A.K. Anderson remembers the first time he ever really tackled the question of evil as it relates to faith. Raised in northeastern Tennessee, where simply discussing questions about the problem of evil can be construed as harmful to one’s faith, Anderson came to Wofford unaware of the doors about to be opened before him.
As a first-year student, Anderson read Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” For the first time, his faith was challenged with difficult questions. Only instead of shying away from those questions, he decided to welcome them. He didn’t see evil as something that would go away with a look in the other direction, but rather it might under close scrutiny lose its mastery over those it previously intimidated. He wrote both his comprehensive exam and his dissertation on the subject.
Now an associate professor of religion at Wofford, Anderson is digging further into the topic with his Community of Scholars project titled “A Voice from the Chilean Night: The Problem of Evil in the Works of Roberto Bolano.”
“I strive to make the introductory course I teach -- The Christian Faith -- fresh for my students,” says Anderson. “I like to rotate in new books, because it keeps me on my toes. And I try to give my class a global picture of Christianity, with perspectives from Africa, Asia and South America…not just America and Europe.”
Bolano, a man of humble background whose greatest accomplishments in life came after he was diagnosed with terminal liver disease, appealed to Anderson. His book “2666” won the National Book Critics Award this year for Best Fiction Published in English.
“I came across a review of his book “By Night in Chile,” which depicts the atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime in that country,” says Anderson. “The main character is a priest who tries to justify his inaction during that period.”
As the English philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” It’s a theme found in “By Night in Chile.” What is the Christian responsibility in facing evil in the modern world?
But there is another problem, according to Anderson. What if evil is around us and can’t be stopped?
Bolano’s “2666” is a fictional account (though closely paralleled to reality) of the ongoing murders and disappearances of some 400 women in Juarez, Mexico. There is no evil regime against which to protest. Evil is clearly present, but not readily visible.
Whatever the differences between Juarez and Pinochet’s Chile, both raise difficult religious questions, like the extent of justice in the world.
The problem of evil is a heavy subject, but one Anderson refuses to shy from.
“I felt really pulled to this topic,” he says. “I think religious believers should not be afraid to confront the problem of evil in its strongest, harshest forms. It’s only when we do this that we can feel we’ve truly reconciled our faith with the facts and nature of the world.”
Anderson was asked whether he feels his own faith has been strengthened after testing it constantly through the study of evil.
“Absolutely,” he says. “To use a sports metaphor, I think of it like a college team putting together its schedule. Does the team get stronger scheduling teams it knows it can beat, or does it improve by testing itself against competition that will truly challenge it?”