Mr. T Tackles the Problem of Evil

It’s not only professional philosophers and theologians who have an opinion on matters touching the sacred. Sometimes, gold-jewelry-wearing, mohawk-having, former ’80s television and movie action stars have words of wisdom to express on these weighty matters. Like, for instance, Mr. T, who recently gave an interview to Bizarre magazine in which he made a very interesting, and unintentionally revealing, comment.

The interviewer asked T if he’d ever seen a UFO, to which he responded:

I’m a Christian – I really don’t believe in UFOs.

What one has to do with the other is not clear to me, but leave that aside. Mr. T is in fact an evangelical Christian, as he confirms in this Beliefnet interview:

I am a sinner who has been saved by grace. It’s by the grace of God that I’m here. We all have sinned and fallen short on God’s glory. I come home and I ask God to forgive me for my sins. Everyday I ask for a new cleansing. I say, “God, let me show kindness to someone, let me give someone hope. Let me be a light at the end of a tunnel for somebody.” I tell people, they say I’m a farmer, I plant the seed of hope, plant the seed of inspiration, plant the seed so they can start praying and believing again.

He credits his surviving a bout with cancer (he had, yes, T-cell lymphoma – no, I’m not making that up) to his faith:

The story of Job gave me strength when I had cancer. I said, “T, if you just hang in there, God will give you double for your troubles.” That’s what I was taught in church and that’s what happened to Job. What he lost, he gained more in the end. Job said, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.” God giveth and God taketh away. Blessed be his holy name.” And that’s how I live.

So far, this is the standard evangelical Christian platter of beliefs. But in the Bizarre interview, the interviewer asks Mr. T a different question, and his answer gives the game away:

If you could have a magical power, what would it be?
Easy question! That’s too, too easy Alix! Wow. I appreciate your sweetness giving me such an easy question! I’d have the power to heal little children. I’d want to make sure they all got an education and weren’t scrabbling around in garbage and eating scraps of junk, like the kids in India shown in that movie, Slumdog Millionaire. I hope the people that made that film are investing some of the profits into cleaning up the area where they filmed, and doing something to improve those kids’ lives. Yeah, I’d want to help the tiny ones who are blind, who have diseases like AIDS and problems like muscular dystrophy… I’d heal the children and save the babies.

If he had any magical power, Mr. T says, he’d end poverty and cure disease among the world’s children. In fact, he doesn’t even have to think hard about this: he considers it an “easy question“.

But he seems to have forgotten something important. Mr. T is an evangelical Christian and therefore, presumably, he believes in a god who has the power to do all those things at this very moment. So why doesn’t God do that? Does Mr. T even realize that he’s just inadvertently outlined one of the strongest pieces of evidence against his own religious beliefs?

Theologians have tied themselves in logical knots for millennia trying to explain what reasons God could have for allowing evil and suffering. But Mr. T, in his own inimitable style, brushes those convoluted theodicies aside by saying that the choice to end evil, if he had the power to do it, would be an easy one. Either he is a more compassionate and loving person than the god he claims to serve, or else that god does not exist.

Mr. T isn’t the first Christian to contradict his own beliefs like this. C.S. Lewis did the same thing, as I pointed out in “The Theodicy of Narnia“. They, like many other Christians, insist on believing in a god who has deep and mysterious reasons for allowing persistent and terrible evils. But both of them, when apologetic considerations are not uppermost in their minds, inadvertently contradict their own belief by stating that of course they would create a world without evil if they could.

And of course they would – as would any of us, I hope. Of course we would abolish evil if we could. Basic decency and simple compassion mandate no other conclusion. It’s only the necessity of accounting for the evil that does exist, in a world claimed to be ruled by a benevolent deity, that forces religious apologists to bend over backwards trying to excuse the inexcusable. But when religious concerns are not at the forefront, when simple human conscience is allowed to express itself, most believers prove by their words and actions that they themselves are better and more rational than the faith they claim to represent.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • mike

    What? An article about Mr T, and no “I pity the fool who says in his heart ‘there is no God’” ??

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    I have to confess that finding out that Mr. T is an evangelical Christian almost makes me want to be one.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    The fools say in their heart ‘there is no God’; the wise say it out loud.

  • TommyP

    I pity the fool who gets owned by Ebonmuse.

  • spitz

    Mr. T knows that god will eventually give the poor children of the world double for their trouble and simply thinks it would be nice if that double came from a magical Mr. T.

    Meanwhile, I feel stupid for wondering if my answer would have been “amazing uppercuts” or something like that.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    I saw Mr T’s picture on here, and just for a moment I thought I was over at agonybooth.com. :) Me, I pity the fool who believes in an uncaring, unjust god… or any gods, for that matter.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I tell people, they say I’m a farmer

    Real farmers do not wear bling like Mr. T. does. If you have never been on a farm, stop by a farm implement dealer or a rural county or state fair, and look for the safety warning stickers on the equipment to understand why that is.

  • Wednesday

    I confess I can’t get past Mr. T talking about how he’s inspired by Job’s story to even think much about what he says that’s relevant to the POE. While Job survived great troubles and gained more than he’d lost, the story and people talking about how it inspired them ignore all the people who suffered and _died_ in the story of Job. The story’s very much about about worldly gain and loss, and Mr. T’s reference here clearly is as well, but yet it’s full of reasonably innocent* people who never got back what was taken from them when God and Satan decided to play games with mortals.

    *Okay, I suppose it’s _possible_ that all of Job’s children were irredeemable psychopaths who went around disrespecting their parents, working on the sabbath, kicking puppies, and eating shrimp. But the story doesn’t say much either way.

  • http://skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    Personally I don’t find the problem of suffering to be all that devastating to theism in general. Remember theists believe in immortal souls. A person’s true self is indestructible. That makes life like a simulation or a game for them. To suffer physically–even the worst suffering we can possibly imagine–isn’t really that bad from the perspective of the soul. The suffering doesn’t come because the soul is being damaged, but because the person is so convinced by the simulation.

    When we were children, not being able to have a cookie was a tragedy. It turned our worlds upside down when we wanted a cookie and our parents denied us of it. We could know nothing worse. In a society made up of children, cookie denial would be seen as an act of spectacular cruelty unbecoming of any benevolent deity. Decades later we look back and we realize that cookie denial was an act of kindness. It kept our bodies healthier and taught us self-restraint and the lesson that we can’t always get what we want. Cookie denial turned out to be a valuable tool.

    Now imagine being an entity that is to an embodied human being what an adult is to a child. Suffering takes on a completely different identity. On the other side of suffering, after the epic drama of it all is no longer so convincing, it could be seen as a very positive thing. It’s the fire that forges something beautiful and mighty. With a higher perspective, a soul might actually feel cheated if it was denied suffering. Suffering could have raised the soul to a level that it couldn’t have reached any other way.

    For the Christian worldview, yes, suffering is a problem. Eternity in Hell is damaging to the soul due to all the soul is irrevocably deprived of. If a person acts in ways that will get him sent to Hell because of the suffering God inflicted on him in life, it would be hard to argue for God’s benevolence even from the soul perspective. There’s also the matter of people who die as children or infants. Christians only have one shot at life. Why was this particular soul deprived of a lifetime of experience and suffering? Was it already advanced enough that it didn’t require it? And why did it get an unfair advantage in avoiding Hell, hardly having a chance to sin?

    There are theistic worldviews (usually of the New Age sort) that try to solve these problems by (1) positing reincarnation (the soul returns to the life simulation over and over to advance in wisdom, often through measured quantities of suffering, as it would in a school) and (2) arguing that there is no Hell and that all roads eventually lead back to God (some roads take you there quicker than others).

    These theists have plenty of other errors in logic to work out, but I think that suffering by itself fits into their worldview rather well.

    I know in this blog we’re almost always talking about the sort of theism we Americans are most entrenched in: the Mr. T variety. But I thought it was worth mentioning that theism and suffering aren’t always necessarily incompatible. Sure, God could have created a universe in which there were no cookies in the first place, but maybe from God’s eye view a universe with cookies in it is ultimately better for us and therefore more benevolent.

  • Justin

    pendens proditor, there is a huge difference between a parent who won’t give a child a cookie and the sort of suffering we talk about. To the point, being denied cookies doesn’t ruin one’s life the way that, say, a debilitating illness that makes one unable to work does.

    You seem to be implying that suffering is allowed to mold better human beings. However, omnipotence would allow that “molding” to occur without suffering. Using my previous example of crippling illness, I fail to see how that occurring to someone would shape them into a better person, or why it would be necessary to accomplish that goal.

    You also seem to imply that God has a different understanding of suffering and/or morality than we do. Since we are talking about human suffering, and God would understand our understanding of the subject(s), God’s understanding of the subject is less relevant than ours.

    Finally, just because (if) people get to go to Heaven after they die, that does not excuse suffering here on Earth, especially when that suffering is avoidable for an omnipotent being.

  • Ross

    I’ve heard the god-as-parent theodicy before and found it unconvincing. It misses the fact that parents are not omnipotent, as God allegedly is. An omnipotent God (or parent) could find another way that didn’t involve any suffering, unless the goal was suffering itself, which would make God a sadist.
    The problem therefore remains; God is limited, sadistic, or nonexistent.

  • André Phillips

    I don’t think pendens proditor’s example was talking about suffering making people into better human beings, but rather training our souls for whatever comes in the afterlife. I can see how it would be a nice belief to have. It’d be nice to be able to say, “yeah, this really sucks, but when I die my soul is gonna be so developed and prepared and kick-ass!” Of course, it’s just another cop-out of the we’re-not-equipped-to-understand and God-knows-what’s-best variety. A way of explaining without explaining anything. I think PP points out a good argument against it by mentioning how unfair it is then for people who don’t suffer at all. Basically either way, whether suffering is bad or good, some people are still treated better than others. As far as all the parent/God apologetics I’ve heard though, that was my favorite so far.

    But yes, an omnipotent being should be able to pre-cook souls without us having to go through illness or hardship or loss or anything else he supposedly puts us through, and saying he can’t is both claiming a deep intimate understanding of God’s mysterious powers and putting limits on the limitless.

  • http://skepticaloccultism.com/ pendens proditor

    @Justin

    I get the feeling you only quickly skimmed my comment. My point was, to an immortal, indestructible entity, enduring the simulated experience of being horribly crippled for an infinitesimally small fraction of its existence would be nothing. What we consider to be suffering would be a joke to this being. A game. Just as we adults can only laugh at the notion that being denied a cookie is the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

    To the metal being forged, the fire is a horror. To the blacksmith, the fire is a wonderful, indispensable tool. In the worldview of some theists, we all spend our embodied lives thinking we’re the metal when in death we discover that we’re actually the blacksmith. For these theists, the question of why there is suffering in the universe is answered with another question: “Why do you assume suffering is a bad thing?” In their view, removing suffering from the universe is like extinguishing the blacksmith’s fire for his own good, when it’s the fire that gives him everything he has. He’d be right to protest that what you’ve done for him is the very opposite of a favor. In this worldview, the notion that suffering is at odds with a benevolent deity is somewhat of a non sequitur.

    I don’t subscribe to this worldview. I’m not a theist. I’m just putting forth a theist argument that tries to explain and embrace suffering rather than to treat it as an inconvenience that it’s best to just ignore. I’m just not convinced that “there is suffering, therefore there is no benevolent god” works for every conceivable benevolent god. But yes, against the biblical God it works fairly well.

  • Justin

    I get the feeling you only quickly skimmed my comment. My point was, to an immortal, indestructible entity, enduring the simulated experience of being horribly crippled for an infinitesimally small fraction of its existence would be nothing. What we consider to be suffering would be a joke to this being. A game. Just as we adults can only laugh at the notion that being denied a cookie is the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

    Even presuming that people get to go to heaven, it doesn’t excuse suffering in this life, especially if suffering is avoidable. Suffering is not a game or a joke to more people than I can count, and I feel that you inadvertently trivialize their suffering by calling it such.

    As for your blacksmith analogy, an omnipotent blacksmith wouldn’t need fire to do his job, if you catch my drift.

    I also want to repeat what I said earlier about how being denied cookies is not at all similar to the sorts of suffering that the problem of evil involves (natural disasters, wars, debilitating illness or injury, etc.).

    I’m just not convinced that “there is suffering, therefore there is no benevolent god” works for every conceivable benevolent god. But yes, against the biblical God it works fairly well.

    The problem of evil does not work for the biblical God. The Old Testament God is portrayed as a tyrant and a sadist.

    I typically take “benevolent” to mean “all-loving.” All-loving entails, by any meaningful definition, that a being with this trait wants the object of this love to avoid all unnecessary suffering. By this definition, the problem of evil disproves all conceivable benevolent deities.

  • TEP

    Well, if we assume that living for eternity makes having one’s body slowly dissolved by a flesh-eating bacterium trivial, then it must be the case that for any entity which has lived for a sufficiently long time the prospect of having this suddenly occur should be of no concern. If, after spending ten trillion years in heaven, Yahweh suddenly says to you, “Hey, just for a laugh, I think I’ll make all your flesh drop off,” then such suffering should be trivial, and in such a situation you should consider it no more unfortunate than being deprived of a cookie. If Yahweh decides to do the same thing the next day, then, again the pain endured is simply laughable for a being that has existed so long. And if Yahweh decides to do it every day, it should also be of no concern. Consequently, an eternity in Hell could not be considered to be the least bit unfortunate.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Wednesday,
    Good point, and one that is not uttered often enough about all the suffering that happened to the people in the story not named Job.

  • Pither

    Here’s what bothers me about the God-doesn’t-think-suffering-is-really-all-that-bad or the we-can’t-possibly-understand-God’s-reasons-for-allowing-suffering or the how-dare-you-question-God-about-suffering responses: I don’t think theists can espouse any of these without there being some ramifications on their other doctrines. How can you tell me I should concern myself so much with the well-being of others while at the same time letting God off the hook? How can you claim that God has a plan for your life (and mine!) and that God concerns himself with our petty daily affairs at the same time claiming we can’t understand his reasons for allowing suffering? If we can’t understand his reasons for suffering, what makes Rick Warren think we can understand God’s plan for our lives? I think from now on, I’m just going to group these responses together and call them the pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain response.

  • Polly

    Wednesday said:

    *Okay, I suppose it’s _possible_ that all of Job’s children were irredeemable psychopaths who went around disrespecting their parents, working on the sabbath, kicking puppies, and eating shrimp. But the story doesn’t say much either way.

    You’d be surprised how utterly confidently some people assert that his children were all that and more because…well, I guess because they don’t think god could have done that to them otherwise?? Though it’s nowhere to be found in the story, itself, they just ascribe various major failings to the kids based on the passage that has Job offering sacrifices on behalf of his kids in case they blasphemed in their hearts.
    I suppose the same would go for the servants who got slaughtered, too.

    Andre said (in response to PP):

    t’d be nice to be able to say, “yeah, this really sucks, but when I die my soul is gonna be so developed and prepared and kick-ass!”

    My question was always: What are you preparing for? What kind of paradise free of temptation requires such moral fiber and perseverence in the face of suffering?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    My point was, to an immortal, indestructible entity, enduring the simulated experience of being horribly crippled for an infinitesimally small fraction of its existence would be nothing. What we consider to be suffering would be a joke to this being. A game. Just as we adults can only laugh at the notion that being denied a cookie is the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

    Although that is conceivable, PP, the fact is that the vast majority of theists don’t believe it themselves. That was the point of this post: even if all this pain and suffering is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, most theists still say they would put a stop to it if they could. A person who really believed that apologetic wouldn’t care about ending suffering. And yet, manifestly, most believers do care.

  • John Nernoff

    If I hear “Job” the story I retch. It was invented by priests to inculcate the notion that unswerving loyalty to “God” (actually the priest) in the face of any adversity is the supreme good. It’s just another con-game.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    pendens proditor “On the other side of suffering, after the epic drama of it all is no longer so convincing, it could be seen as a very positive thing. It’s the fire that forges something beautiful and mighty…Suffering could have raised the soul to a level that it couldn’t have reached any other way.”
    So, what does the suffering caused by any number of horrible genetic and neural tube defects forge in an innocent newborn?

    “With a higher perspective, a soul might actually feel cheated if it was denied suffering.”
    Yeah, I can picture the line at the Complaints Department in Heaven now…miles and miles of people whining about how God never gave them flesh-eating disease or kidney failure or river blindness or… or…

    “For the Christian worldview, yes, suffering is a problem.”
    Did you ever notice how much of apologetics is to try to answer why an interventionalist God isn’t? Theodicy is basically asking why a God that could, doesn’t.

    “There’s also the matter of people who die as children or infants.”
    That’s to forge the souls of their parents. Obviously. It’s what a loving God would do. You know how, to teach one person a lesson, you inflict misery on someone else entirely? That’s why we punished Al Qaeda by invading Iraq. The logic is solid.

    “Why was this particular soul deprived of a lifetime of experience and suffering? Was it already advanced enough that it didn’t require it? And why did it get an unfair advantage in avoiding Hell, hardly having a chance to sin?”
    Keeping in mind, of course, that God made all of them (and for the Calvinists, He made most of us to fail, and suffer an eternity of firey burning for being what He made, which is the equivalent of making a car then setting it on fire because it’s not a loaf of bread).
    And…
    “The suffering doesn’t come because the soul is being damaged, but because the person is so convinced by the simulation.” & “It’s the fire that forges something beautiful and mighty.”
    So, on the one hand, suffering does not effect the soul, but on the other hand, suffering affects the soul.

    “What we consider to be suffering would be a joke to this being.”
    And that reflects how exactly on the events leading up to JC’s death?

    “In this worldview, the notion that suffering is at odds with a benevolent deity is somewhat of a non sequitur.”
    So, knowing God’s plan includes (indeed, requires) suffering, should we try to minimize suffering or maximize it? I’m ever so confused! (“Here are your pills, Grandma. No, you can’t have them!”)

    “I’m just not convinced that “there is suffering, therefore there is no benevolent god” works for every conceivable benevolent god. But yes, against the biblical God it works fairly well.”
    But you’re forgetting Satan! And The Fall! You know, for a nontheist you’re a terrible theist.

    Justin “You also seem to imply that God has a different understanding of suffering and/or morality than we do.”
    Words have different meanings when they’re applied to God instead of Man. See “love”, “mercy”, “justice”, etc.

    Polly “You’d be surprised how utterly confidently some people assert that his children were all that and more because…well, I guess because they don’t think god could have done that to them otherwise?? Though it’s nowhere to be found in the story, itself, they just ascribe various major failings to the kids based on the passage that has Job offering sacrifices on behalf of his kids in case they blasphemed in their hearts. I suppose the same would go for the servants who got slaughtered, too.”
    Didn’t you know that, since God made us, He can do whatever He wants with us? Golly, the fact that He doesn’t zealously strike us down right now (’cause we’re just such terrible sinners, and He can’t stand the sight of sin) means that every moment is a gift from God, showing just how much He loves us! In the same manner, the best way to illustrate how much you love your child is to hold a gun to his/her head all the time and not pull the trigger.

    John Nernoff “If I hear “Job” the story I retch. It was invented by priests to inculcate the notion that unswerving loyalty to “God” (actually the priest) in the face of any adversity is the supreme good.”
    It’s “answers” to the PoE aren’t even good ones. Job (and those around him) go through all that, he spends a bunch of time trying to figure out why, then God appears and says, essentially, “Sure, I didn’t help you…but look at all these other things that I do!” and “How dare you question me!”