Why Moral Evil Is an Argument for the Existence of God


Charles Bellinger

Brite Divinity School


Colloquium on Violence and Religion, June 2004, Abiquiu, New Mexico



In Him we live, and move, and have our being.  Acts 17:28


… neither lions nor dragons have ever waged such wars with their own kind as men have fought with one another.  Augustine. City of God, 12.23




I. Some authors have argued, using the language of analytical philosophy, that moral evil disproves the existence of God.


The argument is well known in philosophical and religious circles: 1) God is omnipotent, 2) God is good, 3) evil exists. Something has to give, because an omnipotent and good God would not allow evil to exist. It either must be the case that God is not omnipotent, or God is not good, or God does not exist at all. J.L. Mackie is one the leading proponents of this view:

According to traditional theism, there is a god who is both omnipotent (and omniscient) and wholly good, and yet there is evil in the world. How can this be? It is true that there is no explicit contradiction between the statements that there is an omnipotent and wholly good god and that there is evil. But if we add the at least initially plausible premises that good is opposed to evil in such a way that a being who is wholly good eliminates evil as far as he can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do, then we do have a contradiction. A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being.

            The problem of evil, in the sense in which I am using this phrase, is essentially a logical problem: it sets the theist the task of clarifying and if possible reconciling the several beliefs which he holds. It is not a scientific problem that might be solved by further discoveries, nor a practical problem that might be solved by a decision or an action.[1]

This line of argument has been responded to by theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, who typically present some form of the “Free Will Defense” against arguments such as Mackie’s.[2] According to this position, God is indeed omnipotent, but has chosen to give human beings a real freedom of action rather than making them robots only capable of good. The defenses of theism along these lines have been met with further responses from atheistic philosophers, and so on, back and forth.[3]


II. Why is this argument against the existence of God so weak? Because it assumes that one can consider the problem of evil as an abstract logical conundrum, divorced from empirical consideration of human behavior.


I am in agreement with the basic premise of Marilyn McCord Adams’ book, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, which is that the style of argumentation used by analytic philosophers is much too narrow and abstract to do justice to the complexity and depth of problem of evil.[4] Arguments for or against the existence of God that treat the question as a logical conundrum about which thinkers can play games with words come across as having only a limited usefulness. Consider this portion of Plantinga’s argument: “Suppose we consider S’, a state of affairs that is included in the actual world and includes Maurice’s being free with respect to taking oatmeal at time t. That is, S’ includes Maurice’s being free at time t to take oatmeal and free to reject it. S’ does not include Maurice’s taking oatmeal, however; nor does it include his rejecting it.”[5] When one reads a text such as this one has the feeling that thinking has gone off the rails somehow. Instead of talking about concrete examples of evil such as the death camps of Hitler and Stalin, the philosopher talks about the imaginary Maurice and his oatmeal. This is not primarily a critique of Plantinga, but rather of the atmosphere of analytic philosophy that makes possible this derailed form of thinking.

The quotation from Mackie above states directly that the problem of evil is not a scientific or a practical / ethical problem. But to say that is to wall off the enquiry from some of the most fruitful lines of approach to the problem of evil. It is, in fact, a scientific and ethical problem, much more so than a narrowly logical one. This preference for abstract logical argumentation reminds me of the fundamentalist attempt to prove the inerrancy of the Bible through a priori logical argument, before any attempt is made to consider the Bible as an empirical entity. From a Girardian point of view, we might even say that in this regard contemporary atheism creates the impression of being a rival twin of fundamentalism.

            Another angle on this situation may be drawn from reflection on the fragmentation of the academic disciplines in the wake of the Enlightenment. In the contemporary academic world, the fields of logic, ethics, psychology, and theology (to name just four in what could be a very long list), tend to operate in isolation from each other. The devotees of one field generally ignore or perhaps disparage the other fields.

            I agree with Alasdair MacIntyre in his depiction of our times as arising out of the disintegration in the modern world of the possibility of a more holistic perspective on knowledge, such as we see articulated by Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologiae, he begins with God's being and God's activity as Creator. Then he considers the human creature in great detail. Thomas develops a very elaborate analysis of human moral psychology. What are the basic faculties of the human soul? How does our intellect make decisions? What passions and emotions shape our lives? In the wake of this theology and this psychology, Thomas begins to consider ethics. What are the virtues and the vices of the human soul? How should we think about specific moral issues such as war and usury? Notice the very intentional structure of his method: first theology, then psychology, then ethics. It is this sort of rich and comprehensive vision that has been lost for many thinkers in the modern world, much to our detriment.

            What would it look like if we considered the problem of moral evil in this more holistic way, rather than construing it as a narrow logical problem about which we could play word games? It is certainly the case, for starters, that we would need to reflect on violence empirically. In other words, we would need to ask why human beings are violent; and our minds would have to be open to the possible connections between this psychological enquiry and theology (on the one hand) and ethics (on the other).


III. If we ask why human beings are violent, as an empirical (psychological) question, we will begin to realize that human behavior cannot be reduced to, or interpreted as analogous to, the behavior of the lower animals. It is qualitatively different.


As soon as one mentions the idea of reflecting on human violence empirically, one may think that this means interpreting violence under the heading of a type of "aggression" that is analogous to the aggression of the lower animals, the "lions and tigers and bears." There certainly have been efforts by scientists to argue along these lines, but their inadequacy is clear. It is not simply the case that this narrowly scientific approach ignores theology on the one hand and ethics on the other; even on its own terms it is a failure. In other words, this approach does not make sense of human behavior as it is empirically observable, because anyone who has eyes to see can realize that the most salient feature of human violent behavior is precisely its bizarre lack of similarity to the behavior of the lower animals. Tigers kill prey animals for food, and they may kill other big cats that wander into their territory. Chimpanzees have also been observed killing other chimpanzees over territorial issues; but tigers and chimpanzees do not organize holocausts of millions of members of their own species. They lack the mental architecture to be able to imagine such a thing, and the perversity of will to want to do such a thing. As St. Augustine said, "… neither lions nor dragons have ever waged such wars with their own kind as men have fought with one another."

            Let us consider at this point the Rwandan man who was one of the leaders of his village. He was a member of the Hutu tribe. His wife was a member of the Tutsi tribe. A government official visited the town and exhorted the villagers to be more zealous in their persecution of the members of the Tutsi tribe. This Rwandan man, who was a pillar of the community, heeded the call of the government official. He not only had his wife brought before the village and killed in front of him, but he also did the same thing with the four sons she had given birth to with this man. The man reasoned that his sons must be eliminated because they had "Tutsi" blood.[6]

            Approximately sixty years earlier, in Germany, a leader arose who told the people that they must be very zealous in their persecution of the Jews. Europe must be "cleansed," he said. He was offering a vision of how the world could be made a better place. It would require sacrifices, he noted. It is not just that a sacrificial system would need to be set up to get rid of the Jews, but the German people as well would have to go to war and sacrifice many of their own lives in the face of the opposition that this new philosophy would receive from those who did not immediately recognize its wisdom and necessity. What this man said resonated very well with a large number of the German people and they enthusiastically lived out his sacrificial dreams, resulting in the deaths of millions of Jews and of countless numbers of other people on all sides of the conflict that ensued.

            Examples such as these of violence perpetrated by humans against other humans make no sense in the context of "nature." When human beings act in this way, they are being unnatural to an extreme degree. Even though the Nazis may have had confused Darwinian ideas swirling around in their heads, there is no way of making sense of the German people plunging the world into the abysmal depths of evil or a Rwandan man killing his family or hijackers boarding planes and flying them into buildings as examples of behavior that can be understood by reference to genetics or to a species' unconscious logic of self-preservation. When we are talking about human beings, we are faced with a creature that does not act as if it is a part of nature in the sense that the lower animals are a part of nature and can be understood in naturalistic terms.

If human behavior makes no sense in naturalistic terms, then how are we to interpret it? This problem points us toward an explanation for our behavior that lies beyond the natural world. The actions of human beings make manifest the reality that they have a transcendent source. This is the idea we must consider if we take the empirical evidence of our own behavior seriously.

If there is an analogy that is appropriate at this point, it is the concept of a Black Hole. Astronomers have spoken of how a Black Hole is not something that can be observed directly, because its gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape from it. But the existence of a Black Hole can be inferred from the observable motions of heavenly bodies near it. Along similar lines, we could suggest that even though Kant is correct in saying that the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproven, it could be inferred from the observable behavior of human beings. The possibility presents itself to our consciousness that human violence, when it is comprehended psychologically, may actually support belief in the reality of God rather than undermining it. (At this point I need to digress a bit from the direct development of my comments on the problem of evil, but I promise that I will return to it.)


IV. Rene Girard has given a very strong impetus to psychological reflections on the roots of violence. But is Girard's thought naturalistic, assuming that explanations of human behavior are basically secular in character, or not? There is an ambiguity here.


Rene Girard's theory of violence is fairly well known by now in academic circles. He argues that the mimetic desire that forms the foundation of human psychology leads to conflictual mimesis which in turn leads to the channeling of societal violence toward scapegoats. He goes on to argue that we know these things because the Bible has revealed them to us. In other words, the theory about violence can be expressed in secular terms, without reference to God or theology, but the theory itself only exists in the human mind because of divine revelation. If there seems to be a contradiction or an ambiguity here, there is. We can see this lack of clarity in James Williams' Foreword to Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning: "His method is to begin, not with theology or the revelation of God, but with an understanding of human beings and human relations that the Bible and early Christian tradition disclose"(ix). If Girard is beginning with what the Bible and the early Christian tradition disclose about human beings then I don't see how he is not beginning with theology and God's revelation.

            In other words, Girard may be trying to limit and focus his method by narrowing his vision to psychology, while bracketing to the side theology and ethics, but this is not an advisable plan of action. Human behavior cannot be understood with blinders on; it can only be understood holistically, with a method that is similar to Aquinas': first theology, then psychology, then ethics. In other words, we need to understand where human beings have come from, God, in order to understand their current state of psychological health or disease; then we will be able to speak about ethics in an effective way.

Instead of following Aquinas' method, Girard's approach seems to be: psychology first, then leave the theological and ethical implications of the psychology to be worked out by others. The core of Girard's message is his social psychology. But he has never seen it as his task or calling to write an extended theological treatise in which he explicates the character of God, the shape of human relations and misrelations with God, and an epistemology of revelation that would explain how we know these things. He makes references to God from time to time in his writings, but he never produces a substantial theological treatise that one could compare and contrast with books that have been written by Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and so forth. We can speculate that Girard has not done this because he feels that theology is not his field (another example of the fragmentation of disciplines). His fields are comparative literature and the philosophy of social science. Yet the broad interdisciplinary scope of his thought and interests has led him deeply into the realm of theology, as evidenced by the large number of theologians and biblical scholars who have read his thought with appreciation. Over the past three decades, Girard certainly could have produced an extended theological treatise, but he has made a decision not to do so. That decision on his part makes a statement about his priorities.

Girard also leaves the ethical implications of his psychology unstated. Is this because his thought does not have any specific ethical implications? Two examples of this situation can be seen in the fact that some followers of Girard are pacifists and some are not; some have views on abortion that come closer to the "pro-choice" paradigm, and others are closer to the "pro-life" paradigm. Girard is very reticent to refer to such matters in print. Perhaps it is a case of a professor wanting to give his students the tools they need to come to conclusions on their own, rather than instilling them with correct doctrines. But has Girard given readers of his books the tools they need to think about ethical questions? It isn't clear that this is the case. Violence is the main topic of his writings, but it seems to me that Girard has left his readers underinstructed in how they ought to think about violence in relation to ethical questions such as war and abortion. Once again, a decision by Girard not to speak about such matters reveals his priorities.


V. An area where Girard's thought ought be developed and expanded is in reflection on the human experience of time.


I have already argued that Girard's method ought to be consciously expanded to include theology and ethics. Another area where the content of his thought ought to be expanded is in reflection on the human experience of time. Girard's thought tends to see the same basic dynamics of scapegoating at work in various social settings. He is not very attuned, however, to various possibilities for how human beings orient themselves in relation to the past, the present, and the future. I need to explain what I mean by this.

Fundamentalism is a way of thinking that has its center of gravity in the past rather than in the present. It starts with the idea that The Truth was given to humanity in the past in the form of a divinely revealed book. So there is a Jewish form of fundamentalism that has its scriptures, a Christian form which adds to those the New Testament, and an Islamic form which is based on the Qur'an. In this approach to truth, the basic question is: "How can human thought be brought into conformity with divine truth?" If human beings start out as sinners, then they have to come to a knowledge of the truth somehow. Fundamentalism starts with the idea that God has communicated the truth in the form of a book, a sacred scripture.

Fundamentalism focuses on the concept that in a Golden Age in the past the truth was revealed in the form of a book. And in relation to that act of revelation that took place in the past, the modern world is seen as a degeneration, a falling away from God, a falling into sin. In the modern world, the truth that was revealed in the sacred book is rejected and instead human beings put themselves in the place of God. They think that they know the truth on their own without needing to have the truth revealed to them. So from the fundamentalist point of view, the modern world is something that is feared and distrusted; it is a falling away from the truth that was revealed in the past. Fundamentalists tend to see themselves as superior to those modern people who aren’t reading the sacred scriptures; they have a strong tendency toward self-righteousness. Fundamentalists might look on modernizers with pity or perhaps with hatred or disgust.

For those who inhabit a pattern of thought and life I will call "aestheticism," the most important thing is their own existence in the present moment. For them, every moment in time is "Me Time." They try to forget the past as quickly as possible, and they don't plan very carefully for the future either, except insofar as doing so would enable them to go on living in the present happily, however they define happiness. Their primary concern is for themselves; they tend to use other people as means to their own ends. Living within the modern world suits the aesthetes well, because modernity is their Golden Age. More personal space and "freedom" is available to them now than has been the case in most ages in the past. Aesthetes are usually secularists, in the sense that they are allergic to "organized religion," though it may be the case that some form of disorganized religion suits their "spiritual needs." The concept of truth is interpreted pragmatically by the aesthete as "whatever works for me."

In a certain sense, utopianism is a mirror image of nostalgic fundamentalism. We could summarize utopianism by saying that it sees the past of the human race in basically negative terms, while it puts forward a vision of a socially engineered future. The past represents ignorance, superstition, backwardness, intolerance, oppression, and so forth. "We revolutionaries," on the other hand, are able to understand the truth because we are "modern" people who can envision a new world that we can make through our own efforts. The truth has come to birth for the first time in our thinking, and this truth is not based on learning anything substantive from history other than its errors.

In this way of thinking, the dead weight of the past is something you need to grow out of. The past is something you have to escape from like a snake has to shed its skin as it grows. Glenn Hughes uses the term immanentism to describe something similar to what I’m calling utopianism. He says that immanentism tends to promote a view of history “…where the human past is seen primarily as a long passage through blindness and folly from which we have only recently begun to emerge, and our cultural heritage felt to be an imposition of authority from which we must struggle to liberate ourselves.”[7] In other words, utopianism believes that there is a great advantage to being born later in history, because you have the ability to participate in this awareness of the newly born truth that people in the past didn’t have.

            It is fairly easy for utopian social engineers to say that fundamentalist religious conservatives are psychologically immature people. They are stunted. They represent an earlier way of thinking in human history. They are afraid of growing up. They think that they are superior to everyone else, when actually they are less mature than others in certain key ways.[8] But this leads to a way in which utopianism is a mirror image of fundamentalism. Utopians see themselves as being superior to everyone else who hasn’t risen to their level of insight into the future. They see themselves as the cutting edge of human evolution, in contrast to those who are less mature. So utopians can be very arrogant and dismissive of those who disagree with them. While the central virtue (that is, vice) of fundamentalism is nostalgia, the central virtue of utopianism is forgetting. The past needs to be ignored or forgotten so that one will have no hindrances whatsoever in one’s enterprise of recreating the world.

So we can say that fundamentalism is a form of immature psychology, but utopianism also can be seen as a form of immaturity, because the belief that you are superior and don’t have anything to learn from the past is actually a defense mechanism against the possibility of personal growth. Aestheticism manifests this defense mechanism most clearly of all. It is described well by Russell Reno: "Ironic detachment, the smirk of critical tropes, the serene complacency made possible by the dogmatic belief that all truth is relative--these and other habits of mind keep our souls free from the disturbing need for inner personal change."[9] Fundamentalism, aestheticism, and utopianism are forms of immaturity that manifest fear of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological growth. That is why it is often the case that the inhabitants of these patterns of thought get into arguments with each other that are humorous and/or scary to watch. 

Thus far, I have been developing a phenomenology of three basic approaches to living in time. I have been describing these patterns of thought and life as anthropological phenomena that have identifiable general features and characteristics. But this is not yet a genealogy, which is the next important step to take in the enquiry. In other words, we can ask where these three approaches come from. How do they arise out of different ways of experiencing reality? To answer this question we must start at a very basic level.

What is time? At the deepest level, time is the procession of the creative speech of God. In other words, there is time because God does not create everything in an instant. God is not like a magician who says "Poof!" and the entire universe in its finished form is there. Rather, God creates slowly, patiently, as an extended event. Creation is the unfolding, the procession, of God's speech, God's word. The event of creation is time, which is equivalent to saying that the event of creation is reality.

            Human beings are one of God's creatures. We are different from the other creatures in that we have the potential to be aware of the event of creation and our place in it. On the positive side, this signifies the extraordinary nobility of human beings. But on the negative side, this awareness leads us into difficulties that the other creatures do not face, such as the propensity to commit acts of violence on a scale that is completely irrational.

The central gift from God that sets human beings apart from the other animals is freedom. Human freedom means that God has given us the ability not just to make choices, but at an even deeper level, to turn our souls toward light or toward darkness. This gift signifies that God has limited himself, drawn back into a kind of powerlessness, so that we would be able to respond to his grace with our own freely offered love. God is free, and he wants us to be like him, to be free also. Only in this context is genuine love possible.[10] But the gift of freedom involves a great risk on God's part; we can turn away from God and toward evil. If God had not taken the risk of freedom, the universe would be devoid of love.

            The fact that human beings are free means that we face genuine forks in the road of existence that are not faced by the lower animals. Usually, (and paradoxically), we choose to take these forks at a very deep level of our emotions, a level that lies below our everyday self-conscious awareness and choice-making ability. There is an initial fork in the road that is presented to human beings because they exist in time and are involved in the event of creation. After a direction is taken at the first fork, another set of forks present themselves, leading to four possible outcomes. The first fork concerns the individual's basic relationship with reality, which may tend toward acceptance of the event of creation that is happening in the present moment of time or fearful rejection of it. For those who take the path of rejection, the next choice leads to an attitude of passive resignation or an attitude of defiant self-assertiveness. For those whose basic attitude toward the event of creation is accepting, the next choice lies between adopting a stance that is characterized by a certain humility and submissiveness toward the Creator and the event of creation as it has unfolded thus far in history, or adopting a stance that is more arrogant and domineering, so that human beings try to seize control of the process of creation. These forks in the road and the main possibilities that they map out lead to four psychological types. Visually presented:


the event of creation





å                     æ

å                     æ





psychological type

the fundamentalist

the aesthete

the utopian / revolutionary

the neo-orthodox person

temporal center of gravity




past, present, and future


This chart introduces a fourth possibility as a way of thinking about how one lives in time and comes to a knowledge of the truth, that we can label neo-orthodoxy. The neo-orthodox see themselves as people who inhabit traditions of thought that reach back into history; they exist in the present moment; and they seek to move into the future in a constructive way. For this pattern, the philosophical and religious traditions of humanity have a coherence and substance that ought to be respected and learned from. One ought not to flee from these living traditions, in the way that fundamentalism flees into an imagined past or utopianism flees into an imagined future.[11] In neo-orthodoxy, the approach to truth can be summarized in the phrase “truth is accumulative.” That is, truth is expressed through various people, communities, and scriptures in the past, such as the Bible and Plato and Aristotle; various aspects of the truth were seen by St. Augustine, St. Thomas, the Mennonites, and many other thinkers and groups in history. Because these various aspects of the truth were expressed by various people in the past, what one needs to do in the present is to study the past, to gather from it those elements of truth and wisdom that have been expressed. In this way, one is able to accumulate those insights, that wisdom, for the winsome shaping of one’s thought and life. Glenn Hughes, summarizing the thought of Eric Voegelin and Bernard Lonergan, puts it this way: "If to be human is to be a questioner, one is authentically human to the degree that one remains open to further questions, where one's accumulation of understanding functions constantly as a springboard for renewed inquiry with an open mind and open heart."[12]

            The utopian tends to think that you can simply wake up one day and start criticizing the past. The neo-orthodox person, on the other hand, sees the task of criticizing the past as a dialectical, back and forth process. In other words, in order to develop a high level of competence in one's critical commentary on history, you must first study history carefully and respectfully, allowing your study to shape your soul and refine your reasoning abilities. Then, and only then, will you be in a position to use the normative insights you have gained from the tradition to criticize those aspects of the tradition that are defective. In neo-orthodoxy, you begin with a basic respect for the past, and this respect enables a learning process that brings you to the place where you are able to criticize those aspects of the past, such as slavery, that did not arise out of genuine insights into the moral structure of the universe, but out of human sin. It’s not that you yourself are deciding what is true because you have the faculty of "reason" automatically present within you by virtue of the fact that you exist. Rather, you are allowing the truths that were forged in the crucible of history to shape your thinking. Truth is something that accumulates within you and it refines your ability to discern the truth and critique the untruth in history. You gain the ability to be critical in appropriate ways by inhabiting a living tradition of thought.[13]

This brief overview of four different patterns of thought and life reveals how the human experience of time has been fractured in the modern world. We now live in a state of “culture wars” between different camps that are organized around these different ways of living in time. The lesson that I draw from this is that human pathology is flight from existing in the fullness of time--past, present, and future. Another way of expressing this is to say that time is the medium in which we human beings live and move and have our being. Time is the gift of God to us. Evasion of the fullness of time is evasion of God.

In many ways, Girard is a superb model of a neo-orthodox thinker. He has studied history carefully and respectfully, with an open mind, and has allowed his reading of the Bible and authors such as Cervantes and Dostoevsky to shape his perception of reality in profound ways. His efforts have provided the world with vitally important insights into human psychology. Yet with these comments about existence in time, I am seeking to show how Girard’s thought can be expanded even further and articulated more fully. We could speak, for instance, about fundamentalism, aestheticism, and utopianism as competing sub-cultures of mimetic desire. Within these sub-cultures charismatic leaders rise up and show others how to dwell in the past, present, or future, in defiance of the fullness of time. Stalinism, for instance, can be interpreted as a future-oriented pathology that led to a ferocious attack on what had been labeled as the “bourgeois” past. Naziism can be interpreted as a kind of nationalistic fundamentalism that was seeking to retreat into the pre-Christian Germanic paganism. In both cases, the rhetoric about making the world a better place by killing off undesirables took ethical hypocrisy to levels that it had never reached before in human history. Rejection of God and the event of creation leads to psychological sickness at the deepest possible level, and to the worst kind of ethical corruption. If Girard’s thought had been articulated along these lines, focusing on theology, psychology, and ethics, it would be even stronger and more insightful than it already is, which is saying a great deal.


VI. Evasion of the possible development of the self in time is the root of violence. We are violent toward our neighbor because we reject the possibility of becoming an other to our selves.


I have argued that time is the medium within which human beings exist, and that noticing this is as important as Girard’s approach, which sees society as the medium within which we exist. I have also argued that we have been given the gift of freedom which entails that our behavior is not genetically determined as is the behavior of the lower animals. We can use our freedom to rebel against existing in the fullness of time, choosing instead to live a narrowed and stunted form of life within one aspect of time (past, present, or future) in alienation from other aspects of time. The Jewish and Christian traditions teach that we are called by God to live a life that is rooted in love, love of God, self, and neighbor. But to the extent that we are living in rebellion against our true nature as creatures of God, we will reject the call to live in love, and we will instead live in hatred. We will hate and reject God for calling us into greater fullness of life; we will reject the potential self that we are called to become; and this rejection will be played out in the world as an attack on other human beings.

            I will only develop this point briefly because I have already presented it in greater detail in my book The Genealogy of Violence.[14] As long as we perceive the call of God (to grow into maturity as human beings) as an attack on our immaturity, we will narcissistically strive for egoistic self-preservation. We dimly recognize the call to grow as involving a painful process of dying to oneself and being reborn. We evade this pain and seek to build a comfortable nest around our smallness of soul. We know that if we were to die and be reborn we would be different than we are now, while nevertheless remaining the same person. We reject this possibility, but because the call of God is continual it is always a source of frustration and anger for us. We develop many strategies (i.e. diversions and idolatries) for trying to remain deaf to this call, the most extreme of which is violence toward other human beings. At its deepest root, our violence conveys the message that the self does not want to become an other to itself. The self does not want to enter into the event of creation and live into the fullness of time, freedom, and love.[15]

            Girard argues that instead of living within the peaceful mimesis modeled by Christ, human beings alienate themselves from their Creator and live in the conflictual mimesis of human culture. This either/or situation illuminates the basic structure of human existence. We must choose between living with God, which means living humbly within time and the ongoing event of creation, and living without and against God, which means doing violence to others, to ourselves, and to the natural world.

            Life is painful. I have been speaking of the pain of spiritual growth that we seek to avoid, but there is also the pain that comes from the humiliations and losses that we suffer as a result of the actions of other human beings. The cycle of violence and revenge in the Middle East is a classic example of this. Human beings do use their freedom of action to kill other human beings. The question that faces all of us is how we will respond to that pain. Do we grow through the grieving process, or do we try to deflect the pain and pass it on to others? Do we become angry at God because God has given human beings freedom, which they misuse to do us harm? Or do we turn toward the more mature path of realizing that our unbridled anger will only perpetuate the cycle of pain indefinitely? This is the point at which the gift of freedom becomes the test of freedom. How will we use our freedom of action as human beings?


VII. The emerging Christian understanding of violence is a new argument for the existence of God.


I referred earlier to the Black Hole analogy. I hope by now that my meaning is at least somewhat clear. I don’t mean that God is like a Black Hole in the sense that God is a huge scary magnet that nothing can escape from. I have been arguing the exact opposite point, that God gives human beings freedom to rebel against and flee from God. The purpose of the Black Hole analogy is to suggest that there are some things that are not directly observable, but their existence can be inferred from things that are observable. Human violence is observable, and the most plausible and rational explanation of it is to interpret it as arising out of an attitude of transcendental rage against God. We human beings have a desire to kill God, so that the call to spiritual growth and love of neighbor will be silenced (in Girard’s terms, the call to exit a sub-culture of conflictual mimesis). But we cannot reach God to kill him. Therefore we do the next best thing. We kill our fellow human beings who are created in the image of God.

            Hatred of the neighbor is defiance of God's command to love the neighbor. This command is expressed very clearly at the heart of the Jewish and Christian traditions, which explains why those who seek to live by the command are met by the world’s hostility and violence.[16] This insight into the roots of violence is theological and psychological, in equal measures, with ethical implications. Christian thought, at its best, brings to our awareness the possibility that theology, psychology, and ethics can be woven together into a rich tapestry that reveals the limitations and blindnesses of secular social science and philosophy, one of which is the mistaken notion that violence disproves the existence of God.

[1] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 150-151.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).

[3] There are several anthologies on this topic, such as the following: Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, eds., The Problem of Evil (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Daniel Howard-Snyder, ed., The Evidential Argument from Evil (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996); Mark J. Larrimore, ed., The Problem of Evil: A Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001); William L. Rowe, ed., God and the Problem of Evil (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001); Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Impossibility of God (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003).

[4] “The debate was carried on at too high a level of abstraction.” Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 3.

[5] Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 42.

[6] This story is related by Wole Soyinka in an article entitled “Hearts of Darkness"; New York Times Oct. 4, 1998.

[7] Glenn Hughes, Transcendence and History (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 218.

[8] Utopians, for example, may rely on theories about stages of human development, to be able to label fundamentalists as having the mentality of an elementary school child living under a strict code of punishment for bad behavior.

[9] Reno, In the Ruins of the Church, 41. The central polemic of Reno’s book concerns the fear of inward transformation that animates aestheticism and utopianism.

[10] For a profound set of reflections on these ideas, see Chapter 11 of Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000).

[11] Russell Reno makes a similar point, more elegantly than I can, in his book In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), 13-18.

[12] Glenn Hughes, Transcendence and History, 19.

[13] This is the central theme of the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre, who is a neo-orthodox philosopher.

[14] Charles K. Bellinger, The Genealogy of Violence: Reflections on Creation, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[15] My thinking along these lines has been most deeply influenced by Kierkegaard.

[16] Kierkegaard often says “in this world love is hated.” See Chapter 4 of The Genealogy of Violence for references.