Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

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Excerpted from “Values, Evil, and Liberation Theo-logy” in Process Philosophy and Social Thought, ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and W. Widick Schroeder, Chicago: Center for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1981, 183-96.  (Originally in Encounter, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 1979, 1-15.)  To highlight Griffin’s compact and accessible discussion of ideas he has expounded in greater detail elsewhere, I deleted whatever bore directly on liberation theology, wherever I could do so without sacrificing intelligibility. The title of this excerpt is mine. 


Intrinsic Values and the

Problem of Evil

David Ray Griffin

. . . By “intrinsic value” I mean anything that is experienced as enjoyable and fulfilling.  The three basic types of intrinsic value I call (1) receptive values, (2) achievement or self-actualizing values, and (3) contributory values.

Receptive values are those in which the value experienced comes mainly from the reception of values flowing in from the environment.  (Of course, every experience involves some degree of self-determination; there is never any purely passive reception.  But one can distinguish between those values that are primarily receptive in nature and those in which creative activity is paramount.)  The enjoyment of food and drink, of a comfortable chair, of a warm fire on a cold night, of a massage, and the experience of a healthily-functioning body are examples of receptive values.

Also included would be the feeling of being loved.  Sexual enjoyment would also fit at least partially under this category, although it usually involves all the other values too—which is why it is such a complex matter.

Achievement or self-actualizing values require active exertion to be enjoyed.  Some of these primarily involve what we ordinarily call “mental” activity, such as the enjoyment that comes from solving a problem, writing a book or a symphony that conforms to the ideals we honor, making decisions that conform to the ethical ideals we accept, governing a country well.  Others involve an equal amount of mental and bodily activity, such as playing the piano, playing tennis, singing, public speaking, running the mile, skiing, mountain climbing.  In any case, the enjoyment comes from striving for and achieving some possibility that is considered inherently important.  The enjoyment comes as much from the activity—from the free, creative actualiza-tion of the self’s capacities—as from the actual final achievement.  Referring to them as both “self-actualizing” and “achievement” values brings out both dimensions of the experience.

The third kind I call contributory values.  Here the value comes from the anticipation that your present activity is going to contribute positive value to other experiences.  These can be your own future experiences, as when you derive present value from knowledge or skill you are gaining that will help you attain receptive or achievement values in the future.  But these other experiences are not limited to those in your own future.  A father enjoys the thought that his present efforts will contribute to the happiness of his children; most performers get enjoyment not only from the achievement value of performing some art-form well (combined with the expectation that the monetary payment will help them acquire the means for certain receptive values) but also from the expectation that their performance will be a source of enjoyment for other people; and we at least hope there are some politicians who get part of their enjoyment from the sense that they are doing something to contribute to the general good.

There is a sense in which this three-fold analysis of intrinsic values could be reduced to a two-fold analysis.  The receptive values could be simply contrasted with the other two types, which can be classed together as “active” or “creative” values.  And I will often refer to them in this way.  But it is helpful to distinguish between these latter two, since the anticipation of contributing something beyond the present moment is a value quite distinct from that which comes from realizing an ideal in that moment, even though both of them require exertion.  For one thing, it brings out the fact that we are not totally egoistical, and that acting morally can be intrinsically enjoyable.

. . . [A]ll three types of value are essential to any truly human life, and hence of course to human fulfillment.  This is generally seen, more or less clearly, by people in regard to their own situation, but it is often not seen in regard to other people.  In particular, people are usually more or less conscious that the active values—the achievement and contributory values—are an essential part of their own lives, but quite often fail to see that other people need to experience these too.

There is a sense in which the receptive values are more basic than the active values.  A certain number of them are essential to life itself.  Without sufficient nutrition, warmth, and sometimes medicine, a person will simply die. . . .

This analysis of values may also point the way to showing how some of the true interests of various groups may be more capable of joint fulfillment than sometimes thought.  Insofar as the perceived interests of all people consist in the possession and use of ever-increasing amounts of material resources as the source of receptive values, immense conflict of interests is inevitable, given the finitude of the natural resources.  But if people can come to perceive their true interests to consist as much or more in the ability to enjoy achievement and contributory values, then, although it seems unlikely that conflict over material resources will ever be eliminated, the conflict can be somewhat mitigated.

*          *          *

. . . If there is a good God who is Creator and Lord of history, why does this God allow people to be oppressed?  Why does this God create them with a need for receptive values and then not see to it that they all at least have enough protein and calcium for their brains and bones to develop normally?  Why does this God create them with a desire to exercise their creativity, and to make a contribution to the world, and then not guarantee that these desires would not be thwarted time and time again?

. . . The most common solution to the problem of evil in traditional theologies was to deny that there is any genuine evil, that somehow everything would turn out for the best, that somehow the totality would be better because of all the sin and suffering. But this . . . must be rejected.

Another possibility has been simply to affirm both statements (that God is good and yet is the sole power and hence the cause of all evil), admit that they are logically contradictory, and then say, “So much the worse for (ordinary) logic.”  (The more traditional way of stating this answer has been to refer to “mystery.”)  But this is clearly unsatisfac-tory; God is the God of truth, including our ordinary logical procedures for discovering truth, as well as the God of justice.  Besides, the continued affirmation of the traditional doctrine that God is in complete control of history will simply perpetuate stoic resig-nation to oppression, on the one hand, and induce more atheism, on the other.  Furthermore, the most common method for showing the untruth of our opponent’s position is to point out the contradiction in it.  It is clearly unfair to use this method to dis-credit our opponents’ positions and then to appeal to “mystery” when they point to contradictions in ours.

Another solution is to say the powers of evil have already been decisively defeated although they are still very active.  This is the solution offered by Karl Barth.  It is designed to support God’s power by saying that God has in fact already defeated evil.  But then one can still ask, “If God is good, why does God allow these powers of evil to continue to act as if they had not already been defeated?”  Barth’s answer is that God thinks it is good for us to exist as if evil had not been mastered, so that we will flee to the One who has conquered it.  But does not this answer again suggest that oppression and suffering are not really evil, and also make us question the goodness of this God—not to mention the fact that it implies that God is psychologically insecure? (Does God really need us to “flee to him”?)

Another answer that has been given recently is that God suffers with us—Patripassianism is coming into its own. . . . I, too, as a process theologian, am a Patripassianist, and believe that this must be a necessary element in any satisfactory position.  But it cannot by itself supply a sufficient answer.  If the doctrine of divine power is left unmodified, the fact that God suffers with us simply raises more questions.  In particular, it raises the question of whether God is a divine masochist.  Why should God undergo all that suffering if it is not necessary? . . .

One way to modify the traditional doctrine of omnipotence is with the doctrine of a voluntary divine self-limitation.  According to this view, God is, or at least was, essentially omnipotent in the way stated by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Barth.  But God freely gave up complete control of the world in creating free creatures, especially humans.  This doctrine allows one to continue worshipping God as all-powerful, and yet to retain belief in God’s goodness by seeing the evil in the world as due to the misuse of created freedom.

While this is preferable to the other solutions, it also has problems.  The most serious one is that it still raises questions about God’s goodness.  If God relinquished absolute power voluntarily, then God could, at any time, reclaim it.  And if this is possible, why does not God do so occasionally, in order to prevent particularly horrendous evils?  The answer usually given is that God does not want to violate our freedom.  But, as precious as freedom is, is it so valuable that God should not override it every once in a while, to prevent some unbearable suffering?  After all, it would have taken only a split-second’s violation of the world’s freedom to convert Hitler, or induce a heart-attack in him.  Surely if God could reassert divine omnipotence from time to time, these kind of things should be done.  Of course, some people still believe that God does miraculously intervene occasionally, setting aside the ordinary chain of causation.  But if God really does miraculously intervene to prevent certain evils, why does God not do it in all the similar cases, and even more in worse cases? Of course, lengthy, complex, and sophisti-cated answers have been offered, but they finally come down to the denial that God finds oppression and suffering offensive enough to bother to intervene.  And if it is not that offensive to God, should we lay our lives on the line to fight against it?

Another possible solution is simply to deny all active power to God: if God has any power, it is only the passive power to suffer with us. . . . I would argue against this solution, not only because I think it untrue, but also because it would undercut the hope that is necessary for commitment.

. . . The central point is this: the reason God does not prevent all the evil in the world is that God simply cannot.  That is, God cannot do it unilaterally.  God can and does bring about all sorts of good, and hence prevents all sorts of evil.  But God does this in and through us, the creatures.  God acts directly upon every event in the world, and hence indirectly through every event.  But each of these events is partially determined by its environment, and is partially self-determining.  This creative power to form themselves and to influence others is possessed by different events to different degrees; those events which are moments of conscious human experience have the greatest degree of this power, among creatures.  This creative power is not given by God to the creatures, as if there could be creatures without this creative power.  Rather, this creative power is inherent in finite actualities as such.  Hence, the fact that there are limitations on God’s power to effect the divine will is not due to a voluntary self-limitation, but is inherent in the very nature of things.  There simply could not be a world in which one being would have a monopoly on power, which is what would be needed for God unilaterally to be able to prevent all evil.  This is another way of saying that God’s power is necessarily persuasive power; it could not be coercive, in the sense of controlling. God is the ultimate power of the universe, but not the sole power.

This is one of the two basic ideas in the position I suggest.  The other one is that there is a set of variables that are necessarily correlative.  These variables are:

(1) the capacity to enjoy values;

(2) the capacity to suffer;

(3) freedom, or the power of self-determination;

(4) causation, or the power to influence others—for good or evil.

Saying that these four variables are necessarily correlative means that they necessarily rise proportionately to each other.  For example, if one creature has a higher capacity to enjoy values than another, it will also necessarily have more creative power to determine itself, and more creative power to influence others.  For example, we believe that a human being is capable of enjoying all sorts of values that are far beyond the wildest dreams of a cat; the human being also has much more freedom for self-determination, and can contribute much more good to others, but also much more evil.

My suggestion is that throughout the evolutionary process by which God created our world—by stimulating the creatures’ own creative powers—these variables increased proportionately to each other.  So, although God is not responsible for the world’s having any creative power at all, God is responsible for there being creatures with the high degree of creative power that we have.  In this sense, and only in this sense, is God responsible for the sin and suffering in the world.  Without creatures with the power of conscious self-determination, there could be no sin; likewise without creatures with conscious experience, the suffering in the world would be relatively insignificant.  The creation of a world of our type is a risk, since God cannot unilaterally control things and hence prevent evil.

But it is a necessary risk—necessary if any significant values are to be enjoyed. One simply could not have creatures who could enjoy the high-level kinds of receptive, achievement, and contributory values that we enjoy, and yet who were incapable of sin, destructiveness, and suffering.

Hence, while there is a sense in which God is responsible for the sin and suffering in the world, God is not indictable—unless someone would prefer a world without any of the higher forms of life at all.

It is at this point that the recent emphasis on God’s own suffering is especially important.  Our belief that God suffers with us, symbolized by the cross, gives support to our sometimes faltering conviction that the risk of all the oppression and suffering in this world was a risk worth taking, that human life is so precious that it is worthwhile in spite of all the suffering.  For, the risk of suffering was a risk for God—God is the one being who experiences all the suffering.  At the same time, the belief that the suffering in the world causes equally intense suffer-ing in God reinforces our conviction that this suffering is genuinely and ultimately evil, not relativized by some cosmic perspective beyond good and evil, and hence that it is to be battled against wholeheartedly.  Likewise, the belief that God not only suffers with our sufferings, but also rejoices with our joys and is fulfilled by our fulfillments (what else, if God is truly love?), undergirds our commitment to work towards a human society in which the joys and fulfillments that are now all too occasional and fragmentary will be the rule rather than the exception—a society under the rule of God.  For we, inspired by God, work toward such a society not only for the sake of ourselves and our descendants, but also for the sake of God.

In broadest outline this is the view of the God-world relation that I think liberation theologies need.  It is in fact in some of them.  But it is not stated very loudly, especially the point the God cannot unilaterally prevent evil.  I realize that there are various objections to advocating such a view, and especially for doing so too loudly.  Some of these objections could, I believe, be answered by a fuller presentation of the position.  But some legitimate objections would still doubtless remain. Neverthe-less, I believe the reasons for holding such a view, and advocating it clearly, outweigh the disadvan-tages. Here are some of them:

(1) This view unambiguously protects our two-fold conviction that God is good and that oppression is evil.

(2) It does this without any special pleading—without any appeal to a “special logic” or to “mystery.”

(3) This view expresses the essential presup-position of liberation theology, that the ultimate power of the universe not only wills the end of oppression, but is continually active in the world toward this end. Hence we do not battle alone and solely by our own strength, but as empowered by the ultimate power of the universe.

(4) At the same time, this view does not suggest that God’s aims will be achieved regardless of what we creatures do, a view which logically undercuts the importance of our efforts. Rather, God’s aims will be achieved only through us, and hence only if and to the degree that we respond.

Posted August 27, 2007

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