Theodicy Is Useful in Everyday Life

So, I’ve been debating Catholic commenters on Unequally Yoked again, and I came across a comment that was so astute, so unusually perceptive, that I just had to share it.

The war with the Canaanites is really just a specialization of the problem of suffering, right? Why does a good God allow suffering, which is presumably evil.

The short answer (from a Catholic perspective) is that we don’t know… Nonetheless, it is not the knock-down blow that atheists tend to present it as. It is at least conceivable that finite suffering is in the service of a greater, unseen, good, and therefore reconcilable with a benevolent deity. So there is no contradiction, just a question mark.

Now, being as this statement came from a Roman Catholic, you’d expect me to disagree with it, right? But I don’t, not at all. In fact, I myself believe this logic wholeheartedly. How could I not, when it just recently proved so useful to me in my own life?

Allow me to explain. I haven’t shared this with you until now, but the last few months, I’ve been busy with a minor legal matter. It was such a trivial thing, not even worth bothering with really, but sometimes these things just have to be dealt with before they become an annoyance. So there I was, sitting at the defendant’s bench while the prosecutor wrapped up his closing arguments. That bastard had such a smug look on his face – he must have thought he had me right where he wanted me. Well, I’d soon show him.

I rose to address the jury (I was acting as my own lawyer, naturally), and delivered my closing statement. Normally I’m a modest and humble individual, but I happen to think that this speech was such a fine example of the art of rhetoric, it was crying out to be shared. I’m proud to reprint it below in full.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We’ve heard a lot of back-and-forth in this trial, a lot of tedious legal jargon, and a lot of so-called evidence. You’ve all been stuck in this courtroom just as long as I have, so I won’t tax your patience by recounting all the details. But if I may beg your indulgence one more time, let me just hit the high points.

“Yes, we’ve all seen the surveillance camera video that shows me entering a convenience store, holding up the clerk at gunpoint, emptying the cash register and then pistol-whipping him while he cowered on the floor. You’ve heard the eyewitnesses recount how, after I left the store, I punched out an old lady with a walker and took her purse while she bled all over the sidewalk. You know the story of how I then carjacked a minivan stopped at a traffic light, dragged the driver out onto the pavement, took his keys and sped off. And after hearing from those dozens of police officers who testified about it, I’m sure you don’t need me to repeat the details of the ensuing six-hour, three-state joyride, the car owner’s screaming infant son strapped into a child seat next to me all the while, which finally ended only when I sideswiped an ambulance and crashed that car through the front wall of a daycare center.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to stand here and lie to you. I have to admit, these acts I committed – sorry, alleged acts – all seem to paint my character in a pretty bad light. I can tell from the way you’re glaring at me that some of you might even think of me as evil. And to be frank, I can’t say I blame you. If I were in your position right now, I’d probably be drawing many of the same conclusions.

“But, my friends, there’s something you may not have considered. I know you’re all good and decent people (not to mention handsome and snappily dressed), and I can tell from your clean and honest faces that you all attend church regularly, where they taught you the difference between good and evil. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you: Isn’t it at least conceivable that the finite suffering caused by my acts was in the service of a greater, unseen good, the nature of which I’m not going to tell you? And if that’s possible, which you must admit it is, then isn’t it also possible that I’m really innocent? In fact, isn’t it possible that I’m a good person who deserves a medal and an illuminated scroll of thanks from the city?

“Given this argument, the prosecution’s case isn’t the knock-down blow they’ve presented it as. We just don’t have all the facts we’d need to reach a decision. And so, your verdict on my character can’t be guilty. At most, it could be a question mark! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if the prosecutors haven’t proven their case to the satisfaction of even the most hardcore school of philosophical skepticism, you must acquit!”

Well, I don’t like to brag, but I walked out of that courtroom a free man. I guess I’m lucky there were no atheists on my jury – you know how that kind tends to jump to conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence.

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About Adam Lee

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


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