The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The paradox of both pessimism and optimism without compromise

I dont know if this has ever been addressed in the history of theology, but this has been something that has constantly bothered me. On one hand, the optimistic outlook does not recognize the existence of evil, while the pessimistic outlook does not recognize reality as ultimately good. It seems like the only options for pessimism is moral dualism and with optimism can lead to moral relativism. Frankly to deny the existence of evil, one would have to be extremely ignorant and pampered or be a cold person. Yet being “against” puts one at risk of harboring hatred, pride and malevolence. I have sometimes seen people resort to bland compromises(as Chesterton calls them) in affirming a little optimism and a little pessimism. Such as reducing all morality to one single issue, adhering to “might makes right” ideologies, going with the just world theory, entertaining “paradise lost” propaganda(such as the noble savage myth) or postmodern nihilism.

I know that we have used philosophical abstract models to understand the nature of evil. Such as the stance that evil is the absence of good, and therefore saying no to a no is a yes. On paper, this is an excellent answer to explain the problem of evil, and on paper works. But in practice is a much more difficult concept to live under. But this maybe just the limitations on human language, due to the nature of words being inherently dualistic. I will admit that poetry is a whole different.

I’d acknowledge the reality of evil (pessimist?), but also maintain hope that ultimately it will be defeated (optimist). The dualistic problem I see with this is explaining why evil should now exist if there is a good and omnipotent Deity who opposes evil. Of course, there are many theories as to why God would presently ordain or allow evil. But I must admit it’s a mystery to me, since I find none of those theories completely satisfying.

Are you familiar with the work from Jonathan Sach’s on how humans process religion? He uses the analogy of left and right brain, and how the left is concerned with logic, and taking things apart to figure out how things work, while the right is more concerned with putting the parts together as a whole. In religion and spirituality, I have seen two approaches with the more “magical” thinking spirituality and rational religion. I dont know about others, but I have found that much of modern religion over-endorses the rational at the expense of the romantic. I think this is why people are leaving religion, and prefer spirituality, and particularly new religions, such as neo-paganism, wicca and forms of new age, which do not have creeds, but more interested in stories and ritual. All the while, Atheists and secularists are still bent on dismantling rational religion through rationality, while calling it delusional. Yet, every Christmas, belief in the spectacular beyond the rational becomes paramount.

Okay, I was just pointing all this out, because it is quite difficult to work with the paradoxes of both left and right brained religion. I think that sometimes belief in Universal Salvation is categorized as magical thinking, particularly in the fundamentalist camps. Yet at the same time, I find that Universalists easily get pulled into the same strictly left brain approach to religion, and the same dualisms in Fundamentalism.

My motto: cheerful pessimism.