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As we approach "The Problem of Evil," , we need to remember our functionalist definition of religion from the first unit.  There we discovered that religion provides a pivotal value.  In other words, it function to bring order and meaning to the lives of individuals and communities. Ultimately, the power of religion to bring meaning, order and understanding to the experience of life is what makes religion so important to many people.  

In some cases, the order of one's life and the world seems to be in harmony with the sacred reality.  At other  times it is extremely difficult to understand the world, especially when one is  confronted by suffering and evil.  How can we make sense of the Nazi's systematic murder of more than 6 million men, women and children in Europe?  How can  religion make sense out of the deaths of 21 million people under Stalin?  How can one make sense out of an tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands of people?

A problem arises when our concepts of the sacred cannot adequately explain the purpose or reason for suffering. The "problem of suffering" occurs whenever people perceive a contradiction between the facts of ordinary experience and the reality suggested by their notions of the sacred. 

If religion is to make sense of these things and bring any order out of the chaos of the world, it has a tremendous challenge in front of it. In this unit, we come face to face with the most difficult issues that confront religion and philosophy.  It is doubtful that we can provide answers that will be satisfactory to everyone.  We can, however, survey the answers that have been set forth by religious groups and individuals.

Our survey of this unit will build upon the information found in Exploring Religious Meaning.  We will divide this unit into three main sections:

  • What do we mean by evil?
  • How can we reconcile the monotheistic concept of God to suffering and evil?
  • Other religious responses to evil.