HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!

 

ST AUGUSTINE and the notion that evil is not a power but good in the wrong place
 
St Augustine of Hippo preached the excuse that God is not to blame for evil for evil isn't a power and some dare to trust every word he wrote after his silliness. Its disgraceful to condone a God who stands by looking at human suffering and evil despite his having the power to stop them. It is horrible to make excuses for God for allowing them to happen.
 
The argument is a distraction. The problem is how evil does so much harm. It is that it happens - that is the problem. But Augustine wants you to think about what it is! What it is is not the point. The Handbook of Christian Apologetics defends the excuse that God never made evil so we can't complain about him making evil on page 132. Thankfully it confesses that if evil is a being, real or an entity like a power or force then the idea of an all-good God is decisively refuted. So far so good, but there is this problem. A God who withholds power to let evil happen is no different from one that makes evil forces. He is still trying to cause harm. It follows then that whether evil is a power or not, God is still not all-good.  The point is not WHAT evil is but THAT it is. Belief in God requires us to ignore that so such belief is evil and opens the heart to embrace it. To try and stop people perceiving that the problem is that evil is is really trying to make them water down their perception of evil and its seriousness. To argue that suffering is something okay because it is not a thing is callous and an attempt to condone evil.
 
Because of Augustine, Christianity says that evil is not a thing or power. It is good in the wrong place. It is a failure to be properly good. Evil is good but not GOOD.
 
The Bible says God can simply forgive sin without atonement. But Paul wrote that it is vital to believe that Christ died for sins and it was not for nothing (Galatians 2:21). This leads to the Christian notion that sin is more than just a break in the relationship with God. It is like a cancer or a disease so it is not enough just to say sorry. Jesus's atonement then is seen as more as just fixing a relationship but as fixing people. This teaching seems to contradict Augustine. Theologians say it does not for sin can function like a disease and still be a mere privation. But it is more a case where if it is a privation then it is viewed as and treated as a thing!
 
Christianity says that since God makes all things there is no such thing as an evil power for God cannot make evil. The Christians say that when cancer ravages you, that its existence is good. Its power and strength is good. It is just good in the wrong place but good in itself for God makes it. So one cannot accuse God of making evil.
 
The goal is not to comfort people or to recognise what their suffering is but to exonerate God! That is cold if there is no such thing as a God of love. It is cold if there is no hard proof for the existence of this God. The less reason you have to believe in God the worse you are if you believe. As God is what goodness is in its full state, making God out to be worthy of all honour is what the argument about evil not being caused by God is all about.
 
Thus if we are good godly people, we will focus on the good of cancer. We will praise the good qualities of the tumour. It would be wrong to focus on the bad to the extent that we focus on the good. The good person sees the good in things more than the bad. The person who does not is evil at heart.
 
It is a strange argument that makes out that God is responsible if he makes good and that he is to be praised and still to be praised and approved if he makes what is simply not good enough! It is an unfeeling argument.
 
But there is no mention of the fact that if you take that approach you are making yourself feel good by refusing to see any evil. That leads to a callous attitude towards the suffering person. There is a break of rapport for they will not see it as you do. It is easy for you to see the good when another suffers.
 
The Christians when they say that evil is the absence of good actually mean that evil is the lack of God's presence and activity. They identify good and God. This makes no sense. If God is good then goodness is not God because if I am good I mean I do good not that I am goodness itself. I am not goodness itself because goodness will go on without me. It would still be goodness even if I never existed. In reality the worship of God is not the worship of goodness but the worship of a person. Thus it does not matter to the believer if God is good or not. If you worship God because he does good things then it is really the good things you worship. So it follows that God or belief in him is not important. Augustine evilly devised the argument that God is not to blame for evil for evil is merely misplaced good. He developed this argument that God is good for that reason as a form of worship and as a justification for worship. The goal of the argument was to glorify God. But it fails because goodness is a default - it does not need anybody not even God to recognise it. It will make demands on us whether there is a God or not. Even if there was nothing at all, no God, no babies, nothing, it would remain true in principle that murdering babies for fun is wrong. There can be no stronger endorsement of good. Anything else is too weak even if it seems to work.
 
The Christians say that evil is just good that is not good enough and that evil is not an entity or a power. But is this goodness just goodness meaning it is goodness whether there is a God or not? To say yes is to say that God does not matter. That would be contradictory for if he is real and is perfectly good he must matter a lot and so any goodness without him is actually evil. It would follow that your goodness is not genuine if you do not believe in God. The more you believe the stronger the goodness is.
 
If goodness is independent of God, then nobody has the right to insult sick people by saying that God is too good to be responsible for it.
 
Christian teaching implies that the person who does good without belief in God or does not do it for God is actually evil. The murderous whoremaster would be seen as a better person than one who presents evil as beautiful and attractive. Belief in God leads to incitement to hatred against lukewarm believers and against atheists.
 
Believers who are good typically turn callous when they are focused on God and turn human when human nature kicks in and they forget about him. Believers are split personalities.
 
If evil were a power that God made, he would have control over it. But in Augustine's scheme, evil has nothing to do with God so he cannot control it! This God who allows evil to happen is worse than the God who creates evil because allowing implies having less control and abandoning any attempt to control.

Making evil (if it is a power) is making what will attack and mutilate good. God cannot make it and any good purpose for it would be an excuse. Think of a man who puts an evil power such as poison into the drinking water just so that people will go to hospital and get better and get more attention through the experience. His purpose does not justify his action even if it brings about a greater good.  If God can't make the evil as a power even for a good purpose then he cannot let evil as Augustine understands it happen even for a good purpose no matter how good it is. So evil then would refute the existence of God.
 
Augustine wants Christians to claim the right to believe that somebody falling off a cliff shouldn't have the power from God to miraculously slow their fall so that they are safe. So the person being crushed to death on the rocks is more acceptable to him. Yet he teaches that good in the wrong place is a sin or an evil. Augustine wants to restrict the amount of good a person should perceive themselves to be entitled to. Why? Because if they they see how much good we could and should have but don't have then they will see no point in believing in a good God. Augustine believes we should not be able to sprout wings in emergencies for God has made us without this faculty.
 
Augustine chooses to approve of human death and suffering caused by not having the power to manage risks and dangers better and for what? A belief - a belief called God! You might say, "That is unfair. He has to believe in God before he can ask if God should miraculously save people who fall off cliffs maybe by letting them sprout wings for a minute." True. But there is a hypothetical side to the things we say. When we speak we say things unsaid. The reality is that people are falling off cliffs and dying horribly. Even if that is for a divine purpose and is thus justifiable, it follows that if in some irrational way that God could save them regardless he should. Or we could wish there was no God and that there was a supernatural power to help them. If God should not help even if he exists then it may follow that any supernatural being or angel should not help. But God is supposed to allow suffering for he is perfect and his nature requires him to expect perfection from us too which is why happiness wise we could be better off if we could exist without him. It is because God is perfect that we have to put virtue above happiness. Without him we could get by on less virtue. Belief in God goes with approval of how much we are allowed to suffer.
 
Augustine said we must be prepared to suffer for doing right and for doing good. If its the only way, then is it the courage in the face of suffering that is good not the suffering? The suffering must be good then if courage is good for there would be no courage without it. Augustine never thought to ask is the courage good when it gets no results and you die? Augustine approves of the suffering because he forbids you to have sex even for a very grave reason with somebody you are not married to. So if you can't have sex for a good reason but can suffer for a good reason even when your reason ends up unfulfilled due to your death the suffering must be good. To say that suffering is good is to deny you know what good is and the theodicy will be no good to you.
 
Undeniably good and evil have a part in everything we do. Nothing is completely good. We should see that when we do right we have done the most good and the least evil and should not be pretending that it was all good for it was not. If evil is good that is misplaced it will be hard to tell if anything we wish to do is more good than evil. Augustine makes it worse by implying that unhappiness is the mere absence of happiness which is ridiculous. Happiness and unhappiness are both powers. We cannot trivialise unhappiness by saying it is merely happiness in the wrong place and time. The argument does no good. It only serves to give the Christian mind-control tool, God, some ammunition. It blinds you to real goodness. It is a very serious evil to degrade the thing we need and want above all things, happiness, like Augustine has done.
 
Augustine tried to save himself from the silliness of his doctrine about the nature of evil as non-existent by asserting at times that evil was not just the absence of good but a privation of good that ought to be present.
 
Augustine said there is a significant difference between absence and a lack. A person who can be good but won't be is exhibiting the absence of good which is evil. A person who can't fly like a bird is not exhibiting an absence of good in not having the power to fly like a bird but the lack of the power to fly. You expect a man to be good but not to fly. That is how you tell the difference. Absence has to do somebody not being what they are meant to be. Lack has to do with somebody not being what they are not meant to be. The absence of a good you can be is evil. The absence of a good you cannot be such as having the power to fly like a bird is only a lack not an evil (page 215, OCR Philosophy of Religion for AS and A2).
 
If I have cancer, I cannot say, "This cancer is the absence of health so it is bad". I cannot say it is bad and that is because when evil is the privation of a good that ought to be present, it follows that I may have been meant to get cancer. It may be good for me to have cancer. Or God may have intended me to have cancer for a good purpose. Either way cancer is near-good.
 
If somebody slips a pill into my drink that makes me permanently happy this seems to be good. Yet many would say it is a good that is the absence of the good that ought to be present. The good that ought to be present means I should make myself happy by virtuous acts not by a pill. The point is nobody can prove what the good that ought to be present is. When a child is punished, evil is used for the good of the child. You can't describe such evil as the absence of good. When a person cannot say what the good that ought to be present is, what business has that person excusing evil by saying that it is the absence of a good that should be present.
 
The argument proves how much belief in God aims to make us deceive ourselves and use one another. All Augustine has done is compound the callous insults to suffering people offered by his philosophy.
 
Augustine would say that a singer losing her singing voice through illness is evil.  But somebody not being able to sing is not evil for they never had a singing voice nor was meant to. This implies that it is only evil to not be able to sing if you were made to be able to sing. It presupposes that there is a God who wants you to be a singer and so gave you a singing voice.   If you were born with an ugly nose, it must be a sin to fix it. Augustine never realised that God might give you a bad nose because he intends you to do a good job of getting it fixed!
 
If you don't believe in the existence of God, you can deny that there is any purpose in having a singing voice or not having one. Thus for you, you won't have to excuse God for not giving you a singing voice and condone this loss. You won't have to demean yourself for a belief.
 
Suppose as Augustine says God gives you a singing voice for a purpose. What about somebody having a singing voice and being trapped on a miserable desert island where they or nobody else can enjoy it? How could the singing voice be good then? It is only the waste of a gift that somebody who can't sing in the world should have. So if I don't have a singing voice, then my not being able to sing is a deprivation. Augustine cannot say that not being able to sing is fine. He has to admit that it is the absence of a good that should exist.
 
What gives Augustine the right to say any handicap one has, be it the absence of intelligence, the absence of the power to sing or the absence of the power to lift heavy weights or whatever is fine? Who is he to decide what other people should have or lack? What right has he to glibly say that it is not the absence of a good that ought to exist
 
Augustine condones paralysis on the grounds that the person merely has the absence of the power to walk and that this is acceptable for the person was not intended by God or the way he or she was made to be a walker. There is something fascist in a walking man saying things like that. The solutions Christians desperately seek for to overcome proofs of divine evil make them evil themselves.
 
So evil then is the absence of a good that ought to be present according to Augustine's theory. Ought to Augustine meant what fits the will of God and is commanded by him but ought is more complicated than that. That means then that it is up to men to decide what is evil for they invent God which is evident from the fact that everybody has a different idea of the how and whats of God. Its like a word that everybody uses differently. The truth is, God can’t decide what is right. We have to decide that for ourselves because even if we listen to him it will be our judgment that will make us do that anyway so why not take the short-cut and leave him out? When the God concept is evil for this reason and for many others what sense in trying to save God’s reputation?
 
Evil is intrinsically irrational. Irrationality is a power in your mind that you create. That is why decent people and decent Atheists make so much of devotion to reason. So evil is stupidity. Christianity says that humans are really the origin of evil in the universe not God. But this makes no sense for stupidity is a power. It’s a bad energy. What is a power cannot be just the absence of something. White is not just the absence of black – it has an identity of its own.
 
Augustine sees evil as a lack and as he sees Christianity as the one true religion set up by God it follows that he sees other religions as lacking truth and holiness and goodness meaning they are evil. Any religion could think that way and it is a highly dangerous attitude to have and can only lead to rivers of blood.
 
For Augustine evil has no power in itself. Evil is never greater than the people who do it. So to fight evil means fighting those who do it. Evil depends on people. Without them it would not be done. It would not happen.
 
For Augustine, the greater the good, the greater the evil. To pervert a saint then is worse than to make a profligate worse.
 
For Augustine, good is only known through evil.
 
For Augustine, evil proves the existence of God for evil itself is goodness in the wrong place and time. He says that we cannot explain good, not even the goodness that is evil, without God.
 
The Christian religion is condoning and watering down evil when it worships its God. The unbeliever cannot in conscience get involved in such worship or encourage it.
  
APPENDIX
 
Augustine was the eccentric who said that he would not believe in the gospels if the Church did not tell him to believe. Yes the Church says he only meant that its authority gave him good reasons to see the gospels were true. Don't believe that for he could believe in the gospels for scholars rather than the Church were saying it. What he meant was that he was going to believe only what the Church ordered him to believe and that was enough for him. What would you think of a man who said that he wouldn’t believe in God had it not been for the authority of his parents? He is just saying he prefers to let other people do the most important thinking for him and that is laziness.

 

Augustine thinks God made only good and evil rose by itself spontaneously. So that means evil is spontaneous. God had to have made the spontaneity and put it into the creation so God is still to blame for evil and even more so than a blatantly bad God would be for he tries hard to hide it and cover it up.

 

According to Augustine’s view, if you say that a human being is evil, or that their actions are evil, you are saying that the way they behave does not match expectations about how a human being should behave. There is something inadequate in all that - it is as if he is watering down what evil is.  But anyway that expectation is evil because Augustine believed that being and goodness are identical so it follows for Augustine that nothing could be wholly or properly evil. This is because if something were to be completely evil it would cease to exist.  The idea of pure evil makes no sense unless a person can be pure evil. In that case they should be destroyed as soon as possible.

 

Evil is, in Augustine’s view, parasitic on good.  To translate him he is saying good is existence and evil is that which works against existence.  He has sneaked a redefinition of evil in that is no good.  It is like defining bad homework as quirky.
 
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Recommended Reading
 
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Augustine (1986). The City of God. Edited with an introduction by JJ O Meara. London, Penguin.
Augustine (1961). Confessions. Translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. London, Penguin.
Caputo, J.D., Dooley, M, & Scanlon, M.J. (eds.) (2001). Questioning God. Indiana, Indiana University Press.
Chadwick, H (1986). Augustine. Oxford University Press.
Derrida, Jacques (1993). ‘Circumfession’, translated by Geoffrey Bennington in Bennington, G. and Derrida, J. Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Derrida, Jacques (2002). Acts of Religion. Edited and with an introduction by Gil Anidjar. London: Routledge, 2002.
Heidegger, Martin (1962). Being and Time. Translated by John McQuarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford, Blackwell.
Kolakowski, L. (1993). Religion If There Is No God: On God, the Devil, Sin and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religion. Indiana, St Augustine’s Press.
Matthews, G.B. (1999). The Augustinian Tradition. Berkeley, University of California Press. McGrath, A. (1990). A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Oxford University Press.
Plato, (1961). Collected Dialogues. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Plotinus (1986). The Enneads. Edited by John Dillon. London, Penguin, 1986.
Taylor, A.E. (1986). Plato: The Man and His Work. New York, Methuen Press.