The Trilemma Can Be Solved

Image of a globe.

Image by Gaël Gaborel – OrbisTerrae.

‘If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?’
—David Hume

David Hume’s trilemma, quoted above, is the challenge we want to address today. The existence of a good god depends on two contradictory challenges to its existence being fulfilled. From a Marxist perspective contradiction would only strengthen the case for something being real. That being said, we live in the material world and not the idealistic one. Contradictions must be addressed, even if they are never overcome. Through living within the contradiction we can form something new.

The contradiction of the existence of a good god is that there is bad in the world. The skeptic rightly says that either this god is not powerful enough to stop the bad or is not good enough to stop the bad. It would be a mistake for anyone who sees something bad or good happen to think of it as something that person deserves. Unfortunately many religious tyrannies are formed upon this assumption.

Ironically the believer in god should not, if they really believed, have any certainty about the existence of god, let alone the particular form. If the believer truly believed they would not persecute the non-believer or the one who believed in something else. If there really is a more powerful force than human beings out there who runs the universe it would be most natural for human beings to make errors not only in the question of existence of said order, but also in the shape of the order.

Therefore anyone who demagogues a certainty about such order is not proving their own belief, but rather their own doubt. The believer can simply believe and does not have to prove anything to anyone. There is nothing magical about knowledge, even if it is in practical terms, more essential than belief. The entire point of believing is that you don’t know and you choose to believe. If one knows they do have faith, they simply know.

But that is just an aside on and an example of our own errors. The contradiction of all-good and all-powerful is what we want to address here. There is an error in this line of thinking that will be productive to address. The error is that we assign an individualism to our logic that makes little sense when we are talking about the divine order of the universe.

Think about the arbitrary nature of dividing karma into individual bodies and souls. We assume that if one person does good, they should be rewarded with good things, and if one person does bad, they should be punished with bad things. This implies that the masters of the divine order, whether they are conscious or not, would choose to divide us into individuals to assess us and reward us.

This is an error in our perception. We conceive of ourselves as individuals. We feel our own pain and pleasure and form our own egos. But the operation of the universe should be judged as a collective and we reach a point closer to the divine master when we can capture all its creation in our mind. We make a mistake when we only imagine ourselves.

Let’s take the example of climate change. We live in the moment of mass extinction. This is a moment where we cannot be pessimistic enough. It is said, and rightly so from a humanitarian perspective, that those who contributed the least to climate change are suffering the most under it. In short, those who use the least amount of earth killing resources are least equipped to deal with climate catastrophe. This is the most important point and more important than what I am writing about.

But what is there to say about this? The world is an awful place and we must put all hands on deck and help the most vulnerable. If you are reading CounterPunch, you are likely doing this already, but we’ll interrupt this preachy nonsense with a reminder to do it again, to double your efforts, and to act with the radical pessimism and love this moment calls for.

That being said, we are all limited as human beings. This likely is an error too, but we often need faith, a belief in a higher, better order, to go on without despair. So let’s hope this helps with those who are tired and have given up.

If we were pessimistic enough we might be able to say that those suffering the most under climate change are being mercifully given a way out of this cruel cold, I mean, hot world. On the other hand, that cannot be our politics. We want to give everyone another day to try and figure this out, and feel some joy along the way, even if 99% of it is bullshit.

What can be said about those who commit the least evil suffering the most? Not 100% of the time, but most of the time. What can be said is that while we may think of each of our own karmic fates individually, a divine order surely does not.

It may even be true, and this is surely beyond our understanding, that those most loved, those closest to the divine rule, are chosen to suffer for the whole of creation. This is not to idealize or fetishize suffering. But it is to admit that suffering is inevitable and it has to be grappled with in a way that doesn’t involve us giving up.

The divine ruler, if it must be called a god, likely does not conceive of our suffering on individual levels. Let’s hope our divine ruler is nothing like our actual rulers; nothing like Bill Clinton, who says with a smirk that he “feels your pain”.

The divine ruler is beyond human pain and suffering. It gives the hardest task to its strongest. For those who are weak it gives earthly rewards, earthly desires, and earthly misconceptions. The joke the divine ruler plays is one we can smirk at, if we can bear a grin.

The god’s favored come with a consciousness closest to its own. It grasps and holds within it the pain and pleasure of all creation and acts upon all creation’s behalf. Only those far away from the universe can feel for themselves alone. We need not have proof of happiness for those who are closest to the holistic steps with the universe. Happiness is no guarantee.

We hope that for moments happiness is found on the way. The task is not happiness. The task is the truth. The task is to be radically within reality which reaches in space and time far beyond the inner demons that dominate our headspace.

Within our world consciousness is unique to human beings and it only brings us lies. We form a language to describe what is around us but it is only capable of giving us a false illusion of understanding. We must lie in order to act. We must come up with a practical miscomprehension to do what needs to be done. We also must step back and remember why we do what must be done and remember that our quest is truth even if we cannot get around to it very often.

If we imagine ourselves as individual cells within one organism we can think of good cells perishing in order to take out bad cells. We can think of climate change in this way and in this way it is a radically progressive force.

We can think of how unfair the world is, if we want to. We can think of all the animals and plants and poor people being destroyed by climate change and how the worst of us are likely to persist the longest absent a communist takeover of the means of production. However this is to choose an interpersonal perception and this is an error.

We can spend our days comparing the righteous and the sinners or we can get our hands dirty and get to work trying to make things better. It’s not like we shouldn’t have doubts or bad days or anger at injustice. But we should limit our pessimism to this hellish world and keep hope in a radical beyond, which could be in this world, but likely is in another.

Climate change is a radically progressive chemotherapy of sorts. It may be taking out the good cells at a rapid rate but it also will take out the bad ones. When it is all said and done the earth will go on for a long time and the universe even longer. It may look like the evil are favored but this is not the case.

One of two things will happen. Either the working class and the left saves the day or the whole thing ends for humans and planet earth and creation generally, one day, is better for it. This is a moment of massive suffering and death and we should feel that. This means we are close to the creator and more importantly all creation. On the other hand we can only do so much. We do our best and at the end of the day creation, either by elimination of the human race, or by the working class control of the human race, ends up as progressive.

We can and should hold onto what we know and who we are. The little things, the little relationships we have, matter. It is what we have and as small as it may be we make meaning out of it and we are right to. But the universe is a place that exists because one way or another it solves its own problems.

We are lucky if we come close to grappling with these ones, too. The earthly reward, some kind of redemptive heaven, is an error in our perception as well. Those who create statues of themselves are struggling with this idea of being alive, tied to the alive universe forever.

We have better odds of being alive forever by tying ourselves to the fate of the universe in a different way. By becoming part of it we guarantee our own immortality, not in any conscious sense, where suffering is inevitable, but rather in a real and true sense, in a way our little minds will never comprehend.

So the divine power can be all-knowing and all-good. There is a contradiction there but the contradiction lies within our own understanding of the world and its actuality. We are destined to miss the point because our reality is ourselves and as we die we live on only through our connection to what is real and true, and not to our allegiance to our own ego and legacy.

So our despair about our own condition is real, but only real to us. The only way to overcome it, not all the time, but at certain moments, is to remember, as unnatural as it may be, that we are being used for something more. We are being used for a plan we do not understand and if we ever understood it we would become miserable about that too.

Is this a coherent theology? Can we really establish upon firm footing that our suffering, not only our egos, but our pain, is marginal within the grander task we have? This is wholly unnatural in its own way. The plants and animals dying off are not being asked to be in opposition to their own success, they merely are having violence thrown upon them. Nor should we take our own suffering as a positive per se, let alone a goal.

We merely should take this suffering within the context of our own ability to relate to the universe. We let our pain become too large and it overwhelms us when we choose to disengage from the messy universe. To us our pain matters and we are left to ask if our creator cares for us.

The answer is, yes and no. The creator cares for each of us, but not as each of us. We are rather cared for collectively, and each small part that suffers matters, but only as a small part. The existence of the universe relies upon a process, one which we are all in all fortunate to be able to comprehend.

This process however relies upon sustaining life in a way that involves constant change. One cell dies off for the betterment of the whole. It is not as if there isn’t care for each one of us. But rather there is the expectation that each one of us is a part of each other and to some extent our existence is given purpose by the whole.

So we are fortunate to grasp reality. One moment of joy makes a thousand moments of pain worth it. And it is on these pessimistic grounds we must continue to make this world and our communities better. The plot against us isn’t that deep. It comes not from a higher power, who is on our side, but rather from those trying to play the higher power, making their own little kingdoms that will not last the test of time.

In other words we should act with confidence that we have the universe on our side as long as we remain close to it. There is no time for despair. There is a world to save. Much is made today of the word privilege and people are right to point to privilege as a term that indicates misunderstanding and ignorance. But this earthly privilege is nothing compared to the privilege of being part of a universe that stands immortal through space and time.

We do not have to spend our days being grateful or enjoying it. But when the cross becomes too much to bear, we would do well to remember we have been chosen and this is the greatest privilege. The joke that we are playing upon people like Bill Clinton is that his lack of connection to the pain leaves him impoverished and that by cutting welfare for the poor he is cutting off his nose despite his face. The universe is a joke and if we are in on it one smirk by those who know is worth more than an infinite amount by those who don’t.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at