Chester, Oscar, and the Problem of Evil

Last night I began reading Oskar i Pani Róza, which is originally Oscar et la dame rose ( and in English would be Oscar and Ms. Rose. It’s about a ten-year-old dying of cancer and a volunteer he makes friends with, named Ms. Rose. When Ms. Rose suggests that Oskar write to God, he replies that he doesn’t believe in God. She suggests that perhaps he should write anyway:

“Maybe you would feel less lonely?”
“Less lonely with someone who doesn’t exist?”
“Why not check if he exists?”
She bent down close to me and said, “Every time you believe in him, he’ll exist a little more” (15, my translation).

Believing in something makes it more real? Is that what she’s saying? Of course it is, and of course it’s true. Does that mean that God exists only in our heads, that we create him by believing in him? Not quite, I think, but strangely enough, taking a leap of faith and just believing seems to make it more believable.

Czeslaw Milosz wrote in The Captive Mind (,

The Catholic Church wisely recognized that faith is more a matter of collective suggestion than of individual conviction. Collective religious ceremonies induce a state of belief. Folding one’s hands in prayer, kneeling, singing hymns precede faith, for faith is a psycho-physical and not simply a psychological phenomenon.

Doing leads to believing. Believing is, in a sense, encapsulated in this “doing,” and so paradoxically, as Ms. Rose seems to be saying, believing leads to believing.

This is also the question in Life of Pi, though much more directly than in Oskar. I remember the quote, something like “If you stumble at believability, what is there left to live for?” Or something like that.

I was making a sandwich or something last night – perhaps pouring a brandy, I can’t remember – and I thought, “It would indeed be nice to believe in something out there, something bigger than us that we can count on to help us when we need it.”

The trouble with that is simply that I don’t see help where help is most needed – in the suffering of a child: the painful and incomprehensible suffering that child might have to endure before dying, and that’s the “problem of evil” as I frame it. Not just any evil – incomprehensible evil.

All evil can be understood on some level by adults.

Incomprehensible evil is that which attacks children, like children in Rwanda who were hacked to death with a machete because of their ethnicity when the notion of “ethnicity” is so foreign to them that it would be difficult to explain it to them.

2 thoughts on “Chester, Oscar, and the Problem of Evil

  1. So, one thing that puzzled me once I started thinking seriously about alternatives to monotheistic religions of the book is why that “something larger” necessarily had to be The Largest Thing Evar And Can Beat You Up Right Now So Get In Line. Seems to me that there’s a lot of middle ground that could be explored there…

  2. “Seems to me that there’s a lot of middle ground that could be explored there”

    That’s what I’m thinking too, these days — part of the motivation of branching out with this new site…

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