Making sense of evil
Former Parisian Guillaume Bignon examines what evil actions tell us
After the terrorist attacks in Paris reached New York where Gulliaume Bignon lives, the Paris-born former atheist spoke out on what his beloved France needs to consider in its predominate secularism.
As a theologian currently pursuing his doctorate, he writes in Premier Christianity magazine, "The way I see it, there are only a couple of ways to think through this evil.
"The only option for French atheists is to maintain that there isn't really any such thing as evil.
"When one denies the existence of God as a transcendent creator of the universe who ordains how humans ought to live their lives, one is left only with conflicting opinions about what individuals like and dislike."
Gulliaume explains that if there is no God then there is no objective truth about the good and the bad. To deny God is to deny objective good and, with it, objective evil.
This perspective comes through strongly in the writings of popular French atheist philosopher André Comte-Sponville, according to Gulliaume.
"In his book L'esprit de l'athéisme, he says: 'good and evil do not exist in nature, and nothing exists outside of it'.
"The French atheist contends that the only morality that exists is a human construction, and one must keep in mind that it is 'illusory'. He concludes: 'This is what I call relativism, or rather, its positive side: only reality is absolute, every judgment of value is relative.'"
Few ordinary French atheists would be this clear-minded, Gulliaume argues, so he presses further.
"In reality, to be a consistent atheist one must affirm that the Islamic terrorists in Paris didn't do anything 'wrong', as such. They only acted out of line with our personal preferences, (and in line with theirs). If there's no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, that's all we are left with."
To those who say this is crazy, and 'Of course terrorist acts are evil', Gulliaume responds, "I agree, which is why I think the reality of the evil we just witnessed makes atheism so implausible."
"We all sense there is something really, deeply, objectively evil about this," he continues.
That intuition can only be true if there is a transcendent God, a moral lawgiver, who gives good and evil a moral reality."
In that same book by André Comte-Sponville, Gulliaume notes that André rejects belief in God because 'people are too evil', which logically would mean people who do evil are not worthy of creation by a divine being.
“Hearts are heavy, and thinking objectively is difficult when it hurts”
"I leave it up to Comte-Sponville to harmonise those two beliefs," says Gulliaume, "but for now, let's just note that denying the existence of God, and with it the objectivity of evil, isn't attractive."
Some may ask, 'If God exists and is perfectly good, why didn't God prevent this evil?'
Guilliaume's response is that "on the Christian view, God isn't just passively letting history unfold – He is in providential control of all that happens, both the good and the bad. While my sweet Paris is grieving, the Bible states that God 'works all things according to the counsel of His will' (Ephesians 1:11).
"This means... that the biblical God, if He exists, must have righteous and just purposes behind even the evil we witness. That is both an entirely challenging and entirely hopeful thought! Of course what these purposes are we rarely get to know, but the positive side is that one can trust that God is good even when it hurts, and one can truly '#PrayForParis', knowing that God is in control and can in fact bring justice in response to our deepest longings."
"Hearts are heavy, and thinking objectively is difficult when it hurts. But ultimately, as the French face this seemingly purposeless evil, one side must deny that it's evil, and the other must deny that it's purposeless.
"As a former-atheist-turned-Christian-theologian there's no hiding which option I favour. I'm hoping that my fellow French would, as I did years ago, find life in Christ, repenting of their sins and placing their trust in Jesus. "