Religious Studies

Articles

Moral critique and defence of theodicy

Winner of the 2013 Religious Studies Postgraduate Essay Prize

SAMUEL SHEARN

Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford, 34 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD, UK e-mail: samuel.shearn@theology.ox.ac.uk

Abstract

In this essay, moral anti-theodicy is characterized as opposition to the trivialization of suffering, defined as the reinterpretation of horrendous evils in a way the sufferer cannot accept. Ambitious theodicy (which claim goods emerge from specific evils) is deemed always to trivialize horrendous evils and, because there is no specific theoretical context, also harm sufferers. Moral anti-theodicy is susceptible to two main criticisms. First, it is over-demanding as a moral position. Second, anti-theodicist opposition to least ambitious theodicies, which portray God's decision to create as an ‘all-or-nothing’ scenario, requires a moral commitment to philosophical pessimism. Thus anti-theodicists should not be quick to take the moral high ground. However, this should not encourage theodicists, since theodicies may well be self-defeating in so far as they attempt to provide comfort.