I was asked some time ago by an online acquaintance of mine why I have the belief system that I do. I have always found it difficult to understand why other people have the belief systems that they do, and have always been aware that the reasons that are convincing to us are not always convincing to others. Nevertheless, being a person who thinks it is important to discuss reasoning, I think it is worth at least providing some of the context of why it is I have the worldview and belief system that I do. In particular, I would like to comment on two different sets of reasons, first, the context of how it is that I came to acquire my belief system, and second, what sorts of things helped to confirm and solidify that belief system as I got to be older, because I believe the two aspects of this are very different.
While at first glance my own personal background would not appear to have been conducive to a worldview that believes in divine providence, in many ways, my own experiences are the precise opposite of those whose thinking about the problem of evil, and that is worth describing at least a little bit. There are a great many people in the contemporary world who believe that the existence of evil is somehow something that speaks out against the validity of the religious worldview. On the contrary, the problem of evil speaks out most eloquently against the human replacements to a faith-based worldview. The horrors of communist or fascist rule witnessed in the last century or so do not contradict in any way the worth of God’s kingdom. What they do contradict is a belief in the worth of government to serve as the ultimate and highest authority. The only way that justice can be attained in this world, the only way that we can speak out against evil in high places, is to call upon a higher and more godly authority than we see in this present evil world and in the melancholy course of human history. We cannot be the source of truth or justice or righteousness, and our governments certainly lack the moral authority to serve in that role, as do any human institutions made up of fallible and flawed human beings like ourselves.
Where people are good, they are good not because of their own imperfect nature and trying to live according to the holiness or goodness that is supposed to be within them, but rather because they have sought to live in accordance with an external truth that they govern and restrain themselves by. It is these external truths that tell us to do what is difficult, what is often unpleasant and sometimes demands a great deal of sacrifice from us in search of long-term goals, the development of a code of honor, a good reputation with others, as well as future success as a result of having paid one’s dues and overcome one’s own native folly or weakness. When one does a comparative study of the proper way of living, one finds a certain consistency of these views across many different cultural traditions. To be sure, as human beings societies and institutions and individuals have fallen short of these noble standards. But what is striking is how similar the ideals are–being generous-minded and merciful to others, being honest, being humble, foregoing immediate selfish pleasures for long-term benefit, refraining from doing to others what causes pain to ourselves, treating others how we would want to be treated, honoring our parents and others in general, and so on. The wonder is not that we are so bad at living up to our ideals, but the fact that we have ideals that we strive towards at all, sometimes at considerable cost to ourselves.
What I found, admittedly by accident and in a highly idiosyncratic way, was that we do not have a problem of evil in our existence so much as a problem of good. It is little surprise that in a world made up of selfish and evil creatures like ourselves that there is a great deal of evil. What is a surprise is that despite the unpromising nature we have, the bad examples we grow up with and around, and the general wickedness of authorities in high places, that we strive towards the good at all. It is little wonder that we are unjust; it is a wonder that all of us, even people who are spectacularly ill-equipped to find justice, still seek and long for justice. It is little wonder that we fall so short of truth; it is a wonder that even our most corrupt regimes in this world strive to have ministries of truth to struggle against deception, even as they are the most prominent and powerful purveyors of misinformation and deception that exist. The fact that we find it necessary to pay lip service to virtue when we are so completely unable to attain it suggests that there is truly some sort of ultimate good and some sort of noble standard that we ought to aspire to, and that this goodness must be found outside of ourselves because it certainly cannot be found within us. A key element, it must be admitted, in my own development of my worldview is a high degree of pessimism about human nature, both my own and that of humanity at large. Not having the luxury of living under the illusion that human beings were basically good and noble, I was left seeking goodness and nobility in another place other than the deceitful human heart or corrupt human institutions where people tend to find goodness. The options that are left once those two things are removed as possibilities is greatly limited indeed.