The alpha course video on the theme of evil featured a woman who was a sports presenter, although I didn’t recognise her. Hardly surprising as I tend to play more sports than I watch. She told some somewhat amusing anecdotes about people getting into mild peril, but also highlighted the shocking scale of present day human trafficking. She went on to describe how she ended up being part of an all-female team who rowed the Atlantic to raise awareness and money for victims of human trafficking. I found this interesting and quite impressive.
Forming into our small groups again, I apologised for my absence at the extra evening session last week, hoping that Danni hadn’t had to eat leftover curry for days. It seems I hadn’t missed any miraculous happenings, but one of the group who had known things about Jesus in her head said she began to feel it in her heart, too. They’d had a good time, but it sounded like the videos were rather long. Still, it would’ve been more fun than lying in bed with a headache!
We moved on to discussing evil and it became apparent that most people who expressed a view thought that Satan was a real, concious being, partially defeated by God/Jesus, but still tempting people and aiming to destroy us. Apparently some people (not here) find it easier to believe in the devil than God, which seems odd to me. We had some interesting talks about the ideas of evil in different cultures and how for us in relatively comfortable lives in the west, things can often seem very grey, morally speaking, but in harsher parts of the world the contrast good and evil may be a starker black and white. We spent a little while discussing the problem of evil and why God allows the devil to exist, instead of imprisoning or disarming him somehow. At least a couple of people seemed to accept that with an all-powerful god around, anything which does happen must have his implicit approval. So the evils he allows are presumably for some higher purpose. Allowing the devil the freedom to harm people is presumably part of some grand plan that we mere humans can’t comprehend. I don’t think this line of reasoning solves the problem of evil, but I pointed out that it might be easier to accept things are necessary evils for those of us with relatively comfortable lives who are rarely on the sharp end of any serious evil.
Discussing this issue made me realise that different people in the group responded differently to the arguments I made. Everyone was polite and listened carefully and I of course tried to do the same, in spite of my impatience. However, some of them seemed to be unconcerned about, say the problem of evil, but really puzzled and frustrated by things we’d discussed in previous weeks, for example the need to sacrifice Jesus before God could forgive. It didn’t seem like those who were comfortable with the problem of evil had got some really satisfying answer, just that it didn’t bother them so much. Sometimes I’d raise a point and one person would say, “Yeah, that’s never made sense to me”. Great, I’d think, someone is actually thinking critically about their beliefs, but I’d make another point another time and the same person wouldn’t see the problem. To me these all seem like equally good arguments and, in my opinion any one of them makes Christianity untenable. Maybe people are being inconsistently critical in their thinking, but I suppose it’s just as likely that my explanations were rambling and incomprehensible in some cases. Maybe I bored people and they switched off.
The conversation later moved on to people’s tales of feeling protected from evil or warned about evil, usually in a rather vague way. The girl whose mother ran into the room knowing she was silently choking, the guy who drove out to pickup his girlfriend unexpectedly, without knowing she was the last to leave the office and was feeling particularly vulnerable. The intervention of a higher power in their protection was mostly implied and no one was really offering this to me as evidence that their god was real, so I thought it would’ve been rude to point out that these things are easily explained as coincidences and that memory and the human mind isn’t as reliable as we tend to expect.
It was a good chat and over too quickly, so I was glad when people suggested that after next week’s final session we’d organise a post-alpha social.