Was Pol Pot ‘evil’ in any biblical sense? No. But he was still a devil.

Was Pol Pot ‘evil’ in any biblical sense? No. But he was still a devil. May 29, 2020

Here’s another stock Christian apologist argument I just heard that literally makes zero sense, yet it’s enthusiastically disseminated among mankind as though it makes all the sense in the world.

It has to do with the so-called “problem of evil” in Christian theology, which has been argued (apparently fruitlessly) for about as long as Christian theology has been around.

The particular argument I heard this week (and viewed) in a YouTube video was presented by none other than William Lane Craig, an American academic philosopher and theologian who is, unfathomably, “considered to be one of the 50 most influential living philosophers in the world,” according to The Best Schools website.

However, if this is the best that philosophy can produce in our species, I’m officially terrified.

christianity philosophy evil theology genocide
Potrait of a Madman: Pol Pot, a Cambodian Communist revolutionary and later politician who presided over a disastrous a socialist aggrarian program in which some 2 million of his countrymen perished. (Mike, Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In a nutshell, Craig espoused the view that yes, there is evil in the world, and, yes, an all-loving, infinitely benevolent God would never cause such a thing for no good reason. But he also claims — and this is where the rubber completely misses the road — that although evil exists, and although God in some way was responsible for it, if it happens it’s the fault of mankind and, besides, if God allows it, it must ultimately have been allowed in the first place for good, positive purposes. Purposes that vastly inferior humans are unable to comprehend, anticipate or even still be alive for when they eventually come to fruition.

So, evil is inherently good then, if God does it, but bad when humans do it of their own free will.

Got it?

In Craig’s formulation it makes even less sense.

“Well, I think that [free will] is an expression of the goodness of God in that it gives freedom of the will to creatures so they are significant moral agents, and that entails the risk that they may make bad choices that he accords,” Craig said in a video interview with Pints with Aquius podcaster Matt Fradd. “… to create the freedom to disobey and therefore bring about this privation in the world which is evil. … that we can’t seem to see how any good could come from [it].”

The key word in this argument, such as it is, is “privation,” which is why I boldface it.

This aligns with Craig’s view (and those of many other apologists in history) that evil doesn’t actually exist in the real world, as such, but is instead a “privation” — a deficit — in the natural order of things that God created. So, in effect, if evil emerges, it’s because mankind itself has somehow subtracted goodness from the godly scheme of things, which allows reality to become temporarily evil until the balance is restored.

christianity philosophy evil theology genocide
Victims: The S-21 (Tuol Sleng) “Security Prison” was a torture and execution center used by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide of 1976-1979. This mother and baby were among the victims. (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Neat, huh? God is not responsible for evil — think of Donald Trump saying “I have no responsibility for deaths related to the coronavirus,” when you consider this concept — because what God creates is always perfect and good. So it’s only when humans subtract good from the perfect equation that evil surfaces, completely contrary to God’s intensions.

In the same way, Trump, who of course only wants to defeat the coronavirus and not allow it to kill people, blamed others — “so-called experts,” China, the media (for reporting true, alarming facts about the pandemic), governors (for not accomplishing what the president couldn’t) — when things went devastatingly South in America.

See how that works?

It’s the ultimate get-out-of-Hell-free card. If you are divine you can never be blamed for anything, much less evil, or suffer any consequences, because, well, you’re perfect and inerrant. And theologians have to figure out all manner of contorted arguments to make sure that arbitrary assumption holds.

To bolster this argument, Craig referenced church father Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), a misogynistic, sex-obsessed North African priest and one of the most influential Christian theologians of the early church.

“Augustine says since God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness was such as to bring good even out of evil,” Craig asserts. 

One glaring problem with this theological formulation is that it has yet to be proven either that the Christian God as imagined actually exists in reality, or that, if he did, such a being would be infinitely benevolent and loving. It’s just a belief — embraced globally by billions of human beings, to be sure — but still vastly speculative to the verge of, if not actual, impossibility.

Still, Craig and his theological ilk keep trying to argue that concepts pulled out of thin air are valid and compelling debate tools.

Common sense should tell us that evil — which could be defined as actions that purposefully cause arbitrary, unnecessary suffering in the world — exists because nature, in which the world resides, is imperfect. When a human being such as Cambodian revolutionary Pol Pot kills millions of his countrymen, for example, it’s the product of imperfections in his character and others’, not, the philosophical concept of “evil,” per se. And it certainly has nothing to do with any divinity.

However, in an abundance of fairness, I could point out that, in a sense, the murderous atrocities that Pol Pot wrought on Cambodian society in the 1970s were the result of a “privation” in his character, a lacking of natural empathy and protectiveness for humanity. But nothing is perfect in reality, even the laws of nature, and some things (and people) are enormously less perfect than others.

The point is this is how reality is, as flawed and random and seemingly “evil” as the natural world. To insist that some crime against divine perfection has been committed when bad things happen is arbitrary and morally irresponsible.

To then give a moral pass to the deity itself is just silly.


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