Another Round in the Theodicy Debate (This Time Involving Bob Dylan!)

Another Round in the Theodicy Debate (This Time Involving Bob Dylan!) April 17, 2012

For some reason WordPress has changed my font size and being the complete non-techie that I am, i don’t know how to change it back! I hope this won’t prevent you from reading if that is your intention. I’ll try to get it back to normal size font as soon as possible. (Patheos.com has been making some fairly dramatic changes to the format, so I assume that’s what caused this little problem.)

“Theodicy”–The attempt to justify the ways of God in the face of the problem of evil.

A friendly correspondent sent me this URL to an article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education:

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Naked-Truth-at-Stanford/131428/

The article is entitled The Naked Truth by Ron Rosenbaum (author of Explaining Hitler). It states the classical theodicy problem very powerfully–using an obscure line from an obscure Bob Dylan lyric.

In a nutshell, the author’s argument is that, in light of the holocaust, people must give up believing in God.

What I always want to ask, and would have asked had I been in Mr. Rosenbaum’s audience, is this: “If there is no God such as Jews and Christians and Muslims believe in, a perfectly good and all powerful deity, then what makes what Hitler did objectively evil? When you, as an atheist or agnostic say the holocaust was evil, what do you mean beyond that you don’t like it or, case of a performative utterance, you wish it would never happen again?”

Not long ago we had a round of debate here about atheism and objective right and wrong. I never did read a convincing explanation of how there can be objective evil (wrongness that exists outside our own inner states of mind and feeling) without an eternal standard of right and wrong that is being and goodness itself.

In fact, I have real trouble even understanding Mr. Rosenbaum’s point of view. As an intelligent person (referring to him, not me), I think he should see immediately that he is the one with the “problem of evil.” Without God or something very much like God “evil,” as Mr. Rosenbaum seems to use the term, cannot exist. The word “evil” then refers only to a strong dislike.

Beyond that, however, Mr. Rosenbaum does not seem to be familiar with philosophical and theological theodicies. He simply sweeps them all aside as impossible as if there really have been and are no serious answers to the problem he poses. He cuts down straw men.

Oh, and about Bob Dylan. Mr. Rosenbaum hints at it, but after that lyric was written in the 1960s Dylan became an evangelical Christian. I don’t know how long that lasted; for all I know he may still be an evangelical Christian. But I know personally a man who belonged to the same Christian intentional community to which Dylan belonged in the 1970s. He tells me about a time when Dylan passed up a million dollar fee for a concert that would have conflicted with a Bible study they were all expected to attend.

The point  Dylan made is that Hitler “is” history. Rosenbaum is convinced. That seems too simplistic to me. And, of course, from a Christian perpective, the cross, hot Hitler “is” history.

But perhaps this is what comes from Christians for centuries talking about God in philosophical ways and God’s sovereignty as deterministic and comprehensive.

Not long ago a nice young lady gave a testimony about God’s help in getting through her mother’s death from a Alzheiemer’s disease. She said (to a congregation) “I don’t know why God chose for my mother to have Alzheimer’s.” That’s the God Rosenbaum is talking about, but it’s not the God I have ever believed in.

I think one of the main tasks facing Christians since the holocaust is to explain the biblical and Christian doctrine of God in such a way as to make God NOT the author of sin and evil and innocent suffering. The “young, restless, Reformed” movement isn’t helping.

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