The problem of evil is one of the most significant obstacles that has plagued believers since the dawn of time. Evil is a constant reality that necessitates some unique explanations. The origins of evil, its purpose, and what evil entails are unavoidable questions. The preoccupation with evil, it appears, not only evokes emotional appeal but also raises intellectual issues. Early philosophers attempted to explain the problem of evil in a satisfactory manner. The goal of this paper is to look at the philosopher Augustine’s and the Roman cult Manichaeism’s interpretations of evil. Manicheanism, which combined elements of Zoroastrianism and Christianity, was undoubtedly a powerful cult in Roman North Africa. According to Manichean, the universe comprises of two conflicting forces in the battlefield, the light, and darkness (Stalnaker 190). One side of the universe is goodness and light, represented by God who seeks to curb suffering. Opposing light is the evil and darkness, represented by Satan who is responsible for human afflictions and miseries. Amidst these two great forces lie the human beings. Accordingly, the human body, like all matter in the universe, is comprised of the Satan and is inherently evil, while human’s soul is a make-up of light (Stalnaker 195). Manichean believed that Satan is the root of all evil in the world and that human being is never in a position to cause any misery or evil. Conventionally, Manichean provided that the only way to overcome evil is to free the soul of the body through such practices as meditation and asceticism (Stalnaker 220).
Augustine, a follower of Manicheanism during his student days in Carthage ultimately had a different view on the evil. Augustine was dissatisfied with the way Manicheans addressed the question of responsibility for evil. He postulated that human beings are created with the capability of free will and that they are the causes all sufferings in the universe (Augustine 12). The disagreement resulted in Neo-Platonism, a system that gave a reasoned and sound solution to the problem of evil consequently putting the minds of Christians at ease. According to Augustine, evil itself is not a good thing but a privation of good (Augustine 18). God created good things and something ceases to be good and becomes evil when it becomes what it is not meant to be, or stops doing what it is expected to do. For Augustine, evil is when something good goes wrong.
Augustine provides that evil emerged as a result of humans misusing their gift of free will granted to them by their creator. He argues that humans were created with the capacity to decide on the good and the evil (Augustine 56). Through the use of free will, humans came to realize the potentialities of evil creating a gap between human beings and God. Since the universe was perfectly created and human given the free will, God did not have to interfere in humans’ decisions to prevent them from indulging in actions that would have brought evil consequences or that were themselves evil (Augustine 84). Logically, it could not be possible for God to create humans who by free will would choose only good actions. He concluded that God cannot be blamed for evil existence since evil is not a substance.
Concisely, God created the world in its perfection. However, it is the human being to be blamed for evil and suffering in the world since they ceased to be whom they are meant to be, and stopped doing what is expected of them. God, therefore, is innocent of the prevailing evil and sin on the earth. Evil occurred as a result freedom granted to both the angels and humanity to decide for themselves.
Augustine, and E B. Pusey. The Confessions of St. Augustine. Waiheke Island: Floating Press, 2008. Internet resource.
Stalnaker, Aaron. “Comparative Religious Ethics and the Problem of “human Nature”.” Journal of Religious Ethics. 33.2 (2005): 187-224. Print
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