What If God is Evil?</h4>
What do you think when you think about God? If you were to meet them, what would you say to whatever it was that you were meeting? And, what would happen if God was actually not what you expected them to be?
This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if God is evil?
There are eight billion people on Earth, and the majority of them follow some form of religion, to some extent. Not everyone is super strict about their Faith, and for many it’s only a tiny part of who they are… but, statistically, more people than not at least associate with a belief system. Most religions are polytheistic. They are built around more than one divine being. But some - and some of the most widely followed, like Christianity and Islam - are monotheistic, meaning that over and above all else there is just one God. A monotheistic god is the absolute supreme being, the creator and ruler of everything there is. Omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; all-knowing, all-powerful and all-seeing. Some would also list a fourth descriptor here, though; omnibenevolent, meaning that God is always good. But maybe that’s a bit of a problem.
Dystheism is the philosophical opposite to the belief in a good God. Dystheists argue that, actually, God isn’t good… and some would even go so far as to say that God is evil. There are levels at play, though, and at the lower ends there are countless examples - in polytheistic traditions, especially. Such as in the pantheon of Old Norse, where there are many trickster gods - with the most famous being Loki, who’s a shapeshifter that can never truly be trusted. Meanwhile, and though there is no “one God” in Old Norse, there is Odin - a creator god and an extremely influential figure. Odin is famously difficult to pin down however, and is often described as being neither good nor evil; he bridges between the two, but is certainly capable of merciless and arguably evil acts.
With a monotheistic God, the view that God is evil strikes much more directly at the heart of that belief system. For those who subscribe to it, it’s blatant blasphemy. But that didn’t bother the nineteenth century Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. In Bakunin’s unfinished work, “God and the State”, published posthumously in 1882, he sets out his stall against essentially all types of hierarchy - starting with God. Channeling the eighteenth century French philosopher, Voltaire - who said; “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent Him” - Bakunin writes, “if God really did exist, it would be necessary to abolish him”. Bakunin saw what many label as “God’s Will” as really being absolute oppression. Again in “God and the State”, he describes the concept of God as being “the most decisive negation of human liberty, and [one that] necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice”. He saw religion as indoctrination and God as authoritarian, and relentlessly campaigned against both. As well as a dystheist, we might reasonably describe Bakunin as a misotheist - as one who harbors a hatred for God.
More broadly, those who simply question God often do so through a couple of influential philosophical quandaries; the Problems of Evil and Hell. The Problem of Evil is the more all-encompassing of the two, and asks; how can it be that God exists given that there is also evil and suffering? What’s usually referred to as the logical Problem of Evil dates back to ancient Greece and to the philosopher, Epicurus. Epicurus argued that if evil can exist, then God cannot… because if evil does exist then God either isn’t all-powerful or isn’t always good. I.e., both traits should combine together to mean that evil cannot happen, so if evil does happen then God isn’t there. Alongside that, the evidential Problem of Evil essentially asks “why do bad things happen?”. Why do innocent children develop horrible diseases or encounter terrible violence? Why do animals suffer both at the hands of humans and in the wild? Why do thousands of people die in natural disasters every year - in events that are otherwise known as “acts of God”? Does the real world existence of all of that actually imply that yes, God is evil? There have been defenses put forward, including one of the most often cited that evil is a consequence of free will… and that free will is a gift from God. But, so far, there’s no single, agreed upon resolution.
The Problem of Hell is something of an offshoot from the Problem of Evil, and is much more specific. It asks; how can Hell exist if God is all the things that God’s supposed to be? The monotheistic God is just, forgiving and, again, omnibenevolent… and yet, is also responsible for human souls tormented forever in the fires of damnation. The dystheist argument might be that, no matter your view on the concept of Hell, and on who and what deserves to be there, the fact that God keeps it open and running is wholly at odds with the general notion of God’s supreme goodness. There are some related arguments, too, that if God did create everything, and if everything does include evil and wickedness, then why would God then punish forever the souls and circumstances that God created? Again there are some defenses put forward, and again many refer back to free will, suggesting that Hell is ultimately a choice rather than an inescapable punishment. There have also been some reinterpretations of Hell, where it isn’t eternal and the damned can be retrieved by the grace of God. Although, dystheism might say that that in itself implies a God that’s manipulative, brutal, tyrannical, et cetera.
The “Evil God Challenge” is another, related thought experiment, developed by the British philosopher, Stephen Law. The challenge itself is to show that an omnipotent God really is more likely to be always good. For many, the quick and stark realization is that it could be just as easy for God to be all the things they’re supposed to be - all powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing - but be always bad, instead. This anti-god would be better described as omnimalevolent, with the implication being that everything under its gaze is put there and controlled solely for the purposes of evil, rather than good. The anti-god can be challenged in much the same way as the standard God can be, though. Why is there love and laughter, color and vibrance? On the one hand, is it the riches of life that make the low points so unbearable? And so, by providing them, would the anti-god simply be giving us more to lose? But, on the other, if evil were the sole aim… then why give any respite? Why allow for any happy moments at all? And, similarly, why is there a Heaven in the afterlife? Many of the same rebuttals to a good God can seemingly be made to an evil one - just at the opposite end of the scale.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that for literally billions of people around the world it’s important to have Faith in God. Despite all the challenges of life, and all the very clear evils that we see and know, human culture says that God is good. For some, that in itself is the final straw; that God has been so successful in dodging blame or criticism for everything that’s wrong. Again, an “act of God” is a natural disaster not caused by humankind… but for dystheists, misotheists, and for those who argue against God, there are other, similar everyday phrases that have become baked in but aren’t questioned. “God’s Will” is a reason for anything that doesn’t make sense; sometimes innocently enough, but often to explain away something bad. In some religions followers are described as “God fearing”; they’re scared of retribution if they don’t toe the line. There’s “original sin” after eating from the tree of knowledge; but is that a part of religious storytelling that specifically warns away from seeking the truth? A “miracle” is something to be thankful for, of course; but it’s also, at its core, simply something that is unexpectedly good - the implication being that humans have come to expect the worst, in this world that God has created. “God forbid” goes against freedom; If you think you’re “God’s gift” you're misguided; when we’re told that “God works in mysterious ways”, it’s a kind of catch-all excuse. For the likes of Mikhail Bakunin these are more than just throwaway catchphrases, they’re all reasons to be concerned.
So, what if God is evil? It’s clearly a controversial question… but it’s also something that has been asked time and time again. For those who have Faith, even to contemplate such a thought might be reason enough to wind up in Hell, or to invoke God’s wrath. But every human being has a different point of view. In the context of this video, that’s the way God made us. So what’s yours? What do you think about the philosophical questions and thought experiments we’ve covered? About Bakunin’s call to abolish God, and about the anti-god in the Evil God Challenge? Again, there are eight billion people on Earth, and the majority associate with a religion… but there are still some who choose to buck that global trend.