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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

Willett explores the ways in which Hinduism uniquely deals with ideas related to evil and theodicy. First, Willett describes the context behind the two terms “evil” and “theodicy.” He explains that because of its ambiguous definitions, the term religion complicates our understanding of the term evil. Likewise, the Christian perception of evil creates significant problems when trying to consider the way that evil is a part of or related to other religions. Willet describes theodicy as the attempt to answer questions concerning the overwhelming amount of evil in the world and how one can “reconcile the belief of a good god with the existence of evil.” He notes that these questions of theodicy have been unique to the notion of a Christian God. Thus, all discussions of evil in which evil is diametrically opposed to goodness involve a Christian understanding. Hinduism, however, challenges these perceptions of evil, for this religion fails to dichotomize the polarities of good and evil. Hindu deities are not classified according to goodness; rather questions of goodness are addressed by karma. Next, the essay moves to a discussion of Karma as theodicy. Karma is defined as “a combination of the principles of cause-and-effect with the South Asian belief in rebirth or reincarnation.” Willet argues that Karma is not a systematic answer to the question of theodicy, meaning that “karma only seeks to explain the existence of evil and suffering,” not to reconcile how a good god and evil can simultaneously exist. Thus, this cause-and-effect approach cannot answer questions of punishment or the divine authorization of evil that Christian theodicy asks. Willet also notes the limitations of karma, such as its ability to undermine deities and interfere with free will. Finally, the essay discusses the way Hinduism deals with the conceptualizations of good and evil, choosing not to polarize these concepts as Christianity does. Instead, Willet explores various interpretations of good and evil within Hindu mythology. He notes that some myths claim that the creator deliberately fashioned a world with both good and evil, while other myths tell of religious figures whose level of good is ambiguous. Willet also points out that myths offer different explanations for why evil may exist and what purpose it serves. In sum, by setting aside Christian absolutes and polarities, this essay reveals the more nuanced, unique understandings of evil and theodicy that appear within the Hindu traditions.

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