Evil as an Illusion

To the average Westerner, the religious texts and teachings of the East often read like drug induced nonsense. At the same time, Eastern religions contain some insight in virtue of their very different approach to familiar topics.

Take, for example, the problem of evil. As far as most atheists are concerned, this is the best weapon available against theism, and especially Christian theism. Of course, the problem of evil fails as an objection to the Christian faith due to the unbeliever’s inability to fashion an argument against the premise that ‘God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil He permits.’

But Christians have also become quick to point out that the consistent atheist has his or her own difficulties with evil. Atheists cannot account for evil. Atheist views preclude authoritative, objective standards for morality, personal absolutes, and human dignity. No doubt the atheist will typically rail against the aforementioned points and probably accuse the person making the points of doing something objectively wrong.

However, adherents to some Eastern religions not only accept the arguments above, but willingly embrace them. That is, some have tried to deny that there is such a thing as evil. According to this view, evil is no more than an illusion. Perhaps the atheist should seek philosophical comfort in Eastern religion.

Or perhaps not. On page 156 of his Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), John Frame points out that, “if evil is an illusion, it is a terribly troublesome illusion, an illusion that brings misery, pain, suffering, and death.” He continues, “If it is said that the pain also is illusory, I reply that there is no difference between illusory pain and real pain so far as the problem of evil is concerned.”

Eastern religions can provide insight into the problem of evil because of their outright rejection of it in an unbelieving worldview. But relegating evil to an illusory status does not resolve the very evident difficulty of evil in the world any more than the atheist’s unwilling denial of it in principle. Theism, and Christian theism in particular, seems to be the only type of worldview willing to take evil seriously. Not only do Christians recognize that there actually is evil in the world, but they proclaim that Christ Jesus has obtained the victory over it.

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