there’d be no 9/11, no Israeli-Pakistan conflicts, even no Islamic State. The real question is, is this true or just a misconceived myth?
Recent news articles have expressed concern over the role of religion in today’s society. This may be in relation to schools, where worship has been a requirement in Britain since the 1940’s. For some, the timeline alone embodies the issues of old-fashioned practices which have been replaced by more secular tendencies. For the time being, it is down to the individual institution as to determine the role of ‘collective worship’ for the pupils. The continuation of assemblies with a religious tint, or church services within schools, have implied to some that society hopes to cling to religion by encouraging pupils to relate to their religious identity. But for how long, and to what extent, should this ‘encouragement’ last?