In a discussion at Debunking Christianity, a commenter wrote, of "theists" (exactly what was meant by the term was left unclear, so I'll assume it simply meant here those who intellectually believe the proposition that there is a God, and that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent):
They are as heartless as their alleged god, and the deaths of children being burned alive, don't trouble their beliefs in the slightest.
As someone who has been very critical of the project of theodicy, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the commenter's position. Theodicies themselves are very poor responses to actual instances of suffering. Those who are suffering are not likely to be comforted by a vigorous philosophical defense of a particular description of God. It is simply not helpful.
But, are theodicies intended to be responses to particular instances of suffering? Are they offered as the best response to this or that tragedy, in the moment of suffering? Despite my past wholesale attack on the ethics of theodicy, I don't think that they are. While - as someone who, though religious, does not believe in the traditional theistic description of God - I don't think theodicies work, in that they fail to reconcile that description of God with the existence of suffering; I also don't think that they are intended as pastoral responses to specific instances of suffering.
It would truly be callous, or, as the commenter put it, "heartless," for a theist to in fact be truly untroubled by "the deaths of children being burned alive." But, though theists maintain their belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God, I don't think for a moment that they are, in fact, untroubled by specific instances of suffering. They may be quite troubled by children being burned alive in a church in Kenya, but that incident - tragic as it is - does not actually provide us with new information about the universe.
Any theist is already aware that we live in a universe in which it is possible that children could be burned alive in a church in Kenya. Any theist is already aware that such things in fact happen; they have happened, and will presumably continue to happen. This is not new information. As such, their beliefs must already account for the existence of such instances of extreme suffering. That their beliefs do not change after they become aware of yet another instance of acute suffering does not mean that they are not troubled by such instances of suffering. It simply means that such instances have already, presumably, been accounted for in their belief system. While I do not find their accounts for such instances persuasive, neither do I think that they should jettison their beliefs every time tragedy strikes, if in fact they find that their theodicies have sufficiently accounted for suffering in the world, reconciling it to a particular description of God.
At this point I think it would be instructive to note that there are in fact two very different problems of evil (or suffering, as some theodicies deny that suddering is, in fact, evil, or evidence of evil), though we often conflate them, as I think the commenter at Debunking Christianity may have done:
1. The philosophic problem of evil (or suffering), and
2. The existential problem of evil (or, again, suffering).
The philosophic (or, perhaps, logical) problem of evil is just what you might guess from its title, a philosophic/logical problem. It is to this problem that theodicies respond. This problem may be roughly rendered thusly:
The following propositions are logically inconsistent:
i. There is a God
ii. God is omnipotent
iii. God is omniscient
iv. God is benevolent
v. There is suffering/evil in the world.
That is, suffering is logically incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good and loving God.
The existential problem of evil is a very different problem. It is a personal one, and may be rendered thusly:
The actual experience of suffering and evil creates conditions in which a person is less likely to believe in God.
New instances of suffering in the world participate in the existential problem of evil, in that they create conditions within which one's faith is challenged. But they are not necessarily relevant for the philosophic problem of evil, because they are simply not needed for it. Any suffering of any kind, at any point in history, already challenges the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. If someone has then responded philosophically to past instances of suffering, or even to the abstract possibility of suffering, and reconciled it sufficiently for themselves to the existence of the traditional theistic description of God, new instances of suffering do not pose an additional philosophic problem. But they may create an existential one.
This distinction is instructive because it acknowledges that we are not purely rational beings. Our logical/philosophical responses to suffering are not our only responses. And, even those whose theistic beliefs are philosophically untroubled by particular instances of suffering (such as the church fire in Kenya) are not necessarily either heartless or callous. They may have a profound emotional response to such suffering. Their faith may even strengthen that emotional response, and help them shape a powerful practical response. But that doesn't mean that this new concrete instance of suffering provides them with new information that should make them jettison their previous beliefs on the spot.
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