Can We Know Good Without Evil?

This question was raised by one of a few friends who stayed with us this weekend and I wanted to throw it out for some feedback? Are the following perspectives a matter of relativity or are they capable of existing apart from one another? Better yet, are they interdependent on each other or is one the shadow of the other, whereas that from which the shadow is cast truly exists while the same is not true of the shadow itself? Can we know what good is without evil? Can we know love without hate? Can we know what is moral without the immoral? Can we know truth without lies?

If the answers to the above questions are yes, then what ramifications does that have on your beliefs about God? About what you may call “Heaven”? Whether you believe that Heaven is a place that you go when you die or whether it be an alternate reality in which one can presently live where all things are truly real, can it exist in either case as the proverbial yin without the yang?

Conversely, what might it mean if the answers are no?

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  • ginger

    you need to tell your wife she’s gonna have to give into blogging sometime… might as well be sooner rather than later! :)

    love you guys and miss you!

  • Brent

    There is no such thing as absolute good or evil. Good and evil are labels that society places on the actions of people. These labels can change from one society to another or with the passage of time.

    Take murder, for example. Few people today would hesitate to claim that murder or killing is absolutely evil. Not so fast. Ancient tribes (even the Israelites) found nobility in the killing of foreign tribes. Killing was evil when it took place within the community – not outside.


  • Jeffrey

    ginger, i agree. we need to get her blogging!

    Ah, brent, a very interesting thought! you say that good and evil are a matter of relativity and perspective. would you say the same of love and hate?

  • Brent

    Yes, probably even more so. Though most people probably wouldn’t agree with me on my position on good/evil, more would probably say that love and hate are relative to the individual. I would say that love/hate are often decided by individuals whereas good/evil are determined by societies. Of course these are generalizations and have other elements that have an affect.

  • Jeffrey

    Do you feel that such a dichotomy exists in just the physical realm or both the physical and the spiritual? If it is true in the spiritual as well, i would love to hear, errr read, your thoughts as to how it might affect the notion of an unconditionally loving God.

  • Brent

    I’m not sure I understand what you are asking. If you are asking if I think that “good spritual forces” (YHWH?) and “evil spritual forces” (Satan?) exist or interact with the physical world – the answer is a big “no.”

    I believe that the notion of an unconditionally loving god is a product of mankind rather than a revelation from above. If there really is some sort of higher force or a “ground of being,” as explained by Tillich, I don’t believe that there could be actions that we perform or thoughts we focus on that could actually offend that being. By definition, we would be so insignificant among the vastness of such a grand universe that has existed billions of years before we make an appearance.


  • Jeffrey

    lol, it’s true that previous question is quite unclear…but no, i wasn’t asking about the eternal God vs. Satan battle.

    You mention Tillich. Another term he uses for God or “ground of being” is the word “essence”. In fact, to my limited knowledge of his ideas, the notion of God being “essence” is essential to the “ground of being” thought process [that something MUST have come out of nothing at some point]. If everything came out of nothingness, that would mean it must have come out of God or “essence”. Would that mean that every created thing has within it the essence of God, hence, that everything is grandly significant to that essence and the cosmos?

  • Brent

    Ahhhh – essence. I must admit that if I were to subscribe to a created universe (which I don’t at this point – explanation below), I would have to hold the position that everything in existence is part of the same substance (sorry, Athanasius…). This would probably be something similar to pantheism.

    Due to my exposure to sceince a physicist as well as extensive readings in the areas of theology and philosophy, I currently don’t believe that everything had to come from nothing with the help of a creator. To use the causational polemic that the universe could not have come from nothing and, thus, there must be a creator creates a bigger problem than it solves. For if God existed before anything that was created came into being, where did God come from? Who created God? If the response is “well, he ALWAYS existed” – the problem comes back full circle. If something or someone (God) has always existed and one has no problem with that conclusion, then why can’t the universe have always existed?


  • Jeffrey

    interesting, if you were to believe in a created universe, what do you suppose would lead you to do so from a pantheistic perspective? [unless by pantheism you mean the broader definition of the universe itself as Deity, not simply a worship of many gods belief. If such is the case, then then answer to the previous question is obvious ;-) ]

    It is clear that you are considerably better read than I, but I shall continue. It is true that to believe in a something out of nothing creation is circular, which is where I feel that faith and rationale depart. Perhaps reason is but a step on the path towards faith. Nevertheless, likewise consider the absurdity of trying to understand through the physical what exists fully in the spiritual, or eternal, if you prefer. This is not to say, however, that eternal things cannot be realized in this world, but certainly not through it. Semantics?

    Since you have “extensive readings in the areas of theology and philosophy”, I assume one of which reading would have been Plato’s Republic. He, as well, addresses the aforementioned idea that the physical world is but a shadow of a grander reality in both his explanation of the “Form of the Good” and it’s illustration by the allegory of the cave in Book VII. Are you familiar with that line of thinking/allegory? If so, how does that affect your view of the universe?

  • Brent

    Yes, the definition of panentheism that I was referring to is “a doctrine identifying the Deity with the universe and its phenomena.” I am not a pantheist, however, which I think you already understand.

    Faith vs. Reason – I don’t think that most people reason their way to faith. It is difficult to approach religion (specifically Christianity and Islam) from a rational perspective and arrive at a conclusion of faith. Lee Strobel in his books “The Case for Christ ” and “The Case for Faith” possibly does the worst job attempting to present an apologetic case for Christianity.

    Faith and spirit cannot be explained by reason or science. Any attempt to do so digs a deeper hole. The push toward reason since the Enlightenment has lured the religious into a losing argument. Postmodernity may ironically be the savior of religion.

    I am quite familiar with Plato’s Cave. Where I would diverge from his conclusion that those who are enlightened deserve to lead those who are not enlightened is this: We are all equal. There is no hierarchy of humankind. When one of us is enlightened to a newly realized reality it is obligatory to share with the rest on level ground without condescension We all sit at a round table. No individual deserves to stand up and the pulpit and present his “truths revealed to him from God” without feedback.

    One of the problems with religion is that those in positions of power within a sect/denomination claim to “know the truth.” This truth claims to have been revealed by “God” and is universal across culture and time. – end of discussion. Religious leaders claim to have received their positions from God and use God’s Word to validate their own authority. This will not continue to work much longer and, as Spong claims exhaustively in most of his books, Christianity (and other religions) will die.

  • Jeffrey

    I agree with your assessment of Lee Stroble’s works, lol. It is true that most people would probably not reason their way to faith, but I do personally know one person who has. At any rate, my intent was not to communicate a resonance with or adherence to major Enlightenment ideas, but rather to say that questions that stem from God/”the Good”/the cosmos/essence/etc, often seem to precede belief or faith. Of course many times they do not, but that seems to be beside the point.

    I share the same deviance from the allegory of the cave with you, and could not agree more. I also agree with the problems you see in religion. Do you think postmodernity will actually save “religion” or do you think it will inspire something different altogether…something that people currently attempt to express through “religion”, yet do so unsuccessfully?

  • Brent

    A good question that I don’t think I could answer or even take a guess.

  • Jeffrey

    lol, np. i don’t typically (or at least try not to) fish for a certain answer when i ask a question. typically, i just enjoy hearing people’s thoughts on various things and discussing those thoughts, whether they’re the same as my thoughts or not. we can always learn from everyone we come in contact with…if we want to, that is.

  • Brent

    How would you answer your own question?

    I forgot to say that I hope something totally different comes out of this postmodern shift. There are 2000 years of baggage to overcome and it would be too difficult to reinvent religion. Its not my call, though, and I don’t really have too much invested in the big mess called religion.

  • Jeffrey

    I think, as you so eloquently and adequately put it, “the big mess called religion” is dying a slow and painful death, but that is a benefit to the world. For the record, I do not think church goers, religious people, et all are stupid, wrong, etc (for I was one for many years myself). I just personally feel in the depths of my spirit/soul/heart/whatever that there is a way of living that brings more freedom and Love than the religious system. Again, not that I am right and “they” are wrong, but just different. I’m learning to appreciate the differences that I have with people, rather than abhor and run from them.

    I do, obviously, want to help people live in this way that I and others have woken up to (but only if they are already searching for it), not because I think I’m right, but because it is so much greater. As a Father wants the best for his children, so do I want the best for those that I love. That said, I myself realize that I am continually waking up to this new reality and consciously realize that the way I see things now is not and will not be the end-all-be-all. This allows an openness to the life of Christ in me and/or through others to continually show me an increasingly better way. C.S. Lewis illustrated this with the analogy of a child drawing a circle.

    The child’s first attempt at the circle is a gross misrepresentation of the perfect idea of a circle, but it is the best that child can come up with at the time. Once they have learned to draw, their circle will be closer to the perfect form of the circle. These subsequent attempts at the circle are different from the others, not as black is from white, but in a clearer depiction of the highest aim. This is how I see the spiritual journey, continually awakening to increasingly more adequate depictions of the circle, if you will. It is a sad day when one believes that they have finally drawn the perfect circle. Unfortunately, this is the dogma that religion often fosters…

    sorry for the length of this comment.

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