Why Christianity Is Far More Sensible Than Whatever You’re Doing Right Now

There are two ways to end small talk:

1. Stop mid-sentence, flap your arms, and scream like a Nazgul.
2. Mention that Christianity is the only existing worldview with a satisfying answer to the mystery of why we suffer.

Both methods result in all present diving under bushes and shaking in horrible conniptions, strangely tempted to put on a ring of power and kill you.

But, in the words of St. Augustine, let dem haters hate. Nothing but the God-Man satisfies the Problem of Pain.

For the Muslim, suffering is either the painful result of sin, or it is a test. Either you screwed up, or God’s screwing with you.

For the Buddhist, suffering is rooted in desire, and freedom from suffering comes from the transcendence of this desire. This always seemed an aristocratic pose to me, as the desire to perform charity and to smell a woman’s hair must be transcended along with the all base and material desires. And what about the desire to transcend desires? Does that get transcended? Perhaps I’m too Western to grasp it — and far too attached to my Macbook — but Buddhism seems to lose the baby with bathwater.

And Our Dear Auntie Atheist — may she live long and prosper — must be content with a discontented shrug. C’est la vie, et la vie sucks. She must retire and think on why, if suffering is simply a part of the natural universe, do we have within ourselves a desire to be without it? Does that imply we are made for another universe?

I imagine I could go on, grotesquely simplifying various religious views. But what is suffering?

This. This is suffering.

If a man sits on a stove, he suffers. But he doesn’t remain there, weeping. No, he jumps from the fires of Hell to — actually I don’t know. The sink? Could be difficult.

The point here is that suffering moves him from the bad to the good, from roasting to healing. Whether we’re being burned, frozen, crushed, slapped, poisoned, or smothered, it’s the suffering involved that demands we move — and move immediately – back to our normal, healthy state.

And this principle isn’t limited to the spiky realm of physical suffering — it encompasses the whole Veil of Tears. A man suffers when he is separated from his woman. In the manner of the old cliche (you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone), this suffering forces him to recognize the good of being with his love. Once again, suffering moves the man from the bad back to the good. For if he were to leave his lover and not suffer, only to forget and move on, why would he move back to her open arms?

It’s not the heroin that makes a man suffer, it’s the moving away from addiction that hurts, whether in rehab or for a few days without a fix. It’s not the act of watching pornography that causes a man to experience suffering. It’s the realization of the good he lacks (purity) that leads to suffering in the form of guilt, and the attempt to move back to the good (by not watching pornography) that makes him suffer physically — from withdrawal.

Enough examples then, allow me to put it in a phrase. Suffering is not a Thing. Whether in our bodies or in our hearts, suffering is an attempt to regain the Good. It is a motion, not a state. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, suffering is a wrenching into light, not a plunging into dark.

Well sure, I hear you say. Sure it makes sense, if you’re talking about bodily pain and separated lovers and all the rest. But what about children with leukemia? What about the gay kid who gets bullied to the point of suicide? What about the suffering that makes no sense? You could explain it as an ardent desire and attempt for the Good — whether in the body itself or in the will — but that doesn’t make it better. Sometimes the Good isn’t achieved.

The message of Christianity is quite simple: The world sucks. We are not where we want to be. The truth of this is validated by the man screaming in pain. He does not want pain, and yet pain is inevitable. Thus we arrive at a tension: The very being of man — which abhors pain — does not agree with the universe — which contains and deals out pain. Something is wrong. The atheist must deny that something is wrong, because to do otherwise would be to appeal to a supernatural standard.

Think about it: If all nature — with its cliff-edges, entropy, predators, and poisons — contains suffering, then to desire an end to suffering is to desire the supernatural, that which is outside of nature.

But Christianity doesn’t have this awkward problem. Christianity claims — rather obnoxiously — that sin is what went wrong. Human beings sinned — that is, they freely chose to act in contradiction to their own nature and in disobedience to God — and thus separated themselves from God, their Ultimate Good. You don’t have to believe this, obviously, but follow me for a bit.

For the Muslim, this is the end of the matter. We sinned, and got smacked in the head with suffering. But remember what was said? Suffering is not a Thing, like a smack in the head. It is a wrenching. It is an attempt — whether by the body or by the will — to get back to the Good. What was earlier applied on a personal scale — sitting on the stove etc. — can be applied on the universal scale: If man’s minor sufferings drive him towards his own minor Good, surely all Suffering drives all men back to their Ultimate Good?

Suffering is no punishment. It’s the method by which we are saved. We see this in our own lives, when it is through suffering that we obtain health, family, peace or success. Christianity simply claims that this truth are part of a larger picture.

In the Judeo-Christian creation story, the first thing God says to his children after they sin is this:

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”

To the non-Christian, God is being an ass. To the Christian, these words are the hope of the world. These words are not separate from those directly preceding them, in which God foretells the coming of a Savior who will cast out sin, death, and Satan from the world:

“And I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God’s decree that man will suffer is God’s decree that the world will be saved. For suffering is an attempt to regain the Good. God says, “Look, children, you screwed everything up. But there’s a way back. It’s called Suffering. It is the method by which everything will be made well.”

Does this make sense? If not, give it one more try before you leave. If it does, read on.

Now it seems to me apparent that the amount of suffering one experiences is directly proportional to the Good one seeks to obtain. If a man wants the good of a meal, he might run for it. Chances are he won’t cut off his hand. But if a man wants the good of his lover’s life, he may very well cut off both his hands — and his feet besides — in order to save her. I take this principle as self-evident.

But herein lies the rub: If the Ultimate Good of man is union with God, then man does not have the capacity to suffer enough for his own Ultimate Good. He cannot succeed at his attempt to regain Paradise (His Good). For God — outside of space and time — is infinite. Union with him is infinite union, a Good that cannot be achieved by human beings bound by space, time, and all manner of sin and weakness. An infinite Good requires infinite suffering.

“For God so loved the world…” Urinate upon and burn whatever cliches you’ve built up around those words. What is love? Desiring the Good of the beloved. I take this as self-evident. What is suffering? As we’ve established, it is the attempt to regain the Good. Thus love and suffering cannot be divorced. Let any man who claims he can love without suffering be hung as a liar, for to truly desire the Good of another (to love) is to be willing to work to move the other from the bad to the good (to suffer). Whether that Good be their safety, security, happiness, peace or just their full stomach, love sweats blood for it. Love suffers.

Suffering then, is the logical nature of a God who is Love itself. If — as we established earlier — love and suffering are inseparable — then Infinite Love willingly experiences infinite suffering. Enter Christ.

He is the one who suffers infinitely. He is the one who, because he loves you, suffers for you. If this claim of Christianity is true — that Infinite Love suffers infinitely on the Cross and thereby wrenches mankind from darkness into light — then all suffering is a part of this.

The cross is not bound by time. It is an action of an infinite God, and thus infinite in nature, saving those in the past, the present and the future. It is not an example of suffering, it is suffering. It is the motion of humanity towards the Good. This means that our sufferings — our motions towards the Good — cannot be separate from his — the Ultimate motion towards the Ultimate Good. We can never suffer alone. This is why Paul says “I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

For all those who understandably don’t like Bible quotes, I’ll put it simply. If Bob has an infinite number of blocks, can you own a block that is not Bob’s? Of course not, for then Bob would have infinity minus 1 block, which is no infinity at all.

In the same way, if Christ suffers infinitely, can you experience any personal suffering that is not Christ’s? Of course not. For then the action of Christ would be infinite minus your suffering, which is no infinity at all.

But then the Problem of Pain is resolved. For all suffering — even the most terrible, unexplainable, unbearable suffering — must be an essential part of the motion of reconciliation, the pulling of mankind back to God. The breast of the child dying with pneumonia heaves up and down with the strain of bringing the world back to its Father. The heart of the abused girl breaks with the weight of the world’s sin, as she hold us sinners up to the waters of Grace. All suffering must partake in the one act of infinite suffering, the Crucifixion, by which the world is brought back to the Good it was made for.

If this is true, no suffering is meaningless. If this is true, all suffering can be transformed in the heart of the sufferer by the simple recognition that this pain, this fear, and this stubbed toe — in some entirely mystical and entirely practical way — saves the world. All other world-views either ignore the problem of pain, accept it with resignation, or seek to avoid it. Christianity, that eternal contradiction, embraces it as salvation. Choose now who you will serve.

Am I saying Christianity is true? No, though I believe it to be. Rather, allow me to say this: The problem of suffering is the oldest and most fundamental problem for the human race. That there is no coherent, consistent and thorough answer to be found to the problem outside of the person of Christ should — at the very least — be indicative that belief in Christ is one of the most natural, human actions a man can perform.

Now go, no more Internet! Go love everyone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ethanfrantz Kenneth Ethan Frantz

    I <3 FCLC!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ethanfrantz Kenneth Ethan Frantz

    I <3 FCLC!

    • Cal-J

      Made me smile, alright.

  • Tom

    Wow….that was amazing, Marc. Your best post yet!

  • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com/ Dan F.

    Well done Marc, very well done.

  • Eli

    Wonderful as usual. My life is slightly better for having read this.

  • Marie Seale

    That was by far one of the most compelling, concise yet complete articulations of the meaning of suffering, the power of love and the truth of Christianity that I can remember reading. You have a gift! Thank you for placing it at the service of Christ and his Church.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kickintheface Jacob Timothy Michael Hughes

    This reminds me of a song called “Quicken” by Thousand Foot Krutch. The chorus ends with three two-word sentences. “Use us. Take us. Break us.” It is the cry of a man pleading that God bring him back to him, that the Lord break him. He is begging that the Master of the Universe will take him, break him down to nothing, and remove that which is not of the Lord. It is a man desiring suffering, because that is what we are meant for. Our love is meant to be violent. It is meant to be terribly horrific. It is designed to go against everything in nature. We are meant to stand in defiance of the tyranny that is the careless universe.

    • Livzda

      Or one of my favourites, by John Donne:

      BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
      As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
      That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
      Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
      I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due, 5
      Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
      Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
      But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
      Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
      But am betroth’d unto your enemie: 10
      Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
      Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
      Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
      Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kate-Harrison/506221740 Kate Harrison

    C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” is also an excellent read on this subject.

  • Anna Buckley

    You’re awesome. Best post yet, I agree. Miss you.

  • Jared

    Beautiful, Marc!

  • Marcel LeJeune

    You are going to make me give up blogging if you keep this up. I bow to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1008756465 Natalie Zavala

    you are so good! What a vessel of the Spirit!

  • Jessica

    Love this article, but unfortunately your logic regarding if one thing is infinite, then any similar thing must be included in the infinite group, is faulty. It just doesn’t hold up mathematically. For instance, the string of positive integers (1,2,3,… count forever) is infinite. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other numbers. 2.5 is a number, but wouldn’t be in that first string. Similarly, if Frank were to decide to bake an infinite number of pizzas, and he just kept making them and making them and making them, well, that doesn’t stop Sam over here from making his own pizza, too, in a different oven. Sam’s pizza would not magically become Frank’s.

    I’m sure there’s a better way to philosophically unify our suffering with Christ’s, but this isn’t it. It would probably have to tie into the fact that God is the Creator, which doesn’t just mean that he created the universe a whole bunch of billion years ago, but that he is actively creating and sustaining each atom in the universe at every single point in time. When we suffer, he is there, because our very existence (and therefore, our suffering) depends on him.

    Additionally, because Christ loves us, he suffers when we suffer–the same way a parent suffers even when justly punishing their child–and thus our suffering is always connected to his.

    • Ratio et Fides

      Almost posted the same thing!

    • Thomas L. McDonald

      I wouldn’t get too hung up on the word “infinite”. If you prefer, you could phrase it as “perfect Love requires perfect Suffering.”

      • Jessica

        Agreed, and I don’t mean to nit-pick, but in my experience if you can find errors in your own apologetics, those who you’re trying to convince will find them, too! Best to fix them first if you can, and be maximally compelling. And even “perfect Love requires perfect Suffering” doesn’t explain how our suffering is connected to the Crucifixion… and that’s kind of an essential point, no?

    • Marc Barnes

      Ah true, I was getting the definition of “participation” confused. It is fixed. Thanks!

    • Chris

      Jessica, I think you may have misunderstood the concept. Your example of the numbers does not work because you gave an infinite list of integers and then proposed it does not contain a non-integer–which is of course true but not what the author was stating.

      The idea is that it is ALL inclusive. That is, God has ALL the numbers as a prerequisite so any number you might have CANNOT exist outside of God’s i.e. you can’t have 2.5 and claim God has a DIFFERENT 2.5. The reason the block analogy makes sense is that if a block existed that was not one of Sam’s then Sam would not have an infinite amount of blocks (he would have infinity minus one which is of course ridiculous).

      To explain it mathematically I would say picture a Venn diagram, but instead of the A and B existing as two separate circles with an overlapping union A exists as its own circle and B is a smaller circle that sits inside of A. Therefore everything B experiences A experiences BUT not everything A experiences B experiences.

      • Jessica

        You’re right, I was not careful with “integers” and “numbers.” But still, “infinite” does not mean the same thing as “all inclusive.” And the original article uses analysis based on the need for “infinite suffering,” but then pivots to mean “all-inclusive suffering.” They’re not equivalent.

        You can actually have infinity minus one. It’s just still infinity. You can even have infinity divided by two. Or divded by 100. They’re mathematically valid calculations; but for any of these examples, the answer is still infinity. And you can have two different infinite series, but have one of those series contain demonstrably more members than the other. They’re both infinite, even though one is “bigger.” (For example, if you compare the series 1,2,3… with the series 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, … The second series looks like it contains twice as many numbers as the first, but they’re both infinite.)

        Infinity is a deceptively complex concept.

        • Jessica

          Last comment, which is only to add: Sorry, I was a math major. ;-)

          • Joe

            Jessica, could it not be an all-encompassing infinity that Mark is speaking of?

          • Joe

            Woops I meant could it be*

          • Joe

            Wow I also meant Marc

        • guest

          sorry, but one cannot have infinity minus one. That would imply infinity is a number which it is not. Rather, it is a concept used in limits to mean that the value is increasing without bounds (in fact infinity at its core is defined by limits). For example if infinity -1 = infinity and infinity -2 = infinity…then infinity-1=infinity-2 –> -1=-2.

          So, yes infinity is a deceptively complex concept even for math majors.

          However this is not a math paper. I feel the author did a good job expressing this idea. Sometimes language just does not have the words to accurately describe things, does this make the point any less valid? NO. The powerful concept described here is well presented within the limitations of language, or at least common relatively simple language. Just because infinity might not be used exactly as it is in math does not mean this concept is wrong.

          • Alexandra

            The point is Marc clearly doesn’t understand the concept of infinity, and him using it so incorrectly definitely effects the quality of the essay. It doesn’t even need to be in terms of math, in terms of language he is using the word infinity wrong.

          • Pietra

            Perhaps you mean “affects”, not “effects”? And “incorrectly” instead of “wrong”?

            Alexandra, it seems to me that you’re grasping at straws here. We can sit here and nitpick each other’s grammar all day, but I think we both know that the post as a whole was quite well-written. Please don’t feel obligated to conviniently ignore the rest of it…

          • Alexandra

            Except that my word choice and grammar wasn’t central to the idea I was trying to convey. Marc’s is. The way he misunderstands infinity is significant to the point he was trying to make.

          • Alexandra

            Also, yes you can have infinity minus one. Hilbert and his hotel say so.

          • Anothermathmajor

            I’m not sure what you mean by “you can’t have infinity minus one…” But you’re proof is wrong. As you say, infinity is not a number. So you can’t simply subtract it from both sides of your equation. So infinity-1 = infinity-2 =/=> -1 = -2.

            Bob the math major is correct above. You can have infinite sets which contain other infinite sets. The correct term for Marc to use in this case is “all”

    • Marc Barnes

      Actually wait, time out. If I have an infinite number of houses, you could not own a house that is not mine.
      For then I would not have an infinite number of houses.
      I don’t think the number example you used works. I’m saying that Christ suffers infinitely, suffering being a specific thing (like positive integers). To say that there are other numbers besides integers doesn’t make a difference. I’m not using a category (numbers) I’m using a specific.

      • Geoffrey Miller

        You should rather say that Christ bears all sufferings, and therefore nothing is suffered apart from Christ.

        • Geoffrey Miller

          But then, you must contend with the following verse:

          “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).

          There is a way to reconcile this with your thought process, but it’d take all the fun out of it if I told you. Figure it out. ;-)

          • InvictusLux

            Christ also suffered for all the paradoxes and logical errors that exist because of man’s inability to reconcile his limited intellectual capacity (occasioned by his original sin) with his desire to attain perfection in the models we use to express and communicate concepts. :D

          • Kevin

            Best solution: Just say “all” instead of “infinity.” All – 1 is not all. Infinite – 1 is still infinite. Infinite does not, of necessity, mean all. I could, for instance, say that I have an infinite number of numbers, but only have the even numbers. I could not say that I could have all the numbers without the even ones.

          • Alaric Katzer

            If you have infinity of something, and I take one of those away, how is it that you still have infinity? I’ve taken one away. Your infinity has been destroyed by me doing so. It is no longer infinity, but what your infinity contained minus what I took.

            x-1 = x? No.
            But
            x = x
            and
            x-1 = x-1

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7BCNYBWHWEYUIZEXSPQYBPQD5E Andrew

            If you have all integers (an infinite set), and I take your “1″ away, you still have an infinite number, because the set never ends. If I took the first million integers, you still have an infinite amount, because your set never ends.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7BCNYBWHWEYUIZEXSPQYBPQD5E Andrew

            Conversely, if I were to extend your set into the negative numbers, you now have a few extra numbers that you did not before, but the set is still infinite in extent. There is not a “greater infinity” gained, nor lost, by merely gaining or losing a few, finite, entries.
            <– Mathematician

          • Billy Bean

            In the end, is this a matter of logic-chopping? Almost you persuade me to remain Eastern Orthodox.

      • Emmanuel Garcia

        Consider the numbers 1/n where n goes 1, 2, 3… Suppose all the houses have a rational number for an index.

        That is an infinite collection. Say you have all of them and I have the number 5. You still have an infinite collection.

        The description you are looking for isn’t infinite because what if all the sufferings to be born isnt even an infinite collection?

      • Emmanuel Garcia

        Your problem is that infinite sets have the problem that they contain strictly smaller sets which are also infinite.

      • Alexandra

        Infinity minus one is still infinity. Infinity also doesn’t mean everything. It would mean you have an unlimited amount of houses. Someone having a house that doesn’t belong to you would not mean you don’t have an infinite amount of houses.

        • Alaric Katzer

          This is a logical fallacy. If I have x kittens, and I take one away, I now I have x-1 kittens.
          What you’re saying is,
          x-1 = x
          But that’s not true.
          Infinity – 1 is not equal to Infinity.
          Rather,
          Infinity – 1 = Infinity – 1

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7BCNYBWHWEYUIZEXSPQYBPQD5E Andrew

            “Infinity” is not a number, and is not well-defined in mathematical terms, therefore you cannot add, subtract, multiply, nor divide infinity to get anything other than infinity (or an indeterminate form).
            If you insist that infinity is a solid number, and therefore subtracting one makes a difference, I submit Cantor’s proof of rational numbers’ cardinality, proving that the rational numbers may be counted by matching each rational number to an integer, showing they must have the same “size”.
            I am not arguing FOR the article, but rather against your breach of mathematical law, which was proved centuries ago.

          • Alexandra

            Just no. You don’t get it. It’s okay. I don’t claim to get infinity either, but I know you’re wrong on this point.

            Infinity is not a number, you can’t treat it like it is.

          • Andrew Kennedy

            Then what is infinity + 1? It’s still infinity. Yes x-1 ≠ x… IF x is finite! The rules change for infinity. Which is larger? 2 * infinity or 4* infinity? Both are infinity. What if you subtract 2*infinity from 4*infinity? It’s still infinity. For example, there is an infinite amount of even numbers, and there is an infinite amount of odd numbers. What do you get when you add them together? An infinite amount of numbers.
            It’s like zero, 2*0 = 4*0. or is 4*0 a bigger zero than 2*0? Doesn’t matter, it’s still 0.
            Also, Alexandra is correct, infinity doesn’t mean it includes everything. There is an infinite amount of even numbers, and yet an odd number doesn’t fit in that infinite amount.

            Infinity is not a number, infinity is a quality. Marc’s analogy just falls flat. (besides the delicate problem of relating math to other concepts, for example take the well known “mathematical” proof that girls are evil)

          • http://www.facebook.com/mdecler2 Michael DeClerck

            Silly people who have not studied math…infinity is Not a Number. NaN! Infinity – 1 = Nan! This is not a logical statement. It makes no sense. Infinity cannot be subtracted from…because subtraction only works on NUMBERS. The whole argument: “Look an infinite set 1,2,3,… but wait 2.5 is outside of that set!” is stupid too. Anyone who has studied math knows that there are different levels of ‘infinity’. The set of naturals is a ‘countably infinite’, while the set of rationals is ‘uncountably infinite’. Try mapping every rational between 0 and 1 to a natural number: “0.00000001, 0.00000002, …” oh crap, we missed the ‘uncountably infinite’ set of rationals between 0.00000001, and 0.00000002…like 0.000000001 (count the zeros people!) The set of houses is not ‘uncountably infinite’. Neither is the set of blocks. In fact, these sets are not even infinite. I leave you with the exercise of counting them. There are far more interesting question to ask like, “Why do we have a concept of infinity at all? Where did it come from?” Or, “Why do mathematical equations correspond to the natural world at all vis-a-vis physics?” and, “Do we see any examples of the concept of infinity in the world?” If God supposedly created the uncountably infinite set, how much more uncountable would He then be?

      • convert46

        With the Bob and his blocks analogy I felt like I finally understood the “economy of grace” – that we are all connected to each other receiving grace by suffering willingly for another person’s redemption. Logic shmogic – it works! I loved this piece of writing even more than your funny stuff – and I really love your humor. Keep writing!

      • Booishboos

        That doesn’t work. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8… is still infinite, despite the omission of 5. Infinity – 1 is infinity; that’s a mathematical fact.
        Your philosophy is still correct, and this post is still amazing, but that argument is false.

      • Nilthak

        Say I owned all the numbers between zero and one. If I tried to count them, I might go:
        #1: .00000…(infinite zeroes)….0001
        #2: .00000…(infinite zeroes)….0002
        #3: .00000…(infinite zeroes)….0003
        Obviously, I’d never get to the end of my list. (because it takes an infinite number of infinitely small pieces to make a whole.)
        Or I could try counting by halves:
        Half of one is .5
        Half of the previous number is:
        .25
        .125
        .0625
        .03125
        .015625
        .0078125
        .00390625
        And so on, continuing on to infinity.
        It’s true I own an infinite number of numbers, but there are also an infinite number I don’t own:
        number line:
        -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3

        The x’s are my infinite number of points, while extending on both sides are everyone else’s infinite number of points. You could say, if there were such a thing, that their infinity was larger than my infinity, because their line extends off into the distance on both sides, while mine has a beginning and an end (and an infinity of space between).

    • shadow of Chesterton’s heel

      also, because one cites the infinite as supporting, doesn’t mean it’s conclusive or sufficient and complete. it may just be a piece of the puzzle that speaks to those whom it will. Scott Hahn’s explanation as regards to matters of covenant in the New Covenant is excellent on why Christ’s suffering was necessary, but doesn’t relate as well to our suffering. maybe i saw it after the fix?

    • Joe Gehret

      Your own logic is problematic. 1,2, and 3 are integers, whereas 2.5 is not. You counted an infinite strand of integers, not of numbers. While integers are, of course, numbers, they are not all numbers. You’re comparing subcategory and category. Marc is comparing category within itself (suffering).

      • InvictusLux

        correct

      • Bob the math major

        Let our set be all positive integers. Now remove 5 from our set. The remainder (the set of all positive integers except for 5) is still infinite. Infinite sets can contain proper subsets that are also infinite. For example, the set of even integers is also infinite, yet strictly contained in the set of all integers.

        • Cal-J

          Marc is talking about actual infinity, not potential (mathematical) infinity.

          If Marc owns an infinite amount of chairs, than you cannot take one chair and still call the amount Marc owns infinite. Since you have taken one of Marc’s chairs, there is now a chair he does not own, which is a limitation on his ownership. Hence, there is now a finitude to Marc’s ownership of chairs (Marc does not own your chair), and thus, Marc cannot have infinite chairs.

          For, in an actual (non-potential) system, for Marc to own infinite chairs, there cannot be a chair he does not own. Therefore, the chair your sitting in? Either you stole it or he’s allowing you to use it.

          Marc still has infinite chairs (and I hope he doesn’t mind me sitting in this one).

          • Cal-J

            Of course, that assumes there could ever be an actual infinity of chairs outside of our thought experiment.

          • Bob

            A set can be bounded and still be infinite. For another mathematical example, the set of all positive numbers is infinite, yet bounded below by zero.

            Lets consider the chair argument. Assume we go to a hypothetical universe which consists of Marc, Bob, and an infinite amount of chairs stretching in all directions. If Marc owns all the chairs, he owns an infinite number of chairs. If he gives one chair to Bob to sit on, he still owns and infinite amount of chairs stretching in all directions infinitely far. Taking this further, Marc could divide the universe in half and give half the chairs to Bob. They would then each have an infinite amount of chairs stretching off into infinity.

            I think the confusion is arising from “infinite” being confused with “all.” If Marc has all the chairs, giving one to Bob would cause him to no longer have all the chairs. The difference here is that all is an indivisible quality. A set of “all” of something cannot be split into two smaller sets where at least one of them is still “all.” On the other hand, two infinite disjoint sets can happily coexist.

            As another commenter pointed out below, Marc could go through his infinite collection of chairs two by two, and give exactly one from each pair to Bob. While Marc would no longer have all the chairs, they would both have an infinite amount of chairs, as there will always be infinitely many pairs of chairs stretching off into the distance.

          • Cal-J

            I wasn’t disagreeing with you at all. I was suggesting an alternate usage of the word “infinity”.

            You use infinity in the sense of “unending”. I use infinity in the sense of “without limit”. If there is a chair that Marc does not own, that is a limit to his ownership of chairs and his ownership is no longer “without limit”.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7BCNYBWHWEYUIZEXSPQYBPQD5E Andrew

            Easy: stop hijacking mathematical terms. Use something else, like “the universe”.
            Point taken, though. “All reals minus one” is not the same as “All reals,” though they are both infinite in extent.

          • Cal-J

            Infinity is not strictly a mathematical concept, it can be philosophical as well.

    • Gail Finke

      I think you are splitting hairs with the multiple numbers thing. It isobvious what he meant. “If there are an infinite number of blocks belonging to Sam, can Bob own a block?” means exactly what it says, not “if there are an infinite number of blocks belonging to Sam, can Bob own a block that is identical to the other blocks except that it doesn’t belong to Sam, or can Bob own half a block exactly like the whole blocks that all belong to Sam?”

      • Bob

        No, the question of whether Sam owns an infinite number of blocks is completely independent of how many blocks Bob owns. Multiple infinite sets can coexist. There mere fact that Sam’s collection is infinite does not magically preclude the existence of blocks outside his collection.

        • http://conradcook.wordpress.com/ Conrad Cook

          –This is irrelevant, but Bob’s correct. If Sam gave one of his blocks to Bob, Bob would have one block and Sam would *still* have an infinite number.

          Indeed, if Sam decided to share his blocks by going through them two by two, and for every pair keeping one and giving one to Bob, then the result would be *both* Sam and Bob would have an infinite number of blocks!

          (Maybe that’s a better metaphor… infinite life for all of us.)

    • Sarah Hodde

      This whole string of replies is so fantastic. I was a math major, and this great post followed by extremely nerdy discussion of the nature of infinity just might have given me a glimpse of infinite delight. :P
      I think part of the crux of the discussion here is the notion of countable infinity versus uncountable infinity. There are infinitely many integers greater than zero, but if you start at one and continue to two and three and so on, you could in theory name them all. At least, when you’re slogging through the 700,000′s, you know you’ve gotten all of them up to this point. This is countably infinite.
      But the real numbers (which includes all the fractions and stuff too) greater than zero are uncountably infinite, which is a fundamentally different kind of infinite. Even if you cheat a little and start at zero, where do you go next? You can’t go to 1/2, because there are lots of real numbers (fractions) smaller than that. You can’t even start with 1/100 thousand gazillion, because there are always infinitely many numbers smaller than that. In fact, if you pick any two numbers, no matter how close to each other, there will always be infinitely many numbers between them. It’s like infinity all the way down.
      This is uncountably infinite, and it’s a mathematically correct and true concept (not just me goofing around).
      Perhaps BadCatholic should have said that the cardinality of Christ’s suffering was greater than aleph-1. But I think that would have been counterproductive. The philosophy of the post seems to hold even if the mathematical interpretation of it isn’t perfect; maybe the notion of infinity in philosophy means something different than it does in mathematics. Sorry, I never took any philosophy. :)

      • Cal-J

        I’m just going to sit here and fawn over all that. (Side note: Apologetics is a discipline of theological nerds. Nerds attract one another, so this is bound to bring up another side conversation. We do it all the time on historical subjects).

    • Alaric Katzer

      Suffering is the set of positive integers. Christ has all of the positive integers. You have 2.5? Great. Well done. Proud of you. But that’s not a positive integer, and therefore it is not Suffering. As a result, Christ still has all of the Suffering. Your precious 2.5 is part of different set, and has nothing to do with the infinite set of Suffering.

    • Billy Bean

      You’re pretty logical. But isn’t 2.5 something like 2?

  • Jeremiah Evans

    My spiritual director said that the best definition of a Saint is someone who knows how to say “I’m Sorry” to the Lord. They keep trying.

    Craig Ferguson says that being an American is like baseball. You keep failing until you don’t.

    The joy of victory won after long battle (be it against a sworn enemy or a line of code which refuses to behave like you think it should) is immense, and if such joy over a small failure can be so immense, how much more can the joy of the victor over sinfulness itself, failure itself, be?

    How great the love that He lets us share in His suffering, so as to share in His joy?

    Well done, Marc. Good read.

  • laursaurus

    I just recently found this blog.
    What a gem this post is!
    Thank you so much for writing such an truly inspiring and profound essay.
    We were taught that our faith is a gift. Now I believe so is our suffering.

    This page is now bookmarked in my favorites so I can read it again and again!

  • Giovanni Vitale II

    Good, but not your best work.

  • jmff

    a must-see on this subject: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120255/

  • Mary

    Wow. Marc, you are so gifted with explaining suffering & co-redemtrix. The image of the dying child & abused girl was very powerful. I offer my daily prayers using specific images such as those deeply suffering innocent souls, who do not deserve that kind of pain. But through the grace of God working through us & our prayers & love offered, all things are possible with God. Strength can be granted, faith increased, love blossomed, hope bred & shared. Joy renewed. All are gifts.

    Colossians 1:24-28 !!!!!!!!!!!! God bless you!!!!!!

  • Timelady87

    This is a great post. I would only add one thought. The reason the all-powerful God doesn’t just wave a hand and wipe away suffering is because in doing that He would also be wiping away our free will. Like you said, our choice to sin separated us from God, which is the direct cause of suffering. Cold is the absence of heat, dark is the absence of light, and pain/suffering is the absence of God. Our sin placed barriers between us and God.

    It’s like splattering a window with mud. Our sin (the mud) has now created shadows (suffering) where light (God) once shone through. So, God can’t just wipe away the shadows (the results of our sins) without also wiping away our actions. The actions we chose freely to take. In other words, if God were to simply evaporate suffering, He would also be robbing us of our free will. And He loves us too much to do that.

    The human suffering caused by our sins HAD to be felt and endured in order to be forgiven. Otherwise it would be like hitting a reset button every time we did something wrong until we got it right. And that isn’t free will. The problem was, the eternal consequence of our sins is eternal separation from God. And God loved us too much for that either. So what did he do? He became a man, so the He himself could take on the suffering caused by sin, so that it could be forgiven.

    That’s why, I think, on the cross He said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Because in some mystical way he was able to feel that too. That complete separation from God. Even though He is God. It is a mystery, but he endured ALL the consequences off all sins, so that they could be forgiven and we could be once again united with God, without compromising our free will.

    Keep up the good work! Thank you.

    • Mary

      Exactly my thoughts….we might be sharing a brain.

  • JaneDoe

    One of your best, if not the best. Well done. I’ll never think of suffering the same way again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=63705478 Laura Camp

    Fantastic, as always! #AMDG

    One thing- if you’re talking about the world, I think it should be “Vale of Tears.” I might be wrong about this, but in the Salve Regina we call the world a “valley of tears,” and the short form of “valley” is “vale.” Veils are the headpieces. There may be an expression about a “veil of tears” also, but I don’t know it explicitly…

  • finishstrongdoc

    I’ve never seen a Flying Spaghetti Monster or a Unicorn, but if I did see one, I would believe it to be true.
    But a God who created everything out of nothing, created man from the dust of the ground, made a woman to be his mate from the man’s rib, and gave them perfect happiness dependent only on their following God’s way, and then the woman was deceived, and the man after her followed the Deceiver, and then rape, robbery, pain and mayhem came into the world….now who could believe that?
    *sarc*

  • Brenda Becker

    I have long said that, were I not a Christian, I would be an atheist, and this because of the Problem of Pain. By way of further explanation, had anyone asked (they usually don’t, since they are too busy diving under bushes), I would have had to grunt, gesticulate and shrug. Having someone your (alleged) age lift out the heart of the matter, and in such delightful and profound fashion, is as unsettling as discovering that your cardiologist is young enough to be your offspring. Well done.

  • Fisherman

    Now, when you say “Bob,” can we, for Catholic-young-adult-inside-joke sake, pretend it’s Bob Rice?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/Y7KPPA7BYDQKL22UD65EGKLGHQ Elizabeth

    How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet–er, blog posts–of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation…

    Thank you and bless you, Marc.

  • Philosophical_Christian

    This is a great article, and I find many of the points to be objectively true. However, there does seem to be an illogical consistency between suffering itself and suffering as leading to a good. In the beginning of the article you write, “If a man sits on a stove, he suffers. But he doesn’t remain there weeping. No, he jumps…” Here it sounds that the reason the man leaves the stove is not from the suffering itself, but from his desire to be without suffering. Since suffering arises from the heat external to his body, the man, in hating to suffer, moves away from the heat–away from the suffering–in order to arrive at the good. His desire to be without suffering, or his hatred of suffering, is what led him to pursue the good. A few paragraphs later and you write, “If man’s minor sufferings drive him back to his minor good…” It’s a conditional statement, which means that we have to assume that it is in fact the suffering itself that drives men to the good. However, as a I pointed it, the earlier sentence seems to say that it is the hatred of suffering, not suffering itself, that drives men to the good. The logic between suffering itself as a driving force or the desire to be free from suffering as a driving seems to break down midway. Other than that it’s a an excellent article.

    • AttentionDeficitCatholic

      True, but imagine if the man in question did not have a functioning nervous system. He would not have suffered, and thus the suffering would not have motivated him to move from the stove, and his… hindquarters would have burned. The suffering (pain in his buttocks) drove him to a good (keeping his body intact).

      Now, of course this movement is motivated by the fact that the man does not enjoy the pain of sitting on a stove, but that does not invalidate what the suffering does, which is driving him to a good. How would he have a desire to be without suffering, driving him to do good, if he did not have this lack of enjoyment in the suffering?

      • Philosophical_Christian

        Very good points. However, in your first instance, there seems to be a contradiction on your part. You say the man with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA) would not have suffered if he sat on a hot stove, but then you say “the suffering would not have motivated him from the stove.” If we take your earliest sentence to be true, that the man would not have suffered, then no, “the suffering” would not motivate him at all, because he didn’t suffer in the first place.

        A man who does have a functioning nervous system suffers when he’s on a hot stove. You ask where the desire to be without suffering would arise if the man did not suffer. If we take Marc’s article to be true (which I hope we do considering we are commenting on it) “the very being of man…abhors pain.” Presumably, that statement suggests that man, by his very nature, hates pain and suffering. That natural aversion to suffering is what would drive the man to be without suffering, even if he did not experience the lack of enjoyment in suffering.

    • InvictusLux

      You could also look at suffering as the road warnings when one is getting off the narrow path – one hits the curbs and the right-of-way warning grooves to get back on track before one crashes and is destroyed.

  • Argentum_horse

    I’ll be honest with ya… I REALLY didn’t want this article to end.

  • Marty

    but why this carpenter man from Nazareth 2,000 years ago? Why a wooden cross, a Roman instrument of torture? Why should we EAT him? It’s all so ABSURD.

    • AEEscalona

      Ah! Because if a reasonable man had made this all up he would no doubt have made a far more “reasonable” religion. And if the men he left behind had been reasonable rather than obediently truthful, and were in on the “con”, they would have rewritten it over the centuries to be more “reasonable”. But the fact that you sit here, 20 centuries later, face to face with the Original Absurdity… ah… THAT is true food for thought.

      • InvictusLux

        Indeed. Too much needless suffering to endure for no personal profit for men who were impostors and fakes. They would have all caved in and changed their story if it was fabricated – but not one of them did – no sell outs like we see in criminal courts between accomplices.

        The concepts were “universal” – from the social-religious parochialism of Roman or Greek Gods we have a universalism – a God who grants favor to ALL humanity without regard to race or nation or social standing. NEVER seen in human history previously.

        There can be no question that the apostles and the early disciples all believed to the point of death. The only possible rebuttal would be that they are all equally deceived by a credible and convincing mad man or delusional who sincerely imagined he was God. But the problem with that is mad men don’t come up with such cogent and rational truth’s (Christ’s teachings) and they don’t raise people from the dead (Lazarus) and provoke the authorities in a way that they end up fulfilling scripture to the letter. Mad men don’t suffer excruciating tortures and pains while still quoting and fulfilling scripture as one is dying and interceding on behalf of one’s tormentors to forgive them. Mad men don’t rise from the dead with hundreds of witnesses accounts.

        There is also a principal of cohesion that is seen in the scriptures that spans millennia from a large number of different authors. There is no way that all these human authors from different generations could have kept it all together and rational and not introduced logical and theological contradictions without a Divine Author inspiring it all. None of the New Testament authors had a clue that they were writing what would become regarded as “scripture”. There were no writing assignments.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

          “The concepts were “universal” – from the social-religious parochialism of Roman or Greek Gods we have a universalism – a God who grants favor to ALL humanity without regard to race or nation or social standing. NEVER seen in human history previously.”

          So, I guess God didn’t chose the Jews to be his chosen people, and he didn’t chose favor with them against the city of Jericho, or curse the Egyptians with 10 plagues.

          • InvictusLux

            This is the shallow perception of scripture – a view one might get from an incompetent and unfamiliar incremental reading of only fragments of whole of scripture. It is the view of envy or skepticism – a faulty view that an atheist might want to take to ironically set out to TEACH Christians what scripture means as a a debating point – without any regard to its sanctity or its wisdom or even believing it. How rational is it to reference a work that one does not believe to be valid? It is a view that is utterly blind to the scriptural safeguards that prevent “those with eyes, yet blind to truth”, from hijacking scripture for their own personal motive or gain. There is an amazing layering of scriptural truth that is woven into various senses that gives ever more credence to its Divine origins. Scripture will let you see only what you are ready to see. What you say is easily rebutted but I have to teach you a lot of scripture to do so and I doubt Marc wants me cluttering up his blog with a thesis. Let me just say this:

            Here you are discerning quite incompetently only one scriptural sense (literal) when there are two basic senses of Holy Scripture: the literal (or historical) and the spiritual. The spiritual sense is further divided into the allegorical, the tropological (or moral), and the anagogical. It took us centuries to codify this discovery and broadcast it to the faithful as a teaching.

            We are still discovering the ongoing revelation from the closed cannon to this day – deeper insights to “things too wonderful yet to know” yet promised by Christ to be unfolded when we are ready. Yet we have the essential core message and that’s all we need.

            If you can get more familiar with scripture then you will that from Old Testament to New Testament there is a song like quality of point and counter-point – promise-fulfillment, type anti-type. It is more sophisticated than anything ever seen in human literature. Nothing like it exists . It is composed over thousands of years by scores of independent human writers without any foreknowledge of each other or any idea that they were contributing to the same works. There simply are NO comparable examples of any literary works being composed by multiple writers over many centuries and integrated seamlessly into one work completely unedited.

            The closest literary style to-date is a pop genre called “the never ending story” where someone starts off with a paragraph of text and the next person adds to it and the story evolves with no preset agenda other than “to write a story”. But in this style of modern human writing (circa 1980s ?) there is no objective end or cohesive binding principal to the story line that teaches, directs, records history, appeals to deep inner aspirations and human emotions . Certainly none of these kinds of works use a nation and its long history as a living metaphor to ratify and progressively reveal greater truths. None use actual real human history and events to forge the very word semantics and the lexicons of expression through a long chain of human experience carved from pain, suffering, joy and the hopes of a small nation; a nation that miraculously is not utterly culturally assimilated or conquered/destroyed by much greater secular enemies over many centuries of conflict.

            Quick Example of conceptual point counter-point though there are many more that are perhaps better but this italicizes part of my rebuttal:

            Old Testament written centuries before the New Testament:
            Psalm 139:6
            “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it…”

            New Testament:
            John 16: 12-13
            “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13“But when He [Holy Spirit], the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

            It is only in the Christian era that we fully understand that the Old Testament covenant made by God with the Jews was meant to be the instrument of salvation for all of humanity. Given our current context and understanding we can go back and see hints of it from the onset in Genesis when “man” first fell in the garden. Man is not destroyed by God for his transgressions – man is told that the consequence of disobedience is death. But at the same time God essentially declares war on the evil that lead to man’s unhappy situation:

            Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” We don’t know until millennium later that “the seed of the woman [Eve]” is meant to be God Himself in the person of Christ (new Adam ) in a friendly cooperative divine venture with fallen mankind. We see initial hints that God’s plan also includes all people: Genesis 3:15 “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

            We see it too in the in the story of Cain and Able. Cain murders Able and is deserving of death but God spares him and grants him protection (there’s an implicit purpose to showing Mercy – a hint of a plan). It is only much later in the Christian era that God reveals the New Covenant and grafts the gentiles into His family so that salvation for all is through the Jews – even as they reject Christ and turn him over for crucifixion (just as prophesied but this aspect while written was “hidden” from the Jews discernment at the time – though I think the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas saw it [ John 18:14] but was corrupt and had no choice but to play out his prophesied role just as did Judas). This is what makes it so utterly amazing – the Jews were instruments in bringing forth the promises but at the epoch of that plan actively sought to work against God’s plan (and played right into it) to open salvation up to all peoples. They ended up playing right into scripture – through hostility and uncooperativeness ratifying it all (later to be redeemed as a people for their error with the rest of humanity).

            It would take me a lot more text and a long list of scripture verses to fully rebut what you have said and I already run long here so let me stop.

          • AEEscalona

            Especially liked this formulation:

            “If you can get more familiar with scripture then you will see that from Old Testament to New Testament there is a song like quality of point and counter-point – promise-fulfillment, type anti-type. It is more sophisticated than anything ever seen in human literature.”

            Perhaps we should recommend to non-Christians to ask a Catholic friend to borrow one of the books we use in Mass that have the Sunday Old Testament and New Testament readings counterpointed, showing the “foreshadowings” and prophecy fulfillments across the centuries, without adornment, in a way that even the dimmest bulb could not help but marvel at. We are raised seeing those comparisons every Sunday. We have an unfair advantage that way, I guess.

            But it would be a short, quick and efficient way to show them what we are talking about. And what we love.

    • AEEscalona

      And if you think about it a little, these things are quite “reasonable” symbolically, regardless of what language is used to describe them.
      1) A carpenter shapes wood. Since time immemorial, thudheaded men have been described as “woodenheaded”, at least in the several languages I know and many more I have read in translation.
      2) 2,000 years ago? Because not until the 1800′s could a man leave his valley and go teach the Word among the “nations” and have a reasonable chance of getting there and not being murdered for his clothes and food by highwaymen often within sight of his own village. The Roman Empire, the so-called Pax Romana, was much safer than any period before or after it until recent modernity. And it had 60,000 miles worth of roads. And a language that was everyone’s second language in the Empire. What better time to come, if you want the Word spread far and wide?
      3) In the The Fall of Man, the primal disobedience that severed our relationship with our Creator, the murder weapon was the fruit of a tree in Eden. Is it not Divine Irony and Fittingness that our reconnection to that Creator would be effected by another “fruit”, a divine one, hanging from another “tree”?
      4)”You are what you eat” is an ancient meme. As far back as we have recorded history we have mention of the fact that “savages” all over the world would consume some piece of a vanquished enemy to acquire his virtues. But the fact that God would submit to sacrificing Himself as his own son Jesus on the very same Mount Moriah where He prevented Abraham from sacrificng his own son Isaac, tells you something deep is being demonstrated/communicated. With Abraham, God was communicating that He did not want Human Sacrifice, a practice common among mankind. But something else also happened. God saw that Abraham’s love was so faithful that he was willing to sacrifice that which he held most dear, his long awaited son Isaac, that I daresay God was impressed by the heart of this little man, and told him afterwards that because of that faith and obedience he would reward him with a progeny as numberless as the stars.
      I never quite understood Jesus’ words to his apostles the night before he would march up that very hill to his death. After Peter refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet, Jesus said to him “Unless you allow me to wash your feet, you can have no part of me.”( A powerful and instructively paradoxical lesson in humility! ), Jesus then utters the following words: “So that you may understand that no servant is greater than his Master.”
      Now, in an almost dislexic transposition, this statement is the exact opposite of what you’d expect a Great Leader of Men, a Saviour, to say. Read it again.
      For most of my life I read past it thinking he was saying: “So that you may understand that no Master is greater than his servant”. And that is what the kind of man who eats with his troops and leads from the front in battle. The kind of man soldiers willingly follow into Hell. But Jesus is saying the exact opposite.
      What I think He was saying (and I would dearly welcome hearing from any of you if you have seen this stated anywhere by anyone, not out of silly intellectual pride, but because I only grasp this dimly and would very much want to read anything that would cast more light on it), what he was REALLY saying was:
      “So that you might understand that no servant (Abraham) is greater (in sacrificial love) than his Master (God).”
      And the very next day, he would allow Himself as His Own Son to be marched up Moriah and sacrificed for all Men and For All Time. So that we would understand that He asks us for far less than He was willing to endure for us as a man… so that noone could ever say to Him that “You don’t playa da game, you don’t maka da rules.”

      So yeah, I’m a fan of this 33 yeard old jewish carpenter from 2,000 years ago. I can almost see an insouciant half-smile as he looked over his shoulder back at the priests and pharisees grilling him, and said “Before Abraham was, I AM”.

      Nobody could make this stuff up. It’s just TOO good.

      • Alexandra

        I just skimmed your post and got the gist that you’re saying that the Christ story is too good to have been made up. For realsies? I don’t think you really believe that. If you do, you might want to hit up a library, there’s amazing literature just as complex and fascinating as the Christ story that is completely made up.

        • lakingscrzy

          Your first sentence disqualifies the rest of your post. At a certain point you are just trolling, Alex.

        • AEEscalona

          Oh, yeah? Try finding a story that sophisticated, with anywhere near the subtleties, the many layers of meaning, the resonance with our internal moral tuning forks, written anytime before 100 AD.

          There was plenty of elegiac fiction around, where the attributes and miracles of the hero were extolled and exaggerated and the virtues of their chief followers extolled. But the hero born in a manger, winds up executed in the most humiliating and painful death the ancients had devised, with the chief follower confessing to have denied him thrice in abject fear, while his executioner defends him thrice? Where the hero is God Himself, yet behaves with a humility that convicts us all. There is NOTHING like that in the literature of it’s time. Nothing.

          Go ahead. Find one. I dare ya.

          • Matt

            And why would anybody die for something that wasn’t real?

          • AEEscalona

            Precisely!

            I have often thought about how Christianity was able to conquer the hearts and minds of aproud people like the Romans. A people whose bloodlust at spectacles like the shows at the Colosseum were famous.

            The answer, I think, would be surprising to those who did not know the Romans. A martial culture, they valued family loyalty and courage as the highest virtues.

            Imagine what it must have been like for a Roman to sit in the Colosseum and watch entire Christian families face death alongside each other, courageously refusing to bend to Caesar’s will. The stories of the demeanor of the martyrs as they died is well recorded.

            Can you imagine at first the admiration, and then the revulsion, as they watched their authorities put to death people who were demonstrating the very qualities they admired most? Every Roman must have, in time, realized that whatever these people had, that allowed them to face death with such courage, whatever that was, they wanted it! And that what they were watching was their authorities systematically liquidating the qualities the Empire was founded on, and needed most.

            If I know the Roman heart, I believe they were conquered through admiration and concomitant shame, one by one.

            They were embarrassed into it. To their credit.

          • Korou

            This is just too simplified for words.
            Religions spread all the time, and for many different reasons. Yours is no different to any of the others. Please, don’t expect a nonChristian to find all of this convincing in the slightest.

          • AEEscalona

            Aw, c’mon Korou, you’re better than that! That’s just lazy dismissal. What I was trying to point out is that there was something intrinsic to the Roman value system that made it uniquely sensitive to what Christianity seemed to instill in Christian behaviour in the face of death.

            For example, Gandhi understood the British value system well, and crafted his “passive resistance” programme to capitalize on the British sense of fair play, knowing that in time, the Brits could not but be revolted by the spectacle of their soldiers whaling away at men who would not fight back.

            I am sure that Gandhi would have been too smart to try that tactic with Joe Stalin, for instance.

          • Korou

            AEEscalona, you took that well! Thanks for being so polite.
            Basically, though, I’m just saying that it’s misleading – and unconvincing – to point to people’s reactions to a religion as proof of its truth. People believe all sorts of things all the time. You think the craziest and strangest thing that ever happened was Christianity succeeding? So crazy and unlikely that it could only have succeeded by divine providence? Not by a long shot!

          • Alexandra

            It happens all the time. 9/11 comes to mind.

          • Erin

            No, he means why would anyone die for something they KNEW wasn’t real. Something about which they had been dishonest, something they made up. 9/11 does not fit that category, misguided though they were. I’m willing to bet they BELIEVED they were doing the will Allah.
            If you’re intellectually honest, eventually the facts of what actually happened during the rise of Christianity lead to the only logical conclusion : Jesus was who he said he was, the son of God.

          • Alexandra

            I’m not sure what your point is. People believe that things that aren’t real are true all the time and willingly die for it.

            Are you saying that because Christianity is true, it’s exempt from this problem? Because no, Christianity is not true, but there are plenty of people that are convinced it is and die for it. Same as with all of the other religions.

            The hijackers on 9/11 believed that Islam is true, and they died for it. That was my point. People die for things that aren’t true all the time.

          • Alexandra

            Oh I got it now. Why would someone die for something they knew to be false. I’m not sure that was Matt’s point. If it is, I’m just incredibly confused.

            People believe the Christ story is true, but that doesn’t mean that it is. People believing stuff is irrelevant to it’s truth value.

          • Korou

            They lead to no such thing. If you’re intellectually honest you’ll realise that anyone can believe anything if they really want to. Religions are complex human phenomena, and produce unlikely results all the time.

          • Alexandra

            That’s clearly going to be a matter of taste, but I think there’s plenty of literature that fits that description. I think the Greek myths are a lot more impressive and beautiful than the Christ myth. You can create subtitles and layers of meaning in anything.

            And why confine it to things that old? I don’t really see how that’s relevant. Was there some kind of limitation on our ability to tell stories before Christ that makes the timing of the Christ story so exceptionally impressive? If you have to limit it to things that old, then it feels like you’re acknowledging that there are stories that are better than the Christ story, and therefore it is possible to make up something like it.

            All I can think is that you mean that things written after the Gospels are influenced by the Gospels and therefore aren’t original, but the books of the Bible are most definitely influenced by stories that existed before them, so that argument doesn’t really work.

          • AEEscalona

            Alex: “That’s clearly going to be a matter of taste, but I think there’s plenty of literature that fits that description.”
            No, there aren’t. Name me the Greek God of Humility. Name me any real living Greek back then that claimed he actually met one of their gods.

            Alex: “I think the Greek myths are a lot more impressive and beautiful than the Christ myth”.
            The Greek myths were written by men who didn’t claim to have been there as they happened. They are beautiful, indeed, as art, as fiction. They are even instructive as they illustrate the thousand foibles that flesh is heir to, and are used to this day to name psychic “illnesses”. But they are of an entirely different genre than the story of Christ.

            Alex: “You can create subtitles and layers of meaning in anything.”
            And so can you..So what? You can say that about anything. It’s not a proper argument. Stick to specifics.

            Alex: “And why confine it to things that old? I don’t really see how that’s relevant. Was there some kind of limitation on our ability to tell stories before Christ that makes the timing of the Christ story so exceptionally impressive? If you have to limit it to things that old, then it feels like you’re acknowledging that there are stories that are better than the Christ story, and therefore it is possible to make up something like it.”
            Literary styles are like inventions. For example, specialists in the field will tell you that before Augustine of Hippo’s “Confessions”, nothing quite like it, and written in the first person to boot, had ever been written before it. It was something new in literature. The same goes for the Christ story. People didn’t write about themselves making themselves look foolish, or stupid, or craven. About others, yes, but not themselves, especially if they are trying to get others to “follow them.” It’s bad marketing, for one thing. No, the Gospel writers were men bent on telling the truth as they saw and understood it, no matter how bad it made them look (Example: Peter), or how good it made their enemies look. (Example: Pilate)

            Alex: “All I can think is that you mean that things written after the Gospels are influenced by the Gospels and therefore aren’t original, but the books of the Bible are most definitely influenced by stories that existed before them, so that argument doesn’t really work”
            Straw man. I never said that, so you are merely rebuffing your own statement.

          • Anathema

            “The Greek myths were written by men who didn’t claim to have been there as they happened.”

            I don’t remember the Gospels claiming to be written by men who were present for the events they described either. I know that church tradition attributes the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but the gospels themselves never make any such claim.

            Even if the Gospels themselves claimed to have been written by eyewitnesses, the authors still could be dishonest or mistaken about certain things.

            “The same goes for the Christ story. People didn’t write about themselves making themselves look foolish, or stupid, or craven.”

            Again, we don’t actually know who wrote the Gospels. This argument only holds true if you assume the church tradition is correct.

            (And I seriously doubt that no one before the gospels had ever written anything that portrayed the author in a bad light.)

            “It’s bad marketing, for one thing.”

            Not really, in this case. The gospels aren’t trying convince people to worship the apostles of Jesus. They are trying to convince people that Jesus Christ was good and holy and perfect. I would think that the fact that even the apostles were far from perfect would serve to underline how imperfect even the best of human beings are next to the perfect Son of God.

          • Alexandra

            Well said. I clearly have my biases as an atheist, but the things that AEEscalona is say aren’t even in line with what Catholics hold to be true.

          • AEEscalona

            Aren’t even in line? Specifics, please?

          • Korou

            If you’re starting a religion, writing to make yourself look craven or foolish can be a very effective tool. It can make you look humble, it can be used as a “before and after” advertising tool, it can show that you have been forgiven for your sins, or it can be used to emphasise the comparative virtue of someone else.

          • AEEscalona

            Name me a case of a religious, political, or military leader who rose to fame and power under the banner “I am craven, and foolish to boot!”

            Think of the little going away present Peter’s best friend, Jesus, left him when he told Peter that before the cock crowed next, he would deny Him thrice. Church tradition has it that by the time he died crucified in Rome, Peter had worn grooves in his face from weeping in shame, every morning, for the rest of his life, as he was wakened by a cock’s crowin. What a pal, huh?And yet that served as a reminder to all subsequent Popes not to get too fat in the head, and as such, it was a signal honor bestowed Peter, no matter how painful the mechanism.

          • Anathema

            Well, it’s not so much “I am craven, and foolish to boot” here. It’s really more like “Jesus was the perfect, holy, and righteous Son of God. Not even the best of human beings can live up to that, for we all fall short of the glory of God. Even his disciples fell far short of Jesus’s goodness. If even the Messiah’s most devoted followers are so flawed, it’s no wonder we need Jesus to save us from our sins. And despite their flaws, Jesus still valued and forgave his disciples. He even appointed Peter to be the foundation of the Church, and Peter denied him three times. So Jesus will forgive you for what you’ve done too. And you don’t need to be perfect to follow Jesus. Jesus will allow you to do great things in his name even if you are flawed, just as he did with Peter.”

            I agree that the first message is rather poor marketing. But the second seems like rather effective marketing to me.

          • AEEscalona

            The second seems like good marketing to you because you have at least subconsciously accepted the minset of Christianity. But to the ancients, and ESPECIALLY to a Roman, that mindset would have been what we today call “metrosexual” and they would have repudiated it as “femenine” thinking.

          • Korou

            Well, you’ve done it yourself, AEEscalona. Peter’s part in the story gained him kudos for his humility – a signal honour, as you said.
            It might not be a case of rising to power solely on a claim of being foolish and craven, but it was a good narrative element which would help, not harm, the spreading of the Jesus myth.

          • AEEscalona

            It only “helps, not harms” precisely because Christianity over the centuries has instilled humility as a virtue. In Christ’s day, and particularly in the Roman culture Christianity converted, humility was despised. What was admired in a man was courage and loyalty. Not exactly Peter’s shining moment there, when he denied knowing Christ three times. And yet, it was the truth, and the new Christian movement, who could have benefitted by editing that out, never has. Context, Kurou, context.

          • Korou

            But that’s okay. Peter’s weaknesses could represent the failing state of humanity that could still be forgiven. Therefore, Peter could serve as a useful role model for future converts.
            The story didn’t need a selfless hero to steal Jesus’ limelight. It needed a faithless friend who had sinned and yet could still be forgiuven.

            You’re still oversimplifying. Religions get started all the time; there’s still nothing improbable about Christiaity succeeding.

          • Alexandra

            The fact that you think the Greek myths are in an completely different genre than the Christ story is really a wall we’re hitting here. They’re the exact same genre, and they share a lot of traits.

            And as for “God of Humility”, I’d suggest that’s the moral of the stories about Narcissus.

            Christ’s teachings about morality are mostly not unique, and when they are unique they’re not moral by any other moral standard and aren’t widely observed.

          • InvictusLux

            The time limit is needed to discount any down stream copy cats once the bible is published.

            All prior writings/stories had a decidedly human finger print to them. The Old Testament progression toward the New Testament and all the amazing linkage to prophecy makes it unparalleled. The fingerprint of divinity is all over scripture – its too perfect yet uses imperfect human instruments. No other religion on the planet has this kind of fulfilled prophecy that spans thousands of years. No other religion on the planet advanced through all layers of society from poor to wealthy/powerful as quickly as Christianity did. No other religion has has many witness accounts. Mohammad has no prophecies to speak of and conveniently has no witnesses to anything he was allegedly told to write down (same with Joseph Smith of the Mormons who admitted to admiring Mohammad). It’s just too perfect. No one in human history previously had written any stories that used a nation (the Jews) as a living metaphor for what God would do for humanity in the future (escape bondage [sin] and be annealed & tested, perfected and delivered to the promised land [heaven in the NT]. Too perfect too awesome for human’s to come up with – impossible to sustain as an inter-generational conspiracy.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

            It is very easy to fulfill prophecy in a work of fiction.

          • Alexandra

            Or like historical fiction. Where you bend the truth to make it fit the prophesies. It’s incredible what you can do when you’re writing the story decades after it occurred based on hearsay.

          • Korou

            You do realise, John, that we aren’t finding these Josh McDowell-like arguments convincing?

            But please, do tell us more about the prophecies!

          • InvictusLux

            Except the events happened and were witnessed by both friend and enemies of Christ and recorded by both. There is no question that the man Jesus was crucified (ref. the Roman historian Josephus). There is no question that the prediction of the destruction of The Temple came true. All the original apostles went to their death (save John who was tortured to near death) attesting to their gospels and accounts and not one of them recanted. No fisherman dies for a “fish story.”

          • Anathema

            You claim that the events of Jesus’s life were recorded by both friends and enemies who happened to be eyewitnesses.

            Where are these reports? I’d certainly like to see these eyewitness accounts. I’m sure the scholarly community would as well, because I’m pretty sure that they haven’t heard of them either.

            And, while it’s church tradition to ascribe the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we don’t actually know who wrote them. The gospels never claim to have been written by eye witnesses. There is not any truly compelling reason to believe that they were. And there are several things that indicate that they weren’t. For instance, why do Matthew and Luke rely so heavily on Mark. If Matthew was an eyewitness, surely he ought to be writing what he remembered happening, not copying off of Mark?

            The fact that Josephus said that a man called Jesus was crucified is proof of just that . . . Josephus heard that a man called Jesus was crucified.

            So what? I don’t have any problem believing that. What I have trouble believing is that this Jesus was the Son of God who preformed miracles and rose from the dead. That’s what I need evidence for. And that’s where the evidence is lacking.

          • InvictusLux

            Sure its easy – let’s see you arrange to get 50+ prophet cohorts to be born over a span of thousands of years to predict things that come all together in one person in one specific time frame many centuries later. Let’s see you engineer the major undisputed historical events that occur with them (e.g. the destruction of the Temple etc.).

            There are over 60 direct OT prophecies concerning Messiah – some so hard to fathom when made that no one could comprehend how they could ever come logically true but becoming simple to understand when they did occur (e.g. how its possible for Messiah to come BOTH as suffering servant [Yeshua son of Joseph} and as Conquering King {Yeshua son of David in the second coming} . Here are just some of the MANY OT prophecies which come true in a single day:

            33. Betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9; Matthew 10:4)
            34. Sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:15)
            35. Money to be thrown down in God’s house (Zechariah 11:13b; Matthew 27:5a)
            36. Price given for potter’s filed (Zechariah 11:13b; Matthew 27:7)
            37. Forsaken by His disciples (Zechariah 13:7; Mark 14:50)
            38. Accused by false witnesses (Psalm 35:11; Matthew 26:59-61)
            39. Mute before accusers (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 27:12-19)
            40. Wounded and bruised (Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 27:26)
            41. Smitten and spit upon (Isaiah 50:6; Micah 5:1; Matthew 26:67)
            42. Mocked (Psalm 22:7,8; Matthew 27:31)
            43. Fell under the cross (Psalm 109:24; John 19:17; Luke 23:26)
            44. Hands and feet pierced (Psalm 22:16; Luke 23:33)
            45. Crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 27:38)
            46. Made intercession for His persecutors (Isaiah 53:12; Luke 23:34)
            47. Rejected by his own people (Isaiah 53:3; John 7:5,48)
            48. Hated without a cause (Psalm 69:4; John 15:25)
            49. Friends stood afar off (Psalm 38:11; Luke 23:49)
            50. People shook their heads (Psalm 109:25; Matthew 27:39)
            51. Stared upon (Psalm 22:17; Luke 23:35)
            52. Garments parted and lots cast (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23,24)
            53. Suffered thirst (Pslam 69:21; John 19:28)
            54. Gall and vinegar offered Him (Psalm 69:21; Matthew 27:34)
            55. His forsaken cry (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)
            56. Committed Himself to God (Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46)
            57. His bones not broken (Psalm 34:20; John 19:33)
            58. His heart broken (Psalm 22:14; John 19:34) The blood and water which came from Jesus’ pierced side are evidences that the heart had literally burst.
            59. His side pierced (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:34)
            60. Darkness over the land (Amos 8:9; Matthew 27:45)
            61. Buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57-60)

            I suppose now you will say that any crazy person who knows the script could have had the wits and wherewithal to coordinated all these things all on his own?

          • Anathema

            The people writing the New Testament would have been aware of these prophecies. Given that they believed Jesus was the Messiah, it’s not surprising that the tried to force-fit him into as many prophecies as they could, whether they really applied or not.

            I should also note that prophecies can also sometimes be vaguely worded or widely applicable. People will claim that many of Nostradamus’s prophecies were fulfilled. But because many of those prophecies could be stretched and interpreted to mean just about anything, I don’t belief in that Nostradamus had any special powers.

            And some prophecies are so widely applicable that it would be obvious to anyone that they would come true. I could say that “In the future there will be a war where a dictator rises in conquest and he will be opposed by a brown-eyed man.” Given that dictators come to power and are opposed all the time, and that lots of people have brown eyes, it shouldn’t be indicative of any special powers on my part should this prediction come true. The same is true of predictions like being betrayed by a friend or mocked or stared at from afar. You might as well claim that I have divine powers because yesterday I predicted that the sun would rise tomorrow.

          • Korou

            Agreed. I remember having this conversation on another website once. It was my first time hearing about the prophecies. It was really quite surprising when I actually lookd them up – how very weak they were. Come on, really – prophecy has to be held to a high standard, not a low one!

          • Korou

            Try this instead: a Jewish rabble-rouser was executed by the authorities and his followers, unable to give up the meaning they had created for their lives through following him, made up and then believed a story in which he actually triumphed, returned from the grave, and rendered his seeming humiliation an actual victory.
            The Jewish people were living under the Roman Empire. Doesn’t it make sense that any messiahs that did spring up at that time would preach cooperation, submission and peace?

            There’s nothing impossible, or even unlikely about the Christian religion. An atheist’s worldview does not see the existence of Christianity as proving the existence of God at all.

          • AEEscalona

            I did try it. And I found nothing like that story in all of recorded history. And as for what you seem to consider a namby-pamby philosophy preached to a nation conquered, I wonder what kind of spread the Roman punters would have given you if you wanted to bet them that that philosophy would eventually conquer the hearts and minds of the Roman Empire?

          • Anathema

            All stories have a unique combination of characteristics. Otherwise they’d all be identical; we wouldn’t be able to tell any of them apart. So it’s hardly surprising that the story of Jesus Christ is different from other stories, because all stories are different from other stories.

            But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have similarities to other stories. The Jesus story obviously draws a great deal from the Hebrew scriptures: in his infancy he escaped being killed by a king who wished to slaughter all baby Jewish boys (Moses), he was a blood sacrifice to wash away the sins of the people (blood sacrifice was required for purification in the Hebrew tradition), he was a replacement sacrifice sent by God to save human life (the binding of Isaac), he rose to greatness from humble beginnings (Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and came to rule Egypt where his brothers bowed down before him, the Hebrews were slaves in the land of Egypt and they rose to conquer Canaan, David was the a mere shepherd with eight elder brothers and he became a great king), and so on.

            The Jesus story also shares elements with gods in several other mythologies. Osiris was raised from the dead. Prometheus was tortured for saving humankind. Now, I am not saying that the story of Jesus was based on these stories at all. Pagan mythology might have had some influence on the Jesus story, but it certainly wasn’t the major influence. (As I said, the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus draws more on Hebrew mythology than anything else.) However, the fact that the Jesus story shares these elements with other mythologies shows us that it isn’t unique in this regard. All these stories were invented by people. It’s not surprising that people look for similar things in their gods. It’s not surprising that they develop similar themes in the stories about their gods. And the story of Jesus Christ shares some of these themes.

          • Korou

            Really? You never found a case of a religious leader being executed and his followers become more zealous rather than less? How interesting.

    • Fdsd

      - Biblically, God always tended to take the most unlikely to carry his message.

      - The result on the Christian message overturned one of the world’s most powerful empires ever, and then resulted in becoming the most popular religion in the world. (not much to argue with on the results based on timing there)

      - The instrument of torture was public, barbaric, and symbolic. A carpenter nailed to wood. Man suffering ultimately in his work for love of others. The Tree of life accessible to all.

  • Wyle

    This argument completely ignores why animals and bacteria do not kill themselves. Bacteria and fungi do not have an idea of the after life but they are more alive than rocks, and bacteria and fungi do a lot better at surviving than humans do. Mammalians all have a concept of pain (due to our more complex nervous systems), but you don’t see wolves killing themselves (a wolf committing suicide) and wolves do not have capacity for the after life (that we know of).

    So there needs to be a better mechanism to explain why things do not kill themselves, and there is.

    Natural selection. Environments will “select” things that are better adapted to the environment. Traits that help the organism survive and reproduce will have an advantage over organisms that survive and reproduce less. Survival is an advantage. If organisms killed themselves to end suffering (before being capable of reproducing) then that trait with not be favorable and it would die off.

    Thus with biology, you can see what that article is horrible written. And it is a whole of a lot more provable too (i.e., not anecdotal).

    • CaraAlSol

      Yeah, well, kinda missed the point that Humans can reason and have an intellect, unlike our friendly doggy pal.

      Environments

      What selects Enviroments then? How each enviroment selects things?

      for how long have animals existed? Far more than 100.000 years right?

      Then, how come cows run off from cliffs and humans commit suicide?

    • InvictusLux

      You seem to be suggesting a natural form of Divine Providence. Who’s orchestrating the vignette of environments and what plan are they sequencing too? It seems that you are assuming a “plan” that progressively “evolves” all the species collectively toward some super end state evolved being. What’s to say that there is no regression and step backs? Random walks could reverse themselves perfectly in a return sequence that annihilate all the species to claim the experiment a failure. That still implies an orchestration/plan or intelligent design… :D

      • Ryn

        There is no “plan”, organisms evolve and adapt to changing environments. There can be no regressions aside from a species becoming extinct, because a “step back” or a regression means that they are less adapted then the current species, and will through competition die out.
        It’s not intelligent design, it is the constant adaptation of beings to their environment, and as the environment changes organisms must adapt or die. There is no end state, it is an ongoing process.

        • InvictusLux

          How do you know there is no plan? I thought atheists assumed that everything was based on “chance” – stochastic processes while random are indeed a design – its just chaos by design. Atheists seem to betray a deeply seeded optimistic hope (or bias) that chaos MUST trend positively to “progress” – in an endless positive cascade of “evolution” toward some super being that must be endlessly perfected. Who’s to say that we are not regressing and slowly being devolved from cockroaches toward atheistic and obese human slugs? :D

          The theory of evolution has been “evolving” to try to correct the many errors of logic and presumptions since the time of Darwin. I doubt Darwin would even recognize current thinking as remotely related to his own as the same species. The problem with the the evolutionary theories is they assume that the environment MUST slowly change to force a stress adaption (kind of like what we all do in the gym to develop muscle). Of course there is no basis for this assumption since even if one considers the planetary orbits and slow change of mass and energy from the sun there’s no way anyone can know if an external system (or black hole) night not just suddenly appear and radically change the environment (or annihilate it) and devour the species. Who’s to say that biological life is the focus of nature (that has godly implications)? Why can it not be that the non thinking celestial objects that are all in motion and much bigger and a greater energetic investment are the main attraction? We could be the infestation that the environment uses to evolve the material world and “feed it”. We may be lower in the food chain than we imagine. Food for thought…. :D

          • AEEscalona

            I like the way you think. These people don’t even understand the laws of entropy. Their science, (and their eyes, if they would only use them!) tells them that all things degrade over time. That higher organization requires effort, and upkeep.
            Ask any housewife!

          • Alexandra

            I’m really trying not to sound like a jerk, but I’m not sure how to not. Don’t you think it’s more likely that you are missing a piece of the thermodynamic explanation for the world than that the second law is untrue?

            You only reveal your ignorance of science when you make a comment like that. Don’t you think if your interpretation was accurate the law would have been revised?

            Science gives us the computers were using to read this and the internet connection that allows us to communicate across the globe. Thermodynamics is a model that works. There’s plenty of proof of that, including the technology you are using right now.

          • Cal-J

            I think you may need to clarify, your post reads as though you’re accusing Escalona of saying the second law of thermodynamics is wrong.

            She (housewife = self-referential?) never said that the second law was untrue, and in fact agreed with it, with the housewife line.

            Of course, reading her, I have no idea what she’s trying to say, either, so some clarification from both of you would be nice.

          • AEEscalona

            What I was referring to was detailed in the post I was complimenting, by InvictusLux. And then Alex decided to “school me” on Entropy, to her eventual chagrin. Oh, and I’m a boy, I am, who is only passing along the frequent admonitions of my mother, as well as my wife, regarding how much “free energy” it takes to keep household entropy at bay.

          • Alexandra

            I’m not chagrined. I’m confused. I still have no idea what point you’re trying to make about atheists and thermodynamics.

          • Cal-J

            You’re a boy, you are? Awesome. :D

          • AEEscalona

            “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya.

            I said: “These people don’t even understand the laws of entropy. Their science, (and their eyes, if they would only use them!) tells them that all things degrade over time. That higher organization requires effort, and upkeep.
            Ask any housewife!”

            Now… from the Wikipedia article on Entropy:
            “In classical thermodynamics, the concept of entropy is defined phenomenologically by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases or remains constant. Thus, entropy is also a measure of the tendency of a process, such as a chemical reaction, to be entropically favored, or to proceed in a particular direction. It determines that thermal energy always flows spontaneously from regions of higher temperature to regions of lower temperature, in the form of heat. These processes reduce the state of order of the initial systems, and therefore entropy is an expression of disorder or randomness.”

            Or, if you just wanted to believe your eyes, you could just watch ice melt. Or keep looking in the mirror and watch yourself get more and more “disorganized”. (Can I watch?)

            But that would be too simple, wouldn’t it?

            I repeat: Entropy (ie. disorganization) increases over time. It requires “free energy” (ie. the housewife) to maintain the original state of higher organization.

            OK, so….now, who did you say was ignorant, hmmmm?

          • Kubricks_Rube

            “an isolated system”

            Those are three key words for understanding how entropy does not invalidate evolution.

          • AEEscalona

            But living things are by definition in the business of taking organized things, like cattle and vegetables, and disorganizing them in our digestive systems. We are not “isolated” systems. By incorporating that differential, that “free energy”, we hold entropy at bay long enough to procreate for a few decades…
            And for the record, I believe evolution occurs (as does the Catholic Church, btw). I never said it didn’t. Just that it requires an outside “free energy” source to do so.

          • Kubricks_Rube

            Ok, cool. The idea that entropy prohibits evolution is a popular creationist talking point, and the confusion there is usually about closed vs open systems, so I thought that’s what you were saying.

          • Alexandra

            Are you saying God is the world’s housewife?

          • AEEscalona

            I’ll let Him speak for Himself. “Unless you let me wash your feet, you can have no part of Me.” (said to Peter who objected to having his feet washed by his Master the night of the Last Supper as the boys rolled in, on the grounds that it was unseemly and innapropriate.)

            Quite a remarkable fellow, this Jesus. You really ought to give Him a chance. Took me a while, but eventually I “got it.” For which I am eternally thankful.

          • Korou

            And, just for the record, what do you think will happen to me if I don’t?

          • AEEscalona

            If you don’t what? Don’t accept His invitation to come in out of the cold and sit down to dinner with Him and his other guests? The same thing you would do if the roles were reversed, Korou. You’d respect his wishes and sadly let him do what he wants, to stay outside in the cold. Alone. Am I wrong? Isn’t that what you would do?

          • Korou

            You said I should give him a chance. I asked what would happen if I didn’t.
            The answer is, I would get sent to hell. And yes, yoou are wrong; that’s not what I would do. And nor would you, because I don’t think you’re cruel enough to condemn a person to an eternity of suffering through an innocently mistaken belief they held – that you did not exist.

          • InvictusLux

            Good commentary. To me entropy is the very thing that disproves a step-wise evolutionary theory. As a scientist of sorts myself I naturally prefer to embrace the entirely orthodox notion that God could have elected to use the evolutionary processes as his instrument (as long as all of our species of humanity springs from just two primal paired opposite-sex beings with a rational soul, a sense of sentience and the ability to reason that we may choose to call “Adam” & “Eve”). But the science seems to disprove evolution. The ratio of ordered to disordered energy (signal to noise ratio) is exceedingly LOW – the cosmos is very very young cosmologically speaking. There is simply not enough “clock time” (or energy change of state) to randomly produce and evolve the complex human DNA chains unless it was injected externally into the Universe. Scientists know this but don’t seem to be excited about advancing this info against the wall of intellectual investment they have put up against an alternative that sounds too “God-like”. In the mean time “Big Bang Theory” which is entirely compatible with Catholic theological belief so far accounts perfectly with what we observe in nature (Hubble telescope and background radiation) and works beautifully with other leading physics is embraced by the same secular scientists who lampoon the Catholic Church for being anti-science and still in the middle-ages while being clueless that it was developed by a Catholic Priest ( Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître ) who also does physics! The deeper science gets into sub-atomic particles and the wider it gazed at the cosmos the more it finds EVIDENCE for God – there’s not enough stars in the sky or sand grains on the beach to count the digits on the IMPROBABILITY that all this amazing order could have happened by a natural heuristic of trial and error. It’s laughable.

    • Elizabeth

      So suicide caused by bullying is a genetic trait and seriously suicidal people should kill themselves to avoid passing it on? Hmmm…

  • Alexandra

    I’m really confused as to exactly what the “Problem of Pain” is in an atheistic world view. I thought the problem of pain was why do we suffer if we have an all loving god? Am I misunderstanding it? As far as I can tell there is no such problem in an atheistic world view. To me, that’s a much more satisfying and logical answer. Occam’s razor and all that.

    • A Sailor

      William of Ockham was a Catholic.

      • Alexandra

        And? That doesn’t invalidate my point.

      • InvictusLux

        True – but he had some heretical tendencies if memory serves me rightly.

      • Nonbeliever

        And Isaac Newton was a creationist who believed in Alchemy, yet we still use his contributions to science and mathematics in the modern age. Your point?

        To put it simply, Alexandra is right. The ‘Problem of Pain’ or whatever you wish to call it isn’t a problem in a non-religious world view. Unlike what the author of the blog post said, there is nothing supernatural required to understand the concept of suffering and the desire to not suffer; it is a natural phenomenon. The pain of a burning stove, the pang of loneliness when seperated from a loved one, these are signals (based in biochemistry) that drive us to change. Pain is a nerve signal that lets us know something is wrong and potentially dangerous, driving us to do what is necessary to alleviate the pain.

        As a social species, we have feelings for our fellow humans (typically; obviously not everyone has the same feelings); these feelings are caused by our brain chemistry, and are part of the reason we’re the top dogs on the planet today. We survive by working together, and have naturally evolved to desire the company and support of others. The less ‘physical’, more ‘mental’ suffering (I put them in quotes because, when it comes down to it, all of it is physically based) comes from this.

        Life itself is not suffering. Certainly, it will typically include suffering, but it is not defined by it, and the desire to not suffer is not in any way outside of the natural world, unlike what the author said above.

        • http://www.thinveil.net Brandon Vogt

          You’re right to an extent. Atheists instead face the Problem of Pleasure. Why in a God-less world would pleasure exist? Why are there so many pointlessly beautiful things in the world like sunsets, mountain cliffs, and sacrifice?

          • Cal-J

            I would also imagine the atheist has to come up with an answer to “Why do we care at all?”

            What would that be? The Problem of Preoccupation?

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

            Think of Pleasure as the opposite of Pain. Where Pain is a signal to tell us that something is bad, Pleasure is a signal to tell us something is good. For example: hunger leads to Pain, and induces change. We then eat, which gives us Pleasure which tells us that eating is good, and it gets rid of Pain. We then know to eat when we feel the pain of hunger. It is basic biology.

          • Cal-J

            True, but we’re not talking about Nature’s carrot-and-stick mechanism. We’re talking of joy and beauty.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

            Your reply assumes that there needs to be joy and beauty in pain. The joy and beauty of pain is seen in the eye of the beholder. For the Atheist, the beauty of pain is understanding its intended purpose and seeing how that purpose works in our everyday lives.

      • Cal-J

        A lot of Catholics tend to hate William of Ockham. Upstart troublemaker.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730520187 Aaron Lopez

      ” I thought the problem of pain was why do we suffer if we have an all loving god? Am I misunderstanding it?”

      Yes, you are misunderstanding it. It is a problem precisely because it is something that we do not desire.

      To say that there is no ‘problem’ in an atheistic worldview is bizarre. I do not doubt for one second that atheists also try to alleviate all symptoms of suffering, such as poverty, illness, strife, whatever. By name they would call it ‘natural’, by action, they would admit it a ‘problem’.

      Why do we care to overcome suffering? It’s not simply a Christian desire. All human beings of different beliefs have tried to overcome in. It is seemingly inhuman to succumb to it.

      “To me, that’s a much more satisfying and logical answer.”

      So no, that answer was not satisfying, neither was it logical, because it was actually irrelevant. What is suffering? Surely, it can be explained through a multitude of reasons, especially the secular scientific.

      Why overcome suffering?

      That is seemingly only explained perfectly through a Christian perspective.

      • Alexandra

        It’s irrelevant because you’re talking about something different than I am. The “Problem of Pain” as you Christians talk about it is a different thing than why does pain exist. In an atheistic world view the “Problem of Pain” doesn’t exist.

        There is no difficult question to answer if there isn’t a loving god. But if you’re talking about why does pain exist, you’re right there’s a multitude of answers.

        Why overcome suffering? Because suffering sucks and there’s happiness to be had. The reason why we want to be happy doesn’t need to invoke any religion, and certainly not Christianity.

        • Cal-J

          I keep noticing that the “atheistic worldview” has a habit of dismissing the question “Why?”

          Also, slight note on what Marc calls the Problem of Pain. I think you may have it confused with the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Pain Marc is talking about is why does suffering exist in the first place. The Problem of Evil is how a loving God is compatible with the world, which tends to be miserable (or we focus a lot on the misery). Not quite the same thing.

          Marc’s whole point is that atheists who are concerned with the WHY of suffering will find no answer satisfactory outside of certain avenues.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

            Actually, pain was created as a evolutionary trait that keeps us alive. If we did not experience pain, we would not know what is bad for us as a species. There are certain people who are born unable to experience pain. In fact, parents of children with this genetic condition call it hell because their kids keep injuring themselves without realizing the damage it is doing to their body.

            The kids will break their legs, and keep walking on them. They can’t feel back pain, and so they have bad posture which leads to a curvature of the spine. They won’t eat sometimes. To quote an article on such children, “forty years ago, a child with FD had a 50 percent probability of reaching the age of 5, today, a child born with FD would have a 50 percent probability of reaching the age of 40.”

            So tell me if you believe an atheist world view can explain why we suffer.

            Here is the article I mentioned.
            http://articles.cnn.com/2006-01-27/health/rare.conditions_1_roberto-salazar-tongue-autonomic-nervous-system?_s=PM:HEALTH

          • Cal-J

            “Actually, pain was created as a evolutionary trait that keeps us alive. If we did not experience pain, we would not know what is bad for us as a species.”

            You mean pain developed as an evolutionary trait, I presume. (Take care with that word “created”. It implies a Creator. Big no no.).

            I understand that pain is a warning signal to the body; in fact, I made several of those points below.

            My point regards all suffering, which includes things like grief and loneliness and misery. If you hold these are evolutionary traits, I would like to hear the explanation.

          • Anathema

            Loneliness motivates us to find other people. Humans are a social species. We work best in groups. Grief motivates us to try to avoid it. It’s a byproduct of caring for each other — we end up feeling hurt when another is, and we mourn when we lose someone.

  • Gail Finke

    That was a great way to put a very complicated viewpoint, and it hit home in a lot of ways. It is a difficult subject, because terrible things happen every day to people who in no way experience them as redemptive, and many Christians airily wave this reality away. Thanks for a thought-provoking essay.

  • Jamie

    Wow – what a thought provoking post!! I’m new to this blog from pinterest but I love it and I’ll be back. :)

    Jamie
    For Love of Cupcakes

  • Nicholas Silva

    “The breast of the child dying with pneumonia heaves up and down with the strain of bringing the world back to its Father.”

    Pure poetry, Marc, bravo!

  • InvictusLux

    Bravo Marc. This is inspirational. There are so many people who have lost their faith by arriving at the reflection: “how can a loving God permit all this pain and suffering we see everywhere in nature”? They can’t suffer the notion of a religion that does not conform itself to their painfully parochial views & expectation for a world of nothing but pleasure. So they elect to spurn the idea of a God who permits suffering in favor of just suffering it all alone anyway ; and never bother to regard the nagging painful irrationality tugging at their conscience that asks: ‘Uhm, just “why” is it a superior and acceptable notion that random acts & conditions of Nature can give rise to suffering but not OK that God could have permitted all that? ” They can’t fathom or consider the possibility that suffering is all wrapped up in and defines “love”; nor glom on to the pattern that exists at the very first moment of human life – labor pains and infants crying out to “whoever is there” for care and feeding. There are no infant atheists or if there are they are the ones who don’t cry and don’t eat and succumb to sudden infant death syndrome.

    Atheists of course can’t escape any pain by rejecting God. It follows too that they can’t escape love either. Ultimately it comes down to the question – “how long do we want to suffer ourselves alone? since its clear that we are all pre-wired uniformly for suffering – and except for differences in capacity (thick or thin skinned :D ) that universal pattern can’t possibly by taken without suffering a painfully severe illogic a “random” act of Nature. ” Ouch” – the simplicity hurts my head – but unless we are talking to ourselves in these exclamative outbursts of suffering (and are all universally crazy) I’d say deep down we all know “someone or something” is listening…

  • Cjonesnj

    Method for ending small talk #2A) Mention that Christianity is the CAUSE of some people’s suffering.

    ps – not the religion, just some of its followers.

    • Cal-J

      And in that ps lies the flaw of the argument. Carry on!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    I think there is room for suffering that is cause by pure malevolence, but turned to good by main force of divine will. I mean, “enter the devil”. But maybe I give him a bit too much credit, from reading Tolkien: “A thing may be turned to good, and yet remain evil” – Which I constantly quote to my friends who say “predestination”. Anyway. Nice stuff, as always. Although the whole “Buddhists destroy pain by destroying the body” and “Buddhists deny that desire has a real object though not being achieved ” stuff I’ve got to before. Had too: Nausikaa of the Valley of the Wind was a rather sad read so I had to do some mental fighting :D

    For the suffering in Christ thing… hmm… I think that another way to look at it is the way of “the man who was Thursday” – “Can you drink of the cup that is poured out for me?”… “cast your cares upon Jesus”… and then to say that, to take from Lewis’ The Great Divorce “All your life was actually in heaven”… So maybe then the matter is that in the end your pain disappears because you are in line with God ex-temporally… and thus Christ’s pains were the taking of your pains…

    But actually taking from the infinite is possible. Why? Because there will be eternal suffering in Hell, which means that some pain is not taken away, and some matter never returns to God; unless hell is not eternal. So really God, even if he bears all our pains, cannot entirely own all of them unless some people give up their pains, which does not happen so far as we know.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    Additionally, would it be sinful to now go to the Buddhist portal and troll with this stuff? Because, well, it is fun, and ethical even, to be a “gadfly”… Say! Oh! Socrates would understand then, that suffering leads to turning! OH! LOLLOLOLOL!

  • Orenjd

    Really great explanation! I’ve never read a better one.

  • Kangyuan Niu

    > She must retire and think on why, if suffering is simply a part of the natural universe, do we have within ourselves a desire to be without it?

    Being atheist has nothing to do with being a pushover. This is a strawman.

    > Does that imply we are made for another universe?

    It means we should improve this one.

  • Ryn

    I’m sorry but regardless of how well you articulated this, the whole thing is beside the point. You said it the beginning:
    “She (atheists) must retire and think on why, if suffering is simply a part of the natural universe, do we have within ourselves a desire to be without it? Does that imply we are made for another universe?”
    A desire to be without suffering is in every living being. It is a reaction arc, our bodies tell us not to do something via messages to the brain from our nerves. Humans are not the only creatures who move away from fire when it burns them. It is to prevent harm to your body, and ultimately to survive.
    Now how does that explain the suffering of missing a loved one? Again, not only a human trait, and yet another survival instinct. Our social bonds are what allowed us to become the intelligent race we have become. Though again, not the only species that mourns or desires to be with its relatives (elephants have been shown to mourn the dead, and even re-visit grave sites. Wolf packs also form deep social bonds). Does that mean all other creatures are wanting to move towards the good of god? They don’t have religion but still form social structures and have emotion.
    I honestly believe that religion dampens the beauty of our world. What is this place in comparison to ‘heaven’ or another form of a perfect afterlife. I have one life, and I plan on living it to the fullest, and appreciate beauty at every level. I do good because it is right to do so, not because I fear the wrath of an omniscient being. It would comfort me to know that there is life after death, but I believe it is childish to hold tight to such things when there is no proof of it (apart from a book… Which must be true because it says so… In the same book), and instead live each day to its fullest and take no day for granted.

    • AEEscalona

      “I do good because it is right to do so, not because I fear the wrath of an omniscient being.

      Bravo! You are almost there. To take the final step, you need only ask HOW and WHY a moral philosophy of life would arise and spread to a billion people that urges authority to humble itself, deny its selfish utilitarian drive, and subject itself in humble service to the least among us.

      Fear of the wrath of a lamb? Is THAT what one gets out of his example? How does “evolution” explain that? No, you rightfully intue that that is most certainly NOT the message you want and need to hear. That this is about the love of a parent, who is trying to teach you how to live, and respects your free will, NOT the tyranny of an overlord. And you rightfully reject the latter.

      By all means, live life to its fullest. Go and perform some unpaid charitable work among those of your fellow travellers who are suffering. Then come home, sit quietly in your chair, review what you saw that day and what you did about it, and tell me what you feel inside is some form of evolved herd instinct, or some kind of ego-stroking thrill. Go ahead. But I warn you. It’s addictive. Because it is uniquely fulfilling
      in a way nothing else can match.

      The moral backbone I perceive between the lines in your post came from somewhere, it isn’t utilitarian as an evolutionary survival ethic would produce. I hear the echo of someone in your life, a parent, a grandparent, someone who loved you, who may or may not have been Christian, but who showed you by word and deed the echo that I hear in your post. A philosophy that tempers authority, that counters the thrust of “Nature, red in tooth and claw…” That KNOWS what is right and what is wrong. Who did that come from, in you? And who did that come from, in them?And in what way does that echo sound to you like “survival of the fittest”?

      • Korou

        Perhaps you’d like to go back to the post before last (Marc’s post on where morality comes from in a godless universe) and read my responses, in which I outlined very clearly how an atheist can justify morality.

        Or read The God Delusion, in which Dawkins does a very good job of explaining the evolutionary roots of morality.

        • AEEscalona

          I did go and read your comments in that post. Which, by the way, led me to click on your icon and read every post you’ve written since you first came here six years ago. (I am new, third day here).

          My conclusion: You are an altruistic atheist and someone I would not mind at all were you to be my neighbor. I had a friend in college, with whom I had tremendous debates over these issues, who was a committed atheist and who argued his case quite well. I treasured him, for many reasons, but one of the greatest was that he kept my knife sharp. I miss him.

          What was funny was that, at the time, I was an agnostic, and had been since the age of eleven or twelve, having been raised Roman Catholic. Like many kids around that age, I had grown tired of having my intelligence insulted by the simplistic explanations of Catechesis for Children. The Church has always had the same problem any teacher has. Teach to the middle, and you will lose the very bright and the not-so-bright. There’s no way around this.

          In my debates with Richard, I nonetheless took the God’s advocate position, at the time more out of sport than faith, and I daresay I scored more than a few points in my day. But I never was able to budge him from his stance.

          Several years into the friendship, Richard took a position with a law firm in West Berlin that required him to travel to East Berlin frequently. Let it be noted that Richard was also a Marxist, and I a Austrian-style Capitalist, and that we spent many days discussing how to create a healthy worker-owned society, researching the Oneida community and many other experiments of the kind in the US and S. America. I say this to communicate that his default state re East Berlin was supportive, though not uncritical of its shortcomings. A stalwart intellectually honest man. And a nuanced thinker.

          When he returned from his contract, a year later, I got a phone call from him to come over. As I settled into my easy chair he handed me a bourbon on the rocks and poured one for himself. He sat down and then uttered what is possibly the smartest thing I’ve ever heard come out of a human mouth. He said:

          “After a year in and out of East Berlin, and engaging hundreds of people there of all walks in earnest discussion, I can tell you with complete personal certainty that though I myself am not a Christian, I have come to the conclusion that it is entirely in my self-interest that everyone else be one.”

          “QED”, said I, and took a long pull off my bourbon. (A barbarous drink, but ruthlessly efficient.)

          Looking back, that statement of his festered over time in me, and was one of the proximate reasons for my return to the Faith, as in subsequent years I started reading theology by adults for adults, and began to discover what I had missed by not mining the treasure trove of 2,000 years of Catholic thought.

          “You shall know them by their fruits”, He said.

          The problem is that men who do not believe in God will transfer the locus of their morality to the collective/commonwealth. And the jury is in. The gutters of history are littered with the corpses of the victims of well-meaning worshippers of the common good.

          ‘Cause, y’know, ya gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.”

          Having read everything you’ve written here, I come to the conclusion that you are a well-intentioned altruistic atheist, who truly believes that he stands on solid moral ground independent of an imaginary God. I grant that. I believe you.

          The problem is that one of man’s signal failures is his impatience.
          And that impatience has justified 100 million deaths in the past century alone, in the name of the common good.

          I myself am an exile from a Atheist Communist State who grounds itself on utilitarian “common good” morality to justify its actions. And you have no idea what that does to a man’s soul, to both the oppressor and the oppressee, when its institutionalized. And Richard saw that, up close and personal, and to his great credit was man enough to admit it.

          • Korou

            Thank you for your very worthwhile comment – I’m afraid I don’t have time to answer right now, but I hope I can come back later.

          • AEEscalona

            /bows

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/DKZPJANJJE4R46NISSCSQ6YJHE john

        “You rightfully intue that that is most certainly NOT the message you want and need to hear. That this is about the love of a parent, who is trying to teach you how to live, and respects your free will, NOT the tyranny of an overlord. And you rightfully reject the latter.”

        If that is the case, explain this.

        “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.” (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

        To boil it down, it says to kill the non-believers. That sounds a lot like a tyrannical overlord rather than a loving parent.

      • Ryn

        I do often do charity work, and spend one day each week volunteering at an animal hospital. I do that to better the world I live in, and yes, it makes me feel good. I do also believe that these feelings encourage me to do well, because it improves my society and ultimately encourages survival of my species. Call it cold, but that’s what it boils down to, and yes you could call it an evolved herd instinct. Every good deed, betters someone else’s life and betters my ‘environment’. Our bodies reward us with feeling good about it. Are you suggesting that god makes us feel good for doing good things?

        If the forgiving love of a parent is what god offers, why is it that we are constantly threatened with an eternity of hell for the wrongdoings we allow ourselves? And yes, we do wrong but he forgives us, but only if we beg him to do so. Countless passages in the bible describe horrendous punishments that god demands, and the violent deaths of thousands he caused for disobedience. I doubt any parent would be called loving if they exacted this upon their children.

        • AEEscalona

          Before I address your second paragraph, let me commend you on your charity work, regardless of why you do it. But I categorically REFUSE to acknowledge your once a week (sounds like your primary) volunteer work at the animal hospital as an “evolved herd instinct”. I regret to inform you that if that’s the case, you’re in THE WRONG HERD! lol
          Now if you tell me you do that because you are an altruist who believes we owe kindness to our pets for all the affection and entertainment they provide us, I can buy that. That’s a sense of justice and gratitude. Bravo. If you tell me you do it because you just LOVE kitty-cats,and love to hang around ‘em, hey, I’m with ya. But if you tell me you do it because it’s an evolved “herd instinct”, fer crying out loud, at least run with bipeds! I’ve spent lots of time at ranches and farms, working there a day or two here and there for the experience. Yes, ranchers and farmers will often pick an animal or two they treat like pets and enjoy spoiling, but they most definitely DON’T transfer those sentiments to the entire herd. To them, the animals are food (or money), to sustain YOUR human herd, not theirs.
          What you do is what I call inter-species altruism, and it comes from a sense of gratitude and justice, not a herd instinct. Give your conscience the credit it deserves. So again, I ask you, where did you get that sense of “decency”?
          (Second paragraph answer to be continued. My kid yanked my chain, lol)

        • AEEscalona

          Ryn wrote: “If the forgiving love of a parent is what god offers, why is it that we are constantly threatened with an eternity of hell for the wrongdoings we allow ourselves? And yes, we do wrong but he forgives us, but only if we beg him to do so. Countless passages in the bible describe horrendous punishments that god demands, and the violent deaths of thousands he caused for disobedience. I doubt any parent would be called loving if they exacted this upon their children.”

          So I take it you are the kind of parent who would forgive and hide their grown child from the police, even if your grown child is burgling the neighbors houses and knifing their kids, steals from you and brutally beats his own siblings, refuses to even say he’s sorry, ignores all the family rules of behaviour, ignores your warnings that if he doesn’t change, you will have to stop hiding him and turn him out, where the police will catch him and put him in a place with all the other grown children who are just like him, where those other “bad kids” will do horrible things to him…???

          And you sympathize with the criminal and say it’s his Daddy’s fault, for having brought him into the world? We used to have a word for this kind of mindset. A “moral imbecile”. We don’t use it anymore, mostly because it’s unfair to most imbeciles to lump them together with moral imbeciles. What it meant was that that person was so twisted that they lacked any ability to exercise the most basic tenets of moral reasoning.

          No… you owe it to your other children, and your neighbors’ children, to, after doing your best to teach and warn your grown child of the consequences of his behaviour, if he doesn’t “get it”, you must turn him out to a life in prison, which he has earned, enjoying the company of his peers.

          Grow up. I’m sorry to have to say that, but you sound JUST like a rotten teenager, who thinks the world owes him applause every time they crap on the carpet.

  • Korou

    Marc, it’s not persuasive in the slightest to say (as you essentially are) “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God was real?”

    First, you have to prove that He is real. I know, you weren’t trying to prove that in this post, and said as much, but until you can, pondering how His existence might affect our lives really doesn’t have much point.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Santa Claus was real? Anyone who’s old enough to know that he doesn’t, and who still asks that, will get the simple response: “He’s not.”
    God is not real. So it doesn’t matter how life would be better if he were.

    But let me respond to the title of your post, which I do find more interesting, by saying: Why not do something far more sensible than what you’re doing now? Leave the Catholic Church. It’s really not good for you at all.
    http://ffrf.org/uploads/legal/WashPostBW.pdf
    http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/catholic-church

    • musiciangirl591

      Thomas Aquinas, arguments for the existence of God, check it out sometime

      • Rowankohll

        Already did, thanks.

        • musiciangirl591

          i personally like them and find them enlightening…

    • Cal-J

      The Church: Wormtongue wishes he were this good.

      • Cal-J

        Also, seriously? You posted the Leave the Catholic Church ad? The one from the same news paper that refused to publish an alternate equivalent for Muslims because that would be too offensive?

  • Rosie

    By all means profess your faith, but unless you have worked hard to understand another faith (such as Buddhism or Islam), you have an insufficient basis on which to make informed comparisons. It is surely possible to say why you love your tradition and what it means to you without denouncing the traditions of others?

    I am no expert on Islam, but I do see some problems with your portrayal of the Buddhist approach to suffering. To say that Buddhism condemns all desire is, in a sense, misleading. This side of enlightenment, one can strive for the things of samsara which will never bring lasting satisfaction, but one can also strive for ‘the deathless’—for Nirvana—which will bring lasting satisfaction. The Buddha, when he was searching for the deathless himself was part of the Sramana movement. ‘Sramana’ means literally “one who strives”. From a Buddhist perspective, it is perpetually seeking to satisfy our fundamental thirst/craving in the wrong places (through attachment to the transitory phenomena of the world) that causes us to suffer, but seeking to satisfy it permanently by developing wisdom and compassion will eventually bring an end to suffering. The fundamental characteristics of one who has reached enlightenment and completely transcended desire are perfect wisdom and perfect compassion. So, in a sense the desire to perform charity is transcended (as you suggest), but this does not mean one ceases to perform acts of charity. On the contrary, one is perfectly charitable and acts of charity flow naturally from one’s nature.

    • Cal-J

      Question: Could you define a few things for me so I can understand? I fail to see how one could be perfectly charitable after transcending desire, for my understanding of charitable is, at root, the desire to help others. Similar problems occur with perfect compassion.

  • Allison Grace

    The Church’s teachings on redemptive suffering saved my life and my marriage.

  • Steven Dillon

    I personally don’t find this satisfying. Suffering exists so that we might be healed? If anyone allowed suffering for that reason, they’d go to prison for many moons. e.g., Imagine a team of scientists who constructed a virus that inflicted severe pain, and resulted in death. Further, they injected it into large populations resulting in horrific suffering. When standing before the court, their only defense was that they administered the virus so that the afflicted would flock to them for the antidote. That’s it. Yeah. You guessed it: they’d all get capital punishment. But, god’s different for some reason?

    • Jmplippert

      God didn’t make suffering–He allowed it the way you allow space in a meadow–it allows lovers to run across it to each other. Adam and Eve may have complicated it and made it much more intense than it had to be–but the choice to choose God and to cross over into the embrace of love is the point.

      • Steven Dillon

        Supposing that he didn’t make suffering (something I’m not sure theists should grant), the moral reasoning you’re saying justifies god in permitting suffering isn’t considered to be justifying in other situations. Revising the thought-experiment: A team of scientists, capable of preventing the spread of an agonizing virus, choose not to do so. Why? So that the afflicted could choose to turn to the scientists and hopefully strike up a loving relationship with them. They’d all get death-row, or at least, the verdict would be guilty.

        • Cal-J

          Also, you came close, but you didn’t quite grasp Marc’s point. Suffering is not a thing. It has no proper existence in and of itself. What it is, rather, is a recognition of incompleteness or want resulting from perception of the world around us; much like pain is not a thing but the recognition of something physically wrong with our bodies. That we have pain is actually a good thing.

          God does not cause suffering but permits it, due to the reasons mentioned above. If suffering exists, than there must be a state of being in which the needs and wants belonging to that suffering are fulfilled. We are hungry, and the object of our suffering is food, and there is food. We are thirsty, and the object of our suffering is drink, and there is drink. The various forms of our sufferings are defined by their object (hunger, thirst, pain, loneliness).

          In considering why God doesn’t prevent suffering, consider the case of someone who can’t feel pain. (Here’s a wikipedia article on the subject). People who can’t feel pain are almost constantly in danger, as their inability to register that something is physically wrong with their body means that they have a delayed reaction to a problem. Someone may bleed to death because he bit off the tip of his tongue and didn’t realize it. The human body uses pain as a sign that something is wrong and that it might be fixed.

          Your thought-experiment doesn’t quite match up: First off, it requires that the imaginary legal system require these scientists to act; their lack of action may result in an angry mob coming after them, but I wasn’t aware that the modern legal system punished lack of action. I know of criminal negligence and reckless endangerment, but this doesn’t fit either.

          Also: “Why? So that the afflicted could choose to turn to the scientists and hopefully strike up a loving relationship with them.”

          I think we have reached the point where your thought experiment fails entirely. Your experiment requires that God — the definer and giver of all existence — be morally obligated to alleviate all suffering. It fails to consider potential higher motives and motions in God’s work by requiring that God serve the temporary purposes of the experiment. The scientists may be morally obligated to work for the good of the suffering (though not necessarily legally, and I have trouble imagining the kind of system that would require this of them), but you have yet to establish that God is.

          • Steven Dillon

            My objection, in general, is that the moral reasoning the theist claims god uses when permitting suffering wouldn’t justify other moral agents. So, there must be something *else*, perhaps in conjunction with this moral reasoning, that would justify god’s permission of suffering. But, the theist isn’t appealing to anything else, as if the moral reasoning alone suffices and this is just special pleading.

            Minor Disagreements:

            I think suffering is a thing: it’s a qualia. But, I suspect this isn’t terribly important.

            I also find the distinction between ‘causing’ and ‘permitting’ vague enough to warrant pause, but I don’t think it’s important one way or another for my objection.

            Responses:

            You suggest that god wouldn’t prevent suffering because if he did, people would be unaware of things like fatal states which pain alerts us of. But, this seems to undermine omnipotence. Is god really incapable of designing a mechanism which replicates pain’s functions but without involving suffering? Further, again, this moral reasoning would not justify other moral agents.

            As far as whether the scientists were required to act, I had criminal negligence in mind. But, all that’s important is whether we think their failure to act is wrong, not necessarily whether it was just illegal.

            Finally, I don’t see how my objection requires that god have a moral obligation to prevent suffering. It’s controversial whether god would have moral obligations if he existed, I’d rather avoid that can of worms. I only mean to suggest that the moral reasoning god is alleged to use isn’t enough to justify god, though perhaps he is justified on other grounds. (I have other objections to this though, such as the evidential problem of suffering)

    • musiciangirl591

      when i was on a retreat, they told us they had to break our hearts and put us through spiritual death in order to heal us more and become closer to Him, some suffering is good

  • JB

    Nice piece. I have, well, one difficulty. To say that Christ still “suffers”, I’m not comfortable with that. If we look at the Book of Revelation and see “the Lamb, looking as though it had been slain” and realize that Jesus continually, perpetually “offers” Himself–see the work of Scott Hahn–in the un-bloody sacrifice of the Eucharist, I don’t think the Church teaches that Jesus still suffers.

    • musiciangirl591

      one of the names for Christ is the Suffering Servant, He still suffers for our sins

      • JB

        1 Peter 3:18 – For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.

        I urge you (and others) to explore this question further. God Bless.

        • musiciangirl591

          so the name the Suffering Servant is wrong?

          • JB

            No, it isn’t wrong. Jesus said that He had come to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets. Matt 5:17. When he uttered, “It is finished” on the Cross, He had become/fulfilled the Passover Lamb. That is why the Church stresses that Jesus’ Passion is re-presented on the altar at Mass in the Holy Eucharist. He does not die again.

          • musiciangirl591

            ohh, i still love that name though

  • A E Molinari

    Marc Barnes. I do believe I love you. Please keep writing. I know you weren’t planning on stopping. But don’t ever. Thank you.

    • Cléo

      Exactly! More thank you’s from Belgium.

  • Johnl

    Bro, on the real, that was the shit. Keep it up. What you are doing is a great example of the New Evangelization. Thanks for keepin’ it real. Much appreciated

  • Peggy

    This is why the distorted version of Christianity (Theology of Glory) often called the “Prosperity Gospel” is so wrong. It is in the Cross, the suffering of Jesus for us, that there is salvation, and He does not promise to take our suffering from us (bearing our own Cross), but to be with us in our suffering (Theology of the Cross). It is in suffering that we are perfected (like gold purified in fire). “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

  • Lys

    What twaddle. We feel pain in childbirth because we push a 6-9 lb thing out of our rather tiny vaginas. We feel physical pain as a warning that what is happening to our bodies is harmful and will literally tear them apart with we keep it up. We strive to get away from burning, freezing, smother, and poison merely for biological survival. We suffer because we are imperfect animals in a rather hostile universe- no one designed this universe for human because only a fraction of a fraction of it is habitable to us. How vain and egotistical to think this is all ours when our bodies can only deal with such a small range of temperatures, when our main source of light gives us cancer, and when there are around 125 billion galaxies in the universe that we physically cannot live in because of our biology. We’re a product of chance and biological evolution and our suffering is a result of us trying to live in a world that’s trying very hard to kill us. It’s infinitely more beautiful to realize that all of human existence and adaptation is a result of surviving in an amazing, chaotic universe than it is to think some bully sky god is still pissed off at me because some ancient bitty ate an apple.

    • Cal-J

      We feel physical pain when our bodies are in danger, and the physical pain (burning, freezing, smothering, poison) signifies that there is a better state in which the physical pain does not exist.

      Our suffering signifies that there is a better state in which the suffering is fulfilled and ceases to exist.

      …I think you’ve just managed to agree with Marc’s main point. Huh.

      As to the rest of your post, I can’t honestly say that your point makes a great deal of sense. Whenever someone insists on existence by chance, it basically wrings out to “It all just happened that way.” (Remember, this is the sophisticated, “scientific” position). Also, existence by chance has a great deal to answer for. I mean, first off, the universe had to start (by chance), and it had to develop coherent systems (by chance), in which inanimate matter spontaneously transformed into animate matter (by chance), in a universe that, according to the nature of entropy, is hostile to any and all development, and not only did this happen back when the earth was a great big molten rock of I’m-Going-To-Kill-You-All, there occurred a likewise inordinate series of developments that all serve the purpose of living creatures (oxygen, heat, etc — again, all by chance), that developed over billions of years into conditions that support human life. And lots of it. And that’s not taking into account the sheer amount of interactivity on the part of existing things — the average human cell has about a million working parts, for example, and we go through phenomenal amounts of cells in our lives. And this all happened by chance in a universe that you insist wants to kill us… I’m sorry, but for a universe trying so damn hard to kill us all, it’s doing a really crappy job.

      Do you have any idea how astronomically overwhelming the odds regarding our existence are? Stephen Hawking does. He’s actually been speculating on the existence of alternate universes in an attempt to justify the ridiculously infinitesimal amount of chance regarding that we exist. Alternate universes! For which we have no proof at all outside of microscopic quantum physical weirdness that freaks us the heck out and only gives us the vaguest of maybes. Oh, and not just one or two, but an infinite amount of alternate universes. It’s that massive an issue. It’s like your odds of winning a jackpot to the power of infinity.

      Also, you aren’t discussing Marc’s point. “We suffer because we are imperfect animals in a rather hostile universe- no one designed this universe for human because only a fraction of a fraction of it is habitable to us.”

      A really big failure of a hostile universe, but whatever. First, Marc never claimed the universe was made for us, but we can easily debate the point. The book of Genesis proposes a counter-argument, specifically referring to the planet Earth, maybe, but still. Also, even outside of the existence of God, I am entirely free to point out that you describe humans as imperfect and therefore intimate the existence of perfection. I’d like to know: a perfect what, exactly? Also outside the existence of God, how is the universe not for us? We’re the most interesting things around because we’re the only beings in all functional existence (in your view) that are capable of giving a darn in the first place — all beauty, all wonder, all [insert adjective here] requires us to recognize and know it. If we were not around, the whole universe would basically have no point. Human existence is the game changer. And on the note of our fraction of the universe, it is entirely possible that we can develop livelihoods on other celestial bodies (loads of colonizers around will agree with me), even if not yet feasible.

      “It’s infinitely more beautiful to realize that all of human existence and adaptation is a result of surviving in an amazing, chaotic universe than it is to think some bully sky god is still pissed off at me because some ancient bitty ate an apple.”

      Uh… no it’s not. It’s kind of sad, really. In your view there is no point. There is simply no point at all to existence. Your entire worldview implodes because there’s no reason at all to do anything. We’d be entirely justified in slaughtering one another, because there’s no reason to do anything else. There’s no reason or meaning in your worldview. The only thing that anyone gets out of your worldview is perhaps a mildly stoked ego for achievements they didn’t make, and frankly, things that may not be achievements at all, for what is an achievement if there is no ultimate reason or point. An achievement is the recognition of a superlative good, which can not exist in your worldview, by definition… which makes me start wondering on how consistent your worldview is with itself. (Also, it’s “biddy”, not “bitty”, just a heads up).

      • Korou

        I love the way that Christians live in a world filled with magical things, believing all sorts of fairy tales – and then when people say to them, “Where’s the proof?” they try to paint them as the irrational, crazy ones.

        Seriously – this whole blog, it’s amazing. I’d appreciate it if Marc and others wrote more like, “Well, I know it sounds strange, but this is really what we believe.” But the message that comes through their writings is: “Of COURSE Christianity is true, and of COURSE Catholicism is right.”

        I think it must be that your beliefs are so unsubstantiated that you project and accuse everyone else of missing the obvious.

        It’s strange to think that people think like this. Doesn’t it ever strike you as strange that nobody has ever talked to God – you know, directly? That nobody has ever come back from Heaven to send us a message about it? That we live in a world in which there are thousands of other religions which all say you are wrong, but that you happened to have the insight to chooose the one that was right?

        Please. Read the God Delusion. We all have delusions. Face yours. Please.

        • Erin

          Jesus came down from heaven. Told us all about it. Proved the truth of his words through miracles and his resurrection from the dead.

          • Korou

            Hi Erin,

            I’ve tried several times to answer your comment, and each time I’ve deleted it before posting, because I really don;t want to be too snarky. So I’ll just be blunt, okay?

            I don’t think that happened, and I think you shouldn’t either. It’s just a story. There are lots of religions, and most of them make very big claims. To distinguish yours from theirs you’re going to have to give some reason for believing it happened. And I don’t think you can.

          • Cal-J

            “I don’t think that happened, and I think you shouldn’t either. It’s just a story. There are lots of religions, and most of them make very big claims. To distinguish yours from theirs you’re going to have to give some reason for believing it happened. And I don’t think you can.”

            We hold that it happened because trustworthy people have been maintaining the story is fact for several thousand years. This is basically how it transmits itself, from one trustworthy person to another… unless you’re willing to say it spread by lies and deceit, which is just as unscientific as saying it spread through truth and faith.

            Either you have a true story, or one of the unlikeliest and greatest lies of world history. In choosing the latter, you implicate everyone who has ever held it in some form, so I would like to ask for what proof you have of that.

          • Anathema

            The Resurrection story doesn’t need to be based on deliberate lies and deceit in order to be untrue. It just has to be inaccurate. Sometimes honest people are mistaken. Sometimes people pass on incorrect information because they believe it to be the truth. The Resurrection story could have been honestly believed and transmitted from one trustworthy person to another for centuries, but that still wouldn’t mean that it’s true.

          • Cal-J

            Aye, and therein lies the rub. The story itself is ludicrous and begets the idea that the speaker has a loose grip of the world around them.

            So, how did it pass?

          • Korou

            Is the story ludicrous? In the context it was created in?
            See http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/ – Christianity’s success is not at all improbable.

          • Korou

            The problem is, Cal-J, that any member of any religion could make the same argument that you’re making. Logically, that invalidates your argument. All religions claim exclusive truth. They can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong.

            It’s not my job to provide proof that God doesn’t exist. If it was, I’d have an awful lot of work to do because there are such a lot of gods I would have to disprove! It’s your job to provide proof that He does exist.

            Otherwise, I could just tell you that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists – if you can’t prove that He doesn’t. Can you?

            By the way – “trustworthy people” – doesn’t that mean you’re slandering the members of every other religion who have ever lived? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that they were just sincerely mistaken – as I believe you are?

        • Cal-J

          “Of COURSE Christianity is true, and of COURSE Catholicism is right.”

          We apologize because we keep forgetting to pour eggshells all over the floor so we can tiptoe around them.

          Marc! Where’s that shopping list?

          • Korou

            Wasn’t it you who said it was a ludicrous story?

            I understand, thought. Part of the purpose of this blog is to reassure members of a group that they’re in the right group.

        • Cal-J

          “Doesn’t it ever strike you as strange that nobody has ever talked to God – you know, directly?”

          Doesn’t it ever strike you as strange that anyone who would claim to have talked to God (you know, praying and what not) would be ignored and laughed at because you are operating from the get-go under the assumption that such things are impossible?

          “That nobody has ever come back from Heaven to send us a message about it?”

          Well, the general claim tends to be that Jesus came back from the dead to tell us about what to do next.

          “That we live in a world in which there are thousands of other religions which all say you are wrong, but that you happened to have the insight to choose the one that was right?”

          Does that ever strike me as strange? No. People are allowed to have insights about the supernatural.

          • Korou

            I see. So God is actually talking to people – I mean actually talking to them, not the kind of vague feelings and intuitions that a person could just have dreamed up? He is really engaging in verbal dialogue with some people?

            Such a shame he never gives them proof of his existence. Really. That would be proof of His existence. That, I would listen to.
            Maybe the reason I have an assumption that people don’t really talk to God is because of all the times when people have claimed to, and not been able to prove it?

            “Well, the general claim tends to be that Jesus came back from the dead to tell us about what to do next.”

            Yes, I understand that there is a story to that effect. Most impressive.

            “Does that ever strike me as strange? No. People are allowed to have insights about the supernatural.”

            So every non-Catholic in the world is mistaken but you have the insight to have found the truth. Do you ever think that they may think you’re as mistaken as you think they are? Do you ever think that they may think that for the same reasons you do?

        • BBane

          Do you really think there are no intelligent Christians who have read the God Delusion, and found it gravely wanting in logic and substance? Or is that book simply your substitute for an Absolute Truth?

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            You didn’t find lack of substance. That was your bias talking. I can outline my reasons for not believing in your god and you would still conclude “gravely wanting in logic and substance.”

            There is no absolute truth, but that isn’t to say that all truth is relative. There are truths that cannot change — these are the only truths that can be considered absolute; there are truths that can be changed; there are truths that lack support and there are relative truths. Absolute truth that cannot change: my biological parents are my biological parents. It’s a tautology of sorts, but it is no less true and it isn’t subject to change. Moreover, even death cannot change that when considering that historical records will list them as my biological parents. Truth that can and will change: the Earth orbits the Sun — that is until the Sun goes red giant and consumes the Earth. That’s definitely going to happen in about 4 billion years. Then there are hypotheticals (i.e. an asteroid or rogue planet large enough to knock Earth off its orbit). Truth that needs support: John Smith killed Jon Doe. In this case, John Smith is innocent until proven guilty. Relative truth: humans (civilization A) have calculated that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from the Earth; civilization B has calculated that the Andromeda Galaxy is 5 billion light years away from their home planet. In such a case, no one is wrong. The truth is relative to their respective distances away from Andromeda.

            When considering these varying degrees of truth, how can anyone conclude that there’s an overall absolute truth? I understand how believers derive such an idea from the Bible, but to prove any absolute truth derived from the Bible, the Bible must be proven true. Unfortunately, that is far from the case; the Bible is false in more ways than one. Most Catholics already agree that the Bible is fallible. Moreover, some say that the Creation account is allegorical. So, if the Bible is fallible, what are we to conclude concerning the god of its pages? A fallible god isn’t worthy of worship or devotion; might as well bow to a fellow human being. Therefore, it is more reasonable to conclude that he doesn’t exist.

          • Korou

            No – it’s just I keep reading Christians making arguments which were correctly addressed in it.

            I think that there were probably intelligent Christians who read The God Delusion and decided not to believe it.

      • Luke

        “Your entire worldview implodes because there’s no reason at all to do anything. We’d be entirely justified in slaughtering one another, because there’s no reason to do anything else.”

        So I guess you expect Atheists like myself to go on a shooting spree. Don’t you find it funny that the Great Atheist bloodbath hasn’t started yet? People tend to believe that morality is strictly tied to belief and religion. If one day you came to believe that you don’t believe anymore, you are not going to lose all of your morality and start beating children in the street. In fact, you might gain a better understanding of your morality. You will ask yourself what is important to you, and not what is important to the figure in the sky with the power to send me to eternal damnation. Your morality and your choices will be yours, and yours alone.

        • Korou

          To chime in here – your morality will only be true when it’s yours alone. If you’re doing the right thing because someone who you love or fear told you to, it isn’t true goodness.

          • AEEscalona

            Not “told you to”. Showed you. Showed you what they loved about you, and showed you how much they meant it, and showed you HOW to kick that forward to those YOU love.

            It’s not like we have to reinvent the wheel every generation, you know. I hope to God for your sake that you had people in your life that you admire, that you took from them those things you thought admirable, and tried to make them your own.

            How else do we do it? Lie in six inches of saline in a sensory deprivation tank until that three pound piece of meat behind our eyes that we worship suddenly arrives at The Truth all by itself?

          • Korou

            Certainly I did. That’s how we do morality. And that’s how you learn about morality too. See? You don’t need a Lawgiver to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. Well done.

        • AEEscalona

          “Don’t you find it funny that the Great Atheist bloodbath hasn’t started yet?”

          Ye gods, man, what do you call the Twentieth Century?
          100 million dead ain’t good enough for you?

          Sheesh…

          • Korou

            Were these crimes committed in the name of atheism?

            If you’re referring to Hitler, he was a Catholic, the Protestant and Catholic Churches supported him to a considerable extent, and the genocide he committed was based largely upon anti-semitism promoted by Christians for centuries.

          • Cal-J

            Correction: Hitler’s parents were Roman Catholics, but he never practiced after leaving home. Now, he adopted some Catholic practices that he saw as useful for his worldview and immediate politics (as he did with Protestantism). Hitler qualifies as Catholic on a technicality, which is not exactly a quality of piety.

            That and he held traditional Christianity to be a religion for slaves, and famously debased the churches in Germany. Hitler was a CHURCH BOY!

            “…the Protestant and Catholic Churches supported him to a considerable extent….” Really? That’s an interesting interpretation. Would you care to explain?

          • AEEscalona

            Okay. That statement was so breathtakingly ignorant that I must assume that you are either stupid, or willfully malicious.

            Do yourself a favor. Read Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s eulogy at Pope Pius XII’s funeral. It’s shor, and easily Googled. Then read the autobiography (“Before the Dawn”) of the Chief Rabbi of Rome from 1939-1945, Israel Zolli. After the war, he converted to Roman Catholicism, taking the name Eugenio in honor of Pope Pius XII (aka Eugenio Pacelli). Both have been criticized, as of course they would be, Zolli in particular, and maliciously. Both both stood their ground. They were there, and attest to the Pope’s help, stating that no one in the world did more for Jews than the Pope.
            If you won’t believe Zolli and Golda, I can’t do anything more for you.

            Since I’ve read most of your posts here, I KNOW you’re not stupid in the classic sense. And though it is possible to reach adulthood and not know that both Nazism (calling it the “bastard child of that religion for slaves, Judaism”) and Marxism (calling it “the opium of the masses” and forbidding it if you wanted to rise at all in the leadership) rejected and persecuted Christianity, it is highly unlikely you did so.

            Which leaves me no reasonable alternative but to conclude you know better, but are deliberately spreading this ignorant nonsense.

            That has a name. It’s called malice. And therefore debating you further is pointless.

          • Korou

            Two straightforward facts: the Catholic Church supported the Nazi party to a considerable extent, especially in the earier years of Hitler’s reign.
            See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/pius.html
            Also: Christianity was largely responsible for the anti-semitism which culminated in the Holocaust. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism

            I’m not saying that Catholic Church was solely to blame. Twentieth century genocide has a complex history with many factors. But it’s worth pointing out that Christianity was one of them when Christians try to play the card of painting genocidal crimes as crimes of atheism. Which they weren’t.

            Not malice. Historical facts. Your Church has quite a bit to apologise for. Wouldn’t you be willing to admit that?

          • Korou

            I don’t really like being called breathtakingly ignorant. Or malicious. The support of the Christian Churches for Nazi Germany may not have been absolute, but it did exist and is well-documented, as is the fact that anti semitism in Germany and elsewhere was largely fuelled by Christianity.

    • ColdStanding

      My children love bubbles.
      To look upon then floating.
      To pop them, chase them
      Race against each other
      To win, pop, and gloating.

      They love bubbles.
      I love them too.
      Such beauty
      Such joy
      My heart sings;
      To see sun prizim’d
      Soap swirls on air
      Each a glory fill Jupiter.

      Heaven it shall be,
      All a sunny day,
      With laughter lifted
      In a bouy’d burst
      Of wonder we shared.

      Oh how they love bubbles.
      Oh, how I love them too.

  • Jane

    “Think about it: If all nature — with its cliff-edges, entropy, predators, and poisons — contains suffering, then to desire an end to suffering is to desire the supernatural, that which is outside of nature.”
    This is where I had to disagree. Nature contains means to suffering, yes: but the default, the lack of suffering, also exists. In fact, the lack of suffering is the natural state: and, of course, it’s the better state. Suffering signals something is wrong, that you may be hurt: I’ve seen the metaphor that pain is a fire alarm, it warns you of danger. The desire to be rid of suffering is simply the desire to not be harmed, neatly explained by evolution.
    It’s the desire for the natural, not the supernatural.

    • Elizabeth

      The picture of suffering as a “fire alarm” warning us that something is not right is pretty good. Suffering stops us in our tracks and causes us to look around. But as Marc mentioned, some suffering is senseless. We suffer some things that “clever dogs” in a purely materialistic universe would have the smarts not to. Thus we experience this unnecessary suffering which has no survival value and yet is profoundly human. The need for purpose experienced by every human being I’ve ever come across causes a suffering that is simply at odds with the idea of an utterly meaningless existence. Either the incredibly intelligent Mother Nature had a blond moment, or this “unnecessary” suffering is actually the most necessary thing is the world; pushing us beyond the world.

      • Elizabeth

        thing in* the world :)

  • Epicurus

    Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

    • Elaine

      Okay, this argument has been refuted on so many levels, but I think the best answer is because God’s not a puppet-master. We believe he’s given us free will. Any sin offends God. If God truly abolished evil in this world, we would not be able to fib, or to swear, or to have lustful thoughts or to be lazy once in a while or to get drunk…. the list goes on and on. We’d just be puppets. That’s not a life at all.

      That’s the answer that makes the most sense to me, at least. Besides, we as people can actively work to abolish evil. A better question than ‘Why does God let people do bad things?’ is ‘Why do WE let people do bad things?’

      • Elaine

        It’s also worth adding that God didn’t create evil. Evil is just the absence of good, it’s not a thing in itself, the same as cold isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of heat. So it’s not as if God gave us a bunch of evil stuff and said ‘yeah good luck with that’. We choose to bring evil into the world when we choose not to be good.

        • Korou

          Will there be free will in heaven?

          If there will be no free will in heaven, then we will all be puppets there.
          If there will be free will in heaven, doesn’t that mean people could do evil there?

          • AEEscalona

            There’s free will in Heaven. As to its misuse, I can refer you to the case of The People vs Lucifer. And he and his mates were allowed to set up their own shop, right?

            Dealer’s Choice, baby. You can play nice, or you can hang out with those who don’t. Nobody’s forcing your hand. But I hear they got a busted thermostat in the other place. It’s just a rumour, but I thought I should pass that along…

          • Epicurus

            “Do as I say and worship me or you will be eternally tortured.” Dad never told me that but I guess he wasn’t perfect.

          • AEEscalona

            Not quite. It’s:

            Come into my house (and yes there are rules here, you can’t just shit on the carpet), and I will shelter you from the ungrateful beasts who chose to remain outside, and be subject to THEIR rules, where you get to be the carpet. It is Lucifer that punishes, not God.

          • Epicurus

            God demands more than not shitting on the carpet. He demands love, obedience and worship. “Love me or I’ll send you out to the beasts I created.” Sounds more like a rapist than a father.

          • Korou

            Ah. So there’s nothing stopping people from sinning in heaven then?

        • Epicurus

          Free will may account for human evil but it does not account for ANY of the natural evils. If there is a god he gives children cancer and causes hurricanes, tsunamis and the rest. The choice is really between believing in an evil father who allows his children to be tortured before his eyes or admitting that god is imaginary and we are responsible for caring for each other in an indifferent world. The latter seems the more likely and more charitable option.

    • musiciangirl591

      evil is the absence of good

    • Steven Dillon

      Since Plantinga gave his famous response to the logical problem of evil, hardly anyone takes it seriously any more. A far more promising avenue (which theists seem to be light years behind on) is the evidential problem of suffering and evil, using Bayesian analysis.

      • AEEscalona

        Sounds interesting! Care to elaborate?

        • Steven Dillon

          I think so too :) Sure. I apologize for the length, I’m trying to summarize a vast literature.

          I should start with what evidence is, then how we figure out whether something is evidence for a position or not and finally whether suffering is evidence for atheism.

          As Robin Collins says, “if an event or state of affairs is more to be expected under one hypothesis, h1, than another, h2, it counts as evidence in favor of h1 over h2 – that is, in favor of the hypothesis under which it has the highest expectation. The strength of the evidence is proportional to the relative degree to which it is more to be expected under h1 than h2.” – Craig, William Lane., and James Porter Moreland. The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. p. 206.

          How do we figure out whether an event or state of affairs is more to be expected under one hypothesis, h1, than another, h2?

          Well, let’s call the sum of all our knowledge and beliefs, our background knowledge.

          When we’re discerning how likely a phenomenon is, given some hypothesis, we remove that phenomenon from our background knowledge. Just trim it out. Then, we try to see if the hypothesis plus whatever information left in our background knowledge leads us to expect the phenomenon.

          So, here, the phenomenon is certain instances of suffering and our competing hypotheses are Theism and Atheism. Further, we have a reservoir of information in our background knowledge, minus knowledge of these instances of suffering.

          Which hypothesis leads us to expect these instances of suffering more? Well, what are these instances? They can be whatever we want.

          Our background knowledge informs us of things like the fact that species can only survive if they reproduce, and that birth involves a number of destructive events to the body. We know of things like natural disasters, and that they’d effect human populations etc. etc. etc.

          Let’s take the first example for simplicity though. It’s quite likely that suffering would occur during birth, given all the destruction it causes to the body, including tearing and wrenching etc.

          Atheism doesn’t add anything to this background knowledge that would change the likelihood of this suffering. We’d still have the same information in our background knowledge, it’s just god wouldn’t exist. So, this example of suffering is quite likely on atheism.

          Theism is different though. It adds to all this background knowledge the existence of a person who is perfectly loving, capable of doing *any* logically possible thing, and equipped with the knowledge of how to do it.

          Would this addition raise or lower our expectation of birth-related suffering? I submit that it would lower it, substantially. Let me illustrate this with a thought-experiment:

          Suppose a man named Bob exists. Bob is middle-aged, in excellent mental and physical health, and is morally outstanding. He is courageous, prudent, just, and thoroughly compassionate etc.

          Suppose Bob knows how to build, and successfully insert a device into women’s brains that prevents birth-related suffering. Suppose, it replaces pain’s uses (like indicating when something is wrong) with a non-painful notification. He could do all this with relatively no cost at all.

          Would you be surprised if Bob doesn’t build this, nor notify anyone of it, given what Bob is like? Yes. It’d be very surprising.

          Likewise, given God’s abilities and moral character, we’d expect him to prevent birth-related suffering. But, birth-related suffering exists.

          So, it appears that atheism would lead us to expect birth-related suffering far more than theism would. Thus, birth-related suffering constitutes evidence that atheism is true.

          Now, think. This is just one example of suffering. We could do this over and over and over again. Eventually, it seems to me, we come to a point where atheism simply has overwhelming evidence. (And this is just suffering! There are all kinds of other events and states of affairs I’d argue constitute evidence for atheism).

  • DawG

    Marc,
    I think you need to go over your thinking about infinity and trans-finite numbers. It is not clear that “infinite” means “exhaustive”. For example, the reckoning of the number of points in a line is infinite, BUT there are points not included in that reckoning.

    But that is only a quibble. this is a very fine piece of work. I would be very happy if God called you to join with us Dominicans. There’s a great deal of evangelism and apologetics to be done, and you’ve got the chops.

    Your homie,
    harry k.

  • http://conradcook.wordpress.com/ Conrad Cook

    I’m afraid you deeply misrepresent the Buddhist and atheist perspectives. (I can’t speak about the Muslim.)

    In Buddhist practice, one does not forsake the act of charity. One might forsake the *desire* to act charitably; but not the action itself. One is not useful, as anyone who sits around their living room wishing they were charitable can attest. The other is.

    To most atheists, the lack of a higher being means that we must take personal responsibility to take care of those who suffer.

    I myself accept Jesus and try to live up to his message of forgiveness and to love even our enemies. It’s a very difficult task. But I also believe any religion is a good religion, and any religion is a bad religion, according to whether it teaches kindness.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      That’s my understanding of it. You cultivate compassion for all living things until compassion becomes a reflexive state of being. A bodhisattva has renounced all desires but that of seeing the enlightenment of others.

      The rest of us are stuck faking it until we make it. Personally, a major stumbling block is apologetics built around “they believe” statements. But to each their own I guess.

  • Jon K
  • Iota

    I’m probably writing this completely unnecessarily (I admit I only skimmed the comments, someone has probably addressed this). Also, I feel awkward writing an actual critique (critics = potentially people who blab a lot without getting anything significant done, and I admit to being that right now). But…

    Being a Catholic, and liking your blog, I must admit I have a serious problem with theological arguments about “ordinary” human suffering.

    It is true – I believe – that Christ makes all suffering meaningful, that all of our personal pains are encompassed by the Passion. I also think Original Sin makes sense. But I also think that writing about it is often problematic and requires EXTREME caution (I’m reminded of Job’s “friends” here…).

    It might be just me, but when I read “But if a man wants the good of his lover’s life, he may very well cut off both his hands — and his feet besides — in order to save her.” I actually cringe. When I read “The heart of the abused girl breaks with the weight of the world’s sin.” I cringe again, much more.

    I think statements like this lie on the thin edge between Sentimental Noise and Profound Truth. It helps me appreciate them as Truths when either the person making the statement is doing so very personally, say in a one-on-one discussion, displays their “suffering credentials” by actually witnessing about they own suffering, or is relaying another person’s individual witness. In other words, making the suffering as personal as it really is. The generic examples on the other hand…

    I think they run the risk of being objectifying. You run the risk of of making that “abused girl”, unwittingly, a kind of “theological human sacrifice” dressed up in the language of Passion, without real human connection to what that kind of abuse is and how it feels, what it does. And how, sometimes, it warps.

    I mean, seriously, assuming you knew you had a friend who was actually abused – would you walk up to her and tell her, just like that “she [is holding] us sinners up to the waters of Grace”? Or tell the parents of that kid who is dying that they are experiencing the “strain of bringing the world back to its Father” ?

    Wouldn’t it be a tiny bit pretentious, perhaps even unintentionally? Even if, at the same time, true?

    Mind you, this is not meant as an attack – I think it’s a big problem in Christian apologetics (more broadly, religious, but I care much less about the quality of Muslim writing, obviously), to talk about human suffering of the “ordinary” kind (i.e. not Christ and not the Martyrs), with clear signals of human empathy and understanding.

    Just a thought.

    • Dash Riprock

      Not sure this is a coherent complaint. First, you worry that using hypothetical examples objecifies individual suffering and that we therefore should use actual examples of suffering. Then, you worry that a preposterous hypothetical comment in a real case of suffering would be pretentious.

      • Iota

        Let me see if I can explain myself…

        I think using real examples, personal witness if you will (with people’s permission, where applicable) means we have to face not how we abstractly, theologically-correctly, speak about someone else’s suffering, but how we react in real life, in a given moment. In other words: in a given personal situation, what did you have the guts to actually say to a dying family member or an abused friend? And how did they react?

        Perhaps you actually have the guts to say, to a friend that, “she [is holding] us sinners up to the waters of Grace” and the person actually accepts that as appropriate or even healing. In which case I think it’s *great*. And I deeply cherish those situation when I personally see or hear about something like that.

        On the other hand, perhaps it would turn out that you either don’t have the guts or it seems wildly inappropriate. Which, while not half as “great,” is, from my very limited experience, how it sometimes just is.

        The core issue I’m trying to get at is that the language we use to describe other people’s suffering (and yes, I think I’m guilty of that too), when we are not personal, is sort of ritualized. It’s as if we saw “Christ” there not together in the person we are talking about but *instead* of that person. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

        Does that make sense?

        • Dash Riprock

          I does make more sense. I’d suggest you are conflating the pastoral approach with a theological approach. It isn’t obvious to me that a theological discussion has to be the appropriate thing to say to a specific person who is suffering — any more than a pastoral statement to one who is suffering needs to be appropriate in a theological context.

          So, I know Catholics who have had a daughter die; they said she was now an angel. I think that it is entirely appropriate in a theological context to point out that this is simply not correct: we simply do not become angels when we die. But, no, it isn’t something I’d bother to share with suffering parents. I don’t think that implies I lack guts.

          That said, of course we need to be aware that the concept of suffering and actual people who suffer are not the same thing. We need to make sure that we don’t use a theological explanation of suffering as some sort of reason to ignore or minimize actual cases where actual people suffer. On that, we agree. But if you think that implies we cannot use suffering without an immediate antecedent when we speak in theological terms, I disagree.

          • Iota

            I definitely am conflating two different functions of language (system or discipline building versus individual interaction). And I probably did use the word “theological” wrongly in my first post, to simply mean “all contexts related to religion”. So I apologize for any confusion that ensured (although it would not have occurred to me to use the word “pastoral” with reference to anyone except priests)

            But I think I can try to justify that, in the context of Marc’s blog:

            1) In narrative theory there is the concept of an “ideal reader”, i.e. the person the author is ideally writing for. It’s valid to say that perhaps Marc (sorry Marc…) is writing to people who want theological discussions only, and so theological language proper. But, unfortunately, the Internet blogsphere has caused one big problem – your actual readers may wildly mismatch your ideal readers, unless you put up all sorts of disclaimers (so you may get readers who want, need or are looking for “pastoral” language instead).

            Now, if Marc had been writing an article for a theological journal, I wouldn’t have even commented, because when you pick up a theology journal you agree to be exposed to theology (system, discipline-building language, without any personal context). But he isn’t – he’s writing a blog post that all sorts of people will be seeing (and are meant to be seeing). Unless you put in a big red disclaimer saying: “This is theological language and I would not say this to you personally if I met you” I would dare suggest toning down on the drastic examples of individual suffering a bit.

            Because there is (I think) one problem with theological discussions of suffering when deployed to wrong audiences – it may look inhuman (partly because that’s how all “languages” or registers, used for system or discipline building might look when applied to individual people).

            In fact I suspect this “wrong deployment” of theology to be partly responsible for why Catholics (Christians in general?) sometimes have the reputation of being those other-worldly people who don’t really care about suffering that much because “God will make it all right, somehow” or even make a fetish out of it (so long as it’s not their suffering, because then they start showing emotions). I do think it’s the potential fallout of putting on your theologian’s hat at an inopportune moment.

            2) There is the question of Marc’s age. It might be unhelpful to not be even twenty, when you are writing about serious abuse or troubled death (and a few other things). Assuming you have the change to tone down the problem, why exacerbate it?

            3) I suspect theological language is sometimes seeping into people’s way of talking about suffering when what they should have use is what you call pastoral language. With the unfortunate consequence of creating cliché’s people are tempted to use at the wrong moment and the potential fallout that ensures (including, sadly, actual people sometimes getting hurt and, for example, deciding that “if this is what Catholicism looks like, I want none of it, because these people obviously don’t empathize”)…

            And now I’m an official, certified, pontificating, holier-than-thou, terminology mistaking fool.

        • Corita

          Actually I think I understand what you are saying, and I think it is a valid critique of the language; a young man like Marc should definitely hear it.

          I have made a similar critique to fellow prolifers who speak so easily about rape victims and abortion, or the sacrificial motherhood of a woman with a grave condition during pregnancy.

  • musiciangirl591

    one of my favorite names for Christ is the Suffering Servant, thats what this article reminded me of, good article, keep it up :)

  • Bob in IN

    Christ himself said, “It is finished” Christ is NOT suffering eternally. The premise of this article is compelling. the conclusion is bad theology. sorry. The book of Hebrews states over and over a “once” for all suffering. Christ is no longer suffering. He is at the right hand of God the Father, reigning in heave.

    • AEEscalona

      We believe that God is eternal, that spacetime is a construct whereby cause and effect are not simultaneous, in order to enable us to choose between God and ourselves’ will.
      Cause preceding effect is essential to exercising our will to be with Him or without Him. God is a gentleman, He will not force you. He will grant your wish, one way or the other.

      But in the True, Ultimate Reality, the Eternal Now that he inhabits/is, yes, Christ is suffering, forever. He is still up on that Cross, for us. When we are at the foot of that Cross, at Mass, we are not reenacting that. In a very real way, we are there, at the foot of the Original Cross. Because while alive in this “creation” of His, we perceive time only one sequential slice at a time. But the truth is that we walk amongst immortals, that in the Eternal Now we exist as He does, and our entire lives here are observable all at once, by Him. As will we, once on the other side.

      This explains Original Sin, if you think about it. If in His Eternal Now, I am still connected to my mother’s womb, and she to hers, and so on, then it becomes easy to visualize what Humanity, aka The Body of Christ, looks like. This creature of God’s was originally designed to transmit that which sustains us, to that body, through Adam and Eve. When they chose to separate themselves from that Grace, they perforce disconnected us all from it. Think of it as pulling the recharger plug from your laptop. The existing charge will last a while, sputter, and then die. But that’s not what the manufacturer intended for us. And thus Death entered Humanity, until God himself took pity on us and became one of us to restore that conduit of Grace, physically, in that Eternal Now. Original Sin seems unfair if you think of it as imputable to us, as if we were damned because of our own actions “before” we were even born. (And remember, that’s a spacetime word we use to describe our sensory experience, but it’s not REAL in the sense that it is meaningless in the Eternal Now.)

      Think of it as Adam and Eve having blown the main fuse, and forcing all of us to ever after run on the residual charge left in our “batteries”. Christ came to replace that fuse with Himself, to reconnect us to Divine Grace, but we still each have to turn on our individual lamps, of our own free will, to receive that available Grace. Or we can choose to stay in the dark, while everyone else celebrates the coming of the Light.

      This metaphor also illuminates (OK, shoot me, I deserve it! lol) in what way that Grace travels through Mary, because as I explained before, in that Eternal Now we all live in, though can only perceive one slice at a time, we are all connected through her to Him. Physically, as in a real flesh-connection. This is why Christ is said to have retained a real body, a perfected one, but nonetheless real, that that connection exist eternally. It is not that she is a Mediatrix in her own right, through her own powers.
      Whoever God chose to be the human mother of Himself/His Son would be the permanent bridge between Himself/His Son and the rest of the Human Tree. The reason we revere her (not worship) is in honor of the fact that among all the women of the Earth, He chose HER. That alone is worthy of reverence. She is the perfect woman, not due to her own powers, but through His Grace, and the perfect conduit for our permanent reconnection to the Grace of God.

      This also sheds new light on why he insisted that the Eucharist is His Flesh and Blood. By consuming it, he allowed each of us to form a real flesh-and-blood connection to Himself and through him to God’s Grace in that Eternal Now.
      Our connection to him through Mary is involuntary. But consuming his flesh and blood is the voluntary act that says “Yes, I know the fuse is back and working. and this is the way you showed us to turn on our lamps to receive the Grace. Take me into you. Change me. Change my heart to conform to your will, not mine, Father. For I trust that you, my Maker, have our best interests at heart.”

      CS Lewis alludes to this Eternal Now/Spacetime apparent dichotomy and its theological implications in one of the later chapters of Mere Christianity. He also warns the reader that if it makes his head hurt, to leave it alone since it is not essential to be saved to realize those implications. But he does say that some of the Church’s finest minds have spoken like this. Which is what got me thinking along these lines long ago. To date, I have only found Boethius addressing this. But hey, whaddo I know? There’s so much to read! (If anyone here knows of any other writer to have addressed this, please be so kind as to tell me. I have bounced it off of learned priests I know, and have been told it does not conflict with orthodox belief, and seems to shed light on a number of difficulties, not the least of which are Election and Predestination.)

  • BornAgainRN

    And the Person Who did the suffering was Jesus Christ on the cross. However, it wasn’t because He SUFFERED that we are reconciled to God, but rather it was because of His DEATH on the cross that made our reconciliation with God possible, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Good article though. Reminds me of “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel. Good film! (also in book form)

  • Toadspittle

    Having read “Marc’s” fascinating offering and the infinitely tedious replies – here’s some advic from an old geezer.
    Qui worrying about infinite suffering and go and commit some interesting carnal sins, whle you still can.
    You never know!

  • Campionist

    Marc, I know there are already 180 comments to this post. But for what this comment may be worth, you (and this blog) have made all the difference to me. Sincerely.

  • Samuel Leblanc17

    Good article! I was very glad to see that you compared with Islam and Buddhism as examples, but I think you may have oversimplified them. Buddhism identifies desires such as immortality, pleasure, and material goods as desires that cannot be fulfilled, and its these eternal, insatiable cravings that cause suffering. That’s the Second Noble Truth! I think extrapolating that policy to other wants and needs would undermine the “Middle Way” that the Buddha taught- a way that balanced between gluttony and complete self-starvation. I also find it more comforting to believe that I can deal with unhappiness (and suffering) through understanding myself better with meditation and learning to choose to be happy with the present.

    After years as a Christian who, for years, has studied other faiths along with my own in an academic way, I’ve found that Buddhism offers not only the best explanation for suffering, but the best explanation of how to deal with it. I think the idea of exploring each instance of suffering to identify what is truly the cause is also somewhat healthier than chalking all of it up to “saving the world”, as you put it. Otherwise, people with emotional trauma, serious illness, and the like would, by that logic, be getting in the way of God’s plan if they sought help or treatment. Unfortunately, I can’t in good conscience follow you into that realm of moral topsy-turviness, but I respect your opinion and your article was very well-written!

    Best Regards.

    • Samuel Leblanc17
    • Corita

      “Otherwise, people with emotional trauma, serious illness, and the like would, by that logic, be getting in the way of God’s plan if they sought help or treatment. ”

      Absolutely not true.
      As someone who has pondered the question of whether a particular consequence of sin, or a particular kind of suffering, in my life is “G-d’s will”, I can tell you that there is nothing in my Catholic faith that says Our Lord wants me to suffer with trauma or illness. Our free will is a serious, significant matter. We are called to use it not only to “do good” and to “offer up our suffering”, but to reasonably engage our lives as fully as possible. That means living in the world and striving for integrity and fullness of life.

      There is nothing wrong with seeking relief from illnesses of all kinds. It is just that we know that there is much suffering in this life that we cannot avoid. Some of it is just the way of the entropic world, affected by Original Sin. Other times it is because of others’ choices. Detachment in and of itself has brought me a tremendous amount of relief from suffering. But seeing attachment as the only cause of suffering cannot — and won’t– allow us to be fully human, because it doesn’t allow us to suffer meaningfully.

  • Patrick

    I think you’re a bit confused on the atheist position on suffering. So far as I know, the most common reason for being an atheist is (1) innocent people suffer a ton and (2) an all-loving, all-powerful God would never allow this sort of suffering. So, either God does not exist, or isn’t the sort of being that is worthy of worship. I don’t see how telling the atheist “Well, if God existed, then all this suffering would mean something” helps anything, since the whole point is that atheist thinks that a God that allowed this sort of suffering wouldn’t be worth much.

    • Alyosha Nevskeyev

      The classic response of Ivan Karamazov in Rebellion and Grand Inquisitor, I see. The sad truth is that most atheists aren’t really that intellectually honest.

      That being said, this argument makes the assumption that a) there is such a thing as “innocence”, which in the conception used in this case means something like “only people who commit bad actions should suffer”. Christianity, at least the more Orthodox strains of it, does not believe in this idea of justice.

      b) Love would not allow its beloved to suffer. This view comes from the modern conflation of kindness as the whole of goodness, and cruelty as the whole of evil. This is simply not so. In the words of my homeboy C. S. Lewis, Love may love despite all iniquities, but it cannot cease to will its removal. As Marc has stated, the removal of those iniquities requires suffering.

      • Corita

        It also requires that we define suffering for the purposes of structural reasoning, and this is problematic. On the one hand, suffering is easy to point out (like porn? “I know it when I see it”??) BUT is not easy to put into some sort of moral calculus: *This much * suffering is just but not that, and *that action or person* is bad enough to deserve suffering, and *that person* is innocent enough.

        Suffering is easy to pinpoint when it happens to us, or when we say, “Wow, that is awful! If it happened to me I would be suffering!” but there is no way to quantify suffering of our own in some scientific way, much less that of another person or a theoretical suffering.

        And don’t get me started on the ridiculous claim that we can define “good” to disprove the thinking of the theoretical-Christian creator.

  • Korou

    So. Is Christianity far more sensible than whatever it is you’re doing now?

    Possibly, for you, if it fills your needs for meaning, purpose, or community.

    But if you would like to know the real truth then no, it isn’t.

  • Xpat

    Great essay! But I also noticed the “infinity” mistake, and I’m not a math major. I’ve read enough pop science to know about Cantor and infinite sets.

  • Xpat

    To add to my previous comment (where is it?):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Cantor

    Just change the wording and it won’t be a problem. If you have “an infinite number of houses” you don’t necessarily have all houses, or even most. You could have an infinite number of red houses. And someone else might have an infinite number of blue ones. Infinite does not mean “all”–as the good folks keep trying to explain here.

  • Toadehall

    Wonderful expression but it would have been much more powerful without the “urinate on” phrase. It marred an otherwise crisp and pristine piece.

  • Johnnienaked

    I think most people would agree that suffering in some form is not only a good thing but entirely necessary. When you suffer pain in the gym, clearly you don’t want to go through it but you know you have to if you expect to grow. In much the same way, children cannot develop into fully functional adults without the presence of suffering. Imagine a perfect world where nothing went wrong and nothing could ever go wrong. How terribly boring that would be! To be a perpetual child and never grow and never learn appears to me as a form of suffering all on it’s own, one that only exists IF religion is true.

    Obviously because we have evolved to have an adversity for pain and a mind capable of forethought we have a desire to eliminate as much unnecessary pain as possible. But the elimination of all pain and suffering? Clearly you can’t be serious. That would be disastrous.

    • InvictusLux

      I’ve been scratching my head pondering why nature chanced upon the pattern of letting us painlessly clip our nails and hair but making cutting new teeth moderately painful? Lucky us when the coin was flipped that it didn’t chance to flip flop the other way around…

  • Billy Bean

    Sir, You are not a god, but a man (not that you have ever claimed otherwise). But the fact remains, it is well known that you are of tender teenage years, and your only advantage seems to be the Catholic faith. (Have I missed something? Are you also a genius? No. I didn’t think so. I’ve checked your grammar and spelling.) Almost thou persuadest me to swim the Tiber!

  • Billy Bean

    The only critique I have of your piece is its Anselmian bent. And here is where I must give Jessica her due. Why must the doctrine of the atonement be so mathematically correct? Why must it be reduced to the level of a ledger sheet?

  • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

    This article makes use of baseless assumptions to approach the problem of suffering. Sin is nonexistent. To prove this, one need only disprove original sin. If Evolution is true, there was no original sin because if Evolution is true, Adam and Eve didn’t exist. I’ve heard the common response: “perhaps they were the first two humans.” That statement is made whilst demonstrating a misunderstanding of Evolution. Evolution is biological change in the hereditary traits of populations. Adam and Eve cannot and should not be considered a population. Even without Evolution, their existence can be proven wrong. A knowledge of Genetics will show you that it is impossible for the whole of human diversity to have originate in two people. Red, black, blond, and brown hair cannot originate in two humans. Green, blue, black, brown, and hazel eyes cannot be attributed to two people either. Furthermore, there are also other variables found in the genome that cannot be traced back to two ancestors. When considering these points, it is easy to conclude that Adam and Eve didn’t exist. So where does that leave Christ? He died for the sins of mankind on the cross. He is explicitly connected to Adam via genealogy and verses in Romans and 1 Corinthians. He is called the second Adam. If Adam didn’t exist, there was no original sin. If there was no original sin, Christ died for nothing or didn’t exist. If he existed, none of the acts in the Bible can be attributed to him — that’s without mentioning the severe lack of evidence. Therefore, this whole article is uprooted in one swift stroke. Suffering is a human problem that was birthed along with our infantile inexperience. We struggle to find working economic types. We struggle to find peace among ourselves and rid the world of racism and religious discrimination. There are a number of things we need to solve. The Judeo-Christian doesn’t exist and Christianity fails at solving the problem of suffering because the variables in its equation are imaginary figures. Adam, Eve, sin, and Christ are figures of faith and nothing more. If you read my brief response, you should understand the statement. If any of you care for elaboration, message me on the twitter page or on the tumblr blog by the same title.

    • Corita

      Yawn!

      Evolution can’t disprove Adam and Eve, silly. I mean, not if you are Catholic.
      At some point in time at least two people were capable of the level of reason and self-reflection necessary for free will. This is what is necessary for G-d to give a soul. Either that happened or it didn’t. But nothing you say in the Atheist 101 treatise above can dismantle that part.

      • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

        Free will is an illusion. Determinism is the prevalent philosophical view and it is supported by the latest findings in Neuroscience. No, Compatibilists don’t believe in the same free will you believe in. Adam and Eve didn’t exist and that’s a clear as day fact. Your attempt to condescend is pointless. The Catholic view is far from the truth. Besides, free will is refuted by the Bible in Psalm 139:16. If all the days of your life are written in his book, how exactly are you free? Calvinism vs. Arminianism. They’ve debated the issue of Libertarian free will for years. Unfortunately, the Bible lends more support to predestination. Thus, nothing you said changes the facts. This article is bunk and so was your response. Next!

        • Steven Dillon

          Even if indeterminism was the prevalent view, I’d still say free-will is illusory. How could we be morally responsible for indeterminate actions?

          As Robert Kane (who’s libertarian, incidentally) said:

          “If my free choice is really undetermined, that means I could have made a different choice given exactly the same past right up to the moment when I did choose. That is what indeterminism and probability mean: given exactly the same past, different outcomes (“forking paths”) are possible. Imagine, for example, that John had been deliberating about where to spend his vacation, in Hawaii or Colorado, and after much thought and deliberation, had decided he preferred Hawaii and chose it. If the choice was undetermined, then exactly the same deliberation, the same thought processes, the same beliefs, desires, and other motives – not a sliver of difference – that led
          up to John’s favoring and choosing Hawaii over Colorado, might by chance have issued in his choosing Colorado instead.”

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            While I get the thrust of this quote, I don’t understand how Kane could have arrived at such a conclusion. There’s no way of proving that one would make the alternative decision(s) given the exact circumstances. One would wish to act differently in some manners, but no one can ascertain such a change in volition.

          • Corita

            Aaaand there is the Unknown.

            Which just keeps cropping up in life, no matter how many pillars of convction you throw up against it!

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I don’t know of any unknown that keeps cropping up in life. Furthermore, if there’s an unknown, it isn’t your god. Modernist, pseudoscientific contortions don’t help in making your god real. He’s a mere abstraction and as I’ve stated previously, a crash course in Archaeology will help you see that. I may be a young man, but I’ve done my reading and I’ve read both sides. There’s nothing cogent about the Christian faith, Catholic or Protestant. I’m more convinced of the possible truth values of other religions and other gods.

          • Corita

            You have little to no idea who or what “my G-d” is.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            You still haven’t proven me wrong. You just keep saying that I don’t know your god. Well, if he isn’t the god in the Bible then I don’t know him. However, I would then have no further reason to entertain your abstractions. Anyone can pretend to have a guardian angel or a god. Often times people like that are deluded or psychologically impaired. As I said above, either your god is the god of the Bible or he’s an abstraction all your own. I’m not interested in inventions.

            Catholics give me a giggle. They do two things to keep believing: one is to separate themselves from the errors of the Bible and two, if any more are like you, is to separate themselves from the god of its pages. Might as well try another god or be an Atheist. It’s pointless to identify with the Christian faith whilst acting as if the god of the Bible is different from the “personal” god you know.

          • Corita

            Oh, I didn’t see this one! Damn, it is exactly your biblical fundamentalism at work, too.

            “As I said above, either your god is the god of the Bible or he’s an abstraction all your own.”

            This is another another false dichotomy; you set this up yourself but doesn’t have to be true. And it reflects a biblical fundamentalism: ‘Either every word here is literally true about the God of Christianity, OR it’s heresy. Which I don’t believe in. But you obviously do and you are a disgrace for being a heretic.’

            Can you NOT hear this in your own writing?

        • Cal-J

          “Free will is an illusion. Determinism is the prevalent philosophical view and it is supported by the latest findings in Neuroscience.”

          It’s not your fault you can’t use paragraphs. IT’S IN YOUR GENES, BRO.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I don’t get your critique here. If it was meant as an insult, then you are no different from other believers I debate. If it was a critique, you might want to think about writing paragraphs of your own or is it “in your genes, bro.” That alone demonstrates ignorance concerning Determinism because casting blame on one’s genes is an oversimplification of what Determinism is. In any case, free will is an illusion and the evidence is all over the internet. Furthermore, I’ve read books on the matter.

            The current philosophical debate is Compatibilism vs. Non-Compatibilism. The type of free will found in Islam and Christianity have been abandoned by most philosophers save Apologists like William Lane Craig. Free will doesn’t add a jot or tittle of truth to the myth of Adam and Eve. Thus, the issue of sin’s origin is still open. Unfortunately, the entire series of books that comprise the Bible are founded on that idea. I have many other reasons to disregard the Bible and its god, but I addressed the points brought up in the post. I’ve still to hear a decent rebuttal and I most likely will not get one.

          • Cal-J

            My apologies, I assumed you referred to genetic determinism. There are a good half-dozen kinds of “determinism”, including at least one theological determinism, so I hope you’ll forgive me for assuming one kind of determinism when you meant another. Please define your terms.

            “In any case, free will is an illusion and the evidence is all over the internet. Furthermore, I’ve read books on the matter.”

            That’s… wonderful. I don’t suppose you could ground this claim in something like logic or even evidence, because, really, all you have is an assertion and then you point me in the direction of the internet. That’s not much of a case.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I’m speaking of determinism based on genes, experience, upbringing, society, brain structure, and other variables that one is perhaps unconscious of. Asking you to research is making a case. A religion like Christianity will spoon feed people supposed facts; a person interested in the truth will ask someone to inquire for themselves. I have good reason to conclude that free will is illusory and though I can relay every bit of information that ascertains that as fact for me, it wouldn’t be as effective as you going beyond my assertion — assuming you haven’t done so already. Libertarian free will is illusory and again, that’s why philosophers — save Apologists like Craig — have stepped away from it. The current issue is Compatibilism vs. Non-Compatibilism. However, the free will of Compatibilism isn’t the free will of Libertarianism.

        • Corita

          The “prevalent philosophical view” is NOT the same as a scientific fact. Science is a procedure. Then there are things done with its results. Philosophy is an application of the results of science and other procedures, like reason, as well.

          The rest of your argument is biblical literalism which, as a convert from Christianity I guess you might have been taught growing up or perhaps have absorbed from the New Atheists you associate yourself with, but it is not necessarily the only way to go wrt the bible. And I would wager you are a dogmatic in your atheism; the way you carry yourself online seems to suggest it.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            Scientific fact: free will is illusory. The latest findings in Neuroscience prove that to be the case. For someone who claims to know science, you demonstrate a great level of ignorance.

            I really am growing tired of your assumptions. My disagreement with you doesn’t lead to ‘dogmatic’. Biblical literalism? So you’re the true interpreter? Only you decide what it truly says? Only you decide what’s literal and what’s not? Futile argument. I’ve come across better. I may have scarred your faith, but you’ve done nothing to address my arguments or phase me. I’m still as certain as I was when I entered this sorry excuse of a forum attempting to justify suffering through unsubstantiated means like Adam, Eve, sin, and Jesus Christ. Cease the assumptions and make worthwhile arguments.

          • Corita

            Answering in order of your post:
            -Which findings are those, that prove “free will” to be illusory? And do you know your science well enough to make the distinction between what we perceive to be our will and that which is willed? Do you know your english and philosophy well enough to distinguish between the scientific measures of thought and perception, and the philosophical or theological concepts of free will?

            -(Then there’s some aggressive stuff ala the weary arguer who doesn’t have or feel like articulating a coherent thought, so attacks instead, in this interest making arguments out of…straw….)

            -”I may have scarred your faith”
            Oh, boy.

            And I mean THAT literally.
            :) You make me smile, though. Boy do I have a soft spot for those headstrong, utterly moralizing atheist egotists. (I married one, you know.)

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201205/free-will-is-illusion-so-what

            That link leads to two others. You may also read Sam Harris’ Free Will. Free will as you know it, in the Libertarian sense, is an illusion.

            Yes I know my English and Philosophy well enough. That’s why I don’t entertain the idea of Libertarian free will. Philosophers have moved on; they have left the corpse to rot. Combatilism defends free will now, but it isn’t the free will that religious people, like yourself, cling to.

            I may have scarred your faith. It’s an uncertain statement; hence the ‘may have’. There’s no strawmanning in that argument. Seems that you don’t know your Philosophy when considering that a strawman is an argument made against a false image of the actual argument; in other words, building a scarecrow of what you said in order to tear it down. That small statement can hardly do that.

            I’m not an egotist. I’m just sure of what I know. Can you say the same? Given the level of contortion, I would say no. After all, you’ve made it seem that you believe in some abstract god, an unknown that isn’t exactly the god of the Bible; yet you call yourself Catholic. If any one is weary, it’s you. I have nothing but time. I’m studying for finals, writing Marketing plans, and debating with someone who has no interest in truth or research. Why depend on me to give you the latest findings in Neuroscience? You do have internet access.

            I took interest in apologetics when I began this blog close to a year ago. Again, there’s nothing cogent about them and the scholarship is sloppy — worse than Bart Ehrman. Nonetheless, I never depended on Christians to send me links.

    • Anathema

      I agree with your basic point — that we know that a literal Adam and Eve could not have existed and that this creates a bit of a problem for the doctrine of original sin.

      But, dude. Paragraphs — use them.

      • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

        I’m use to Facebook automatically posting what I’ve typed the second I hit enter. Sorry about that.

    • rach

      ok but if sin doesn’t exits it must mean u don’t believe in evil either. SO things like hate, evil, prejudice, racism, genocide, abuse, dishonesty, the Holocaust, greed, inequality either

      a) just happen to be in human nature so that means humans are inherently bad/evil or it’s just somehow, in our genes

      b) since u don’t believe in free will either (freewill is an illusion) ANY ACTION can be justified as that person was predestined to do an immoral act (so technically Stalin couldn’t help being a tyrant and Hitler was predestined to kill Jews) Soooo who or what predetermines what a person does??

      c) So u might say ,’ oh environmental and genetic factors.’ Without a God, someone could be born by chance, (as they couldn’t help the circumstance sin which they were born in) into a family where they were physically and emotionally abuse FOR NO REASON AT ALL except for it just happens to be that way.(im not talking about pain here im talking about evil ) so u cant really use the ‘evolutionary process’ argument for this. Now im not saying that believing in God is going to make it easier to accept evil but acknowledging sin gives a perfectly reasonable or explanation for the suffering many people experience today. After all, evil or immoral acts/desires derives from human nature

  • Wrestling_Enkidu

    I don’t think it is that difficult for an atheist to provide a decent explanation for suffering in the natural world. After all, evolution (anthropomorphically conceived) designed us for survival, not necessarily for happiness or joy. Suffering exists (roughly) because it aids survival. Animals without suffering would have less motivation to avoid harmful things, and would thus be more likely to die off.

    You also said that a “desire to end suffering is to desire the supernatural.” That seems like a bit of a stretch. A desire to end suffering could equally be a desire to change the natural world for the better. If I feel pain from the cold, my answer is to find or create shelter and clothes, not to find some supernatural realm/answer where there is no cold.

    Ultimately, the Catholic answer appears too ad hoc, too evidence free to be intellectually satisfying to me, although I can see how the colorful and imaginitive philosophy and storytelling can be satisfying in other ways.

    • Elizabeth

      Isn’t it a bit odd that while denying the existence of God, you still say things like “evolution designed us for survival”. A completely random and godless existence cannot design us for anything… which begs the question of why we are so well equipped to survive if we are simply on our own. The god of Natural Selection invoked by Atheists is still an outside force giving us the greater purpose of “survive and pass on your genes”. I am well aware that you do not really believe that Natural Selection is a person, but the way many Atheists talk… it might as well be.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001248007674 Tommy Danielsson

        Not really that odd. Humans obviously have a tendency towards imbuing inanimate objects and even concepts with human traits. One could even argue that that’s where religion came from.

        Anyways, it can’t really be avoided then that this marks our language and that we tend to use expressions that make it sound like we are talking about an actual agent acting on us when in fact we are talking about a concept, an idea.
        This tendency however does not strengthen critique of natural selection or any other scientific concept that might sound like it’s an atheist’s version of god. It does serve the purpose of keeping posts a bit shorter.

        After all, as you point out, you are well aware that Wrestling_Enkidu does not believe that natural selection is an independent person so his/her choice of using the word “designed” instead of a couple of sentences to explain the same thing was a valid choice, was it not?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000941606337 Benjamin Rush

        “Isn’t it a bit odd that while denying the existence of God, you still say things like “evolution designed us for survival””

        Yes, it is a bit weird that we atheists/agnostics use that wording.

        “A completely random and godless existence cannot design us for anything… ”

        Nowhere do educated atheists claim things are completely random or stochastic. We couldn’t make that claim; for if we did, then we would have to answer why there are, indeed, patterns in the universe. Is it pure chance that an animal survives nature due to more adaptive properties than others? Note: I’m talking of the macro-level; the quantum level is a different beast.

        Understand the difference – primarily – between you and I is that while I do note there are patterns, that the universe is wonderfully beautiful, that there are great mysteries, that the universe does have an underlying pattern and can be understood (at least to a degree), I do not give it a name, a father, a family history, a set of morals and I do not fill in the void of understanding with answers of my own making. There are reasons I demand so much rigor in an explanation: because we humans are so easily swayed and deluded into the ruts of our own biases, that it clouds and destroys our ability to be sane and properly judgmental of the information coming in. When you read a news article, don’t you do a bit more research and even deny it if things don’t add up to your own sensibilities, if you cannot work out all of the details? A respectable citizen demands a lot of evidence from their politicians, from the people they purchase a car from and so on….

        To put it simply: The universe is amazing, and it is full of wonderful mysteries, but while some mysteries – such as how we got here – can and will be answered rigorously someday, others such as “why” – can’t. I focus on those I believe we can answer, and leave those we can’t to human nature.

        Is it possible there is a God? Sure. Is it possible there isn’t. Yes. Are the religious stories we’ve made up thus far accurate? I see absolutely no reason to believe so.

        • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

          What Christians don’t get is this: if there is a god, it isn’t the homophobic, misogynistic, psychopathic, masochistic, egotistical, glory-seeking, blood-thirsty, genocidal Judeo-Christian god who is also the father of Jesus Christ; the affiliation cannot be undone.

          • http://twitter.com/ncloeter Nate Cloeter

            Do you have a reason for this claim? Or, is your claim, like Benjamin Rush states: “because we humans are so easily swayed and deluded into the ruts of our own biases, that it clouds and destroys our ability to be sane and properly judgmental of the information coming in.”
            As a Catholic, I can admit neither I or the Church have a flawless record in history. However, through these shortcomings the Church has made a lot of strides over the years. Over the last 2000 years few organizations have done more for the scientific community as a whole than the Catholic Church. It’s members, clergy, and monetary contributions have made several large discoveries that changed the scientific landscape as we know it.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            My claim is bolstered by an original argument that I put together, namely the Argument from Assailability:

            http://deconversionmovement.tumblr.com/post/20701210932/the-argument-from-assailability

            The basic thrust of the argument is simple: if gods do not demonstrate any qualities beyond our own, why worship them? When I see a god like the god of the Old Testament — one that supposedly inspired a book full of errors, moral atrocities, scientific inaccuracies, and historical inaccuracies — I see no reason to believe that it exists nor do I desire for him to exist. I don’t desire to even entertain the idea as a possibility. The god of the Bible cannot transcend the Bible by the way. He cannot be absolved of his immorality and ignorance. A god that claimed to make the stars before the Earth isn’t a god that is possible.

            Catholics love to make this argument as if Catholicism is responsible for scientific discoveries or science as a whole. One isn’t a scientist because one is Catholic; likewise, one isn’t a scientist because one is an Atheist. Such a sword can cut in too many directions and thus, the argument is invalid. Galileo was a Catholic, but the same church he considered himself a part of was the one that censored his work and put him on house arrest. Your church has a long history of silencing opponents and threatening them with punishment and even death. The Inquisition is long gone. Atheists like myself have good reason to deny your god. That’s one argument. I’ve only just started.

          • Corita

            Dear, you haven’t yet started. Because nothing you said was actually true about Catholicism. The argument that the ‘warlike,vengeful’- to paraphrase- god of the Old Testament can’t be anything more than what is portrayed makes no sense because it is actually untrue of most mainstream theological teachings about the Christian G-d. The ignorance of Christians about what their own faith teaches notwithstanding.

            Like Dawkins you fight against a completely invented Christianity — granted, the “invention” might be passively done, like an accidental baby born of its parents ignorance and ego. A young man like yourself has many years to learn how the gods we invent for ourselves bear little to no resemblance to reality and can be excused….But it’s a shame about Dawkins.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I don’t understand the comparison to Dawkins and the constant condescension; calling me a young man doesn’t bolster your case. There’s nothing invented about the moral atrocities in the Bible. There’s nothing invented about god ripping open pregnant women and killing children. There’s nothing invented about a prophet cursing 42 boys and a female bear shredding them to bits.

            I have many issues with Christianity and I’ll name my biggest — namely vicarious redemption. The death of an innocent man in place of many guilty individuals is a disgusting doctrine. The fact that I can simply cast my “sins” on Christ is a egregious. Such a doctrine has been transcended by our laws. The innocent aren’t punished for the guilty unless there be monumental error in the case, as was the case in the OJ Simpson trial. That statement is bolstered by his hand-written admission. Despite the errors judicial systems make, the guilty are often charged. That is the nature of law.

            Then there are issues in regards to his very existence — an existence that still lingers closer to myth than to fact. Sophisticated, educated historians posit that a man named Jesus may have existed; however, all of the acts attributed to him didn’t occur. The contradictory Gospel accounts are enough to bolster that statement. The resurrection of the saints in Matthew is an unbelievable account that should no doubt be echoed in the other Gospels and in separate documents. Nonetheless, the other Gospels are silent; historians of the time were silent. The same is the case with Christ’s ascension. Such a sight would have been viewable by a great number of people. Illiterates? Perhaps, but even our cavemen ancestors drew on cave walls. Why not find some way to depict these unbelievable events?

            So, what have I invented? What have I written erroneously? Aren’t these events found in the Bible? Isn’t this the only account we have about your beliefs? If such a book is the impetus of incredulity, what reason do I have to believe? Again, this is just a little more evidence. Honestly, I can write a book given the multitudinous evidences I have at my disposal.

          • Corita

            I did not write comments to you in order to make a case.
            I wrote to point out errors and problems in the way you are making yours.

            The god you describe is of your own invention, based partly on stuff you have read in the bible and taken to be a kind of literature that it isn’t. (Or, even more likely, that other people have read in the Bible and then wrote about, and you read what they wrote about it.) What you keep insisting Christians believe is not how people of my faith understand the bible.

            You read things that strike you as horrifying and incomprehensible. Then you say, “This is G-d?” But do you go further? Have you ever looked for the answers as to how Christians could believe in the god you think you are reading about? I mean, without all the posturing and “THUS I have destroyed your mindless arguments!!” stuff attached?

            If you have actual questions (rather than your own assertions about a religion that you apparently understand very little) people would probably be interested in answering, from their point of view and understanding. But that other stuff is just lame. If you actually care about truth, look for it. There is no way you have figured out the Whole Truth of Existence in the last couple of years of your life.

            (and no, this isn’t an urging to Find God. This is just an urging to Actually Look instead of stopping at the first shiny thing you see.)

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I have looked into Christian apologetics and none of it is cogent. People shouldn’t believe in such a monster. Religion I understand so little about? You say that with such certainty. Let’s put some details out there: I was raised Catholic and I was a Protestant for six years. If that isn’t enough indoctrination and as you put it, knowledge about your religion, then what is?

            You think I don’t understand your religion because I don’t view it the way you do. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand, it means I have a different view. Rather than complaining about my supposedly erred view, why not consider it. You have pointed out no fallacies in my arguments. You’ve dodged questions and run around them for the most part. Then you go on trying to justify your god and make it sound as if he’s somehow different from the monster in the Bible. Newsflash: he’s not and your modernist contortions don’t change the fact. I can’t simply take a character in a book and make him/her who I want them to be. Either your god is the god in the Bible or some abstraction all your own.

          • Corita

            I am absolutely certain that, *if* G-d exists, G-d is both the god of the bible, what I believe, and more that I cannot perceive.

            Please feel free to show me (perhaps in a fresh thread, this one is getting too thin) where I have “dodged questions” in some way that is problematic for a discussion– one, at least, that is tow-sided, rather than made on terms entirely dictated by you.

            If I missed answering something that you have asked I will try to oblige.

          • Guest

            I’ve also noticed how you haven’t answered any of Mr. Toffler’s questions…
            Classy stuff.

          • LD8

            Aha! I get it! Deconversion isn’t a man, “he’s” a machine! You remember the ELIZA program from the previous millennium? D is an update! A little more sophisticated maybe, but we’ve been conversing with a robot! Ha ha! Congrats to whoever wrote the program, and thanks for the entertainment!

          • LD8

            The bible isn’t the kind of book that one reads to study physics, but rather for theology. It requires a completely different approach.
            But I suppose you are aware that Catholics don’t hold that the bible is the Final Authority; the book points to the church as the pillar of truth. Notwithstanding our flaws.
            “The god of the Bible cannot transcend the Bible by the way.” I don’t understand what you mean by this at all, especially since the bible is only what, 5000 years old? The God of the bible is Existence. Transcending a book is nothing.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            The god of the Bible is a character in a fallible book written by men. He doesn’t exist outside of the Bible and there’s no evidence to support that notion. When considering what the Bible says of him, why would you desire for him to exist? He’s no better than some of the worst humans that lived. The atrocities attributed to him are equal to Hitler and Stalin, if not worse.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674332165 Mark Toffler

            Listen, Mr. “Movement”, my mother has weathered your ilk in the past, and your ilk cannot prevail against her or her Son in the future.

            Do you really want me to find some cosmic note that says “The Creator was here!” floating out in space? That wouldn’t serve either of our demands for “evidence” of God’s existence, so stop, for the love of God, asking for evidence that I have made no claim to possess, and that you yourself would not acknowledge were I to. Frankly, that note would not satiate my thirst for knowledge of God anymore than it would satisfy your skepticism.

            Wait.

            Actually…

            http://www.salon.com/2012/04/21/near_death_explained/singleton/

            It seems your demand for evidence of non-material states of being not contingent on physical substance have actually already been satisfied as well as they could ever possibly be, in any empirical manner at least.

            What next? Should I explain how the current understanding of time-space supports the Catholic concept of creation (i.e. materiality) as the product of a non-linear act of eternal perpetuation rather than a temporal effect of causation? Do you really want to pit quantum mechanics against Christianity? Because they’re actually quite agreeable toward one another.

            Maybe we could talk consciousness a little bit more? I could ask you what is most pleasing to you in a song, or whether you’d agree that the nature of habit in action is to habit in thought what rhythm is to melody?

            Do you want some complete lists of all the devout, fervent, and very publicly Catholic scientists and their discoveries? Do you want me to explain that we call ourselves the Universal Church because we are not the sum of the inquisitors nor Galileo who was the wrongful victim of one of them.

            Toss-up Question:
            Medieval Christendom vs.
            The USSR
            Where would you be more free to live your own life?

            Is this kind of information unsettling to the kind of person that lets the Richard Dawkins’ of the world feed them soundbites like a helpless child? Do you sometimes lay awake and wonder who the greater fool is:The teenage punk who rejects traditional norms of body art or fashion, or the transhumanist who thinks they can achieve a better world by putting their faith in the advantage of the stronger? Seriously…do atheists have any practical reason why the man who is strong enough to be oppressive should not be?

            Please…answer these questions, and I will respond in turn to anything else you have to say. Your “movement”, static though its essence may be, has gone on without addressing them for too long.

            In conclusion, before you lump so many religions together, do not assume that all religions are the same, especially given that I myself do not hold that to be true. That’s what Richard Dawkins does, and he’s a fool. That’s even most rational atheists (usually the ones without reddit accounts or with professional degrees outside of engineering)

            If you truly think that I am irrational and that you are reasonable, then engage me as you would any other person whom you disagree with–with tools of reason. However, first recognize that we are not debating the nature of objects, but the essence of them. ie, Why IS there something rather than nothing? What is the reason, and therefore the purpose of existence–if there is any? If there is a reason does it entail good and evil? If it does, can one use tools of reason to help better define what those two concepts really are? If we could do that, do you think we might formulate some hypotheses regarding ethics?

            Ah.

            I do not look for evidence of God’s existence. Rather, I cannot help but look for evidence of His existence. The proof is all around, whether I believe or not.

            Why exactly does man evolve to possess the intellect he does? Why do chimps shove straws into anthills while we visit the moon? Why do animals die in search of water while humans sacrifice to bring about the rain? What gave us belief in God–especially if, according to you, we don’t need it? What gene conceives of supernatural beings and forces? What hallucinogen makes man yearn for a purpose? Where did the aliens of all those cosmologists come from, and who made them?

            You see, I believe in God because I have no choice. And you do too, for the same reason, though you’ve buried it deep somewhere within your anger.

          • Brian Anthony

            big bang theory, catholic priest.and why exactly must the earth come before the stars (genuinely curious here)

          • LD8

            Absolutely correct. He isn’t like that at all. The thing is, whatever we say about God is somehow deficient.

          • Zachary

            Yikes dude. Tell us how you really feel…

          • dan

            What atheist don’t get is this: They might be wrong about the “judeo-christian god” they keep harking on about. Honestly STOP TELLING EVERYONE WHO GOD ISN’T

            its mad!!

            here is a little secret: That god your talking about…it isn’t the one that Christians (Catholics) believe in!!!

            Perhaps if an atheist ever researched God properly they might be in danger of believing in God.

            bless your ignorance!

          • Brian Anthony

            huh?

          • Brian Anthony

            hmmm 8 years of catholic school and i have yet to meet this god you speak of…he must be the one the medieval heretics loved so much that they murdered the priests sent to TALK with them in council about their beliefs…(THEN the inquisition started in response…)

        • Zachary

          OK, well then quick question, if we can’t answer “why”….well uh…WHY can’t we? Because you said so? Do you know why you have to stop yourself there? It’s because that’s outside of human reason, and it’s scary to think of stuff outside of human reason, believe me, I’ve been there. But that’s the real beauty of it.

      • Wrestling_Enkidu

        “Isn’t it a bit odd that while denying the existence of God, you still say things like “evolution designed us for survival””

        Nope. As social animals we often anthropomorphize inanimate objects and mechanisms. It is often a decent aid to understanding. If you’ve ever said/heard anything like “my dumb car,” or “electrons seek the lowest energy level,” then you know that human beings use language like that all the time without literally thinking that cars or electrons “might as well be” people.

        It’s only in the theism vs. atheism context that people find this use of language so puzzling, and use our language to infer some hidden belief in a “god of Natural Selection.”

        I think this comment really just results from a straw man understanding of natural selection, and perhaps of atheism as a whole.

        • Elizabeth

          I was not referring to the simple literary device of personification. I was talking about the overarching theme of Atheists denying God, but then throwing in “instinct” or “Natural Selection” whenever things begin to look a bit less random than they should in a godless universe. I am aware that I am saying this in a very simple and possibly imperfect way, but my point is not to expound on natural selection, it is to pose the question of why natural selection exists and happens.

          • SandyRavage

            Natural selection occurs because there is scarcity in nature. Scarcity of resources, reproductive opportunities, and even space. Since not every organism can reproduce, the ones that do are more likely to have some advantage that allows them to. This is one of the least mystifying things about science.

      • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

        Natural Selection isn’t an outside force unless you’re speaking of the rest of the animal kingdom. Natural selection, as it applies to us, is an internal force. Moreover, there are other mechanisms that drive Evolution: Genetic Drift, Gene Flow, non-Random Mating, and Mutations. I don’t know who you’re referring to, but there’s no intelligence behind Evolution; Evolution doesn’t lead to design though that may seem to be the case in some animals. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of baggage in us, namely dead genes like genes to make egg yolk. This particular gene shows that we descended from egg-laying ancestors.

        Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2011/10/21/the-fossils-in-our-genes/

        Then there are other issues in nature: the laryngeal nerve of giraffes, the tusk of a narwhal, etc. Evolution doesn’t provide design. Regardless, I deny your god for many reasons that stem beyond Evolutionary Biology. Rather than criticizing Atheism for whatever reason(s) you have, verify the actual truth value of your beliefs. I’ll give you a clue: your religion isn’t true and the evidence to support that assertion is incontrovertible.

        • Elizabeth

          Wow! You can prove God doesn’t exist?! What, did you go to heaven and realize it was empty? I thought the argument was that we couldn’t “scientifically” prove His existence? I am aware that there are people much smarter than me who are Atheists, but there are also Catholics who are way smarter than me. I don’t claim to the expert on Atheism, I simply criticize the assumption of Natural Selection. Why is the most innate drive of a creature to survive? When did life go from it’s random chance-based beginnings to being completely obsessed with survival? Did a group of amoebas just decide, “hey we need to be fit and pass on our genes to further propitiate our species”? If you think a drive, internal or external, is the force behind all life, you have to explain why it is there. Science is there to explain the how, and until very recently has kept within that limit. Philosophy must be used to explain the why, which is where I think you were going anyways. We both seem to base our beliefs, or non-beliefs, on something other than pure biological science, but I thought I would just clarify what I was trying to say in my first comment.

          • Elizabeth

            “why is* it?*..”

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            I cannot pretend to prove that he/she/it doesn’t exist in general. However, I can positively prove the nonexistence of the Judeo-Christian god. Evolutionary Biology isn’t necessary to draw such a conclusion.

            To say that species are obsessed with survival is to disregard the other reasons species evolve. Are they also obsessed with mating because male peacocks require more tail feathers or because male guppies require vibrant colors or because the male birds of paradise require mating rituals and brightly colored feathers? Also, do you realize the level of sophisticated thought process you attempt to apply to amoebas and other animals for that matter? They’re not saying “hey we need to be fit and pass on our genes..”. That’s what they do instinctively and we know how it happens. To answer the question of why with “god did it” gets us no where in neither the philosophical sense or the scientific sense.

            Science is great at answering the how. I don’t understand why you confine it to that question. Why isn’t it capable of answering the why? Why is that suddenly in the jurisdiction of Philosophy? Furthermore, sometimes the question of why is pointless. Science can explain how heavy elements are made within stars, but does it make sense to follow with the question of why? Genetics can explain how your biological parents came to be your biological parents, but does it need to answer why they’re your biological parents? Does there need to be an answer for why animals preserve their genes, procreate, adapt to survive, evolve for reasons of sexual selection, etc?

            There are also other questions. Let us grant that the answer to why is: because the Judeo-Christian god created the universe, all life, and endowed his creation with an ontological purpose and meaning. The next set of questions would be: who is god or what is god? Where is god? Logically, one can only point to the Bible and personal experience. Both pieces of evidence are sketchy to say the least. Therefore, the answer to why is unsatisfactory and thus, we are back to square one. As stated previously, it is possible that the question of why is entirely unnecessary.

          • Elizabeth

            Haha! Don’t worry… I am completely aware that amoebas cannot hold conversations. In response to the question of Why you give a few answers I will attempt to respond to. You claim that 1.) Science is able to answer Why 2.) That “saying “god did it” gets us nowhere” 3.) that “asking Why is entirely unnecessary”

            1.) Science is built on foundations laid by philosophy. Science is the study of observable phenomenon. It is restricted to matter by it’s very nature. That is a basic overview, but if you want me to go into it I can.
            2.) How does the answer of “God” not satisfy the question? Obviously most questions require a more detailed answer than that one-liner, but I would like to know how, if the premise of God could be theoretically assumed as a possible answer, it would not explain the Why of the universe.
            3.) Your first point conflicts with the conclusion of “the question is unnecessary anyway.” If we humans expend so much of our time and energy to know and understand the origins and subsequent unfolding our universe, how can we evade the question of Why anything exists at all? To say the question doesn’t matter does not answer the question. “Why does the universe exist? Where does the universe come from? (Hint: It did not come from nothing). Who or what made the universe? When did it happen?” When the why is answered, the other questions are answerable.

          • LD8

            There can be no doubt that you can utterly disprove the existence of your caricature of something.
            Have you ever had a satisfactory answer to Why from science? I mean really satisfying. Why do we rise again each morning if there’s no reason to do it?
            Philosophy is only a piece of the Why. Another part is Theology.
            By your last paragraph, you are granting Existence to Existence. Wunderbar! I’m sure He’s pleased. And you are right to ask who He is, but limiting your research to the bible and personal experience is obviously not the case, since you’re here in this thread asking the questions, again. By the way, the answer to Why is counterintuitive, but it’s all over the place.

          • St P

            May I ask you a question?
            After reading everything you’ve stated, what is your motivation to live?

          • http://www.facebook.com/pitheos Derek Dean

            The issue, Elizabeth, isn’t that atheists need to “disprove” God, rather, Christians and other theists need to provide evidence for God. I can’t exactly prove that leprechauns don’t exist, but I suspect that they don’t given there’s no evidence for them. If you could show me evidence for leprechauns, I might be inclined to believe you. In the same vein, I can’t know if there really isn’t a god, but owing to the lack of evidence, I suspect there isn’t. I’m bolstered in that belief by the amount of scientific evidence and the ten or so years I studied the Bible as a religious believer and found problems that stem from that set of texts.

            Regarding natural selection, I addressed this in a previous post. The evidence is compelling, but it’s not my place to convince you. As I said, the scientific literature is available if you want to read it (and there’s much of it written for lay people) and you can take classes. At least do it with an open mind.

      • http://www.facebook.com/pitheos Derek Dean

        I would have to say your views on natural selection are grossly distorted. I would recommend reading literature (from actual scientists) or take a science course to understand it better.

        Having done 17 undergraduate credit hours in science (7 in Geology, 1 Ecology class in the Botany department, and 8 hours of Anthroplogy, with 4 in intro and 4 in Biological Anthroplogy), I can say I am convinced that evolution occurred. I got to study our human ancestors’ bones and draw the conclusions for myself. I didn’t need to rely on a textbook.

        • Donovan

          Only 34 hours? I spend more time researching nanotech in a week!
          And by actual scientist (biologists) I’m sure you also know that the father of modern biology is Brother Gregor Mendel. Or that the old earth model is conterintuitive to absolutely no Church teaching?
          Catholics have a name for our view and it does absolutely nothing to refute Mr. Darwin’s experimental results.
          P.S the Catholic View on this is Called Intelligent Design
          P.P.S You may want to update your CC facts, we’ve had this view for a few hundred years.

          • http://www.facebook.com/pitheos Derek Dean

            I’m sure you understand the difference between a credit hour and an hour as a time unit. You would have to if you’re in nanotechnology.

            Even still, I know that it is miniscule, but it is a lot more than many Creationists with whom I have had the “pleasure” of discussing these topics. What particularly ticks me off is when they assert something and haven’t studied it or take the “word of God” as absolute truth without having a basis for that belief.

            I have more respect for Old Earth Creationists, but I think that they stack an unnecessary element on to science (I’m not sure a divine being, let alone the Christian one, has been demonstrated to even exist).

            As for ID, most iterations that I have seen of it have been of a fundamentalist Christian flavor. I view Roman Catholic teachings on the age of the earth as being closer to Old Earth Creationism.

      • SandyRavage

        You’re completely misrepresenting evolution. The whole point of evolution is that it isn’t random. Natural selection is neither random nor is it a being with a teleological purpose. There’s nothing supernatural about it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Marsh/1216124549 Dan Marsh

      I think you missed the point. The mechanics of why one avoids suffering is not mysterious at all to an atheist; the problem is that there is no meaning to the suffering.

      • Wrestling_Enkidu

        Marc’s point, taken from his post, appears to be that “Christianity is the only existing worldview with a satisfying answer to the mystery of why we suffer.”

        Maybe we have different views of what a “satisfying” answer would be, but in my view, there need not be a meaning imbued by a supernatural agent for the answer to be satisfying. A mechanistic explanation of why we avoid suffering, and why suffering exists, if informed by facts and good logic, is a satisfying solution to the mystery.

        Further, I find theistic answers typically less satisfying than a mechanistic ones, because they are, in my opinion, typically unwarranted by the facts, and often logically challenged. They leave me intellectually unsatisfied.

    • Steve

      You just made his point. When you said, “A desire to end suffering could equally be a desire to change the natural world for the better,” you just assumed a higher moral standard than the natural world provides intuitively. Thank you for proving Marc’s point. The “better” of what? What determines what is better than something else? If it’s just survival, then how would one make sense of someone wanting to “better” their situation in life, whatever that may be. Why is survival itself better than non-survival? By what natural law is it “better” to survive than not to survive?” If your answer is that it is intuitive that it is “better” to survive than not to survive, how would you explain the fact that you would more than likely, out of instinct, that is, without thinking about it, act to save the life of your child, mother, father, sibling, best friend even if that meant that your chance of survival lessened? And that your chance of suffering increased? Suffering cannot be bridled with survival, because often times man suffers more while knowing that doing so will lessen his chance of survival. Seems odd, and unnatural, doesn’t it?

      • Wrestling_Enkidu

        It’s strange to me that you think that my use of the term “better” somehow proves Marc’s point.

        There appears to be an unwarranted assumption that a Catholic God somehow answers the question of what makes something “better” in a satisfactory manner. As far as I can see, Marc’s conception of better (as garnished from his post) is susceptible to the same difficult questions.

        Marc says that we sinned, acting against our nature, separating us from God. But what makes acting in accordance with our nature “better?” Why is it “better” to obey God? I would be curious as to your answer, but in my experience, coherent answers reduce to definitions of “better” (fulfilling most/strongest desires, in our best ultimate interest, etc.) that can be applied just as well to a godless worldview.

        As to your other questions, about the existence of self sacrifice/altruism, there are plenty of evidence based theories within evolutionary psychology. Certainly room for improvement within that field, but the answers do seem to be much more satisfying, coherent, and less ad hoc than theistic explanations.

        It appears false that I made Marc’s point for him, unless you assume I have the same theological beliefs and definitions of “better” that you do.

    • Memek2009

      Yeah. This is much better argument than the one above. I agree. Especially that saying that the desire to end suffering is the desire for the supernatural is a bit of a stretch… unless you believe that suffering is constant and an end to suffering doesn’t exist…. Since I have had moments in my life where I was not suffering, I’m going to say that an end to suffering is not supernatural because it exists….

      Just because the Christian explanation for the afterlife makes you more comfortable with your own mortality doesn’t mean that it is true. Everyone dies, everyone is stressed/nervous about it. Religion is wonderful because it provides you with a softer way of thinking about mortality, if you truly believe in heaven and being there after you die… that is awesome. I’m not jealous though because there is still that uncertainty, the what if not? problem… How doe one deal with that?

      The Buddhist belief, and physical fact, that you can’t destroy matter just change the form is comforting to me.

  • Jrichards

    Contradiction:

    Early in the piece, Atheist says, C’est la vie. La vie sucks

    Later, the atheist must deny that something is wrong.

    Make up your mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001248007674 Tommy Danielsson

    The problem of suffering is no problem at all for an atheist (well it is but not in regards of its origin). Just employ evolutionary biology. It might seem like a cold and heartless view of the world and yeah, I can happily agree that it is.
    But then again, since this is a discussion by humans its worthwhile to point out that we have a (presumably) unique position here in that we (humans that is) are capable of rational thought and abstract imagination.
    Suffering is built into the world by means far from supernatural.
    For example earthquakes cause plenty of suffering each year and yet anyone with a basic understanding of the world knows that the mechanisms of earthquakes are well understood. Adding a supernatural element to the scientific understanding of earthquakes will not add more clarity to the subject (although it would serve to inspire more essays on the mystery off suffering I suppose…).

    It is therefore of much more worth to practically aid people living in areas suffering from earthquakes instead of wondering about the supernatural reason why a village was obliterated by a perfectly well understood natural phenomenon.

    I’ll try to round of and sum up. Trying to explain suffering in terms of the natural world (evolution, natural selection and so on) works perfectly well. That’s all I need to know about the origin and meaning of suffering. What to do about the suffering going on is much more interesting and much more challenging. And being humans capable of rational thought and abstract imagination (and hopefully empathy as well, another concept that comes natural to social beings and does not warrant any sort of supernatural explanation I might add) that is a challenge that is much more deserving of our time.
    After all, hands engaged in hard work will make a greater difference than hands clasped in prayer.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000488291937 Thomas Hodges

    There are loads of problems in this article, but one that I run into fairly early is the assumption that ‘good’ is some kind of objective existent measurable state of being.

    • Corita

      To extrapolate any widely-applicable philosophical statements based on “suffering” is also to assume that there is an objective “good”.

      • Steven Dillon

        The evidential problem of suffering needn’t even mention moral values. It’s concerned only with whether suffering is more to be expected on atheism than theism.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000488291937 Thomas Hodges

        I’m not entirely sure that one necessitates the other, but I agree that there is a similar problem with the discussion of suffering.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000488291937 Thomas Hodges

        For example, if someone is a utilitarian, they could say that they have subjectively settled on the moral philosophy of minimising suffering for the greatest number of people.

  • Jay E.

    Wo-ah. Or, as Lewis so excellently put it, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a dulled world.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000488291937 Thomas Hodges

    The funny thing is that I only read half of the article because I was implicitly invited to stop reading. Otherwise I probably would have finished it. :-P

  • http://www.facebook.com/seth.strong Seth Strong

    The argument that in order to have an answer to what is out there the answer must address a reason for suffering is flawed. Where the universe came from is a separate question from the question of suffering. The universe is being investigated by folks with telescopes and lots of training. The variables around suffering are being investigated by neuroscientists, doctors, and psychology folk.

    How you feel suffering is pretty straightforward. And how you came to feel suffering is called evolution. So why suffering exists is answered by saying, the processes that informs you of your state of sorrow have been associated with the survivability of our type of animal.

    Where the universe came from does seem more suspicious and harder to reproduce, but the research on the subject is promising. And at no point does the absence of research suddenly make the Bible become more factual. All the facts that are also mentioned in the Bible are confirmed with science. All the fallacies in the Bible are determined by the application of some science. At no point do we conclude that the Bible is the source of answers because we can find fallacies quickly enough to establish the Bible cannot claim inerrancy and therefor all claims in the Bible should reasonably be tested through independent means.

    I think a lot of suffering comes from the poor women and gay folk who have been oppressed as a result of thinking the Bible had absolutely good advice on morality. But, when we remove the Bible, there are still other sources of suffering. We’ll let you know more as the research is published.

  • FixT

    So kill yourself, go to fairyland and end the suffering. Problem solved, problem staying solved…NEEEEEEXT!!

  • Corita

    Oh, dear Marc I enjoy your blog but the (I assume, desired by you) influx of tiresome young atheists and their lack of conversational skills is making it hard to read of late.
    I think I will stick to the columns and stay away from the comments! Too many major corrections needed for a compulsive old teacher like me to stand! :) You keep working, though.

    • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

      Young Atheists? What leads you to make such an assumption? The fact that we don’t agree with you and your Theistic assumptions? I don’t think the post is wrong; I know it’s wrong. Unfortunately, you are perhaps too old to make a change — perhaps too accustomed to your unsubstantiated traditions and routines.

      • Joseph Pollard

        Don’t quibble, O atheist, if you intend to thoughtlessly use such words as argued above like “designed,” about the word “young.” Neo-atheism refers to “new” atheism (which, in reality, is not new at all), which would imply either “young” or “fresh.” The word stands. Next!

        • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

          I’m not quibbling over the word. If that were the case, I would have quibbled over the word. She says “young Atheists” and “old teacher” in the same sentence. That leads me to think that she’s referring to age and not New Atheism. Reading comprehension goes a long way Joseph. Basically, I was addressing her assumption of us being young, as in teenagers or even kids. Where do you see the word “designed” by the way? Again, the church is used to silencing its opponents. Well, I will not be silenced because I know, without scintilla of doubt, that the church is wrong and that its god doesn’t exist.

          • Corita

            Dear DM, I refer both to the problems of being young AND the problems of New Atheism, some of which proponents are shamefully entering their late middle-age and have yet to show much for that time here on earth.

            And I do not assume the New Atheists, or even the most-pompous swarms here lately are “:teenagers or kids” — good ness!– as I know they either spending time gazing at themselves on the internet looking-glasses of 4chan or r/ or whatever is IT now, OR they are doing useful things like school, jobs, and having a life.

            Nope, young atheists like yourself are in the convinced-early-20′s, with just-enough education (but not too much!) under their belts to think they know how to have a decent conversation. (Older 20-yos in this category are living with parents while trying to deconvert people on the internet instead of having a life.)
            Also, usually male. Your “NEXT!” seems to give that away.

            If I am wrong in my stereotype, I am happy to be proven so! I am an iconoclast at heart and a bit of a postmodernist to boot. However, each of your posts so far has shown a surfeit of ego and none of the Humility In The Face of The Unknown that an older (or wiser, or both) person might have.

            And no, the above-referenced humility is not a function of being religious. It’s a function of NOT being an ass.

            Hey– we’ve all been there, though! I have been quite an ass myself, and have little hope of avoiding it completely in the future. That’s life!

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            And insulting me doesn’t bolster your case either. I don’t need to show humility in the face of Christianity. Christianity and its god aren’t unknown to me. Furthermore, I am not spending time trying to deconvert people on the internet. The abolition of religious beliefs is a personal endeavor and my only intention is to provide the type of experiences that influence doubt. If anyone leaves Christianity, it is usually a personal choice based on research, higher education, and/or experiences that make them rethink their position.

            My being outspoken doesn’t imply that I’m a so called New Atheist. My reliance on science doesn’t imply that either. There’s no such thing as New Atheism and if you’d like, I can refer you to a post I wrote concerning this issue. I am within my right to rely on science when considering that some Christian arguments attempt to be scientific (i.e. fine tuning, cosmological). When a Christian tries to claim that god is the author of the universe, the hand behind the Big Bang, or some such nonsense, I provide evidence from the Bible that states otherwise. Then I go beyond that and address fallacies and/or twisted facts. When Christians stop making pseudoscientific arguments, I’ll stop involving science in religious discussions.

            Back to the issue of humility; here’s why there’s an air of bravado in each of my responses:

            http://deconversionmovement.tumblr.com/evidence

            That is the body of evidence I keep referring to; most of which is concise rather than expounded, which implies that I can provide quite the exhaustive version. Again, of all the world religions, I would draw a line through yours without second though. Christianity/Catholicism is false and its god is nonexistent. A brief introduction to Archaeology would reveal that as fact. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God”.

          • 1

            You are quibbling over the word. Read your above comment.

        • Corita

          Heehee, I am still tickled over someone who uses “Next!” in conversation about serious matters. Not making fun, really though. I love earnest conviction, even egotistically laden. As long as it doesn’t persist too long, that is. There IS a certain point after which rhetorical pomposity, just like living in your parents’ basement or listening to Nine Inch Nails, becomes a warning to others more than a personality quirk.

    • Corita

      Ahaha I just re-read my comment here. “Stick to the columns and stay away from the comments.” Boy was that a flight of fancy. :) Off to set up a little birthday breakfast for my big birthday boy for the morning!

    • Korou

      Plenty of corrections needed indeed! It’s keeping me quite busy spotting all of them. We need more atheists in here.

  • MF

    My only criticism is that you referred to this world of troubles as this “Veil of Tears.” If you are, as I suspect, quoting the beautiful Marian “Hail Holy Queen,” then you should have written “Vale of Tears.” It’s a homophone.

  • QDefenestration

    typo- it’s “Vale” of Tears, as in valley, not “Veil” of Tears, as in that thing you put over your head.

  • Chris L.

    Very nice post!

    I like and agree with your understanding that suffering is a motion toward the Good, not just some thing that exists, sitting there by itself like some oddity in an otherwise wonderful world, an oddity that seems to be at best useless or at worst a terrible cruelty from a too-cruel-to-exist-God.

    I would add, however, that it’s not *just* a motion toward the Good, but a motion toward or away from the Good made of our own Free Will. As you say: “Human beings sinned — that is, they freely chose to act in contradiction to their own nature and in disobedience to God — and thus separated themselves from God, their Ultimate Good.” — but this disobedience, denial, turning away from the Good is ongoing today in each and every one of us, and we are choosing it. It’s not that Adam and Eve (or some proto-human beings) messed it up for all of us; we mess it up ourselves every day. In this way, suffering is a necessary possible result that comes with Free Will. If we turn from the Good (which we can only do with Free Will), suffering is the result. (In this way, Hell is complete and total suffering, because it is complete separation from the Good.)

    So getting a hammer and purposefully smashing our hands with it will not in and of itself lead us to the Good just because it is suffering. (Otherwise why not hit ourselves with hammers all day?) The Good doesn’t want us to do that. The Good doesn’t want us to suffer at all, it is not part of the nature of the Good to suffer. If all humans turned to the Good of their own Free Will and never turned back on it again, suffering, even while we remain in the physical presence and on Earth, would end. We would still be spiritually far from God, but we wouldn’t have to suffer for it because we’d be facing the Good, focusing on the Good, and working towards the Good.

    I think what tends to annoy people the most (and perhaps encourages atheism) is the injustice of having someone’s Free Will cause someone else’s suffering. What’s the point of even trying to be perfect if some evildoer is just going to slap me in the face and hurt me? What’s the point of loving someone if I will not be loved in return? But Free Will makes this possibility necessary!

    Through Christ, God knows all our suffering; I suppose you could say He “absorbs” it so that we can be forgiven, so that we can turn back after having turned away. (And, through Christ, we can “absorb” it as well, use it to help us grow closer to the Good, without it pulling us to Hell, as it can if we let it.) But God does not create the suffering; we bring it about ourselves through the poor use of Free Will. The amazing thing is that, through Christ, even the experience of suffering can be made to result in growing towards the Good.

    I can’t claim that my thoughts on this matter are complete, as I continue to grow in my understanding of God each day, but there they are.

    Thanks again for the great post. God bless!

  • Svpark

    You know what I love about your blog, Marc? That you rile up the infidels to the point of insanity and yet, they keep comin’ back for more! And it’s thoroughly amusing to watch so many people who deny the existence of an absolute being, and therefore of absolute truth, arguing their point(s) to make you/me/anyone see their truth. If Truth doesn’t exist, why bother refuting anything? Talk about suffering…

    • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

      Truth does exist. Unfortunately, what you think is true isn’t true. Infidels? Don’t make me laugh. Your god simply doesn’t exist and of that I’m sure. You can respond and say: “I’m sure he exists.” To which I will respond with two requests: 1) Where’s your evidence? 2) Do you ever doubt? To which you will respond: “yes I do doubt, but…”. You will provide your reasoning. Difference between us: I don’t doubt whilst you do. Thus, my certainty outweighs yours. Don’t try to dodge the question either; I am a former Christian and I have known and I do know many Christians. None of them are free from doubt. Moreover, the burden of proof is on you. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any convincing evidence for your god’s existence. I’ve refuted them all: Ontological, Cosmological, Fine-Tuning, etc. I’ve refuted the futile argument from desire. They’re all illogical arguments that prove nothing. I’m not riled up and I’m not suffering in presenting my case. However, I’m sure I’m making some of you suffer in making some of you ask: “is it possible that he’s right?” or alternatively “is it possible that I’m wrong?”. A possibility for you is certainty for me. Christianity is wrong.

      • Korou

        It did give me a bit of a suprise, coming here and finding the Christians so confident in their arguments – arguments which really don’t justify that confidence. Apologetics is really a house of cards that falls apart as soon as it’s prodded a little. Which is why, I suppose, you see a lot of Christians saying things like “Well, it’s not as if your opinion is worth listening to, since you don’t have any moral foundation to know right from wrong” – it’s a good way of dodging the argument, as Marc did a few posts back.

  • Mathgeek

    Just a mathematical note here: you *can* own another block. We’ve been told that Bob has infinity blocks. Now, let’s pretend all of his blocks are red. But you can own a blue block, and it won’t be his. You can even paint your block red, and it will still be yours, not his. So, now there are infinity red blocks, and one of them is not Bob’s. Likewise, Jesus suffering infinitely does not necessarily mean that your suffering has to be His too.

  • http://www.fantasticastoria.blogspot.com/ Chana Messinger

    1. If Christ can suffer infinitely for us, and none of our suffering will ever be enough, why do we still suffer?

    2. Someone else have infinite something does not mean there isn’t something outside it. There are infinite even numbers and yet odd numbers persist.

  • Brotherton8684

    Love doesn’t have to suffer. It freely chooses to do so. God is impassible by nature, says the Council of Chalcedon, contrary to the popular ‘death of God’ theologians in both Protestant and Catholic circles. And certainly some suffering can be freely wasted…consider a person in mortal sin who suffers his own torment in lacking grace, never repentant (at least as far as those near him can tell).

  • Corita

    RE: The infinity problem.

    You make it a math problem (incorrectly, the way you wrote it, and as others have pointed out) by using the term “infinity” BUT I think what you are talking about, Marc, is a *totality*. The totality is everything, and includes time: past, present and future– which is what we often mean when we say “infinity” but which is not necessarily limited by the term.

    Infinite is a descriptor that attempts to describe one *aspect* of the totality of the Creator. It is primarily in contrast to the absolute, undeniable, finitude of our material selves. In fact, all descriptions of G-d are done in contrast or comparison to the created –us– and are therefore only crude tools at understanding, as “through a glass darkly” we try to see Him.

    • Corita

      Oops clarifying summary sentences. (Additional rambling in parentheses:)

      Jesus sacrifice, as we understand it, was to put right on some multiple-dimension level, the disjointedness of a world influenced by sin.

      (I tend to think of what we call morality as a *structural* part of creation, meaning that on some dimension it actually is a building-block, shape, or both, of creation itself. Sin would do something to that shape or structure, fracture it somehow, so that the material world couldn’t access the structure properly. Is the structure the same as G-d? Is the totality of what is redeemed actually separate from Christ who redeemed it? I dunno, these are the things I think about in the fleeting moments of the day.)

      But the totality of creation, including time, is what was redeemed. That is why *all* suffering can be said to be part of Christ.

      (Although I wonder how much our free will can take that suffering and put it on ourselves instead of him…But wouldn’t that also be a kind of suffering, due to the sin of rejection of Truth? And therefore STILL joined to Him?) Ah, you know I have too much to do if I am writing train-of-thought theology on the internet instead of the real work of my real life.

  • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

    Science isn’t restricted to the question of how. I stated that in some cases, the question of why is unnecessary. Perhaps not “why does life exist?” and “why is there something rather than nothing?”, but why isn’t always necessary.

    The answer god doesn’t satisfy the question because god is ambiguous. There’s nothing concrete about that answer. Furthermore, my issue isn’t god overall. Why not the Brahman of Hinduism? Why not Spinoza’s god? Why not the god of Deism? My issue is that Christians assume it’s their god. They make this assumption with no evidence whatsoever and attempt to bolster the assumption with arguments that aren’t supported by the Bible. A believer cannot forgot: the god of the Bible cannot transcend the Bible because if not for the Bible, we would not speak of him.

    I’m not ashamed to say I don’t know why, but Iwon’t bow to ignorance and say, “the Christian

    • Corita

      I am *not* going to take you up on the demand of the last sentences except to say this:

      It makes more sense for me to say that I am a Catholic because for me, nothing else fits properly. That is, as a narrative for explaining and understanding how the world is: ontology, psychology, eschatology, and especially as a process of engagement with the world I perceive and believe to be real. (If my perception is completely wrong, ala The Matrix, then it hardly matters; the point is proceeding as if my actions DO have significance.)

      It has nothing to do with science proving or disproving G-d; there is nothing we can discover in science that will undermine the Truth of creation. It’s just a matter of sometimes shifting our way of conceiving of the Creator.

      More, it’s about people, and how love and apathy war in our hearts and minds and destroy or restore us. Using reason and logic and experience, both from learning and evaluating the teachings of Catholic Christianity and applying my human skills to observation and experience, I see that the inside-out ideas of Christianity result in the paradox of healing where there is seemingly insurmountable brokenness. And that somehow this works to change the lived reality of the people who are healed. I can compare it to the change in going from addiction to sobriety, perhaps. But more encompassing.

      Most modern, truly thoughtful atheists are as a whole far more strictly moral than their non-atheist counterparts. They seem to have a self-discpline and integrity that those who take their faith for granted might lack. I wonder if that is due to atheism or that people who are naturally so find atheism fits their world. But in reality most of the messed-up, intemperate and vengeful sinners among us need the Mercy of the Christian narrative if we have any hope of Not Effing this Up So Badly we Regret our lives and the pain we have caused.

      • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

        It is convenient to ignore the demand and preach a sermon. Preach on; it falls on def ears. I am unmoved by your championing of Christianity. There are no two realities. Your god either exists or he doesn’t and as far as evidence is concerned, it’s pointing heavily toward his nonexistence.

        • Corita

          Oh, I wasn’t preaching a sermon. I was answering your question, as far as I could; this is a basic human interchange: offering your perspective and ideas as information to another person.
          I am sorry you do not like that I don’t do exactly what you demand. But it is foolish to make such demands of others. We ask of others and they give us what they can. That’s what I was offering.

          Your belief, or un-, is not up to me. I do not consider it my responsibility, as far as other people’s relationship to G-d (or not) to do anything but try not to be a complete a-hole, and to offer my thoughts and experience if asked.

          • Corita

            This strikes me, though: “There are no two realities.”
            Perhaps in the God exists/God doesn’t exist proposition that you describe there is actually only one reality.

            However, pretty much everything else (including how well we can perceive the truth of that is hard to get at. “Realities” abound. Truth is unchanging, though, I agree with you on that. You are a very stark fundamentalist, though…on this we are quite different.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            Fundamentalist? It’s almost as if you wish to get me angry by using such terminology. You may try, as many have, but you will fail at that. Fundamentalism is a term that accurately applies to bible bashing literalists. I made a demand that’s far from fundamentalist. I’m an Atheist that asked you to consider other gods and you refused; yet I don’t believe in gods. Why do I, a “fundamentalist”, know about them? I am well-versed in religion, more some than others and again, I don’t find truth in your religion or its god. There’s nothing fundamentalist about that. I simply disagree with you and I’ve provided sound reason.

          • Corita

            I didn’t refuse anything except refusing to jump through conversational hoops that you demanded be observed.

            And, dear, if you “simply disagreed” you wouldn’t be spending so much of your life involved in this aggro-wrangling on the internet. You would be out living a real life with real people enacting real things into being.

          • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

            Your last two paragraphs are equal to a sermon. Why are you telling me about sinners if I don’t see the world that way?

          • Corita

            They are not intended to be a sermon but were my attempt, however poor, at a partial answer to your question posed about how I can believe what I do. I used “sinners” specifically in reference to Christians who would conceive of themselves that way, and as a counterpoint to the moral, integrated atheists described immediately previous.

            If someone uses terminology you find strange or don’t understand, you could try *starting* by asking them to clarify. FYI, conversational manners.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.sjamison John Jamison

    Wow, I honestly came here expecting to read something that would make me think. The leaps and bounds made logically here are not much better than the intellectual dance that flat earthers make… and yes flat earthers do exist.

    Atheists don’t have to deny that suffering is not enjoyable. I clearly don’t like suffering. I am an atheist. Suffering is quite explainable without the existence of a god. Suffering is not the optimal state. If I am suffering, there is clearly a better place for me to be, this is by definition. This definition works with or without a god of any kind. The assumption here is that suffering and happiness can only be discussed within reference to the Christian god. And now that we can clearly talk about suffering and happiness the Christian god must exist….the reasoning is circular.

  • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

    @ Corita; you dodged the question of other gods. You have dodged my evidences and my objections. If one eliminates Adam and Eve, where does original sin come from? Where is your evidence for this new origin? These are the points I made in my original comment. You gave me no sound response. You brought up free will. I quickly responded to that point and stated that it’s an illusion both in the scientific and philosophical sense and that the argument for free will rests in Compatibilism, which is quite different from the Libertarian view of religious people — especially Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, and Muslims. I am still left with no basis for sin, which leaves me with no basis for Christ’s death — which is essentially the root of your beliefs.

    You have either dodged these points and questions or failed when providing answers. You can’t bounce around from one abstraction to another and act as if my questions were answered. Adam, Eve, sin, and Christ are abstractions to me. I would grant the possibility of Christ, but not Christ the divine son of god and redeemer. History is not on his side. However, the other three abstractions are still obscure, especially when considering the impossibility of the Creation myth.

    Then you say that your god is the god of the Bible, but ignore his moral atrocities. Apologetics haven’t provided a satisfactory answer. Why does he kill children? Why do they pay the price for their parent’s misdeeds? There’s no justification. Then you would say that I take it too literal. If that’s the case, how do we draw a line between literal and non-literal and who decides? We can’t grant the church that authority; the church will indoctrinate and mislead to maintain its clout. Thomas Paine recognized that in The Age of Reason and thus, he stripped them of their claims to infallibility. Now we both agree the Bible is fallible. Again, what does that say about the god of its pages? These are all points and questions aforementioned. As far as I’m concerned, good answers cannot be provided. Therefore, why not abandon this disgusting abstraction? Why not believe in a more rational god? Why not find god in nature as Paine did? Why the god of the Bible? What makes him better?

    • Corita

      If you were really speaking out of reason, instead of aggression, you would provide evidence that I have intentionally “dodged” anything– as opposed to say, not answering one of twenty topics you bring up in a long, ricocheting post…Or, answering in a way you do not understand but do not wish to ask questions about. Instead you write a sputtering, rushing play-by-play and fill it with your perceptions (stated as fact), assumptions about motivations and aggrandized claims of rhetorical genius.

      You would not be able, if you tried, to show proof that I have done any deliberate dodging. Adam and Eve is where we started and is a good example of what has taken place. My first response on Adam and Eve was met with, “No that is not true. Next!” Which is your version of a pompously-worded “Nu uh!” (And as if I would come back with , “Uh huh!” No.) What I *haven’t* tried to answer was likely due to its being carried away on the torrent of your words, or in the daily bustle (I actually HAVE a life, see below), OR went unanswered, as now, by the fact that I am not obligated to conduct conversation according to your individually-defined parameters. Nor speak only in language that you prefer (ala your whining about abstraction.)

      Finally, in other posts you insist that you are “not an egotist” but also that you “have nothing but time.” My response on free will sits on the screen where I left it this morning between taking my kids to school and my husband to have surgery. (He is home again, resting upstairs, in a lot of pain but thankfully sleeping.)

      You seem to think we are in some sort of a wrangle here. We are not. I am not trying to “win” anything–you seem to be. I have talked with many an atheist in my life; the goal was not conversion– to either side– but growing in understanding of the other and also trying to get at Truth. I have read, engaged in papers and debate, and talked at great length with thoughtful atheists who care about truth. You are not there yet. It’s not about differing beliefs (or non-). It’s about searching for Truth with honesty and humility.

      Your adolescent-like aggression will most likely continue to hamper your attempts at getting at any real truth with other people. Hopefully not for long!

      I do hope you actually do care about that search. My thinking is that you really have to choose: Either use a more rational, humane and measured way of speaking about things– in conversation, without malice, in respect for shared humanity– OR you have to give up the artifice that you are after information or discussion with other people. And claim your label as “Deconversion, Troll.”

      As to fundamentalism. If you think your exploration so far has shown you the truth of existence AND that you are thus qualified and right to go around in public badgering other people to 1)listen to everything you have to say on the matter and 2) respond to you in the way you demand, and no other, complete with assertions about the state of other people’s minds and hearts… then, my friend we don’t even need to address the way you use the Bible in a flat and uneducated manner to see that you are not very different from a wild-eyed, fundamentalist bible-thumper of a preacher. Your conviction is the same, your abrupt, assumption-based mannerlessnes is the same, your spiritual immaturity is the same.

      Damn, this is long. Part of me itches to get into the questions you pose above. But I don’t do the com-box beat-off. (yep, I said it.) I also, as I have repeatedly said, need a decent partner to talk about this stuff. I don’t do the immature boogey-dance with aggressive virgin atheists who are in it only for their own pleasure.

      Well, those are my thoughts on things; of course you are free to do as you please. (aren’t you? Or is that an illusion?)

  • Memek2009

    Wouldn’t suffering be the state in which you are in pain, and then healing be when you jumped off the stove to jump in the sink? Suffering is a state that people try to get out off… but the suffering isn’t what makes them heal. Some people suffer and do not care to find the good. There for it can’t be a movement to the good, it is a state of being.

    Also, you misunderstand buddhism. The buddhist belief of suffering is that we suffer because we desire MATERIAL goods… Charity is not material… so desiring charity does not need to be transcended… that would actually lead to less suffering because charity is in a way disregarding material desires. You could even make the argument that the smell of a woman’s hair is also not material if you love that woman… Unless love is material.

    The argument you make about the conflict between man and the universe, man hating pain and the universe doling it out, doesn’t prove God’s existence. Humans hate pain because we do not want to die. Pain the result of sensations that we perceive to be dangerous and can potentially harm any given part of us. In other words: pain, and our dislike for it, is a survival mechanism, not a conflict between us and the universe that can only be explained by Christianity. The universe is unpredictable, there are a lot of things that can hurt us. Us humans just are not powerful/awesome enough to avoid everything that can hurt us and cause us suffering.

    I feel like if I was NOT confident that God exists for my own reasons, the poorly thought out and researched arguments here would do more harm than good for my beliefs. If you do not question these things, your faith cannot grow and you stagnate and suffer.

  • http://twitter.com/DeconMov DeconversionMovement

    @ Corita; A long-winded response that says nothing and demonstrates nothing, but a misunderstanding of why I write the way I write. I’ve grown tired of the distortions, the insults, and the condescension. You actually triggered a change in my tone. Wasn’t it you that stated: “Yawn! Evolution doesn’t disprove Adam and Eve, silly.” Then you brought up free will and I quickly deconstructed your argument. You started this chain of so called rude language and though you claim that I’m immature, you provide no instances of such behavior. I disagree with you and that’s that. I’ve stated my case and ask for clear responses and you do nothing but point out supposed bad characteristics about me. I’m interested in the truth and I’ve told you why your beliefs aren’t the truth. Don’t feel the need to attack my character with a long-winded post simply because you don’t have the capacity to defend your faith. I have nothing but time, but I also have better things to do and better people to talk to — people who won’t condescend from the get go based on mere disagreement. Like I aforementioned, perhaps you’re too old to change your traditions and your routines. Respond with another long-winded insult. It will not be read or responded to. I hope your husband gets better; I mean that sincerely. Continue to care for you and yours.

    • Corita

      You are right about this, DM: I was long-winded. That’s my bad for posting before bed after such a day.

  • http://twitter.com/Drewbueno Andrew Good

    I really enjoyed this. I’ve just been listening to John Piper’s old (1985) sermons from the book of Job. This supplements it nicely.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.ramsay.75 Rebecca Ramsay

    Great article.. but your math is a little off. There are an infinite number of even numerals, that doesn’t mean all numerals are even.

  • LaurelhurstLiberal

    I’m not going to argue with the theology, but I’d like to point out that your logic is faulty when you say:
    “For all those who understandably don’t like Bible quotes, I’ll put it simply. If Bob has an infinite number of blocks, can you own a block that is not Bob’s? Of course not, for then Bob would have infinity minus 1 block, which is no infinity at all.”

    Infinity doesn’t work this way. Bob can have an infinite number of blocks, and there can still be an infinite number of blocks that aren’t his. Google “Hilbert hotel paradox” for a detailed proof.

  • kstarr

    This makes sense from a Christian pov.

  • maryes

    I haven’t had any classes in theology or philosophy. I am lost when you say suffering is not a thing, but a movement. It seems to me it could be both–as in, the stimulus that gets you to move off the hot stove. Any way, I want to thank you for helping me to love Jesus more. I knew where you were going leading up to “Infinite Good requires infinite suffering”, and I kind of tensed like you do before a hypodermic needle is inserted. but it was medicine I’ve been wanting for a long time. Thanks, I needed that.

  • KvH

    If humans suffer because of sin, why do animals suffer?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edvin-Ellingsen/100001140340656 Edvin Ellingsen

    Now, I don’t know much about whether suffering should be viewed as a state you’re in or a motion towards the Good, but one thing is for certain: Great things are achieved where there is suffering. Be it the cure of disease, drugs to relieve pain or new technology to help filter water, people are challenging borders set by ancient times, finding new knowledge that help us broaden our horizons, seeing ever further than our predecessors. No suffering is a waste, even for the non-believers: It is an inspiration for greatness, a source of ideas, a tool to stir emotions, a reminder to all of us that there is still much to know in our world.

    Anyways, this was an interesting read! I had no trouble agreeing with many if not all of your points (in a philosophical or theological way, mind you).
    (Coming from an atheist.)

  • Gibbslarryd

    IN RESPONSE TO “WHY CHRISTIANITY IS FAR MORE SENSIBLE”
    I appreciate Marc Barnes’ post, “Why Christianity is Far More Sensible than Whatever You’re Doing Right Now,” on Patheos.com. I share his view that Christianity offers the best explanation for suffering, but differ on the substance of that explanation. When we discuss ideas that affect the direction of people’s faith, and in turn their fate, we are treading on serious ground indeed. I’d like to fairly, but firmly challenge a couple of Marc’s points. (more at http://truthrrr.blogspot.com/)

  • Matt H

    I didn’t think of this post until much later, but I was writing about that same topic (and being a big fan of Augustine myself) and the same reaction is the result.

    When you mention that you believe Christ is the answer to our moral concerns, that Catholicism is true, or Christianity is the only satisfying worldview, you better prepare for those salvos!

    I suppose I’m still learning how to field all the “science explains it all” (it doesn’t seem that way the way they argue it) and “morals are natural instincts and universal and people just added extras on top.” Your “3 arguments Atheists aren’t allowed to use any more” is a nice way of looking at some problems.

    Doesn’t make it any less easy sometimes to try and lead people to understand your position. I can only hope I can persuade them a bit about Catholicism, but that’s a hard hill to climb.

  • Guest

    Your assessment of Islam’s take on suffering is not only, as you stated, grotesquely simplified, but just incorrect. Allah’s intention before even creating mankind was to create a a being that had the capacity to sin. The Qur’an describes dialog between Allah and the angels regarding the purpose of mankind and this capacity.

    Qur’an 2:30 states, “Remember when your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a deputy on the earth!” They said, “Will You create there one who will spread disorder on the earth and cause bloodshed, while we proclaim Your purity, along with your praise, and sanctify Your name?” He said, “Certainly, I know what you know not.”

    What Allah knew was that mankind, as He intended, would have the capacity to sin. However, those who would master their evil inclinations and attest to Allah being the one and only God would attain the highest status of all His creation – even higher than the angels who worship Allah dutifully, but have no free will.

    I imagine that when you talk about mankind sinning and then ‘getting smacked in the head with suffering you are referring to the story of Adam and Eve. If so, then this assessment is also oversimplified and erroneous. First, as stated in the aforementioned verses from the Qur’an, Allah always intended for mankind to dwell on earth and to have the capacity to commit sins. Thus, the argument that we’d all be in heaven if not for Adam and Eve’s sin is incorrect. Second, what people call Adam’s ‘sin’ was not a sin at all. It was a step in his evolution and mankind’s preparation to inherit the earth.

    Adam and Eve’s incident with Satan taught them two things:
    1) Allah has our best interest at heart while Satan is a clear enemy to mankind. Thus, obey Allah even when we cannot fully comprehend his commands and avoid Satan’s temptations regardless of how ‘helpful’ they may seem.
    2) Mankind will sin, but all is not lost if we repent.

    Lastly, your assessment about suffering in Islam only existing as a form of a test or punishment is not telling the whole truth and it is blasphemous to say that Allah’s tests are a means of ‘screwing with us’. Allah is the creator, cherisher, and sustainer of the universe. Nothing that He does is in vain and as a result, He would not levy tests on His creation to entertain Himself or just on a whim.

    The purpose of mankind enduring these tests is that we attain the status and potential that Allah knows we are capable of and for those who pass these tests there is Paradise.

    I could go on, but hopefully, that is plenty for you to ponder.

    May Allah guide us all to the truth and open our hearts to it.

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    This feels very much like you are preaching to the choir. I feel that your logic is tortured, and your mischaracterizations of other people’s belief systems is as wrong (and un-Christlike) as the sexist and heteronormative language you use.

  • Thisisaname

    Religions are religions. Its all the same. As long as the religion doesn’t say to worship evil then all religions are correct. And no one will EVER be able to prove the existence of god unless the god (if the god exists) decides to reveal him/herself. So there is no point in trying to prove god exists.

  • Mike

    Facile idiocy. That’s all I can say. Suffering is a natural phenomenon, like any other. It is a product of evolution, both feeling pain and empathy when others do. This inane ramble starts with the incorrect assumption that the Christian god exists and that things must have this inherent thing he calls “Purpose”.

    Even given those two fundamental errors, the authors laughable arrogance leaps out again and again with lines such as “The problem of suffering is the oldest and most fundamental problem for
    the human race. That there is no coherent, consistent and thorough
    answer to be found to the problem outside of the person of Christ.” Really? Prove Christ existed. Once you have clarified your postulates maybe we can go on.

  • Matt

    What I’d like to point out is that, just because Christianity can reasonably explain these issues within itself, does that make it correct? I mean, I don’t think Science will find every answer, likely it will never understand all, but fulfilling results doesn’t mean that’s the true cause. We may not be anywhere near a true answer.

  • Teal

    how about instead of all of you arguing over the Internet, you go and do something productive?

  • Michael Hassan

    I’m on the verge of fully taking on the christian faith and this article is getting me closer to where i need to be so thank you and god bless you.

  • 5739205

    Just utter rubbish. For centuries the church has used peoples suffering against them, the promise of relief and embracing this, that or the other. Christians, or indeed any other group of people that believe in some sort of arbiter, do not have a monopoly on good, or hold the moral high ground. In fact, I’ve always found it profoundly selfish, to have a reason for being kind, or seeking out the best in yourself. It always ends with a personal reward.

    If you look around the world today, or indeed back in time, all forms of religion are still used to create huge barriers among people. No religion can preach tolerance, because holding a view that essentially excludes people in some way unless they believe or live by the particular moral standard or code of ethics, is the antithesis of the message. “belief in christ is one the most is one of the most natural, human actions a man can perform” is possibly one of the most misleading and intentionally influential statements I have ever read, aimed at people who have a piece missing in themselves and offering, in my opinion, a solution by nefarious means. Yes, it is good when people attempt to better themselves. Do they need christ, or any other form of religion to do so? Absolutely not.

    Therein lies your solution, Ignorance is bliss.

  • Jonathan

    “If Bob has an infinite number of blocks, can you own a block that isn’t Bob’s?”

    yes. Infinity minus 1 is still infinity. You can create a map from the even numbers to Bob’s blocks and the odd numbers less than 10 to my blocks…therefore Bob has an infinite number of blocks, I have 5 blocks and I don’t own any block’s that belong to Bob.

  • Dean

    This is my favorite blog on the internet

  • Vladimir

    I would first off like to I say I thoroughly enjoyed the article, and found much of it consonant with my own search for faith. Specifically directed at Marc however I would like to address one thing that is bothering me/puzzling me. I am an Orthodox Christian, and some of the references to the eternally redemptive quality of Christ’s suffering are making me a little concerned about possible confusion with God, as God, suffering. As this caused Nestorius to fall into severe error, I’m a little curious if you can clarify the Catholic teaching, to your knowledge, on the subject.

  • Sam Inman

    Warning: This reply is long.

    Good argument. I appreciate the passion. However I think you may be missing the scriptural basis for a few of your assumptions. The understanding of suffering is critical to our relationship to a loving God. So I give you kudos for pointing out the importance of the subject. However I think you are elevating suffering to an improper place. Here are some points to reconsider.

    Pain is a consequence rather than a journey. The movement from bad to good you are describing is the definition of repentance. Suffering does highlight our need for God and enforces our dependence on him. Suffering does not always directly draw us nearer to God. I believe that is role is properly assigned to Love.

    Suffering is finite whereas love is infinite. God was in existence before suffering and didn’t have to suffer to create man. (In other ancient religions gods battle and shed blood at creation but in not in the Genesis story) Suffering is a direct result of sin. Therefore in legal terms Jesus paid the price for our sin to release us from never-ending suffering. Suffering had a beginning. While Jesus suffering completely overcame death and reversed the effects of sin it is not referred to as unending or reaching as far as the east is from the west. Also Sin is not infinite and to call suffering infinite is an exaggeration since suffering results from sin. Love is not directly tied to suffering, because God loved man before sin and suffering entered the world. He will also continue to love his children after our faith and our bodies are perfected and we experience no more suffering.

    Love is not dependent upon or inextricably tied to suffering. Suffering however only exists where there is sin. Therefore suffering is a consequence rather than a journey. Suffering may give God opportunity to prove his goodness and love to us and give us motivation to find God but it is not his chosen device. It is a misnomer to give a great deal of attention to suffering and overlook the main infinite driving force of reconciliation in creation. Love.

    Suffering does not exist as a divine tool to bring us back to God. It exists because of sin God and it is his only his love and mercy that draw us back to him and not anything we can do or endure or overcome.

    To summarize, Suffering is the result of sin. Pain is a sin deterrent and an indicator that we need God. Love is THE motivator to move toward God. Repentance not suffering is the journey of turning from sin toward reconciliation with God.

  • help3434

    ” She must retire and think on why, if suffering is simply a part of the natural universe, do we have within ourselves a desire to be without it? Does that imply we are made for another universe?”

    Er, no, it just implies that we are “made” to minimize suffering. How long do you think a population that didn’t resist suffering would last? Not liking some part of the natural universe that we are in doesn’t mean that the supernatural exists.


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