Richard is a philosophy undergraduate student with ambition toward a career in jurisprudence. He likes banter and debating but can be impatient and at times unsympathetic to the questions of God. Sundar is a student in electrical engineering with hopes of working in the field of wireless communications. Both young men enjoy each other’s company and discussion even though one is an atheist and the other a committed follower of Jesus and the Christian way.
Why do mean people suck?
Sundar – Duuude, you wouldn’t believe what happened last night in the parking lot at Houlihans!
Richard – What happened, did a girl talk to you?
Sundar – Shut up man, it’s crazy what happened.
Richard – Oh boy, here we go.
Sundar – So I’m standing outside in the parking lot talking to a friend. We are standing there and we watch this car back up full speed and smash into a parked car. We were like: Did you see that!? But then the guy just tries to drive off. The owner of the car comes out goes crazy, beating on the other guy’s car. So the guy trying to get away almost runs him over getting out of there. Nobody got his license plate number or anything.
Richard – People suck man.
Sundar – Yeah, you think when you hit someone’s car you apologize, not try to run them over!
Richard – You act surprised. Doesn’t your religion teach you that other people are evil doers?
Sundar – Well, yes and no
Richard – Wow, you trying to sound all eastern on me now? What do you mean “yes” AND “no” – Either your faith teaches you that people are inherently good or that they suck…right?
Sundar – Well, my faith teaches that “we” are evil doers but also that we shouldn’t be…so it’s not just other people. I am assuming that you would not include yourself in “people who suck.”
Richard – Of course not, I’m awesome. Everyone else is the problem. [laughs]
Sundar – Do you really believe that?
Richard – A little…no, not really. All the suffering and junk in the world does tend to bum me out about the state of the world. I mean look around – some good, lots of evil doing. Really makes it hard for me to believe in God. Sometimes I want to – when talking to a guy like you – but then I see all the evil and senseless suffering and I just can’t believe anyone is behind all this noise.
Sundar – But when you say something is “evil” or that people “suck” doesn’t this assume something really important?
Richard – What do you mean?
Sundar – I mean isn’t saying something is evil making the assumption that there is such a thing as good? Really good, not simply people’s opinions? To say something is evil, we are saying that it is not the way it should be. Right?
Richard – I suppose so, but I don’t see your point.
Sundar – Well, if we say something is evil and not good don’t we have a standard by which we can make such judgments between things? Doesn’t this assume that we have some sort of moral compass or even a moral law by which we can make such judgments?
Richard – Sure, human beings make such judgments all the time. That guy driving the car – he sucks. [laughing]
Sundar – Well, I agree with that, but how are you making that judgment? Afterall, maybe that guy likes running into other people’s cars and smashing up their property? Who are you to judge that he is wrong, or an evildoer?
Richard – I’m going to law school so I can be a judge you know [smiling]. Oh, by the way, I smoked my LSAT. Can almost pick my school now.
Sundar – I knew you would. Get back to my question. By what standard do you judge something good or evil? If you have no other standard other that the almighty opinions of Richard the future judge of the universe, I think I’m a little nervous. Are you familiar with the 1948 BBC debate between Bertrand Russell and Frederick Copleston?
Richard – Yes, I listened to a portion once with you dumb-dumb.
Sundar – Oh yeah, I forgot. [laughing] In that debate Copleston presses Russell on this issue and I don’t think Russell ever answers. He simply says he tells the difference between good and evil by “his feelings.” Without an objective standard we are stuck in a bog of cultural relativism. Afterall, you might say forcing women to wear Burkas in Afghanistan is oppressive and evil while the Taliban says that it is right and even holy.
Richard – But they are wrong Sundar!
Sundar – Says who? I agree with you by the way, but who are we to say? Unless there is a real standard, outside of human opinion, we are stuck in moral and cultural relativism. I think you believe there is a moral law to which we can appeal Richard. How you find that without the existence of God is quite difficult.
Richard – Ok, maybe I do think there is such a standard, but why does it have to come from God? Why can it not simply be the rational thing is the good thing?
Sundar – Yeah, evvvveryone agrees on what is rational. If something is right or wrong whether anyone believes it or not, if something is actually evil then this is something outside of ourselves and even our rationality. We might recognize it rationally but it is not a creation of our rational processes. We recognize the evil and the good because they are real and they transcend us. These are not the subject of mere human opinions or popularity of vote or force of the powerful. Might does not make right, nor does a popularity contest.
Richard – Well when I see evil in the world I know it is real, it is more real to me than the good on most days. And as I said, suffering causes me to disbelieve in God. I do acknowledge that I am sort of mad at God or at the idea of God when I see so much suffering.
Sundar – Being that mad at an idea sounds a bit psychotic. [laughs] Just admit it you are mad at God but you know that God is real.
Richard – Man, just leave that alone bro.
Sundar – Ok, not trying to be pushy, but all of us have to deal with the suckiness or the world and even the suckiness of ourselves.
Richard – I work really hard on my own crap man, you know that.
Sundar – I actually respect that about you. But you also aren’t winning that battle [both laugh]. No, what I mean is that everyone, no matter what their philosophy or view of the world, has to come face to face with suffering and God. Atheists deny that God is real and forfeit any sort of ontological goodness outside of ourselves. They only focus on their frustration with suffering. Suffering is bigger to God to those who choose to disbelieve in God. It also leaves them in a relativist bog that they don’t even believe in. Pantheists, like my uncle, believe that suffering is either an illusion (maya) or simply the other side of the same coin as goodness – you know that yin-yang tattoo you white dudes love to get.
Richard - Hahahahahahaha…white girls too. I vote we outlaw all lower back yin-yang tattoos!
Sundar – I have a really hard time believing that good and evil are part of the same divine oneness and that if I get enlightened I’ll be like Yoda and see past good and evil.
Richard – Maybe you are just not worthy Daniel-son. But I see what you mean; I can’t go with “evil is an illusion” either – no way man.
Sundar - Those who believe in God try to hold suffering, God and humanity together somehow. It is tough to do but it might surprise you that those who suffer can cling closely to God in those times. The Christian story is unique though.
Richard – How so?
Sundar – In the story of Scripture, the suffering and evil of the world is taken on by God himself. Jesus, who is God become man, actually bears suffering on behalf of suffering people. Jesus was called Immanuel, God with us. He is also God suffering with and for us. Jesus’ death for sin is the ultimate sacrifice where God himself takes the sting of evil and death to forgive us and transform us. Jesus’ resurrection displays that the ultimate enemy and bringer of pain, death itself, is and will be defeated by Jesus. The cross reflects God’s judgment upon sin and his reconciliation of people to himself. In Jesus we find grace, love and relationship. In relationship with Jesus we have one that is familiar with suffering, who can sympathize with his people and who is present with us in our grief. The gospel places Jesus in the middle of suffering to redeem a sucky world through his own sacrifice and pain.
Richard – You are preaching again.
Sundar – Sorry man, when I first heard that God would suffer with and for us…it kinda answered a whole lot of questions for me. It really makes me thankful.
Richard – So when I see suffering and evil I shouldn’t be mad at God, I should be thankful to God for it? That makes noooo sense.
Sundar – Not exactly, but I am saying that suffering is not meaningless; it does have some purpose in our lives. The gospel is wonderful to me because it brings good news to those who suffer. In the gospel we see that we need not deny the existence of God, or the existence of suffering. We face both. The gospel tells us that we can be saved. This means we can be rescued and spared from the disaster of this world. Plus, you are forgetting an important thing. The evil and suffering isn’t just caused by some cosmic goo “out there” – it is in us. Remember what you said “people suck.”
Richard – Well, we do bad things from time to time, but some people are worse than others. Hitler, Osama and Yo Mama! [laughing]
Sundar – Don’t you say nothin about my Moma! [laughing as well]. Sure, I’m not saying that all people’s actions are the same, or even that all sins are the same. Only that we are all guilty of sin and evil doing to some degree. Really guilty…guilty before God.
Richard – So Jesus must take our sins away?
Sundar – And your guilt and his right judgment for our sins. Do you think God is happy about the evil we do here to one another and against him?
Richard – If I were God, I would be pissed.
Sundar – Jesus’ teaching is devastating. He said that the junk people do actually comes from the heart and the intention of the heart is what matters. He also taught that out of the heart flow all matter of evil stuff. So WE are kind of the problem, and he is about forgiving and changing US. If God is pissed, he is pissed at us taking all he has given us and turning away from him and doing evil with it.
Richard – I really think you should consider being a preacher and not an engineer.
Sundar – But I love packet switching, information transmission and reducing signal noise! [haha]
Richard –Nerd. But I wouldn’t mind a little less noise in this world.
Sundar – I really think you should consider following Jesus.
Richard – I like him and some of his teaching. I just don’t get the whole worship God thing. So the idea of forgiveness and change is cool. But I don’t get why a god demands to be worshipped.
Sundar – Do you get love?
Richard – No I don’t get love. And I’m NOT talkin about that. At least not today. Gotta go to class.