Shall there be Evil in the City? A Cross Cultural Examination of Evil


Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? 

~ Amos, The Christian Bible

The word theodicy comes from the Greek theos, which means heaven, and dike, which means justice; it was popularized by Leibniz, who used it to describe God's justice in the face of evil.

A succinct summary of theodicy's implications: If God is wonderful in every way. He must desire to eradicate all evil; if He is all-powerful, He must be able to do so; but, because evil exists, then God is not perfectly good, or He is not all-powerful. C. S. Lewis stresses the lack of happiness rather than the existence of bad in a similar definition: If God were fair, He would desire to make His people absolutely happy, and if God were almighty, He would be free to do whatever He wanted. The animals, on the other hand, are not content. Therefore, God is either deficient in goodness or force, or both. It might seem that theodicy is only an issue in religions that believe in a single, all-powerful deity. If this is the case, the issue of evil may be addressed by embracing one of three alternatives to benevolent monotheism: either no soul beyond the world, a spirit oblivious to good and evil, or an evil spirit.

In polytheism, where good and evil deities have their own spheres of authority, in Zoroastrianism, where [there are two forces], one benevolent but not strong, the other powerful but not benevolent, or in the Indian philosophy of karma, which dispenses with god entirely, no basic logical contradiction need exist. A theodicy is theoretically expected in any religion in which any deity is believed to be invariably benevolent and omnipotent, though it is most generally found in monotheistic religions. The word "theodicy" refers to the existential desire to justify misery and evil, and Talcott Parsons describes how such a theodicy emerges from events like premature death: Weber sought to demonstrate that issues like these, including the misalignment of natural human interests and desires in every case and culture with what currently occurs, are implicit in the essence of human life.

They pose problems of the first order that have become known as the dilemma of bad, the sense of pain, and the like on a broad scale. The key modes of divergence between the great systems of religious thought are differences in the treatment of exactly certain problems. Not only is theodicy not exclusive to monotheism, but it is also the touchstone of all faiths, and it is an existential rather than a religious question, according to this perspective. A concept of theodicy that includes non-monotheistic religions: A theodicy occurs where a faith struggles scientifically to justify human misfortune or fortune considering its scheme of values. Theodicy is seen as a philosophical dilemma rather than a psychological one in this context; theories that struggle to justify misery or that contain logically untenable inconsistencies incite theodicy in this context.

However, as we can see, theology, logic, and psychology cannot be completely removed from the theodicy battlefield. A theodicy cannot be resolved in the strictest sense. Any effort to overcome the cognitive or philosophical impasse raised by any theodicy is referred to as resolution. Where logic and theology collapse, other forms of religious thought—notably mythology—offer nonsensical resolutions, which, if psychologically satisfying, are suitable to adherents of the religion, however insufficient they might seem to trained philosophers. Where logic and theology collapse, other forms of religious thought—notably mythology—offer nonsensical resolutions, which, if psychologically satisfying, are suitable to adherents of the religion, however insufficient they might seem to trained philosophers.

Three requirements for a satisfactory solution were developed after an exhaustive analysis of Western and Indian theodicy: common sense, accuracy, and completeness. Any approach that rejects God's beauty, omniscience, or benevolence, or the presence of evil, is a phoney one.- Hindu myths do, on occasion, refute any or more of these hypotheses, but they cannot be seen to have a rational answer. The classical solutions can be categorized into five main divisions, each with twenty-one subcategories: aesthetic or the entire is good because, or even if, the pieces are not; the principle of discipline or misery creates character; free will or bad is man's fault; delusion or evil is merely an illusion; and restriction or God's preference at the time of creation was minimal. He subsumes the arguments of contrast, recompense, and imbalance or good outweighs evil; teleology; justice and rebirth; privation or evil is merely the absence of good; and the concepts of prevention or our evils are essential to prevent greater evils, the impersonal wicked substance or evil matter, the personal wicked substance or Satan, metaphysical evil or the impeachment of God.

All of these are mentioned in Hindu mythology in some way. Every single one of them has a mistake. It's helpful to consider the numerous concerns that come from three forms of evil: superhuman, or gods, powers, and fallen angels, human, and subhuman, which includes animals and plants. The classification into another triad is more important: spiritual evil, or sin; misery, or teleological evil, which is often more divided into ordinary and exceptional suffering; and natural evil, or death, or illness. The ethical thesis or God is good, the omnipotent thesis, and the omniscient thesis are the three philosophical theories of the issue of evil; either one of these may be paired with the hypothesis of the nature of evil without contradiction, but issues emerge when this hypothesis is combined with any two or more imaginary properties of Deity. The Hindu Vedantists propose the most satisfying theodicy, which sufficiently accounts for all three kinds of evil, or superhuman, mortal, and subhuman, absolving God of all guilt by the hypothesis of lila, the playful spirit in which God becomes interested in creation: After all, who would fault a kid for behaving joyfully and exuberantly? The solution is simple: the Hindus, since the Vedantic argument did not put a stop to Indian efforts to solve the issue.

In India, there is a problem with evil. Despite the fact that all of the theses required to produce the theological issue of evil can be found in Indian metaphysical and religious literature, with many fascinating variants, and despite the fact that all three theological theses have been embraced and challenged, defended and targeted, the Indians are curiously quiet about the problem of evil, a problem that has afflicted Western culture. In all its metaphysical manifestations, classical and mediaeval Indian philosophy has shown no regard for the issue of evil. When a problem of evil arises, it manifests as a functional problem of bad, i.e. when one claims that everything is misery and that samsara [the cycle of rebirth] is evil in and of itself. When the subject of evil is brought up in older texts, it is more like an afterthought, or it appears secondarily in the sense of Who made the world? We attribute the strange silence in part to the satisfying existence of the rebirth doctrine's approach.

According to the Indian viewpoint, the issue of Job cannot emerge because hardship can often be the result of actions taken not only in this life, but in previous lives as well. However, as we can see, not all Hindus found the theory of regeneration to be fully acceptable, and many did not accept it at all. The secondary occurrences of the problem of suffering—the problem of Job—in texts about the origins of the universe form a large body of literature on which this work is based. The misconception that Indians were unaware of the issue of evil is pervasive. According to Alan Watts, there is no Problem of Evil in Hindu thought, and a Hindu scholar agrees: Hinduism is unconcerned about the Problem of Evil. Similarly, it is often asserted that India has no sense of evil. In India, not only was there no dispute between good and bad, but there was also a lot of misunderstanding. He proposed an explanation for the confusion: many demons are said to have earned their supernatural prowess by good deeds done in previous lives. To put it another way, good may be used to construct bad. Both examples are simply popularized versions of the basic Indian belief that good and bad have no sense or purpose outside of the realm of appearances.

This propensity to conflate good with bad, according to Sir Charles Eliot, is an inherent trait of pantheism, which finds it difficult to differentiate and denounce evil. Such statements are commonly founded on Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhism, which are more concerned with ignorance than with sin, valuing goodness only as an addition to wisdom, in which the philosophic saint rises above all good and evil; and many variations of Indian religion consider misery rather than sin as the world's fault.

These views, however, do not extend to most of the Puranic Hinduism. The idea that evil is unreal in Indian thinking is another basis of the assertion that Indians do not have a problem with evil. False, in India, there is no such thing as maya [illusion], asat [nonexistence], or reality. The dilemma of evil is a fictitious one, and the brahmin treats it as fictitious problems should be treated. The counterargument is that, even though many Vedantists believed evil was objectively unreal, misery was still subjectively recognized as true. Evil, pain, waste, terror, and paranoia are real enough from the other Indian point of view—the same affective strain that denies the consequences of karma.

Therefore, there is a context in which evil exists, as well as a sense in which karma and rebirth occur. The action and care of the faithful betray the dogma of unreality. Philosophers and theologians can create rational requirements but building and approving a logical response to an emotional question is challenging.

The death of a young child is the most common example of exceptional evil offered in Indian texts. When one tells this child's parents, "You aren't actual, and neither is your son; thus, you can't really be hurting," one is unlikely to have any consolation. Such statements as "God can't stop it" or "God doesn't know about it" will not make the suffering go away. Only the ethical theory is emotionally non-essential: God isn't good, or God doesn't want man to be free of bad, or two very opposite arguments. And this is the line that Hindu mythological theodicy is most vigorously developing.

Even a meaningful world order that is impersonal and supertheistic must face the problem of the earth's imperfections, according to Max Weber, who, while giving the doctrine of karma pride of place among the world's theodicies, remarked: "All Hindu religion was affected by [the problem of theodicy]; even a practical world order that is impersonal and supertheistic must face the problem of the world's imperfections." A very early example of an explicit declaration of the dilemma of God's evil-justice  can be found in a Buddhist text that mocks Hinduism's inability to grapple with the issue: Why doesn't Brahma straighten out the universe, which is so jumbled and out of whack? If he is the absolute ruler of the whole universe. Why did Brahma, Lord of the Many Born, ordain misfortune in the entire world? Why didn't he want to make everybody happy?

Why did he create the universe based on deceit [maya], lies, and excess, as well as inequality [adharma]? Unjust is the king of beings. Though there is such a thing as dharma, he wanted adharma. On a village level, the issue of evil is still an important aspect of contemporary Hinduism, where the cult assumes the presence of a dominant god or Vishnu, Siva, or Brahma, who, while not all-powerful or all-kind in the monotheistic sense, has enough strength and love to assist humanity in their search for redemption, and to grant the worldly desires of his devotees. Theodicy is present in mythology from the Buddhist text to the present day, not only indirectly in the legends, but also explicitly in the questions asked by the sages to whom the myths are told: Why is there death? How could God do anything so heinous? What is the root of evil? The fact that many myths are about minor deities of an extravagantly anthropomorphic kind, ridiculous clowns who perform numerous peccadilloes of the kind infamous in the affairs of Zeus and Loki, has led scholars to mistakenly refute the existence of theodicy in Indian religion.

This has helped to obscure the idea that there is a far more extreme mythology in which the deity commits cosmically important bad deeds. As C. G. Jung put it, "Of course, we cannot overwhelm an ancient deity with the demands of contemporary ethics." Things were very different for the inhabitants of early antiquity. There was simply everything about their gods: virtues and vices abound. As a result, they could be fined, imprisoned, duped, and pitted against one another without losing face, at least not for long. The man of that age had been so used to biblical inconsistencies that he was unconcerned as they arose. This is a fair definition of Indra in the Puranic era and of Siva in some Vaisnava myths, but it is not true when applicable to Indra in the Vedic period or Siva in Saiva myths; these gods do indeed have anything, but the worshipper is disturbed by the consequences, as the myths clearly indicate. Theodicy myths are prevalent in India; they do not seem to emerge or propagate during times of social, political, or economic upheaval. The solutions can adjust, but the dilemma remains the same.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, bad or adj. is the opposite of GOOD. The noun now seldom used is that which is the opposite of good, either physically or morally, and the second quoted example is the strongest of all mysteries-the root of bad, or Tait & Stewart. Unlike its English counterpart, the Sanskrit word papa can be used as an adjective or a verb, and it signifies both physical and moral non-goodness. However, Christian theology has long stressed the difference between moral evil, or evil that comes from us as humans: inhuman, unfair, malicious, and sinful thoughts and acts, and inherent evil, or evil that comes from outside of us, in disease, bacilli, earthquakes, storm, droughts, tornadoes, etc..

This has resulted in an erroneous distinction being made between primitive religions, which are mainly concerned with the elimination of natural evils, and higher religions, which are concerned with sin. These two types of evil are scientifically distinct in Indian religions, but they are manifestations of a common entity for which a single interpretation must be found. People are evil-minded; adultery is evil; incest is evil. In the Rig Veda, papa, or henceforth to be translated as evil, also has a religious sense. People can do or carry out evil, which we can interpret as committing a sin. However, in Indian philosophy, sin will appear without the sinner's consent, so personal repentance is uncommon, and one can pray for deliverance from sins committed by others in the same manner as one can pray for sins committed by himself. As a result, the Rig Vedic poet prays to the gods, "O gods, deliver us today from both committed and uncommitted sin; both are sinful." Similarly, the Atharva Veda makes a distinction between natural and spiritual evil, but sees them as inextricably linked: Sleep, fatigue, and misery—these divinities are known as evils—and old age, baldness, and greyness invaded the body.

Then came fraud, evil deeds, deception, truth, sacrifice, glory, and wealth. This conflation of natural and spiritual evil is aided by the Indian propensity to treat sin as an intellectual error rather than a character defect. Since the intellectual can't make a deliberate mistake, he can just make mistakes based on incomplete knowledge or misunderstandings that aren't his responsibility. Wrongdoing is not a sin, even though it is unfortunate. If bad is not the result of man's fault, karma would not be able to fix the dilemma. Some Rig Vedic hymns to Varuna, Tamil Saivism poetry, and a Sanskrit verse still recited by many sophisticated Hindus today are striking extraordinary examples of a real sense of sin and redemption in Hinduism: Evil am I, evil are my actions... However, cases of sin due to natural causes outnumber these by a thousand fold. Evil isn't so much what we do as it is what we don't want to happen to us. The which we do is the product of illusion, moha, or deceit, or maya. These illusions and deceptions are created by God. As a result, we are once again compelled to reject the ethical hypothesis that God is not good.

In Hindu mythology, there is a fight between good and evil. There seem to be two clear explanations why a book about the issue of evil in Hindu mythology should not be written: Indologists have long claimed that there is no problem of evil in Indian thought, and philosophers believe that the issue belongs in philosophy or theology rather than mythology. However, neither Indologists nor philosophers can be taken too seriously, and I believe these two objections balance each other out: scholars have ignored the issue of evil in Indian thought because they have tried it in philosophy rather than mythology.

In contrast to the nuanced claims of Hindu theologians, the theodicy established in Hindu mythology demonstrates a more popular, general, and spontaneous attitude toward evil. Furthermore, the myths are much more provocative and original than the textual discussions: Theologians seldom create high-quality poems or artwork. Their dogmatism limits their view of life's contradictory and ambivalent aspects. They lack cynicism and the perilous purity, candid and childlike, which are fundamental criteria for someone concerned with theories, or this is a product of their preparation. They lack or, and this is their virtue, their responsibility, the touch of amorality that must be at least a part of one's intellectual and intuitive pattern if one is not to succumb to predetermined prejudice and be cut off from some critical, highly ironic, and troubling insights. Since the main body of Hindu mythology—the mediaeval Puranas—was collected by Brahmins with extensive theological expertise, some of these texts devolve into the narrow-minded diatribes envisioned.

Some writings, on the other hand, climb to the level of myth, giving a more simple and childlike approach to the issue of evil. In protection of their sacred ground, theologians have a response: Biblical myths are not generally suited to problem-solving. Their aim is to illuminate the religious meaning of any current or recalled reality or experience by unforgettable imagery. However, the experience the myth highlights and illuminates are the source of mystery in and of itself. The approach suffered from fundamental incoherence and inconsistencies as this pictorial representation of the problem was wrongly viewed as a solution to it. But, where the problem is fundamentally inconsistent, as theodicy is, this pictorial depiction of the problem is a great achievement; the theologian needs answers, but the myth is happy to wonder, like Gertrude Stein, what is the question? Furthermore, the myth's very forcefulness, or even crudeness, may be its greatest strength; William James, describing the deep melancholy and terror of the suffering sick soul, suggested that the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint, if it is to take effect; and that seems to be a reason why the coarser religions, revivalist, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural occurrences, seem to be the most effective.

When faced with the orgiastic and cruel gods of primitive Tantrism, the Upanisads' intellectual pessimism and melancholy culminated in the Puranic Hinduism's integrated theodicy. Another anti-mythological claim argues that myths about gods and spirits have little influence on the study of human suffering. This is complete and utter nonsense. Myths are not written by gods and demons; they are written by man and about man. The problems of the virtuous demon and the evil god are the problems of greedy low-caste men and sinful kings; the problems of the virtuous demon and the wicked god are the problems of ambitious low-caste men and sinful kings. No nation has ever had as many human gods as India, according to Sir James George Frazer; the demons are much more human and are clearly said to reflect human desires.

Jung has made a strong case for myth's specific, truthful, and human nature: Myth is not fiction; it is made up of observations that are repeatedly replicated and can be observed. It's something that happens to humans, and guys, like Greek heroes, have mythical fates. The root theories of evil tend to be about origins, but they also contain a concern about the present situation. The pseudo-historical structure is merely a metaphor for metaphysical theories about the relationship between good and bad, gods and men, and the person and society. The myth elucidates the essence of evil with the use of a made-up origin story. Philosophical strategies are necessary but not sufficient; myths presuppose and often dismiss them.

Philosophy provides the language in which the questions can be stated; myth is founded on philosophical principles, but it is then guided by a commonsense reasoning that rejects the Vedantins' more complex answers in favor of a more straightforward response, illuminated by the coarse ceremonial imagery that philosophy scorns. Myth is a two-way mirror that allows ritual and philosophy to see each other. It's the point at which people who are usually engrossed in their daily routines are faced with questions that they had previously left to the bickering of philosophers; and it's the point at which philosophers, too, come to terms with the deeper, flesh-and-blood dimensions of their philosophical inquiries.

Methodological Notes: I explored different methods of research in a review of Saiva mythology and ended up using a slightly changed structuralist approach because it seemed relevant to the issue. The issue of evil does not readily lend itself to a structuralist solution, perhaps because too many of its jagged dimensions prove stubbornly irreducible, perhaps because it is almost always interpreted in logical rather than symbolic terms, even though symbolism is suitable to some aspects of it, or perhaps because it is almost always viewed in conceptual rather than symbolic terms, or perhaps because symbolism is appropriate to certain aspects of it.

So, like a monkey piling up complicated science gadgets into a miscellaneous heap in order to pluck the banana from the top of the cage, I've used any method that would do the job-a bit of philology, a measure of theology, lashings of comparative religion, a soupcon of anthropology, even a splash of psychoanalysis-I've used any tool that would do the job-a bit of philology, a measure of theology, I believe that, despite the fact that I might have mishandled the specialist's machinery, I have not harmed or embarrassed it. My only justification for this undisciplined trespass is that it seems to succeed, allowing me to access at least some of the answers I've been looking for. I've sometimes drawn on myths documented by anthropologists familiar with the religions of Indian tribal groups, in addition to the classical Sanskrit texts on the subject. Even though this work varies greatly from the Puranas in many ways, the two traditions can be considered adjacent, if not contiguous; certainly, there has been considerable borrowing in both directions. This continuity between his materials and those of the Sanskrit tradition has been noted by Verrier Elwin, who has published many important analyses of tribal mythology.

Since these tribal myths were all written within the last two centuries, they are likely to include signs of Christian missionary influence. However, those influences are typically evident, and the consensus between tribal and Puranic mythology is striking. I used some comparisons from Greek and Judeo-Christian myths. Theologians and comparative mythology scholars don't need me to point out the native varieties emerging in their own backyards, and for Indologists, it's probably best to simply point out that many Hindu ideas still appear outside of India, as the biblical quotations here show, rather than including a sketch of non-Indian myths out of context. It would be awkwardly pedantic to avoid referencing such concepts, such as the Fall or the Disappearance of the Golden Age, since they are so automatically evocative of their Western associations; however, these passing references are not intended to substitute for a rigorous comparative analysis. Indeed, it is my sincere hope that the current study will serve as raw material for a single aspect of such a cross-cultural examination, the Hindu facet, possibly in combination with analyses of the Western approach to the issue of evil such as those by John Bowker, John Hick, C. G. Jung, C. S Lewis, and Paul Ricoeur. I discovered that even without the comparative content, the Hindu texts alone offered an embarrassment of riches.

The final objection to the historical approach stems from the fact that Hindu mythology does not follow a straightforward progression; archaic ideas reappear in later sources, frequently in direct conflict with later concepts. This is partly due to the Indian habit of preserving the old and merely introducing new innovations, such as Victorian wings added to Georgian buildings, but it may also mean a fundamental reluctance to dismiss any potential solution to the issue of bad. Nonetheless, some general historical patterns can be discerned, and I've highlighted these where it seems most fitting. To begin, I must admit that I chose my materials in a violently Procrustean manner. If the devil can quote scripture, certainly a scholar can do the same by quoting only certain passages that grant the devil his due when portraying god in a negative way. I see myself squarely on the side of the ghosts, who have previously gone unrepresented in Indological research.

Of course, many Indian scriptures portray the gods as good and the demons as evil—a va sans dire—and a book based on these texts will be neither difficult to compose nor fascinating to read—a consideration that hasn't stopped a host of scholars from rewriting it over and over. The reader is supposed to conclude that Hindus believe their gods are good and their demons are bad; based on this chain of half-truths, I have set out to fix the imbalance by stating the less apparent corollary—that the gods are neither good nor evil in any consistent or relevant context of these crucial terms. I would also admit that this thesis has another flaw. South Indian Tamil texts are a world unto themselves, containing religious tracts and local myths that address the issue of evil in ways that are diametrically opposed to the attitudes prevalent in the Sanskrit texts on which my work is based, mostly from the North Indian tradition.

The first of these emerges as a tentative solution in many Hindu scriptures, but the theories of the Collapse eventually accuse destiny rather than man, a logically coherent theory that is ultimately rejected: it is not emotionally rewarding, and it bypasses the basic components of theodicy. Most Hindus tend to assume that God is above destiny, that he intentionally or unwillingly programmed evil into his creation. Furthermore, the collapse of Manichean dualism, as well as the assumption that certain devils were benevolent rather than bad, relegated the blame to the gods. The compassionate intentions of the deity who understood the need of evil had been replaced by the malevolent needs of demonic gods who forced their own evil over all good and evil demons and men without prejudice. However, in bhakti philosophy, though God is still responsible for evil, he is once again benevolent, and it is then up to the person man to overcome the issue of his own evil within himself. These different approaches to the issue, which in other religions may have been removed or at least changed to strike a single theological tone, are all maintained in Hinduism in a rich chord of unresolved harmony. 


Note: This essay is an excerpt from a work being compiled.