Omnibenevolence

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Omnibenevolence (from Latin omni- meaning "all", and benevolent, meaning "good")[1] is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". It is often held to be impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such property alongside omniscience and omnipotence as a result of the problem of evil. However, some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, argue the plausibility of co-existence. The word is primarily used as a technical term within academic literature on the philosophy of religion, mainly in context of the problem of evil and theodical responses to such. Although even in said contexts the phrases "perfect goodness" or "moral perfection" are often preferred because of the difficulties in defining what exactly constitutes 'infinite benevolence'.

Philosophical perspectives[edit]

The term is patterned on, and often accompanied by, the terms omniscience and omnipotence, typically to refer to conceptions of an "all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful" deity. Philosophers and theologians more commonly use phrases like "perfectly good",[2] or simply the term "benevolence". The word "omnibenevolence" may be interpreted to mean perfectly just, all-loving, fully merciful, or any number of other qualities, depending on precisely how "good" is understood. As such, there is little agreement over how an "omnibenevolent" being would behave.

The notion of an omnibenevolent, infinitely compassionate deity, has raised certain atheistic objections, such as the problem of evil and the problem of hell. Responses to such problems are called theodicies and can be general, arguing for the coherence of the divine, such as Swinburne's Providence and the Problem of Evil, or they can address a specific problem, such as Charles Seymour's A Theodicy of Hell.

Proponents of Pandeism contend that benevolence (much less omnibenevolence) is simply not required to account for any property of our Universe, as a morally neutral deity which was powerful enough to have created our Universe as we experience it would be, by definition, able to have created our Universe as we experience it.

Religious perspectives[edit]

The acknowledgement of God's omnibenevolence is an essential foundation in traditional Christianity; this can be seen in Scriptures such as Psalms 18:30: "As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him," and Ps.19:7: "The law of the Lord is good, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." This understanding is evident in the following statement by the First Vatican Council[original research?]:

The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God, Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible, infinite in will, understanding and every perfection. Since He is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, He must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined.[3]

The philosophical justification stems from God's aseity: the non-contingent, independent and self-sustained mode of existence that theologians ascribe to God. For if He was not morally perfect, that is, if God was merely a great being but nevertheless of finite benevolence, then his existence would involve an element of contingency, because one could always conceive of a being of greater benevolence.[4]

Theologians in the Wesleyan Christian tradition (see Thomas Jay Oord) argue that omnibenevolence is God's primary attribute. As such, God's other attributes should be understood in light of omnibenevolence. Christians believe in the idea of unconditional love.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Some Hyper-Calvinist interpretations reject omnibenevolence. For example, the Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its expression of this stance.


Islam does not hold to the idea of omnibenevolence:[5]

"God loves not the unbelievers" (Sura 3:33)
"God loves not the impious and sinners" (Sura 2:277)
"God loves not evildoers" (Sura 3:58)
"God loves not the proud" (Sura 4:37)
"God loves not transgressors" (Sura 5:88)
"God loves not the prodigal" (Sura 6:142)
"God loves not the treacherous" (Sura 8:59)
"God is an enemy to unbelievers" (Sura 2:99)

Rather, God has a conditional love of the elect:

"If you should love God, then follow me, God will love you and forgive you your sins." (Sura 3:31)
"Work and God will surely see your work." (Sura 9:105)
"Every soul shall be paid in full for what it has earned." (Sura 2:282)
"Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness and perform the prayer and pay the alms--their wage awaits them with the Lord." (Sura 2:278)
"To those who believe and do righteousness, God will assign love." (Sura 19:97)

Etymology[edit]

"Omnibenevolence" appears to have a very casual usage among some Protestant Christian commentators. The earliest record for its use in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in 1679. The Catholic Church does not appear to use the term "omnibenevolent" in the liturgy or Catechism.

Modern users of the term include George H. Smith in his book Atheism: The Case Against God (1980),[6] where he argued that divine qualities are inconsistent. However, the term is also used by authors who defend the coherence of divine attributes, including but not limited to, Jonathan Kvanvig in The Problem of Hell (1993),[7] and Joshua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz in The Divine Attributes (2002).[8]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/omnibenevolent
  2. ^ This phrase is used in many notable encyclopedia and dictionary entries, such as:
    • Tooley, Michael. "The Problem of Evil". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
    • Blackburn, Simon. "Evil, the Problem of". The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. 
  3. ^ "First Vatican Council". dailycatholic.org. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  4. ^ "The infinity of God". Catholic Encyclopaedia. newadvent.org. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  5. ^ William Lane Craig. "Is the Islamic Concept of God Morally Inadequate?". Reasonable Faith. 
  6. ^ Smith, George H. (1980). Atheism: The Case Against God. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-124-X. 
  7. ^ Kvanvig, Jonathan L. (1993). The Problem of Hell. Oxford University Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-19-508487-X. 
  8. ^ Hoffman, Joshua; Gary Rosenkrantz (2002). The Divine Attributes. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-21154-3.  Used throughout the book.

Further reading[edit]

  • Oord, Thomas Jay The Nature of Love: A Theology (2010) ISBN 978-0-8272-0828-5
  • Basinger, David. "In what sense must God be omnibenevolent?" International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 14, No. 1 (March 1983), pp. 3–15.
  • Flemming, Arthur. "Omnibenevolence and evil" Ethics, Vol. 96, No. 2 (Jan. 1986), pp. 261–281.
  • Wierenga, Edward. "Intrinsic maxima and omnibenevolence." International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 10, No. 1 (March 1984), pp. 41–50.
  • Smith, George H. Atheism: The Case Against God,(Skeptic's Bookshelf) Prometheus Books (June 1980). ISBN 978-0-8402-1115-6
  • Oppy, Graham. "Ontological Arguments and Belief in God" (Cambridge University Press) (1995), pp. 171–2.
  • Bruch, George Bosworth. Early Medieval Philosophy, King's Crown, 1951. pp. 73–77.

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