In the battle of Good versus Evil, who wins?
In Herman Melville’s works, Good and Evil often play a large role and they are pitted against each other. However, in many of his works, in the battle of Good and Evil, paradoxically, Evil somehow wins. This was one reason why his books were attacked as “immoral,” and “evil,” in his time. Melville was no Satanist. He was raised Christian, but his belief kept waxing and towards the end of his life, there was little remaining of it.
Nevertheless, he read extensively in the Bible, in particular, Song of Songs, Solomon and Ecclesiastes. All of these were written by or were about King Solomon, the son of King David. He also read extensively in the Book of Mormon. Biblical and other Christian religious allegories are sprinkled liberally throughout his books, in particular, the 600 page poem Clarel, about a journey to the Holy Land.
When Good and Evil go to war and Evil wins, this poses a serious problem for most religious people, in particular the Abrahamic religions which believe in an activist God. For if God exists and is an activist, when Good and Evil go to war, in most if not all cases, Good is supposed to win over Evil, as God is always thought to be stronger than the Devil. After all, no religion suggests that the Devil rules the world. All Abrahamic religions hold that God rules the world. The Devil tries to intrude and do his mischief of course, but when they go mano to mano, God ought to be able to deal with The Evil One quite handily.
Therefore, if there is a fight between Good and Evil and Evil wins, something has gone horribly wrong, and this poses a dilemma for most religious people. Melville interpreted this to mean either that there was no God at all or that if He existed, He was more or less sleeping on the job, and perhaps he ought even to be fired!
The religious have all sorts of explanations for how an activist God allows bad things to happen. They say he is testing us. They say that the Good people are not so good. This is reminiscent of how Puritanical feminists say Nice Guys (TM) are not really so nice after all, this is why women treat them like crap (and this is not the only way that feminists are similar to modern Comstocks). For instance, the Abrahamic Orthodox Jews said that the Jews rebelled against and defied God, and God responded with the Holocaust to punish Jewish rebellion. The solution is for the Jews to act better.
As you can gather, these explanations are quite weak when they are not grasping for truth and morally repugnant. I think we ought to just reject them all for now as lacking evidence and so strange as to seem false on their face.
So we move to Melville’s moral dilemma. We can either go towards atheism or agnosticism, or we go move into Deism. My father was actually a Deist, at least towards the end of his life, but he always hated Christianity and generally refused to go to church much to my mother’s chagrin. Deism was popular around the time of the US Revolutionary War, but it no longer has much popularity. After all, it is rather depressing to feel that you are on your own.
Another possibility is some sort of modified Deism. When I was working as a linguist for an Indian tribe, I asked a prominent anthropologist, Sylvia Broadbent, about the religious beliefs of the local Indians. They are now all fundamentalist Christians, but this is a modern thing. They also insist that they believe in a Great Creator, but this is another modern addition, as I deduced after a while. After the Indians became Christianized, many Indians across the US decided that they believed in a Great Creator, a notion that they took from Plains Indians tribes who apparently did have this notion pre-contact.
Yet pre-contact, there is little evidence that California Indians were much more than animists who believed that the world was alive with magic and spirits which could be manipulated by those who could do so. They did believe in life after death. Souls went to the West, to the Land of the Dead.
However, there was little belief in an almighty God. Broadbent felt that there was some notion of a Creator God, but this was more Deistic than anything else. Broadbent described the theory as Deux Obtusa, or the Lazy God. This was sort of the idea that God created the world, but He has not done a whole heck of a lot ever since. He mostly just sits up there in Heaven taking bong hits. Every now and then, when he is not too stoned, he wakes up and intervenes in our world a bit. Then he goes back to the bong. I like the notion of a lazy God, and even though I am a Christian, this is the sort of a God that I believe in.
How can we reckon that Evil often defeats Good? We can say that we live in a naturalistic world, and bad things happen to good people, by chance more than by design. And in a naturalistic world, a lazy God could indeed exist.