Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

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Little Black Boy….really?

To start this blog off on an entertaining note, I will begin with a personal anecdote:

My family originates from South India, where majority of the population is dark-skinned. This is a huge contrast from North Indians, who are usually pale in comparison to us, since they have traces of British-Anglo blood in most of their ancestries. That being said, my family is pretty dark-skinned. However, I am the “darkest” member out of my immediate family. Of course, I’ve been the butt of many family jokes and ridicule because of my dark skin and features. But the joke is on the rest of my family in the summer days, when the sun is unmerciful to any sort of light skin exposed to the blistering heat. So, while many of my family members cower in the sun, get blistered/burnt skin and have to be extra careful and slather on sunscreen, I can walk out in broad daylight for hours and walk back inside without any harm being done. Dark skin enables many people extra protection from the sun without the risk of sunburning. A superb biological advantage in my opinion. (This may not be true for everyone, but this is my own personal experience). And of course, I rub this in my family’s face playfully.

That being said, the thought never crossed my mind that “Huh. I was put on this Earth to absorb sunlight, and that’s exactly what I will do with my dark skin!”

“Little Black Boy” by William Blake puzzles me. It’s a short, sweet poem about an African American boy listening to his mother’s praise and reassurement about the joys of having dark skin after he laments his black appearance.

Halfway through the poem, the mother says “And we are put on earth in this little space…[we] Are but a cloud, a shady grove” (l.16-20). Towards the end of the poem, the little boy says he will proudly play the role of the “shady tree” and shade those (I assume he’s talking of his white master/ people but I’m not sure) around him.

This poem can be taken two ways. Either the importance African Americans played and how they can “protect” and one day follow God into heaven….or the poem can be seen as emphasizing the objectifying roles of African Americans in the past. I just thought that it was somehwhat ludicrous for a mother to tell her son that she should “shade” people since that’s what his skin color is only allowing him to do.

This is just one of the theories I summarized from reading from this poem. I’m sure it can also be a sweet children’s story of how a boy finds solace in his race.

I Know You

Though hardly accepted as an art from, video games have a unique story telling format that enables them to push concepts on the player in ways that few other mediums allow. Included in Rockstar Games’ 2010 opus Red Dead Redemption, is a baffling set of optional missions where the player encounters a mysterious stranger who seems to know more than he lets on. The stranger tasks John Marston (the player) with attending to various tests of seemingly black and white morality. They amount to nothing more than encouraging or discouraging a man to cheat on his wife and choosing to offer an old nun some money to restore a man’s faith. As you progress further into the game, you begin to question the motives and nature of the stranger and his odd quests for the player. The stranger intentionally avoids revealing his name or motive to the player and eventually begins to take on almost supernatural levels of knowledge about Marston’s past.

Speculation after the game’s release has run wild in regards to just who or what the stranger is supposed to represent in relation to the rest of the game. Many players come to the conclusion that the stranger simply represents a rudimentary form of a Christian God due to his specially worded responses to Marston’s queries but the game never makes the characters intentions clear. The stranger clearly possesses otherworldly powers (eg. he isn’t affected by bullets) but he is cast as a character who makes decisions that are decidedly neutral to the player. The player, in fact, is left with the choice of whether or not he should choose to make a good or evil decision based exclusively on the player’s impulses. Regardless of just what the stranger is supposed to represent in the game world, the stranger remains a popular enigma and a fascinating look into the possibilities of modern game design.

Homer the Heretic

http://www.hulu.com/embed/MyctKCy5q9XyMc4W4IewPw
Inarguably one of the most well written and influential shows to emerge in the late 20th century, the Simpsons has a unique place in pop culture. The show’s place is well earned because the Simpsons, regardless of its crudely animated and controversial beginnings, is one of the most profound shows ever made. Although many shows have lampooned the low hanging fruit of religion and the easier to make fun of aspects of a Christian God, only the Simpsons has walked the fine line of ensuring that commentary on religion feels impartial and never preachy. In the episode Homer the Heretic, one of the show’s most famous, the viewer follows Homer as he falls out of attendance at his local church. Predictably the results of this include the townsfolk up in arms about the safety of Homer’s very soul. Upon falling asleep in his bed, Homer experiences a vivid dream where he encounters God himself.

At first glance, God is intimidating and powerful, tearing the roof off of Homer’s home and accusing him of unfaithfulness. But as soon as Homer decides to question God’s integrity in accusing him, God’s size greatly diminishes and suddenly Homer finds himself holding casual discussion with God. God quickly becomes an affable, almost human character who sympathizes with Homer’s comparatively banal interests about football. Certain actions of God’s are revealed to be based in petty frustration with humans in Homer’s life. As Homer seemingly strikes a deal with God, Homer awakens reinvigorated in his passion for avoiding church. Also of note in the show’s portrayal of God is the fact that God’s actual face is never revealed in the episode, leaving the powerful figure a faceless force who is remarkably mighty but still human in nature. Finally, it has often been noted that God is always portrayed as having five fingers instead of four. One might think that this is a sly philosophical remark on the relationship between God and man but the showrunner at the time has admitted that this, one of the show’s most popular mysteries, was simply a production error.

Intervention

Formed as a one off experiment in 2003, Montreal’s Arcade Fire has gone on to become one of the preeminent artistic successes in popular music. Their music is at once cataclysmic and uplifting, always delivered with an unwavering conviction by lead singer Win Butler. No better is the band’s immense power demonstrated than on the track Intervention from the band’s 2007 album Neon Bible. Opening with a cacophonous organ line highly reminiscent of those heard in traditional church services, Intervention describes Win Butler’s own disenfranchisement with organized religion and the evil he believes it represents. The song describes what Butler believes is the silliness and inherent evil in raising a child under the concepts of organized religion. As the song progresses, Butler describes a young follower of religion as a “soldier fighting on their side,” unable to discern just what they are really fighting for. He moves on to criticize the emphasis on money that religion seems to adopt and how misplaced this idol worship is in the context of the religion.

Butler moves on to comment on the place of the overwhelming fear that he believes is used to keep younger members of religion in place and complacent. Clearly a commentary on Butler’s own experiences as a child growing up as a part of something so intimidatingly large that fear is the only logical response, Butler urges younger listeners who can empathize to look outside of their current situation. Butler’s purpose in the song is to alert both his younger audience as well as his more mature audience to take sight of the overwhelming and corrosive presence of organized religion on people’s lives (and urges them to flee). Butler never makes any concessions in the song, organized religion is described as exclusively an evil force, not once does he praise it.

Give It a Day

Formed on a lark by the childhood friends Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, Pavement helped shape the independent rock scene more than any other band in the 90’s. Heavily distorted but remarkably catchy tunes, formed the bands trademark repertoire of hummable but cryptic rock songs. Like many bands in the 90’s indie rock scene, Pavement wrote songs that were witty, beguiling, and never ready to show the band’s true intentions or beliefs. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Pavement’s famous b-side Give It a Day from their Pacific Trim EP. The song delves into a topic rarely if ever addressed in the typically ironic indie rock scene, Cotton Mather and Puritanism.

The song deals with the early spread of Puritanism during the 17th century in North America. Although on first listen, the song appears to be a simple retelling of the popularization of Puritanism, the lyrics cast the Mather family as characters crucial in the horrors committed at the Salem Witch Trials. This could simply be viewed as misinformation on the part of Stephen Malkmus, the principal songwriter, but Malkmus is a history major and these changes are almost certainly deliberate. Moving into the second section of the song, Malkmus comments that Puritan traits have seeped into the world we live in today. He believes that although pop culture has clearly moved beyond the older beliefs found in Puritanism, ultimately the hysteria surrounding Puritanism has faded. Surely it seems that Pavement has something to say with a song with a topic as unique as Puritanism but ultimately it must be worth noting that Pavement wrote this song simply out of necessity. The song was recorded during a recording session where the rest of the backing band dropped out, Pavement simply didn’t want to lose their downpayment. Give It a Day provides a fascinating insight into the band’s off the cuff opinions about history but in the end the listener is left wondering if the band was even being serious.

Rebel Jew

Link to the Song: http://grooveshark.com/s/Rebel+Jew/2qrkV8?src=5
Although forever linked with independent rock pioneers, Pavement, David Berman and the Silver Jews remained an important, critically hailed force in rock and roll through the 90’s. Featuring famed singer songwriter Stephen Malkmus and famed poet David Berman, the Silver Jews wrote dense, mysterious, and most importantly sarcastic rock songs. On their first album Starlite Walker, Berman produced one of the band’s most famous and important songs, Rebel Jew, a faux country tune that mocks the feigned religiosity of country musicians. The song begins with Berman’s monotone wail declaring his alleged close relationship with Jesus and he urges the listener to “let him in.”

This is a commentary on the Berman’s oft perceived notion of evangelical Christianity that permeates country rock music. Moving into the rest of the song, Berman replaces the name of Jesus while maintaining the same rhyme scheme and similar lyrical content. He speaks about his affinity for Texas and the very important role that the state plays in his life. This mocks the disingenuous use of invoking images of Jesus in traditional pop music. Finally, Berman arrives at the end of the song and replaces Jesus in the song a final time with a previously unmentioned character named Michele. This is another criticism of the flippancy required to mention Jesus in a song that doesn’t entirely have its intentions set on discussing him. This final detail is Berman’s masterstroke on Rebel Jew. In the process of just one song, Berman has transformed what initially seems like an impassioned cry for religious devotion into a cheap sounding, southern patriotic anthem and then finally into a worthless love song about a girl who was never even mentioned in the rest of the song. Though this is only one interpretation of the song, Berman’s monotone drawl leaves nothing about his intentions clear.

The Little Boy at the Savior’s Christmas Tree

Short Story: http://www.online-literature.com/dostoevsky/3369/
Forever ingrained as not just one of the Russia’s most important writers but as one of the most important writers the world has ever seen, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s body of work is some of the most important in literature. Although a well known Eastern Orthodox Christian, his short story, The Little Boy at the Savior’s Christmas Tree (originally published as The Little Orphan in 1887) casts an interesting light on Dostoevsky’s relationship with religion. Taking place in the city on Christmas Eve, the story follows a young child who awakens in a cellar to discover that his mother has died in the intense cold of the night. As the story progresses, the young boy, in an effort to find a home to enjoy Christmas in, collapses behind a pile of wood. As he looks up he notices the spectral figure of Jesus sitting at the head of an enormous Christmas tree, surrounded by orphans and his dead mother. Suddenly jarring the reader away from the fantastical imagery, Dostoevsky ends his story with the statement that the child had died in the cold of the night.

Originally written as a response to Russian utopian theses of the time, the story is reflective of Dostoevsky’s notion that true utopia is unattainable in the world. But what is most fascinating is the way that the story draws religion, Dostoevsky’s own, into question. The child experiences utopian ways of life only at the end of his life. And although one could argue that this is simply reflective of the idea of a Christian heaven, Dostoevsky includes the chilling (no pun intended) ending that reveals only that the child has died a horrible death. Instead of leaving the reader with a hopeful vision of a utopian Heaven, Dostoevsky shows a child who believes he experiences time with Jesus but is abruptly ripped away from him and left in the unforgiving cold.

The Holy Bible

The Holy Bible

The Holy Bible

The Holy Bible, the supposed Word of God.  In my opinion and in many others, it is the Good News.  What is the Good News?  Assurance from the problem of evil is one aspect of it.

Why would a loving God allow this?  Pain, suffering, emptiness, loss, death.  It’s not fair, right?

The story of Job talks of a man who loses his wealth, children and health so that he would disclaim God.  Satan tempts him the whole time.  But Job, Job never accuses God for what happened.  And in the end everything is redeemed and he gains more than what he had.  Job’s brothers said that he must have sinned and is being punished.  One of Job’s younger brothers says to Job’s brothers “Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s” (KJV, Job 35:2)?  Job puts them in their places.  Who are they to question God?  What do they know of His plan?  And because of Job’s faith through his trials, everything is restored even more than he ever imagined.  That’s what faith can do.

Another answer to the problem of evil is that it comes from our free will.  With the fall of Man evil came into the world.  Evil and death.  But because God loves us, and because He did not want us to merely be puppets, He gave us free will.  There’s a million discussions on free will and predestination, but that’s a discussion for another time.   With free will we also have the ability to sin and do evil.  That doesn’t answer the question why bad things happen to people, not from people.

The answer to why bad things happen to people goes back to Job.  God doesn’t do these things to people, but rather they are allowed to happen.  There’s a difference.  And with trials, pain and suffering, when relief is finally brought through God’s glory shines all the more when they trust in Him, get closer to Him, and He delivers.  How much would you trust someone if all you had left in the world was one person, and they brought back all your dreams, hopes, wants and thoughts unseen compared to if you already had it?  It’s like raw gold.  When it goes through the fire (trials), it is worth all the more, the impurities (unstable parts of faith) are drawn out (faith is that much stronger than it would’ve been).  You see how much you truly need God in your life.

Kre8tor What If

Kre8tor is a former hustler and gang boss who was caught in a web of deception, betrayal, and murder.

One of Kre8tor’s enemies set him and put him in jail.  There a fellow inmate leads Kre8tor to Christ.  After his sentence is served, Kre8tor has the choice of living out his reformed ways or succumbing to pressure to old ways.  The girl he’s in a relationship tells him that he needs to hustle or she’ll leave.  He lets her go.

Kre8tor then formed DoubleEdgeMinistries, where he produces videos, film and media to spread the Good Word, The Gospel.

In the video What If sung by Kre8tor, he sings about his life, and contemplates what if he’s right, what if the ones who persecute him or ignore God are wrong.  What if you died tonight?  He’s saying think about it.  It’s easy to forget about what’s going to happen at the end.  Death seems so far away.  There is this idea of a personal fable.  A personal fable is defined as thinking that things don’t happen to you, so you can be a little careless.  He speaks to the ambivalent and the attackers, those with a view point and those without one at all.  The idea is, what if?  What if there is a God, a Heaven and a Hell?  You can decide not to believe and risk eternity in torment, or you can actually have a better life and have the reward of the Heaven to come.  If there is no Heaven, then what do you lose?  After awhile, things like debauchery, death, drugs, alcohol, money, vices, and sex consume your life and you are left with emptiness, if you make those things in themselves your life.  Instead you can have the goodness and abundance of life and reap rewards in Heaven.

The problem of evil is addressed with Kre8tor’s story: The place he was gave him the ability to reach those that other blue collar workers could not.  He is able to relate to people others will never be able to.  Evil is overcome, and evil used.

C.S. Lewis Perelandra

Perelandra

C.S. Lewis' Perelandra

In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, Lewis meets a colleague who travels to another planet.  There the creation story from the Bible appears to be reenacted.  There is a Green Lady who the main character, Ransom must save from temptation.  In this version of the story, Ransom does save the Green Lady from temptation and the planet is left in Paradise.

By bringing in fact into fiction, C. S. Lewis blurs the real and imagined worlds in Perelandra.  In doing so, C.S. Lewis provides a basis for the extension of reality into his imagination. In the case of Perelandra, his Christian beliefs are extended to explore the idea of another Creation on the planet Perelandra.  Despite being almost parallel to Creation and the fall of man in the Bible, Perelandra is not an allegory for the Bible’s creation.  It is rather an argument for the possibility of another Creation, and how that idea would work with Lewis’ belief in Christianity.

Another purpose of blurring distinction between worlds with references to real events and people is in order to approach the problems of human destiny and space from a Christian point of view. Lewis suggests that there may be more out there than we know of or can even imagine.  What Lewis does best is not to present his idea with a full out ridiculous and obviously imagined nature, or to constrain himself to the limits of the real world.  What Lewis does best is give us suspicions about what is really going on in the vast unknown.

What C.S. Lewis does is not give allegories.  Lewis does not copy stories.  Rather Lewis expands upon them.  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobeis not a copy of Jesus’ story, portrayed by Aslan.  It is rather Lewis thinking, what would that story look like in another world?

Image Credit: Amazon.com