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HTS Theological Studies

Print version ISSN 0259-9422

Herv. teol. stud. vol.64 n.4 Pretoria Oct./Dec. 2008

 

BOEKBESPREKINGS / BOOK REVIEWS

 

 

Cooper, T D 2007 - Dimensions of evil: Contemporary perspectives

Publishers: Fortress Press. Paperback 285 pages. Price: Unknown

Reviewer: Ms Anastasia Apostolides (University of Pretoria)

This book deals with the problem of evil. Terry D Cooper, a Professor of Psychology at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, analyzes how evil is understood by the multiple perspectives of evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, philosophy and systematic theology, ethics, feminist theory, liberation theology and so on. Cooper examines the works of pivotal thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Sigmund Freud, Aaron Beck, Carl Jung, Paul Tillich and Phil Hefner, to name but a few. Cooper aims to investigate the destruction caused by evil in the natural, psychological and social or systemic realms experienced in life. Cooper begins by stating that "writing a book on evil is an overwhelming task that can easily push an author into feelings of embarrassing grandiosity" (page 8), but also explains that this is "not a definitive book on the entire problem of evil", but a book that "furthers the conversation" on the problem of evil (p 9).

In chapters one and two Cooper explores Darwin's theory of evolution and the destructiveness of nature or natural evil that it presents. Darwin's work still remains a challenge to traditional theological views of God. Cooper furthers his examination of post-Darwinian theologies by examining the work John Haught and Langdon Gilkey, and then contrasts their viewpoints with the work of atheistic evolutionists Richard Dawkin and Daniel Dennett. Cooper tries to establish how far Darwin can be extended to describe evolutionary psychology and its explanation of human destructiveness.

In chapters three and four Cooper deals with human destructiveness from a psychological viewpoint. Cooper examines Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm and Ernest Becker. Cooper then uses the work of Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr to do a theological critique of Freud, Fromm and Becker. Next Cooper explores a cognitive perspective on evil, paying particular attention to the work of Aaron Beck, Carl Jung and John Stanford. Cooper then turns to the work of theologian David Augsburger on the issue of hate.

In chapters five and six Cooper looks at social explanations of evil. Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo and Roy Baumeister outlined and analyzed, that evil can be explained from a "dispositional" or "situationist" viewpoint. Next Cooper tackles the question of the relative importance of whether social and or individual sin should have the advantage in a discussion of evil. Cooper explores this question by bringing into contact feminist and liberation viewpoints with the work of theologians Langdon Gilkey and Reinhold Niebuhr.

In chapter 7 Cooper presents his concluding thoughts by drawing attention to twelve major convictions he derived from his explorations into the problem of evil. He concludes the book by stating: "My hope is that this survey of destructiveness - natural, personal, and social - a survey that is by no means exhaustive, will prove helpful as we continue both to understand and combat evil around us and within us" (p 264).

This is a thought provoking book on the problem of evil. Cooper succeeds in what he set out do in the beginning of the book: not to collapse one dimension of evil into another. Cooper was quick to establish in the beginning of the book that he was "deeply suspicious of reductionistic views of evil" (p 9). Cooper acknowledges the power of natural, personal and social or systemic evil and believes that a multidisciplinary approach is fundamental in the study of evil. This book is a must for anyone who is doing a study on the problem of evil.