Overcoming Violence in Practice

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In Christian thought, the classic theological response to evil and suffering, known as “theodicy,” operates on a metaphysical level. It aims to elucidate questions about God: God’s power to prevent evil, God’s goodness and justice, and God’s purposes in allowing evil. It also examines questions about humanity: Are humans chronically prone to sin and violence? Does suffering serve good purposes? Does God redeem suffering? In recent Christian attempts at theodicy, attention has focused on divine omnipotence and human freedom in attempts to exculpate God for cruelty in allowing the magnitude of suffering visible in such events as the Holocaust, where six million Jews and five million Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, and other noncombatants were killed under Nazi orders. Symmetrical with exploration of the “front end” explanatory questions of why bad things happen in a supposedly good world, theodicies also explore the “back end” justificatory questions of how God can heal the damage, unevenly and unfairly distributed, in this life or the afterlife. Key exemplars of modern theodicy are Leibniz and Hegel, thinkers who have greatly influenced twentieth-century analytic and continental philosophy of religion, respectively. Despite the urgency of responding to evil, theodicy has been criticized for its abstract, global approach to suffering and its programmatic focus on justifying God in the face of violence. My own critique of theodicy has epistemic and moral components. Theodicy rests on epistemological hubris, building precarious intellectual systems in pursuing knowledge of God. Additionally, theodicy is guilty of moral turpitude on account of its single-minded focus on explanation, which smooths over the scandal of suffering and overlooks the prevention and alleviation of violence.2




University of Hawai'i Press

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Buddhist-Christian Studies