In his column on Pope Benedict's speech at Auschwitz, Jeff Jacoby gives an excellent presentation of the problem of evil. The existence of evil, of course, has often been used as an argument against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, and the answer is not difficult to explain but is extremely awful to comprehend. Jacoby wisely considers the matter from both the global perspective, as in the examples of Nazism, the gulags, the slaughters by the Khmer Rouge, and other such mass atrocities, and in the acts of individual criminals. He asks the atheists' question: Why would a benevolent and all-powerful God allow such things? Jacoby's answer, as excerpted below, is the answer long given by Christian theologians, and it is the right one.
The importance to politics, our subject here, is precisely what the Founders of the United States placed their greatest emphasis on: the need to create a secular realm that enables and encourages people to be good and discourages evil. And it was to do this for entirely practical, secular reasons, not religious ones. Although the Founders realized that religions, specifically the Christian religion, created the foundations for a proper morality, religion was not seen as the logical foundation for their form of government. The logic behind our form of government was a practical matter, as the Founders recognized that the encouragement of virtue in the people was the way to create the greatest combination of liberty and social order simultaneously.
Their insisghts still remain true.
This political structure is an entirely different matter, the Founders understood, from executing God's judgments on the world, a point that Puritan-descended Evangelicals and Fundamentalists too often forget. God will execute his judgments himself, but human beings must govern themselves. This thinking is a straightforward expression of Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theology, which is itself the foundation of modern, classical liberal political philosophy. Luther's insight was precisely that although God is free to execute his judgments in the world, he allows human beings moral freedom, and that creates the need for government. And in creating the need for governmnent, our moral freedom establishes the logical limitations on what government should do.
Here is a goodly excerpt from Jeff Jacoby's excellent column:
The Nazis' ultimate goal, Benedict argued, was to rip out Christian morality by its Jewish roots, replacing it with "a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful." Hitler knew that his will to power could triumph only if he first destroyed Judeo-Christian values. In the Thousand-Year Reich, God and his moral code would be wiped out. Man, unencumbered by conscience, would reign in his place. It is the oldest of temptations, and Auschwitz is what it leads to.
"Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God in Darfur?
For that matter, where is God when even one innocent victim is being murdered or raped or abused?
The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Gestapo.
The God "who spoke on Sinai" was not addressing himself to angels or robots who could do no wrong even if they wanted to. He was speaking to real people with real choices to make, and real consequences that flow from those choices. Auschwitz wasn't God's fault. He didn't build the place. And only by changing those who did build it from free moral agents into puppets could he have stopped them from committing their horrific crimes.
It was not God who failed during the Holocaust or in the Gulag, or on 9/11, or in Bosnia. It is not God who fails when human beings do barbaric things to other human beings. Auschwitz is not what happens when the God who says "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is silent. It is what happens when men and women refuse to listen.