Is Evil Necessary for Good to Exist?

January 6, 2008


I posted something recently called The Opposite of Love, a little piece that explores the nature of opposites. That got me to thinking and I’d like to expand a bit on the idea.

There are a lot of opposites in our world. So many, in fact, that you could argue that we live in a dualistic universe, one in which everything has an opposite. Perhaps opposites are necessary for the existence of some, or all, things.

For example, in order for hot water to exist, cold water must also exist. Otherwise it would just be water. Hot water cannot be defined without the existence of cold water. Hot water is just water that has a higher temperature than some other water. Even the term ‘higher’ requires two temperatures, one hotter and one colder.

How about on and off? If there was no state of off, there could be no state of on. It is the possibility that a light could be off that makes real the possibility that it could be on. Otherwise it would just be a light.

Up and down, light and dark, positive and negative; the examples are numerous. What about good and evil? (My regular readers are groaning right now. “Oh, he’s not going to get back into the God thing is he?” Yep, I’m afraid so.)

Is evil necessary for good to exist? I’m thinking that maybe it is. That might explain the existence of evil in the first place, something that has bothered me for a long time because of one very simple question. If God created the universe and everything in it, where did evil come from?

I am not one to take the Bible literally, but I do believe it contains a lot of ideas worth considering. Take the story of how evil was introduced into the world. There was God, Adam, and Eve hanging out in the Garden. God is credited with creating Adam and then Eve, but wasn’t there another presence there too? Yes, I am referring to Satan, in the form of a serpent.

Did Satan just appear spontaneously, out of the control of God, or was he created for a purpose? Or perhaps Satan has always co-existed with God and the two are really just opposites that rely on one another for existence. God and Satan: The eternal yin and yang, light and dark, something and nothing.

I know this is an unorthodox idea but before anyone blows a religious fuse, remember that it is just an idea. I’m just throwing it out there, so stay with me. There really are only three explanations for the existence of evil (if it does exist). First, evil just happened by itself. That implies that God is not omnipotent. Second, God created evil. Even if evil is the result of a fallen angel, if God created everything, he must have created Satan knowing that he would fall, and therefore God created evil. Third, God is both good and evil. This is the possibility that makes the most sense to me.

The first case violates the whole concept of a created universe. Any creator powerful enough to create life and everything that is would have seen evil coming. I can’t see a creator god making such a big mistake, as in, “Oops, I didn’t see that coming.”

The second case, although more plausible, violates the concept of reason. Why would a creator god create its own nemesis? The only reason I can think of is that in order to give us free will, God had to create something besides good from which to choose. If there is only one choice, free will has no meaning. This has some validity, especially if you believe that the purpose of life is change.

The third case really only violates our traditional concepts of good and evil. We have labeled good “good” and evil “bad”, but what if these are man-made constructs that misrepresent the true nature of good and evil? Perhaps good and evil are just two sides of the same coin or just two movable points on a continuum?

In a world of “us against them” don’t we always consider “us” to be good and “them” to be evil? Don’t you realize that in “their” eyes, we are the evil “them”? Who is right? Doesn’t it depend on your point of view?

If you can see the truth that there really is no enemy, it may be that the third case is the only one that makes any sense at all.


Fear Clings But Love Releases

October 5, 2008

There is a feeling I get whenever I decide to give away something of value. Part of me feels love, a light and airy state I enjoy. But there is another feeling there too, one a bit darker and heavier than the first. This part of me feels fear – of loss, of becoming smaller and closer to nothingness.

Fear clings but love releases. We are like leaves floating in a fast moving stream. The water of Life slips around us and we are carried along in the flow. In their fear, some leaves cling to the rocks and create eddies as the water’s flow is impeded. The water has always moved downstream. Life flows. Fear misdirects and stagnates. Love releases.

Fear looks inward and sees only the self. Love looks outward and sees the great circle that connects all of us. We all fall from the same tree and so there is no reason to fear. As life flows past me it finds you just downstream. It passes you and finds another, and another. Eventually, it finds me again. We are all connected.

That is why I try to give where and how I can. Sometimes love wins but sometimes I find myself clinging to something too valuable, too dear to give away. If I were wiser I would see that this is precisely the thing – the one thing too dear to give away – that has the greatest chance of impeding the flow of my life. Such a thing has the power to misdirect and stagnate the water around me. Such a thing has the power to cut me off from the natural flow, ensnaring me. A snag this big must be released for my own good and for the good of the stream.

It is a mistake to think of anything as if it came in a limited quantity. Scarcity is an illusion. There is enough of everything to go around, but there are those whose fear is stronger than their love. They find ways to gather resources to themselves, effectively blocking the flow downstream.

If you desire peace, then release your desires. Do not fear. Do not gather more than you can use. Help where and how you can. And remember:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Rolling Stones

Does Religion Have It Backwards?

September 26, 2008

When people mindlessly delegate their spiritual belief system to the pages of an old book (or the words of a religious leader) they insult the creator. Why? Because if God created us in his own image (with intelligence, curiosity, reason, and capacity for logic), then he himself must possess these traits. Furthermore, it follows that he must value them as well.

How disappointing it must be to the creator when someone pushes these wonderful gifts aside to blindly follow the written or oral words of mere mortals, disregarding the tools that God himself provided to examine the world and discern the truth.

Here is a thought to ponder. Religious people generally think that accepting their creed differentiates them from others, those they call unbelievers, infidels, pagans, heretics and the like. I agree! Unfortunately, I think they have it backwards.

Who is the wheat and who the chaff? Perhaps God created religion to find out who among us would be willing to shirk the moral obligation to personally seek him. Perhaps God wanted to see who would have the courage to reject religion and question the status quo (much the same way Jesus was reported to have done when he refuted the Pharisees). It is possible, even likely, that God gave us the gifts of intelligence, curiosity, reason, and the capacity for logic so that each of us would find genuine faith and not accept the pale, man-made imitation of faith that we call religion.

One can choose to blindly be lead by others. As for me, I choose to use my God-given gifts to question what has been handed to me by others before I swallow it whole out of fear or laziness or lack of confidence in my own divinity.

If there is a day of judgment and I stand before God to account for my life, at least I will be able to look him in the eye and say, “I may have been right, I may have been wrong, but at least I didn’t take the easy way out. If nothing else, I tried to find the real you.”

You Can Change the World

September 23, 2008

I’ve been writing lately about how God’s will intersects with the free will of people. In my view, we do not dance on invisible strings manipulated by some higher puppeteer. A long time ago, our creator set up this whole thing, stepped back (just in case), and flipped the switch on. God started up the cosmic party bus, but left it up to us to figure out where to drive it.

God’s will handles the natural laws that govern matter, and the spiritual laws that govern life. But what occurs within this framework, which road the party bus takes, is determined by the free will of people. I believe that God chose to make it this way for a reason, and the reason has something to do with allowing his children to make their own mistakes. How else do children learn?

By default, the world is a safe place for us. If it is dangerous, it is because we have made it that way – step by step, inch by inch – by the destructive personal choices we have made. There is darkness, but the opposite is also true. There is beauty and light in the world, also brought about by the personal choices of people.

Because people are imbued with the ability to create and destroy, we have a tremendous power as well as a sobering responsibility. Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

If you want a kind world, be kind. If you want peace, love your neighbor. Some of us chase after God, thinking to find him in a building or in the pages of a dusty book. We travel great distances to a sacred temple or ancient wall, hoping to feel God’s breath, vital and real. Do you want to feel God’s breath on you? Then love someone.

I bet that right now, as you read this, you are in a unique position to help someone. Someone at work, a neighbor, a friend, whoever. There is something you can do to heal or encourage, something that nobody else can do as effectively as you can – all because of your unique situation.

Do you want to feel God? It’s easy! Just open your eyes, see the need, and jump right in there. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Intelligent Creationism

September 22, 2008

I don’t know why people argue about opinions. Opinions are like crazy relatives. Everyone has one and none of them is quite right.

For example, the argument between creationists and evolutionists makes me crazy. Grossly simplified, creationists believe that God created the universe, with life pretty much the way it is now, about 6,000 years ago. Evolutionists believe that the universe was formed billions of years ago by the Big Bang, and that life evolved spontaneously from that event.

First of all, are these really the only two choices? Darwin’s disciples scoff at the Christians, dismissing them as zealots – nothing more than mindless religious fundamentalists. The faithful dismiss the scientists, thinking they are lost in spiritual darkness. I think that both the creationists and the evolutionists are religious fundamentalists. Both are lost in blinkered darkness. Both are intolerant of contrary opinions, blind to any position but their own. Both are apt to sweep any dissuading evidence under the carpet of dogma.

I propose a compromise, not only because I like compromises, but because in most cases a compromise actually comes closer to the truth. This may not be a new idea, but it is something I have thought about for a very long time. It is an idea I call “Intelligent Creationism”.

Assuming there is a creator, isn’t it possible that he created the universe by way of the Big Bang?

Maybe that is how he chose to get this party started. In this version of intelligent design, God set up a perpetual system of natural and spiritual laws that would govern the formation of the stars and the planets and of life itself. Among the many processes that God set into place was evolution. So if it is the case that Homo sapiens evolved from lower forms of life, then perhaps that was how God intended it to be.

So stop fighting about it. Maybe you are both wrong, or right.

Thoughts Are Things

September 20, 2008

I have heard that perception is reality. To me that means that pure, actual reality is happening all around me, but I never see it, not really. I am separated from it by the imperfect lens of my perception – although it might be more accurate to say I am protected from it by the shield of my perception.

In that sense, I have to say no, perception is not reality. Yes, my lens is imperfect, and I love how I can shape my world through the practiced use of selective perception. Yes, perception filters our experience of reality, but I think that our link to pure, actual reality is a little more personal than that.

There is a fundamental, transcendent Creator that exists apart from the physical universe of space and time. Its existence does not depend on our perception, nor does its form or its character.

And then there is Creation. Creation, by design, is a pool of unlimited potentiality. It is a state of ordered chaos in which all things that can be imagined are possible. In this place, perception filters reality, but our thoughts (and the thoughts of God) create it.

Thoughts are things. Thoughts have the property of bringing things from the pool of unlimited potentiality into existence. Isn’t it true? Of course there is the ordinary link between what we think and what happens. First the idea, then the action, then the result. I think everyone would agree on that.

What I am referring to is something a little harder to accept. What I am saying is that there also exists a direct link between what we think about and what happens. First the idea, then the result. Automatic. No action required. Before you brush this aside, what about positive thinking? Don’t we all believe in the power of positive thinking?

This idea puts prayer into a different light. Why would God set up a system that would chain him to his throne, forever having to listen to our needs and desires, innundated by one prayer wave after another? I don’t know, but I think there is another possibility. I think God created a system that allows us more control (and demands more responsibility) than that. Prayer works, just not for the reason that many people think.

When we pray (or meditate or hope or send out positive vibes… whatever) our thoughts shape events and change people’s lives because of the system God set up, not because God himself somehow grants your request. God is our father, but not our daddy. We were created in his image with the power to create – and destroy.

When you pray, I am sure that God hears you – if that is your intent. He knows your needs will be met and that all things will, in the end, work out for you, because that is how he set up the system. The reset value – the default setting – is for you to be whole.

So when you pray, do it however you feel comfortable. Be specific and if you can visualize what you want, so much the better. However, be careful how you pray. A prayer full of need only serves to reinforce that need.

If you pray “I need money” or “please give me money”, the message you are sending into that pool of infinite possibility is that you are broke. The universe will then work to make it as you have spoken, and you will tend to remain broke. Remember, the Bible says that God spoke the universe into existence.

Instead, imagine yourself as already having what you need or desire! Picture yourself paying the bill you are concerned about. Pray as if you already had the money. Thank God or the universe (or the lotto) for sending the money in time. This is where faith comes in, for it is really our faith, more than our thoughts, which make reality.

What if God Was One of Us?

September 18, 2008

Circles are perfect. They have no beginning, no end – yet they are whole, lacking nothing. Circles are pure and simple – yet they wield the power to contain and define complex ideas. One example that comes to mind is the yin-yang symbol.

Dark and light interlocked in a balancing embrace. Together, light and dark are in harmony and yet that is not enough. Within the dark is found light and within the light is found darkness.

Each side contained by and containing the other – each by its opposite defined.

Could this be the nature of God? Good and evil, light and dark, creator and destroyer – together as one? Two sides of a single coin, spinning in eternity, never to be caught, both heads and tails and yet neither? Immortal brothers wrestling on the line between order and chaos?

Familiar strangers, unable to blend or to separate, neither able to win or to lose…

If people were created by such a being (one containing both good and evil), wouldn’t it follow that we would also contain both good and evil? And don’t we?

If an omnipotent and omniscient power of good pre-existed evil, then the power of good must have created the power of evil, or at least have watched it come into existence, allowed it to be. Perhaps God needed evil to exist and so he created the serpent, knowing that Adam and Eve would fall into temptation. Perhaps evil is a variable in some cosmic experiment, and we are the lab rats. Perhaps evil is necessary for us to grow spiritually.

But the more I think about it, the more I look at the yin-yang, the more I wonder. Isn’t it possible that good and evil have always existed together? That possibility gives God some humanity and makes him a little more accessible. Such a god would be keepin’ it real. Know what I mean?

Sort of like that song originally released by Joan Osborne, One of Us:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets…

The Underlying Theme

September 17, 2008

The actual core of a thing is usually simple. For instance, the foundation of a home is pretty straightforward as compared to the things that are built on it, around it, over it. On the surface, the eye sees a complicated arrangement of roof and walls, doors and windows. Just below the surface, under the vinyl siding, run unseen rivers of electricity, water, and air. Deeper still, buried within the structure’s core, lies its foundation – the intrinsic mechanism that makes all the rest possible.

Is life any different? On the surface, life – including all the systems that make life possible – is very complicated. Thousands of scientists around the world spend their days working hard to uncover the mysteries of life’s roof, walls, doors, and windows. Priests and philosophers attend to the flow of life’s electricity, water, and air. And yet there are a few who seek to know life’s very foundation, its underlying theme.

How does the mechanism of life work?

Does God sit on his throne, picking which prayers to answer, weighing the devotion of each child before deciding who gets blessed that day? Is God really that interested in my day-to-day life that he knows the exact number of hairs on my head as the Bible claims? Religion has cast God as some kind of spiritual micromanager, complete with all the “omnis”: omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omnibenevolent (seeking the good of all), and omnipresent (present everywhere, in the past as well as the future).

Omnis, by definition, are transcendent, meaning they are as limitless as life itself. God gave us the capacity to choose from a limitless set of possibilities. Why would God micromanage such a creation? That would be predictable, downright boring. Everyone loves a mystery. God already knows the outcome of the things he has chosen to control. He gave us free will so we would have the capacity to do something unexpected. God wants to be surprised by life! That is why he made us and our world so variable, so chaotic. For it is only within a state of chaos that all things are possible. (Of course, some order is required too – yin and yang.)

In this context I believe the very purpose of life can be understood a little better. God created the universe and put billions of people in it, all different, yet all created in God’s image. Because God creates, we create. In a sense we are all just like life itself. Each of us builds a unique life on a common foundation. Simple.

Deep down we are all made of the same stuff. The differences between us are something to be celebrated, encouraged, nurtured, for they are the very reason we were created in the first place.

Some You Win, Some You Lose

September 14, 2008

My mom lives in SW Florida. A few weeks ago Tropical Storm Fay hit her area from the south. There was no mandatory evacuation and my 78-year old mom rode out the storm alone in her one-story, built-to-take-it, concrete and block Florida-style home. I love that tough old lady and I love that tough old house too. I grew up there, on that three by seven mile barrier island, with nothing else around except narrow asphalt roads, sand – and a massive capillary network of canals. A few homes stuck up here and there like mushrooms growing up from a manicured lawn. Back in the day, we endured good old Everglades thunderstorms that caused more damage than Fay.

Even so, when Hurricane Gustav started to look like it wanted to follow Fay on her heels, I decided to make one of my many “hurricane week” visits to Mom. In her garage, leaning against a wall and covered with cobwebs, was a familiar stack of old, heavy, difficult to install, plywood hurricane shutters. I still have no idea how many times I put those up only to take them down again. My father made the original set just after the house was built in 1978 but we ended up wearing them out. (I guess it would be more accurate to say we “weathered” them out.) Have you ever heard of someone weathering out their hurricane shutters? That says a lot.

About ten years ago I made a new set, and there they were, still stained with my sweat and my blood. I sighed and looked slowly away in resignation. As I glanced across the street at one of the two-story monstrosities that now populate the island, I noticed the lovely, lightweight, aluminum storm shutters across its many large windows. An idea immediately formed in my mind and I was off to Home Depot.

Do you know how many 86-inch aluminum storm shutters you can put in a 1999 Chrysler 300M? A bunch. The hard part is getting the 12-foot pieces of track in there without them sticking out the back too far. Oh well, that’s what the little red flags are for.

As Gustav was cutting into Cuba with hurricane force winds, I was cutting aluminum with a fine-tooth radial saw, drilling holes in concrete and fastening countless tapcons. The sweat and the blood still flowed, but now I was smiling as I thought, “No more plywood.” The plywood shutters required two people and several hours to install but the new aluminum ones can be installed in about an hour by one person. I feel much better knowing I can swoop in there, shutter the house, and get Mom the heck out quickly, all by myself. I guess I did this as much for myself as for her.

Thankfully, Gustav passed us by. A few days later, with Hurricane Ike bearing down on us, I thought the new shutters were going to get their first test. Ike decided to ravage Cuba instead, as it passed well south of us on its way to strike Galveston, Texas.

Some you win, some you lose.

Life is Like a Pachinko Machine

September 12, 2008

A pachinko machine is a flipper-less Asian pinball machine, smaller than the ones in the United States and played vertically. The playing surface is round at the top and covered with glass to keep the ball in play and to protect the intricate array of flashing lights and small metal pins sticking out from the surface of the board. At the bottom, below the lever, there is a container holding a large number of small steel balls.

You flip the lever and one of the balls flies up the right side, pressed outward by centrifugal force until gravity begins to affect it. Just past top center there is a rubber knob designed to stop the ball and set it in play. The ball strikes the knob, reverses direction, and then it pauses – momentarily reflecting the scene below – before bearing downward to encounter the first pin. Now firmly in command, gravity insists that the ball bounce off the pin, either to the right or left. Obviously, the ball cannot choose its own way. That choice is made on its behalf by the physical laws of nature and the other mystical powers that be.

Unlike the ball, people have the power, perhaps even the obligation, to make choices. It is said that only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. I think it should be death, taxes and choices. Remember: If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. Whether you are a steel ball or a person, choice is inevitable.

That brings me to my point. Life is like a pachinko machine. Rushing in from where I was before, thrust in perhaps, I am born into the world. At first I am controlled by outside forces, but as I grow older I am confronted with a choice – my first choice. Perhaps it is something simple like: Do I choose to get the toy for myself or cry until mommy gets it for me?

As inconsequential as that decision may seem it is really a fork in the road, a metal pin under the sheet of glass. If I choose to get the toy myself, that decision leads me here. If I choose to cry until mommy gets it for me, that decision leads me there. Soon, other choices lead to other decisions as the ball relentlessly percolates down the board.

In a pachinko machine, sometimes the ball finds a way to score a million points before getting to the bottom. Sometimes the ball doesn’t score a lot of points as it finds a less-traveled path from pin to pin. Sometimes the ball falls through a trap door in the playing surface, wins the jackpot, and goes back to the container – bypassing the rest of the board. There are an infinite number of paths, each with a promise of its own. That is the nature of pachinko and of life.

But no matter what path you take, you always end up back in the container – waiting for another play, another chance to choose.

Light Through a Prism

September 11, 2008

Many times I have noted the hand of a higher power move in my life. I think we all experience this, but in our infinite variability, each of us interprets the hand in a different way. Some call it luck, or fate, karma, providence, whatever – each of us filters life through a unique sieve. However, our so-called differences are really just individual facets of the same Truth. Think of it as light through a prism; one light, many colors. One crystal, many facets. One creator, many creations.

And if there is one creator, then each of us represents one of the many creations. We are more alike than different, really. It doesn’t matter what we choose to label ourselves and others. In all the ways that really matter, we are all the same.

Is God a Muslim? How about a Hindu? Or a Buddhist? Maybe God is Jewish.

If God is not a member of one of those major world religions, then perhaps God is a Christian. If that is so, then God must be a Baptist, right? Or maybe a Catholic. Or a Pentecostal. Wait, I know. God is a member (in good standing) of the Ezekiel Ebenezer Greater Tabernacle Community Ministry, Reformed.

Now that we have determined God’s religious faith, I have to ask another question. Is God black? If not black then God must be white. No? How about red? Perhaps God is the color of a Double Ristretto Venti Nonfat Organic Chocolate Brownie Frappuccino Extra Hot with Foam at Starbucks – after you stir it up of course.

Is God a man? A woman? Is God a Republican or a Democrat? Gay? Straight? Do you really think God cares about this petty nonsense? God doesn’t recognize labels! Labels are temporary, limiting, illusory constructs that only describe the surface of what we are. Labels tend to divide and distract us.

God couldn’t care less what religion you claim to follow. Nor the color of your skin, nor your sex or even your sexual preference. I don’t claim to know what God does care about because there is no way to prove that for sure. I may not be able to see God directly, or know for sure what God wants from me, but there is something I can see and know – right here, with my own eyes.

I see people, all different yet all the same. People want nothing more than to live in peace, love their children, eat, work, and play in freedom. Aren’t these the things that you most desire? If it is true that God created us in God’s image, then it would follow that these simple things are what God desires as well.

So the next time you note the hand of a higher power moving in your life, mark it well and know that many times we are the hand that moves. The decisions we make every day inevitably change the world, inch by inch, for better or worse. Love your neighbors.