The Evil God

I will start this post with a long citation from Emil Cioran's “The New Gods”.

It is difficult, it is impossible to believe that the Good Lord — “Our Father” — had a hand in the scandal of creation. Everything suggests that He took no part in it, that it proceeds from a god without scruples, a feculent god. Goodness does not create, lacking imagination; it takes imagination to put together a world, however botched. At the very least, there must be a mixture of good and evil in order to produce an action or a work. Or a universe. Considering ours, it is altogether easier to trace matters back to a suspect god than to an honorable one.

The Good Lord was certainly not equipped for creating: He possesses everything except omnipotence. Great by His weaknesses (anemia and kindness are partners), He is the prototype of ineffectuality: He can help no one. . . . Moreover, we cling to Him only when we cast off our historical dimension; as soon as we resume it, He is alien to us, incomprehensible: He has nothing which fascinates us, nothing of the monster. Whereupon we turn to the creator, inferior and officious god, instigator of events. In order to understand how he could have created, we must imagine him at grips with evil, which is innovation, and with good, which is inertia. This struggle must have been fatal to evil, which was thereby obliged to endure the contamination of good — thus, the creation could not be altogether wicked.

Since evil presides over all that is corruptible, in other words over all that is alive, it is absurd to try to prove it comprises less being than good does, or even that it contains none at all. Those who identify evil with nothingness suppose they are thereby saving their poor Good Lord. We save Him only if we have the courage to sever His cause from that of the Demiurge. Having refused to do so, Christianity inveterately sought to impose the inevidence of a merciful Creator: a hopeless enterprise which has exhausted Christianity and compromised the God it sought to preserve.

We cannot help thinking that the Creation, had it remained in the rough, neither could be completed nor deserved to be; the Creation is in fact a fault, man’s famous sin thereby appearing as a minor version of a much graver one. What are we guilty of, except of having followed, more or less slavishly, the Creator’s example? Easy to recognize in ourselves the fatality which was His: not for nothing have we issued from the hands of a wicked and woebegone god, a god accursed.

Some doomed to believe in the supreme but impotent God, others in the Demiurge, still others in the Devil, we choose neither our venerations nor our blasphemies. (...)

In order to evade the difficulties inherent in dualism, we might postulate a single God whose history would develop in two phases: in the first, discreet, anemic, retiring, with no impulse to manifest Himself, a sleeping God exhausted by His own eternity; in the second phase, ambitious, frenzied, a God committing mistake after mistake, participating in a supremely blameworthy activity. Upon reflection, this hypothesis seems less clear-cut and less advantageous than that of the two distinct gods. (...)

By inflicting upon the official God the functions of Father, Creator and general manager, we exposed Him to attacks to which He was to succumb. What might have been His longevity if only we had heeded Marcion, of all heresiarchs the one who most vigorously opposed evil’s sleight of hand, who contributed most to the glory of the Demiurge by the hatred he felt for him! There is no example of another religion which, at the outset, has missed so many opportunities. We should assuredly be quite different if the Christian era had been inaugurated by the execration of the Creator, for the permission to abuse Him would not have failed to lighten our burden, and to render the last two millennia that much less oppressive. By refusing to incriminate Him and to adopt the doctrines which would unhesitatingly do so, the Church was to commit itself to cunning and deception. At least we have the comfort of observing that what is most alluring in its history are its most intimate enemies, all those it has opposed and rejected, those who, in order to safeguard God’s honor, impugned — at the risk of martyrdom — His role as Creator. Fanatics of the divine nothingness, of that absence in which the Supreme Good delights, they knew the joy of hating this God and of loving that one without restrictions, without second thoughts. Swept on by their faith, they would have been in no position to discern the touch of imposture which enters into even the sincerest torment. The notion of pretext was not yet born, nor was that quite modern temptation of hiding our agonies behind some theological acrobatics.

Saturn devours his children, by Peter Paul Rubens

Today is Christmas, a day in which Christian tradition celebrates the birth of Jesus, the second person of the divine trinity, also known as the Son, the Logos, the Word (John 1:1-14). For Christians, God became man in order to take away the sins of the world through his own sacrifice — a sacrifice he performed to himself, the first person of the trinity, God the Father. This sacrifice was necessary according to tradition, because the first man and first woman sinned and were expelled from Eden, condemned to live by the sweat of their brows, and die leaving descendants — and these descendants were in their turn damned with the same guilt as their progenitors. The fault of all unhappiness in the world is attributed to the first couple: human evil, suffering and death come from this guilt, which precipitated the Fall.

In the beginning of Christianity, however, there were several different versions that disputed followers. In the first couple of centuries, for example, Gnostic and Marcionists believed that the being responsible for the creation of the fallen world we live in, the material world, was not the same being which Jesus called “Father”. Despite the diverse number of interpretations different dualist groups had, all were convinced of one thing: a good God would never be responsible for our material universe — this creator would necessarily be evil or, at the very least, ignorant. This was the only way to explain — or try to explain — the presence of evil in the world. Christ, according to the dualists, was sent by the good God in order to save us from the creator god, the malevolent Demiurge.

This isn't a modern question. The first Christians already questioned how a good, omnipotent and all-knowing God would be capable of creating imperfect beings (us) who would betray his confidence in Eden and suffer immensely as a result. Man broke the divine command, ate the forbidden fruit, and was expelled from the garden — something the Old Testament God already knew would happen, given his supposed attribute of omniscience. Outside of Eden, men were condemned to suffer all sorts of harms. An all-powerful and all-knowing deity that allows this isn't mysterious, like people use to say, but evil. After all of that, the same God send a deluge in order to kill most of humanity, which by then was corrupted, and even that didn't work in his eyes. He had to send himself — his second person, whatever that means — to Earth, in the form of the Christ, so he could sacrifice himself and save part of humanity, not all of it (Romans 9:6-13, Peter 1:1-2).

Cioran was right when he affirmed that Christianity — that is, the version of Christianity that won the dispute in the first centuries — made a mistake when it attributed to only one God the functions of Father, Creator and manager of the universe. It is impossible to logically justify the presence of evil in the world (both the evil committed by men and the harms that come from nature) when you have just one all-powerful creator that is at the same time benevolent and merciful. If there is a deity that created matter, it is malignant and it does not care about us.

It is always good to give examples.

Last week, a former security guard — that spent three years committed to a psychiatric hospital after trying to kill someone and being diagnosed as schizophrenic — flipped out at the Santos Dumont Airport, in Rio de Janeiro. He was taken to a police station. Once there, he had a another nervous breakdown, stole a gun from a police officer and fired at random, killing an elderly man that had just arrived at the police station to report the loss of his ID. After the shooting, the man tried to run away, but was shot in the head by other police officers. A tragic situation. At the moment he was firing the gun at random and killing the elderly man, his mom was at mass celebrating the publishing of her book — a book in which she described the difficulties she had when raising him. The book was called “Victory Through Faith”. (link to the Portuguese news article)

If there is a good god somewhere, I hope it brings comfort to all of those who were marked by this tragedy — and I hope it comforts all creatures that suffered in the past, and those who will suffer in the future, because pain is something that will last as long as there is life. However, we cannot expect anything from whatever caused the existence of our universe, be that a malignant creator god or some random natural phenomenon.

Merry Christmas.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.(John 1:14)

By Fernando Olszewski

(This post was first published in Portuguese on December 25th, 2018)