A friend asked me what my take was on the problem of evil, or theodicy, so I thought I’d write about it here.
Here was the question:
How do you handle the problem of evil? Coming from a Mormon background, evil had its place in the plan of salvation. If you are right about the idea that to be godly is you be one, then why does the devil of our egos get in the way? What’s the point of a fall in the first place?
It’s a great question. The problem of evil is a problem, one that has vexed philosophers and theologians for ages. Of course, I don’t think I have the final answer, but I’ll share some ideas for consideration.
Yes, in Mormonism (and Christianity more generally) evil has a place in the plan. It is the opposing force against God, coming from Satan, against all good, which must be overcome so that we can return to live with God. My views today are quite similar, actually, but I’ve interpreted these things differently from a mystical point of view, which incorporates spiritual ideas from both East and West.
Ultimately I believe we are all One, and part of God. But in the process of becoming human we forget this truth. This is actually reflected in the LDS temple endowment. This forgetting that we are God is the critical thing (and could be related to the philosophical concept of anamnesis). We forget we are One, and at-one in God. Early on in our childhood we begin to develop a sense of being a separate “self” or ego, the “I,” “me,” “mine” in our minds. This is the emergence of self-awareness, and it is particularly acute and deep, it seems, in humans. Most other animals don’t seem to have nearly the sense of “self” that we humans develop. Maybe it is because of our big brains, or something that happened during our evolution, but our sense of being a separate “self” grew enormously. It became a blessing for us, allowing all kinds of amazing abstract reasoning and critical thinking, but it’s also a curse; we become imprisoned in this small finite sense of “self,” which causes us to act in all kinds of extreme ways.
The emergence of this “self” in our consciousness, it seems to me, is what is symbolized in the Fall story, and is our Fall, collectively in humanity during our evolution, and individually when we are young. It is what seems to cut us off from the presence of God, from the wholeness of the cosmos and nature, from being at-one in the One Uni-verse. Or at least that is the appearance, our perception of things. It’s not actually true at a fundamental level. It is a kind of delusion of consciousness that this “self” is separate or independent from all other things in the cosmos (as even Einstein recognized). If we look carefully, particularly in contemplative practices such as meditation, but even scientifically, we find it simply isn’t true. But from the perspective of the “self” that emerges in our mind, it seems very real. We become a “subject,” and all other things become “object.” We enter the world of dualities, and human knowledge. This is our forgetting of being One in God, of being whole, and we become a separate “self,” cut off and isolated from the All in this “lone and dreary world.”
From the perspective of this separate ego “self” it feels quite vulnerable, broken, apart, subject to death, lonely, disconnected, imperfect, inferior, a fragment, weak, ashamed, sinful. This causes the “self” to want to do things that will protect itself and aggrandize itself. It feels it needs to shield itself from anything that could harm it, lessen it, threaten it, or expose its vulnerability, and so it creates a shell around itself for security. It hides because it feels it is naked. It also seeks to possess things that it thinks will help it be more whole and complete, such as material possessions, social status, wealth, honor, power, control. The ego-self even seeks to perfect itself and immortalize itself (ironically) through spiritual performances and rituals and ideas. These add to its sense of “self,” making it appear larger, stronger, more invincible, at least to itself. Most acts of evil seem to stem from these two pulls towards excessive protection or aggrandizement of the ego “self.” This is where I think the “devil” emerges, the mythology of “Satan,” from the profound sense of being a separate “self.” We might note that “Lucifer” is also a fallen angel, originally the morning star (Christ), which falls from that divine heavenly glory to become “Satan.” I think this is part of the same mythological tradition along with the Fall of Adam & Eve.
When this separate “self” falls away from our consciousness, when “Satan” is cast out of the temple of our mind, when the “self” is transcended or when it “dies” from conscious awareness (Gal. 2:20), then we are redeemed from all these limitations and suffering of the ego “self,” redeemed from the Fall into the separate “self,” saved or liberated from all our “sins” of feeling separate, broken, weak, imperfect, and we realize our wholeness, completeness, and perfection as One in God again, in the full presence of God, which is wholly One in us and all things. We realize our true identity is not that illusory constructed “self” we thought we were, but rather is One in God. We realize our Christ nature, our Buddha-nature, the Atman within that is one in Brahman. We are redeemed from our fallen ego self by realizing our true Self (Christ), liberated from our imprisonment in the separate “self” by recognizing our true identity and nature as One in God, as One with the world/nature, as One in the cosmos/reality, as One with all other beings. We are at-One again. This is the at-one-ment, or Atonement.
It seems that in humans, who have developed these big brains, that becoming a separate definite “self” may be a natural evolution of consciousness to greater awareness. We first become aware of our finite body-mind, before we can grow to greater awareness beyond it, consciously realizing our oneness in the whole, that we emerged from the whole and are still in the whole, even a manifestation of the whole. As a child, before our Fall into the separateness of the “self,” we were whole (of the Kingdom), but we were perhaps not fully conscious of this wholeness. It took a fall into the separateness in order to transcend it and consciously return to wholeness. Also, it seems that the consciousness of God may need to collapse itself from being infinite in order to inhabit a finite body-mind, God incarnates its Self as our finite self in order to experience the world from a first-person perspective. Also, there “must needs be that there is an opposition in all things,” otherwise there is no existence, no experience. There is light and dark, up and down, hot and cold, good and evil. These seem to be a natural consequence of existence itself, which manifests itself along a spectrum of opposites or polarities, but there is also a unity to be found within these opposites.
We have both a fallen human ego-self, and a divine nature and God-Self, at the very same time. When we allow ourselves to be devoted to the desires of the ego-self, particularly to the thoughts of the ego-mind, then we tend to do evil and succumb to evil, and we cut ourselves off from the Divine in us and all around us; we are that “natural man” who is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19; Romans 8:7). When we let go of the ego-self, let go of those thoughts of the ego-mind, and trust (have faith) that we are in something much greater than this “self” we usually think we are, we can eventually come to realize oneness in all beings, that the “other” is not separate from me but is my Self, then we act out of Love and compassion and from our divinity as One in God. The struggle of life seems to be to recognize the ego-self for what it is as a finite manifestation of God, and to then transcend it to our true identity in God, as One in God (Christ), to realize that ultimately we are not merely this limited finite mortal being, but rather we are the Incarnation of God, a Manifestation of the eternal God/Reality/Cosmos on this Earth that is One with all other beings, and to act from out of that wholeness, that oneness/nonduality, that Love. This is eternal life, for we are no longer identified merely with the mortal ego-self, but with the divine Self which lives on throughout the cosmos.
Some of my ideas here I gleaned from Rupert Spira, who is a wise nondual spiritual teacher. I appreciate his perspective on the problem of evil:
What do you think of evil? Does this help your understanding of evil, where it might come from, why it exists, and how it might be overcome? Please share your thoughts.