A brief update: while I have not been able to locate an exorcist, I am pleased to report that after five weeks of suffering, Covid appears to have wearied or simply gotten bored with making my life miserable and seems to have moved on to attack some other poor victim. The only downside is that I remain in a state of near total exhaustion, which I hope will pass soon. I am taking it day by day and do not intend to bore you with this again.
But the (fictitious) Guru Stories will continue.
Here is the great news: I have found Akash! Actually, we bumped into each other in the hallway as I was going down to pick up the mail. It turns out the empty apartment that I had knocked on was on a different floor, unit 232 instead of 332 where he lives, so I was able to schedule another meeting, which happened yesterday.
He was as gracious as he was at our first meeting, offering tea and some sumptuous cookies. He suggested we set some ground rules since his schedule is quite busy—no more than one hour and only one subject at a time, and no more than one session a week. I insisted that we work out some financial arrangement, which he said we could discuss at some later time.
I jumped in with my question of the day: how do you explain evil in the world? I was not just thinking of Trump but also of all the terrible things you read about every day in the newspaper.
I noticed a slight grimace as he paused for a moment, took a long sip of tea, and then looked me straight in the eye.
“Mr. Howell, you don’t waste any time, do you? Next to the question of ultimate reality, which as we discussed last week as ‘The Great Spirit,’ which many also call ‘God,’ this is a tough one. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do bad things happen at all? Why would The Great Spirit create a universe with pain and suffering built in? What is that all about?
“Keep in mind the main point I tried to get across last week that there is so much we do not understand and never will understand about our small planet and the universe. Mystery is part of wisdom; and when we think we have it all figured out, we are back to square one. We have to accept that.
“Now since we met, I have done a little research about you.”
“Fabulous,” I replied, “You are reading my blog!”
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but I do not do the internet thing, but I have my sources, which, of course, will remain confidential. But about the nature of evil, I learned that you and your wife, Embry, lost your first child, just before her first birthday due to a heart defect. I also know that the evangelical, fundamentalist Baptist chaplain assigned to you at the hospital told you that it was God’s will and you just had to accept it, a comment which you vehemently disagreed with, and you threatened to throw him out of the room.”
“This is all true,” I responded wondering how he could possibly know this, “but once he got the message, he changed his tune and did an admirable job listening. I even apologized to him before the ordeal was over.”
“Yes, but certainly that experience affected you and Embry and caused you to ask the question, why. Of course, there was a medical explanation, but in terms of the big picture the why question is important, and, frankly, I am glad you brought it up though it is one of the most difficult questions to answer. It is also universal. Most human beings on this planet have had to deal with tragedy, due to no fault of their own. It is part of the human experience.
“Let’s begin with the statement that is found in many religions—especially the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: that God is all powerful and all good. I am not a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew, but even if I were, I would reject this premise. If you will excuse me, I will speak of ‘The Great Spirit’ rather than ‘God’ as I believe this better suits the discussion. The Great Spirit is not all powerful and all good. Period. If this were the case, the Holocaust would never have happened, millions would have not died under Mao, and the gulags would not have happened in Russia. Putin would not be doing the terrible things he is doing in Ukraine. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. (Ok, I will humor you, Donald Trump never would have been elected President of the United States.) The point is terrible things happen all the time. And these disasters were not all caused by flawed humans. What about natural disasters? Why would an all powerful deity cause floods, fires, and earthquakes hurting innocent people? And while we are at it, what is this covid nightmare all about?”
“These are the reasons I asked the question in the first place.”
“So here is your answer. We know the planet Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and that early forms of life began to appear about 3.5 billion years ago followed by more advanced forms of life through the evolutionary process. We know that dinosaurs and reptiles ruled the planet for over 165 million years before they were wiped out by a huge meteor about 65 million years ago. Then along came mammals and ultimately humans—homo sapiens– which first appeared only about 200,000 years ago. We are the new kids on the block. Good heavens, we only invented writing about six thousand years ago! We humans are part of the animal kingdom and have many of the characteristics of other animals—self-preservation, conflict with competitors, survival instincts. These characteristics that have served us well also have a dark side. We fight if we feel threatened or cornered. That is part of all life on the planet.”
“Yes, but don’t most Christians and for that matter other people of various faiths think that we are fundamentally different from the animal kingdom?”
“Yes, and they are wrong. It is only a matter of degree, not kind. Anyone who has owned a loving dog or cat understands this. And as far as natural disasters go, all that is part of the formation and sustainability of life on this wonderous planet.”
“So, it sounds like your view is akin to the clockmaker theory of Deism. The Great Spirit set it all up with the Big Bang and then has taken a hands-off position, letting what happens happen.”
“Yes, but there is a difference. While The Great Spirit got it all started, in the great scheme of things The Great Spirit is accessible to us humans. We humans have a spiritual side. We are hard wired. We want to understand and know the answers. Holy people in history have had stronger connections with The Great Spirit than most ordinary people; but for all humans, glimpses of the Divine are accessible though sadly rare. But that is just the way it is, so you might as well get used to it. What makes Jesus special in my view is that he was able to connect with The Great Spirit in ways that no other humans have been able to and embodied The Great Spirit.”
“Sounds to me like you might be a closet Christian.”
“Not so fast, I see value in many religions. Besides most Christians churches would throw me out in a heartbeat for my heretical beliefs.”
“But what about evil? You really have never answered that question.”
“First, I have to ask you what you mean by ‘evil’? If you are talking about really bad things happening, that can be explained by the nature of the world—and I suspect—the universe we live in. Flawed human nature and the forces of nature. Or are you talking about a separate force in opposition to The Great Spirit? As you know, “the Devil” is viewed by many religions, especially Christianity, as a real force to be reckoned with, an evil opponent of The Great Spirit.”
“I am not sure. Maybe both.”
“Well, while this falls in the category of mystery, I have to grant you this: At times it surely does seem that a force is at work that is powerful and, yes, evil. There are so many examples of good people turning bad—the Germans under Hitler, the Spaniards under Franco, the Italians under Mussolini, the Russians under Stalin, the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, the Japanese in Manchuria, the Cambodians under Pol Pot, and these are all recent examples. (Should I put your former President Trump and his ardent followers on this list?) From my research I have learned that you and Embry have traveled to all these countries and many more. I am sure you will agree that the people in these countries that you visited whose parents were caught up in massive evil actions in the 1940s and 1950s and 60s today do not seem like evil people. Yet they allowed the unthinkable to occur in their countries and communities as if they were taken over by a mysterious evil force. And I also know that you grew up in the South in the era of Jim Crow. What did you do about that? The nice middle and upper class Nashvillians you admired for years just accepted Jim Crow as a fact of life. And, of course, slavery proceeded that. No people and no country are off the list.”
“How do you explain good people allowing these evil actions to happen?”
“My answer may surprise you, but we humans are weak as a species though we do have our heroes and saints. I also have to say that yes, the nature of evil seems to transcend our ability to explain it in purely psychological, “natural,” or scientific terms. And if there is a Great Spirit, as I believe there is, there surely appears to be an Evil Spirit also at work, but how or why this happens remains a mystery. Perhaps we can pursue this at another time.”
“I see that our time is up. Thank you, Akash, my Guru friend. Next week I would like you to talk about death.”
“Oh, my goodness! Ok, see you then.”