Excerpted from “Values, Evil, and Liberation Theo-logy” in
Process Philosophy and Social Thought,
ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. and W. Widick Schroeder, Chicago: Center for the
Scientific Study of Religion, 1981, 183-96. (Originally in
Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 1979, 1-15.) To highlight Griffin’s compact and
accessible discussion of ideas he has expounded in greater detail
elsewhere, I deleted whatever bore directly on liberation theology,
wherever I could do so without sacrificing intelligibility. The title of
this excerpt is mine.
Intrinsic Values and the
Problem of Evil
David Ray Griffin
. . . By “intrinsic
value” I mean anything that is experienced as enjoyable and fulfilling.
The three basic types of intrinsic value I call (1) receptive values, (2)
achievement or self-actualizing values, and (3) contributory values.
in which the value experienced comes mainly from the reception of
values flowing in from the environment. (Of course, every experience
involves some degree of self-determination; there is never any
purely passive reception. But one can distinguish between those
values that are primarily receptive in nature and those in which
creative activity is paramount.) The enjoyment of food and drink, of
a comfortable chair, of a warm fire on a cold night, of a massage, and the
experience of a healthily-functioning body are examples of receptive
Also included would
be the feeling of being loved. Sexual enjoyment would also fit at
least partially under this category, although it usually involves all the
other values too—which is why it is such a complex matter.
self-actualizing values require active exertion to be enjoyed.
Some of these primarily involve what we ordinarily call “mental” activity,
such as the enjoyment that comes from solving a problem, writing a book or
a symphony that conforms to the ideals we honor, making decisions that
conform to the ethical ideals we accept, governing a country well.
Others involve an equal amount of mental and bodily activity, such as
playing the piano, playing tennis, singing, public speaking, running the
mile, skiing, mountain climbing. In any case, the enjoyment comes
from striving for and achieving some possibility that is considered
inherently important. The enjoyment comes as much from the
activity—from the free, creative actualiza-tion of the self’s
capacities—as from the actual final achievement. Referring to them
as both “self-actualizing” and “achievement” values brings out both
dimensions of the experience.
The third kind I
call contributory values. Here the value comes from the
anticipation that your present activity is going to contribute positive
value to other experiences. These can be your own future
experiences, as when you derive present value from knowledge or skill you
are gaining that will help you attain receptive or achievement values in
the future. But these other experiences are not limited to those in
your own future. A father enjoys the thought that his present
efforts will contribute to the happiness of his children; most performers
get enjoyment not only from the achievement value of performing some
art-form well (combined with the expectation that the monetary payment
will help them acquire the means for certain receptive values) but also
from the expectation that their performance will be a source of enjoyment
for other people; and we at least hope there are some politicians who get
part of their enjoyment from the sense that they are doing something to
contribute to the general good.
There is a sense in
which this three-fold analysis of intrinsic values could be reduced to a
two-fold analysis. The receptive values could be simply contrasted
with the other two types, which can be classed together as “active” or
“creative” values. And I will often refer to them in this way.
But it is helpful to distinguish between these latter two, since the
anticipation of contributing something beyond the present moment is a
value quite distinct from that which comes from realizing an ideal in that
moment, even though both of them require exertion. For one thing, it
brings out the fact that we are not totally egoistical, and that acting
morally can be intrinsically enjoyable.
. . . [A]ll three
types of value are essential to any truly human life, and hence of course
to human fulfillment. This is generally seen, more or less clearly,
by people in regard to their own situation, but it is often not seen in
regard to other people. In particular, people are usually more or
less conscious that the active values—the achievement and contributory
values—are an essential part of their own lives, but quite often fail to
see that other people need to experience these too.
There is a sense in
which the receptive values are more basic than the active values. A
certain number of them are essential to life itself. Without
sufficient nutrition, warmth, and sometimes medicine, a person will simply
die. . . .
This analysis of
values may also point the way to showing how some of the true interests of
various groups may be more capable of joint fulfillment than sometimes
thought. Insofar as the perceived interests of all people consist in
the possession and use of ever-increasing amounts of material resources as
the source of receptive values, immense conflict of interests is
inevitable, given the finitude of the natural resources. But if
people can come to perceive their true interests to consist as much or
more in the ability to enjoy achievement and contributory values, then,
although it seems unlikely that conflict over material resources will ever
be eliminated, the conflict can be somewhat mitigated.
. . . If there is a
good God who is Creator and Lord of history, why does this God allow
people to be oppressed? Why does this God create them with a need
for receptive values and then not see to it that they all at least have
enough protein and calcium for their brains and bones to develop normally?
Why does this God create them with a desire to exercise their creativity,
and to make a contribution to the world, and then not guarantee that these
desires would not be thwarted time and time again?
. . . The most
common solution to the problem of evil in traditional theologies was to
deny that there is any genuine evil, that somehow everything would turn
out for the best, that somehow the totality would be better because of all
the sin and suffering. But this . . . must be rejected.
has been simply to affirm both statements (that God is good and yet is the
sole power and hence the cause of all evil), admit that they are logically
contradictory, and then say, “So much the worse for (ordinary) logic.”
(The more traditional way of stating this answer has been to refer to
“mystery.”) But this is clearly unsatisfac-tory; God is the God of
truth, including our ordinary logical procedures for discovering truth, as
well as the God of justice. Besides, the continued affirmation of
the traditional doctrine that God is in complete control of history will
simply perpetuate stoic resig-nation to oppression, on the one hand, and
induce more atheism, on the other. Furthermore, the most common
method for showing the untruth of our opponent’s position is to point out
the contradiction in it. It is clearly unfair to use this method to
dis-credit our opponents’ positions and then to appeal to “mystery” when
they point to contradictions in ours.
Another solution is
to say the powers of evil have already been decisively defeated although
they are still very active. This is the solution offered by Karl
Barth. It is designed to support God’s power by saying that God has
in fact already defeated evil. But then one can still ask, “If God
is good, why does God allow these powers of evil to continue to act as if
they had not already been defeated?” Barth’s answer is that God
thinks it is good for us to exist as if evil had not been mastered, so
that we will flee to the One who has conquered it. But does not this
answer again suggest that oppression and suffering are not really evil,
and also make us question the goodness of this God—not to mention the fact
that it implies that God is psychologically insecure? (Does God really
need us to “flee to him”?)
Another answer that
has been given recently is that God suffers with us—Patripassianism is
coming into its own. . . . I, too, as a process theologian, am a
Patripassianist, and believe that this must be a necessary element in any
satisfactory position. But it cannot by itself supply a sufficient
answer. If the doctrine of divine power is left unmodified, the fact
that God suffers with us simply raises more questions. In
particular, it raises the question of whether God is a divine masochist.
Why should God undergo all that suffering if it is not necessary? . . .
One way to modify
the traditional doctrine of omnipotence is with the doctrine of a
voluntary divine self-limitation. According to this view, God is, or
at least was, essentially omnipotent in the way stated by Augustine,
Aquinas, Calvin, and Barth. But God freely gave up complete control
of the world in creating free creatures, especially humans. This
doctrine allows one to continue worshipping God as all-powerful, and yet
to retain belief in God’s goodness by seeing the evil in the world as due
to the misuse of created freedom.
While this is
preferable to the other solutions, it also has problems. The most
serious one is that it still raises questions about God’s goodness.
If God relinquished absolute power voluntarily, then God could, at any
time, reclaim it. And if this is possible, why does not God do so
occasionally, in order to prevent particularly horrendous evils? The
answer usually given is that God does not want to violate our freedom.
But, as precious as freedom is, is it so valuable that God should not
override it every once in a while, to prevent some unbearable suffering?
After all, it would have taken only a split-second’s violation of the
world’s freedom to convert Hitler, or induce a heart-attack in him.
Surely if God could reassert divine omnipotence from time to time, these
kind of things should be done. Of course, some people still believe
that God does miraculously intervene occasionally, setting aside the
ordinary chain of causation. But if God really does miraculously
intervene to prevent certain evils, why does God not do it in all the
similar cases, and even more in worse cases? Of course, lengthy, complex,
and sophisti-cated answers have been offered, but they finally come down
to the denial that God finds oppression and suffering offensive enough to
bother to intervene. And if it is not that offensive to God, should
we lay our lives on the line to fight against it?
solution is simply to deny all active power to God: if God has any power,
it is only the passive power to suffer with us. . . . I would argue
against this solution, not only because I think it untrue, but also
because it would undercut the hope that is necessary for commitment.
. . . The central
point is this: the reason God does not prevent all the evil in the world
is that God simply cannot. That is, God cannot do it
unilaterally. God can and does bring about all sorts of good,
and hence prevents all sorts of evil. But God does this in and
through us, the creatures. God acts directly upon every event in the
world, and hence indirectly through every event. But each of these
events is partially determined by its environment, and is partially
self-determining. This creative power to form themselves and to
influence others is possessed by different events to different degrees;
those events which are moments of conscious human experience have the
greatest degree of this power, among creatures. This creative power
is not given by God to the creatures, as if there could be creatures
without this creative power. Rather, this creative power is inherent
in finite actualities as such. Hence, the fact that there are
limitations on God’s power to effect the divine will is not due to a
voluntary self-limitation, but is inherent in the very nature of things.
There simply could not be a world in which one being would have a monopoly
on power, which is what would be needed for God unilaterally to be able to
prevent all evil. This is another way of saying that God’s power is
necessarily persuasive power; it could not be coercive, in the
sense of controlling. God is the ultimate power of the universe, but not
the sole power.
This is one of the
two basic ideas in the position I suggest. The other one is that
there is a set of variables that are necessarily correlative. These
(1) the capacity to
(2) the capacity to
(3) freedom, or the
power of self-determination;
(4) causation, or
the power to influence others—for good or evil.
Saying that these
four variables are necessarily correlative means that they necessarily
rise proportionately to each other. For example, if one creature has
a higher capacity to enjoy values than another, it will also necessarily
have more creative power to determine itself, and more creative power to
influence others. For example, we believe that a human being is
capable of enjoying all sorts of values that are far beyond the wildest
dreams of a cat; the human being also has much more freedom for
self-determination, and can contribute much more good to others, but also
much more evil.
My suggestion is
that throughout the evolutionary process by which God created our world—by
stimulating the creatures’ own creative powers—these variables increased
proportionately to each other. So, although God is not responsible
for the world’s having any creative power at all, God is
responsible for there being creatures with the high degree of creative
power that we have. In this sense, and only in this sense, is God
responsible for the sin and suffering in the world. Without
creatures with the power of conscious self-determination, there
could be no sin; likewise without creatures with conscious
experience, the suffering in the world would be relatively insignificant.
The creation of a world of our type is a risk, since God cannot
unilaterally control things and hence prevent evil.
But it is a
necessary risk—necessary if any significant values are to be enjoyed. One
simply could not have creatures who could enjoy the high-level kinds of
receptive, achievement, and contributory values that we enjoy, and yet who
were incapable of sin, destructiveness, and suffering.
Hence, while there
is a sense in which God is responsible for the sin and suffering in the
world, God is not indictable—unless someone would prefer a world without
any of the higher forms of life at all.
It is at this point
that the recent emphasis on God’s own suffering is especially important.
Our belief that God suffers with us, symbolized by the cross, gives
support to our sometimes faltering conviction that the risk of all the
oppression and suffering in this world was a risk worth taking, that human
life is so precious that it is worthwhile in spite of all the suffering.
For, the risk of suffering was a risk for God—God is the one being who
experiences all the suffering. At the same time, the belief
that the suffering in the world causes equally intense suffer-ing in God
reinforces our conviction that this suffering is genuinely and ultimately
evil, not relativized by some cosmic perspective beyond good and evil, and
hence that it is to be battled against wholeheartedly. Likewise, the
belief that God not only suffers with our sufferings, but also rejoices
with our joys and is fulfilled by our fulfillments (what else, if God is
truly love?), undergirds our commitment to work towards a human society in
which the joys and fulfillments that are now all too occasional and
fragmentary will be the rule rather than the exception—a society under the
rule of God. For we, inspired by God, work toward such a society not
only for the sake of ourselves and our descendants, but also for the sake
In broadest outline
this is the view of the God-world relation that I think liberation
theologies need. It is in fact in some of them. But it is not
stated very loudly, especially the point the God cannot unilaterally
prevent evil. I realize that there are various objections to
advocating such a view, and especially for doing so too loudly. Some
of these objections could, I believe, be answered by a fuller presentation
of the position. But some legitimate objections would still
doubtless remain. Neverthe-less, I believe the reasons for holding such a
view, and advocating it clearly, outweigh the disadvan-tages. Here are
some of them:
(1) This view
unambiguously protects our two-fold conviction that God is good and that
oppression is evil.
(2) It does this
without any special pleading—without any appeal to a “special logic” or to
(3) This view
expresses the essential presup-position of liberation theology, that the
ultimate power of the universe not only wills the end of oppression, but
is continually active in the world toward this end. Hence we do not
battle alone and solely by our own strength, but as empowered by
the ultimate power of the universe.
(4) At the same
time, this view does not suggest that God’s aims will be achieved
regardless of what we creatures do, a view which logically undercuts the
importance of our efforts. Rather, God’s aims will be achieved only
through us, and hence only if and to the degree that we respond.
Posted August 27, 2007