Why It’s Okay To Speak Religiously in the Face of Tragedy

True suffering — whether in death, disaster, or disease — is united by the fact that we hate it. Our beings reject it, our minds refuse to comprehend it, our bodies are sickened by it, and it’s all a simple matter of definition: To suffer is to experience that which we do not want to experience.

Now it’s impossible — from a purely secular standpoint — to answer the question of why we suffer. For if there were a good reason for our suffering, then that suffering would become tolerable to us — and then it wouldn’t be suffering at all.

I’ll try to be clear: If we could say with precision why we suffer, and to what end, then we wouldn’t be suffering. We would be athletes with sore muscles. The athlete knows why he is experiencing pain, and he knows to what end (becoming stronger, improving at his sport, etc.). He will not be swept up in fear and confusion after each workout, nor will his very being rebel against the pain in his triceps. He is not suffering in the strict sense, and we’d be fools to treat him as if he were.

Or take burning our hand on a stove. Again, this pain is something we want to experience. Pain, after all, is the message rammed into our brain to remove our hand, lest we burn ourselves through to our muscle and bone. Pain of this sort is useful and answerable — it is not suffering, and no one treats it as such.

It seems that for suffering to be suffering — for it to truly be that which do not want to experience — it cannot have a satisfactory answer. To put it another way: The existence of a clear, natural purpose to “suffering” indicates that the experience in question is not “suffering” at all.  Thus there exist no support groups and therapy sessions for stove-pokers and athletes, and quite a few for cancer patients and the survivors of massacres. The difference is simple: The former can point to some greater purpose to their pain — an un-destroyed hand or bigger, stronger muscles. The latter cannot. All we can give those truly experiencing suffering are expressions of support or comfort. We can give no purpose.

This is no failure on our part, our inability to give a rational, secular purpose to suffering. It simply speaks to the fact that if there existed for us a perfect, satisfactory answer to the problem of suffering, then we would not really be suffering. Suffering, to be suffering, seems to require its awful purposelessness.

This, of course, is a terrible paradox and an immediate problem. It is our natural response to the experience of suffering to ask “why?!” and “why me?!” Few would deny this. Yet it is inherent to the nature of suffering that there be no answer to these questions. This is a tension begging to be released, a conflict in desperate need of resolution.

You cannot blame the atheist then, for speaking in religious tones after a great tragedy. You cannot blame the agnostic for going to a Christian memorial service, nor the materialist for finding comfort in the words “Rest in Peace,” even if he believes that the only peace after death is that of oblivion. Since we are necessarily denied a natural solution to suffering, we turn our minds to the supernatural.

This is no sign of weakness, but a sign of common sense. If I were to sit in a classroom and find that there were no answers I could give using the English language, it would be no weakness to conclude that my answers must be given on a different plane, in French or Mandarin, depending on the class. So too, if we find in this life a question that necessarily has no answer on the secular plane — in this case, “to what end do we suffer?” — then it is no weakness to begin operating on the religious frame. In fact, it’s entirely natural.

Whether this religious plane is true, and whether it has anything to offer us is precisely what I’ll discuss next.

Actually, wait, ain’t nobody got time for that. I already did. Read it.

  • Kendall

    Very enlightening. Good post!

  • Little Way Soul

    Thank you for this. It was just what I needed to hear tonight.

  • Marcus Absent

    So, without a religious connotation, one can’t find meaning in suffering, be it good or bad. That honestly makes a lot of sense!

  • Kendall

    Actually, based on this post and on this definition of suffering, I suppose the phrase “suffering souls in Purgatory,” is not really an appropriate description since all of those in it understand the reason and fruit of their pains.

    • Theta

      Do they?

      • Kendall

        I’m thinking of CCC 1022, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death.”

        They know they’re in purgatory, and they know that the only consequence of purgatory is heaven: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation” (CCC 1030).

        • Dan

          I’m very conflicted about this idea of purgatory and it’s something that has led me to doubt Catholicism. I don’t understand the purpose of it. Did Christ not die for my sins on the cross? Is His blood not enough to save me and thus I need to go to purgatory? I don’t understand how purgatory helps “purify” us, the thought of it contradicts with the idea that Christ’s blood is what purifies me. If a fellow reader or maybe the author could reply this would be of great help to me.

          • Joyfully

            in a word, justice. how just would he be if we were allowed to do whatever we wanted and still get into heaven as long as we believed in him? why behave any outrageous way we want as long as we believe in him, we’ll get in.

            could you be happy with a god who allowed your neighbor to terrorize you and your family senselessly for years and sweep him immediately into heaven upon his death, meanwhile, you and your family never acted out in revenge but spent years with inconvenience and irritation and pain and god treated you equally?

            the justice of purgatory helps good people stay sane. state laws will never ever be able to enforce pure justice so good people need to know that god himself has a means of justice that is above and beyond the state(s).

            hope this helps. if not, see Fr. Schall’s “The Order of Things”.

          • Dan

            Sorry I’m unsure of the point you’re making. I’ll try to clarify things one by one (paragraph by paragraph).

            I agree such a person would have a difficult time getting into heaven, like Jesus said, you need faith and works. So just because someone is a Christian by name but doesn’t love those around him (and do good works accordingly) then I agree such a person wouldn’t be able to get to heaven (Christ will judge him I’m just talking about a hypothetical)

            I love that my God is forgiving because as we say in the psalms I am the chief among sinners. The right hand thief is an example of this, he lived a life of crime, but earnestly and honestly repented for his deeds, and he entered paradise. That being said if said neighbor he is in a different situation, if he does not repent for his sins he won’t go to heaven at all.

            In both these cases I think you’re talking about people that are going to hell and thus purgatory is irrelevant. I’m referring to it in the scenario where a sinner repents and tries to live a good life such as Saul who became Paul in the books of Acts. The blood of Christ redeems him and makes him perfect and able to enter into the kingdom of God. I don’t see a need for purgatory for him or any other honest repentant sinner.

          • Dan 2

            Hello Dan,

            I had this issue once; I didn’t understand the need for purgatory either. The way I see purgatory is like a shower in the blood of our lord. As you say we are saved by it, and so on earth we do our best to embrace that salvation. But as humans we are fallen. I cannot honestly say that I have been sinless in my life and confess all my sin, especially the small ones which I may have forgotten. Nothing uncleanness in the blood of the lord enters into heaven, and so purgatory is where are sins are purged. For some men they may have done terrible injustices throughout their lives and then have a true death-bed conversion, confessing sin, receiving the sacraments; But Penance need to be served for God’s justice to be divine and perfect. And so the holiest among us, who paid their Penance, enter into heaven and the least holy of us, yet faithful, must too serve out their penance. Paul, it is said, was martyred, and martyrdom is the ultimate penance for the sins against God.

            I like your interesting and honest questions which show your devotion to the truth, to God, to Christ.

            Bless you.

            Dan 2

          • Dan 2

            ohh, plus: the reason we offer Christ the lamb every Sunday as opposed to the once is also the washing away the sins accumulated. Its like taking showers we as humans find it very difficult to stay clean do we not.

          • Nathan

            You are, entirely, saved by Christ’s death on the cross, but are you a saint? Nothing unclean enters into the presence of God. Purgatory is the cleansing of any remaining faults. It is the perfecting of the soul.

            Indeed, imagine being in Gods presence but still being as you are now. Is there nothing about you that you think needs to change or be improved? Our souls are covered in things far worse than sweat, grime, and waste. Purgatory is where these are washed away so that we may sit down spotless at the wedding feast.

            All of this is through Christ, all of this is the process through which we are redeemed and sanctified. Child birth is painful, but what a joyous pain it is. Purgatory too will certainly be painful, but how much more blessed and joyous that pain will be.

          • Dan

            Thanks for the response, but you’ve alluded to the same contradiction that I can’t understand;

            “You are, entirely, saved by Christ’s death on the cross, but are you a saint? Nothing unclean enters into the presence of God. Purgatory is the cleansing of any remaining faults. It is the perfecting of the soul.”

            If we are entirely saved, (of course assuming good works, repentance, and a life of devotion to Christ that He judges in the last day is worthy to enter into His kingdom) then it leads to the issue of why need purgatory. His blood entirely cleanses me, why do I need purgatory? Yes I am an unworthy sinner covered in the dirt of my sins, but His blood is stronger than that. His blood is what cleanses me and makes me perfect.

            When you say remaining faults you are implying that Christ’s blood has left me imperfect. I can’t agree with that. Christ’s sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice and because of it we are no longer bound by the Jewish traditions of offering lambs on altars. Christ is our perfect lamb we offer every Sunday and partake of in communion.

            Looking forward to your response.

    • Beth Turner

      I had a discussion with my husband about this the other night and we decided that the suffering of the souls in purgatory is probably different than the uncertain, anxious kind of suffering that Marc is talking about, the kind we usually experience here – not knowing why it’s happening, when it will be over, what fruit it will bear, and so forth. We supposed that the suffering of the souls in purgatory is the crushing sense of “AAAAH, I wish I could just forget that I ever did that horrible thing, get it out of my head, stop feeling crushed by the foolishness and shamefulness of it,” combined with, “I’m separated from the person that I want the very most in the whole wide world” (think separation from a family member or spouse or something along those lines).

      No uncertainty there, but intense desire to separate oneself from the shameful acts one has committed, as well as an intense, unmet longing. But it’s also more or less a thought-experiment between myself and my spouse, so may not apply. :)

  • Dan

    A well timed post unfortunately. Suffering can be useful, if all suffering is regarded not as useless, but as a tempering, a forging. Be it the prison of cancer or the purifying suffering in purgatory, it has some purpose, and yes, only explained by religion. As an ex-atheist, this is a facet of the Church that I loved and helped lead me to Christ.

  • http://twitter.com/KiaraPirola Kiara Pirola

    I’m very impressed! Far to many times have I got caught in discussions (albeit, rather intoxicated ones… I was the sorry sober one!) where my atheist or agnostic friends object to God on the problem of pain. Could you develop this into a bit of a series?? How about this to start you off… How do you explain natural evil (earthquakes, disease etc) and an all-powerful, all-loving creator God?

    Just a thought… :)

    • Sammi

      God loves the human race, and after creating us, he gave us a perfect natural world (Eden) with NO natural disasters, no disease. However, He could not make us (as Christopher Hitchens understands it) “slaves” to His Love, forced to be happy with Him in Heaven….because that would not truly be love. So He gave us free will along with our perfect world, and what did we do?
      We threw it away, choose to be disobedient, choose a fallen world with death and suffering over the Paradise God had provided.

      But He in, His infinite mercy, still had compassion on us despite our sin and gave us a second chance through His son, who became a scapegoat, a sacrifice, to take away our sin. God wants good people to be happy with Him and come back to their true home (Heaven) to escape the natural evil of the world, but because of their free will, people must CHOOSE the right path in life to make it there. God doesn’t necessarily desire the natural evil that happens, but He can use it for good, use it to make us stronger, more reliant on Him alone, to lead those who have strayed back onto the right path.

      Does that help a little?

      • Ghoura Agur

        Is it your position then that nasty things like mosquitoes and malaria and other such nasty things spontaneously came about at the point of man’s fall from grace?

        And how well does that jive with all the stuff in the universe mashing together, and critters munching on each other for thousands of years, down the line or up the tree ’til people showed up?

        • enness

          Good question, and one I can’t begin to pretend to answer…it is my understanding that we (Catholics) are not obliged to have a slavishly literal reading of Genesis, though I don’t know how much that helps…

  • Skoda

    Good post. If you haven’t read The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart, I recommend it. It’s pretty short, but it hits eloquently on the purposelessness (is that a word?) of suffering and evil. I’ll never look at The Brothers Karamazov the same way again.

  • crazymom13

    I find discussions like this very important as our culture normally runs from suffering so fast that we fail to learn what we need to learn in it. I like your point that if we really knew the outcome it wouldn’t be suffering – the uncertainly and ostensible purposlessness seems to be what really rakes us over the coals.

    I work with families experiencing pregnancy loss and infant death, so I see pretty intense suffering on a regular basis. You are also correct in your observation that even people normally disinclined towards the religious often (not always) bring up various sorts of “God talk” …trouble is, very often, it does more harm than good and can alienate the suffering from the very God they need most in their time of greatest need.

    It takes wisdom, patience and a rare capacity for compassion (com=with, passion=suffer) to journey well with the suffering in a way that fosters closeness to their Creator. (I’m not claiming success in this, I probably never will…it a never-ending process of learning). I wish that more people would apply themselves to learning this skill, the flippant responses of “its Gods will” and “you have an angel in heaven” do more to hurt than help.

    I wrote about this in my blog, but my words are clumsy compared to what you will read in the comments … both women suffered deaths of babies at term . One of them experienced this twice and has no surviving children. http://lifeandloss.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/stupid-theology/

    • enness

      Good point. I can almost hear the response now: “Great, I have an angel in heaven…I’d prefer to have my child here.”

    • Vision_From_Afar

      “our culture normally runs from suffering so fast that we fail to learn what we need to learn in it”

      That being, what, exactly?

  • Polly

    I’m a bit confused after reading. I do not understand why you say “for if there were a good reason for our suffering, then that suffering would become tolerable to us — and then it wouldn’t be suffering at all”. I’m wondering – even if I understood the reason for it, suffering does not need to become tolerable, does it? If I had cancer, and I know why (because a cell in my body had been exposed to mutagens and turned cancerous), I would still be suffering, wouldn’t I? x

    • Ghoura Agur

      Less a matter of the root causes of the pain (though ignorance of such can be terrifying) and more so a matter of the purpose or end of suffering. So the, “Why?” and not the, “How?”

      • Polly

        I don’t understand Why suffering must have a purpose or end. Can’t it just happen (with root causes that can be ascertained, of course)? Also, I still fail to understand the statement in quotes in my first comment – Why would it become tolerable?

        • Sammi

          For instance, those who are suffering after surviving a massacre know the CAUSE of their suffering: their loved ones have been killed. But they don’t know the REASON behind their suffering. Why did those people have to die? There seems to be no answer. As Marc said, for the athlete, he knows both the cause for and the reason behind his pain, so it is not suffering. Since the reason behind his pain is a good reason, his “suffering” of pain becomes tolerable. Marc’s point is that, if we do not understand the reason behind our pain, or if it seems to be a bad reason, it is impossible for our suffering to become tolerable.

          However, as Catholics, we know the reason behind our suffering, if not specifically or fully: that it is God’s will and He will use all things for good. So though it is still not “tolerable” to us because we cannot see the immediate result of our pain, we can tolerate it. We can say “Lord, I do not understand, and this hurts me deeply, but I trust in your plan.” That is the beautiful paradox of suffering for God.

        • http://wasteyourtime.mtgames.org/ Scaevola

          I think that’s the point. It doesn’t have a purpose. It does just happen. And that’s why it sucks.

    • connor

      Thats not the sort of reason he was speaking about. He means to what purpose. What is the purpose you have cancer? That should be the question you seek the answer for.

  • JRM

    I’m wondering how Buddhism fits into this discussion – especially the idea that people can end their suffering by ending their desires. If cancer kills humans and causes us pain, perhaps the Buddhist solution is for people to take matters into their own hands – extinguish the desire for painlessness and extinguish the desire for life. In other words, the world is fine but our ideas about it are wrong.

    I do not agree with the Buddhist view. It seems to me that to accept the world as perfect, just as it is, removes my soul, my hope, dignity and duty. There are many people who agree with the Buddhist ideas though. Thoughts?

    • enness

      It seems to presume that the desire for anything, even a good and inherently desirable thing, is what is bad. I would counter that we believe our desire for good things was actually placed there by God — and life is a good thing.

      I agree that any philosophy that ends in people not wanting to live is one without hope. I imagine even the martyrs didn’t lose their will to live, although they sacrificed it.

      • rumitoid

        Perhaps you know this story but it goes to the heart of Buddhism:
        A Buddhist farmer had one horse that he needed to till his fields and without which he would be ruined and his family would eventually starve. One day the horse ran off and the whole village came to lament over this bad news. “Good news, bad news: who knows?” A few days later his horse returned with a brood of mares and the whole town came to celebrate the good news. “Good news, bad news: who knows?” Next morning the son, who was invaluable at running the farm, tried to break a mare, fell of and broke his leg instead. The whole village came over to lament this bad news. Again the farmer repeated the same words. A few weeks later the Chinese Army came through recruiting all the eligible men….
        This is not apathy but a simple lack of personalizing and then editorializing. It is simply the humble acceptance of life as it is. No “Why?” needs to be answered.

        • JRM

          That’s a great story, but it always falls apart for me here: If my son falls off a horse, that was an accident. There’s no injustice for me to confront there, so I can accept it as it is.

          However, if someone violently assaults my family on a whim, that is an injustice. I cannot accept injustice as it is. When we are faced with a moral imperative, do we confront injustice or convince ourselves that there is no moral imperative? I think we must seek justice, even with as much love as we can muster.

    • Sophias_Favorite

      That is not the Buddhist idea. Buddhists aren’t Stoics. It would be more accurate to say they go further than Islam in “respecting the solitude of God”—since they deny the existence of everything except what a Christian would call God (and no, nothing Buddhism says about the devas applies to the Christian God).

      Buddhism is nice, if you happen to be a philosopher, because not a damn thing about it makes any sense unless you first know its philosophy.

      Buddhism arose out of a Hindu form of atomism, essentially the panta rhei of Heraclitus—no identity, it said, is real, only traits are. What we mistake for “things” are just momentary arrangements of traits. (All atomism shades into nominalism.) Theravada Buddhists use the analogy of the cart: only the boards, nails, paint, etc. are real; “cart” is a name we give a certain arrangement of those things. This position, since to deny permanent identities is to deny what Greek philosophy calls the “formal part” and most people call the soul, is the first fundamental idea in Buddhism, “anatman”, the no-soul.

      But, said the Mahayana Buddhists, are you asserting that boards, nails, and paint, etc., are real? Because each of those will itself be found to be nothing more than a momentary arrangement of traits. No (they say), nothing is real—not even traits—except what the Greeks would call “the Monad”, that of which the existence cannot be denied, “existence” as such, as distinct from any thing of which “to exist” is predicated. This—that there is only one thing, that not a single “who whom” relationship actually exists, is why Buddhist metaphysics is called “advaita”, the non-dual: an extreme form of monism that denies even negation (because not-A is not a separate thing, merely a thought-in-relation-to-A).

      Now, all that’s a perfectly salutory metaphysical speculation—but what does it have to do with suffering? That’s where things get interesting. Buddhist thought holds that certain arrangements of traits—what we call, for convenience, “sentient creatures”, having the “trait” of conceptualization, conceptualize themselves as separate from the Monad, as well as all the other arrangements-of-traits that they conceptualize as “things”. As sentient beings cling to their concepts, they separate them, not only from each other but from the Monad. That these concepts are not real, that this separation is an unnatural state of affairs, is the origin of desire, strife, and suffering.

      Now, as to why this is the source of suffering, kindly recall what Christians call the Monad, “existence as such”. We call it God . And what is the condition of separation from God? To a Buddhist, this is hell (as Christians understand the word). Of course, in a sense they’re right; anything viewed solely in itself, without reference to the Monad, is nothing more than a trap, a delusion, and a source of suffering.

      (Buddhists get tripped up by their assumption that when we say “god” they mean what they do; they have a permanent tendency to think “God”, said by a
      Christian, is equivalent to “deva”, when it’s actually equivalent to
      “Mahavairocana Tathagata only not considered merely a provisional
      truth”. Francis Xavier was not in error when he originally called the Christian God “Dainichi” in missionizing Japan.)

      • JRM

        Thank you, that was great. Makes me want to dust off my Thomas Merton. I have a few questions: (1) Wouldn’t the desire for painlessness be an illusion in need of being discarded? (2) Is desire/longing for goodness, truth and beauty something one would need to let go of as an illusion? (3) Do humans have free will and responsibility, or should those be let go of along with our idea about the self? (4) Is injustice simply part of the Oneness that people should accept as it is?

        • Sophias_Favorite

          1. Desire for Nirvana is the last of all illusions. Save in one instance—Bodhisattvas are a class of Buddha who, motivated by superhuman compassion, abandon the desire for Nirvana and cling instead to the desire to teach enlightenment to all other beings.
          2. Ultimately yes, if the good, true, or beautiful thing is desired as separate from the One. But evil, lies, and ugliness—being not merely “things other than the One ultimate reality” but “the hypostasized lack of it”—will lead to more suffering than mere attachments to illusion ever could. Buddhist metaphysics (like, actually, Christian metaphysics) denies that evil has any reality in itself, but despite what Westerners who call themselves Buddhists seem to think, sin and repentance are just as important in Buddhist thought as Christian. Otherwise what’s the point of the Pure Lands or Ksitigarbha, Bodhisattva who preaches to the damned? Street-preachers in Asia are exactly like street-preachers anywhere else, except that after “Repent!” they say “Your life is vanity!” rather than “The end is nigh!”
          3. Humans can only be released from illusion by freely willing to divest themselves of desire.
          4. Of course not, that’s frankly a silly question. Buddhism is fundamentally akin to Greek philosophy; they don’t hypostasize negations—”evil”, including injustice, is the absence of good, it doesn’t even have the provisional reality that other things do. When Buddhists have been over-tolerant of injustice, it’s been through being monkish and unworldly; whenever Buddhist principles are made the basis of laws, injustice is combated. Korea’s Buddhist monarchs, in the Goryeo era, abolished slavery and let women own property; the Joseon era that brought slavery back and reduced women to the status of children also persecuted Buddhist monks.

          • JRM

            Thanks again. One thing is, I’m having trouble understanding how a person could be separate from the oneness of reality enough to commit an injustice, if his separation itself is an illusion.

  • floppy01

    To suffer, means that you paid the bill. The question is….Who’s bill ?

    To receive, without working or paying for what you have received in one form or another, means that you are a thief.

    If the rich and super rich did not suffer, then within this closed reality someone else will end up paying the bill, such as 10 million children per year, ages 5 and under, dying of starvation and multiple illnesses. These deaths, which have been going on for decades, dwarf the German Holocaust in comparison, yet little is spoken of them.

    This is what happens when the rich rule, and their secret is kept secret.

    Here is another secret that the selfish have kept secret. It’s the biggest discovery ever to occur, YET no greater a number than a mere one has spoken of it.

    See http://www.outersecrets.com/real/biblecode2a.htm

  • http://www.facebook.com/mieke.kuppen Mieke Kuppen

    Shit happens. If it happens, it happens TO someone. Sometimes that someone is you. End of story. Thinking there´s a god that wants it to happen would make me angry I suppose. Knowing there is no reason helps me deal with a lot of things: if it´s not hostility (or even a plan that is too big for me to understand) I can get on with things, try to learn something from the experience or just try to get OUT. I see quite a few cancer patients and they´re usually not interested in hearing that their suffering has a greater meaning. They want to know how to alleviate the pain, or retain enough strength to make it through the treatment. Secular things.
    Don´t get me wrong: I know a lot of people who feel consoled by the thought their suffering might earn them marks for later. Sorry, that was cynical, I´ll try again: I know people who overcome their frustration and fear through religious faith and that´s wonderful. But I personally find it more important to have people with me who care about me and I find solace in practical things.

  • rumitoid

    Nothing happens to us or for us; it all happens within us. Reality is only in the heart, the life we get is there. And if we do not bring an inner struggle to awareness, it will appear as Fate.
    I was introduced to Christ in a NDE at seven. There is no need for details. I did not end up following Christ out of a need to make sense of my pain but from the joy and love I had experienced. (Reading this you were probably already concocting a rational and scientific explanation to dismiss the experience, yet despite claims this has been reproduced in labs, the fundamental changes in attitude and outlook have not.)
    In Buddhism and Christianity the reason for suffering is clear: perception, not a lack of purpose to our pain. Ignorance or blindness, respectively, are not just the cause of suffering but of all the harm we do. To seek out religion as a balm, in whatever manner, is to miss the mark, although it may expose a person to enough truth to probe deeper as to the true root of their suffering. The “Why” or “Why me?” for any fate is childishness. Pain is natural, suffering is optional. However, few have the eyes to see this point: If we are disturbed, the problem is in us.
    To dismiss everything about spiritual experiences and reduce it to something that makes sense to you and the religious rather senseless is hubris.

  • rumitoid

    Nothing happens to us or for us; it all happens within us. Reality is
    only in the heart, the life we get is there. And if we do not bring an
    inner struggle to awareness, it will appear as Fate.
    I was introduced
    to Christ in a NDE at seven. There is no need for details. I did not
    end up following Christ out of a need to make sense of my pain but from
    the joy and love I had experienced. (Reading this you were probably
    already concocting a rational and scientific explanation to dismiss the
    experience, yet despite claims this has been reproduced in labs, the
    fundamental changes in attitude and outlook have not.)
    In Buddhism
    and Christianity the reason for suffering is clear: perception, not a
    lack of purpose to our pain. Ignorance or blindness, respectively, are
    not just the cause of suffering but of all the harm we do. To seek out
    religion as a balm, in whatever manner, is to miss the mark, although it
    may expose a person to enough truth to probe deeper as to the true root
    of their suffering. The “Why” or “Why me?” for any fate is
    childishness. Pain is natural, suffering is optional. However, few have
    the eyes to see this point: If we are disturbed, the problem is in us.
    To
    dismiss everything about spiritual experiences and reduce it to
    something that makes sense to you and the religious rather senseless is
    hubris.

  • musiciangirl591

    nice post! very thoughtful and insightful, you always seem to write what’s on my mind (and in better words than i do!), thank you!

  • Kathy
  • Mike

    Now I’m suffering from the bruise I got on my chin when it hit the desk reading your post on the meaning of suffering! Thank you, Marc! (for the insight, that is)

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAoUgKVpe10 Moronee

    I didn’t read your post about suffering but if it has anything to do with reparation, nice work! I did like your insight about Saint Peter and why the upside down cross is used by catholics to venerate him. I am always hearing it is proof that catholics are evil. We are, but in a good way! Look at this guy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92L4LHcT75s&feature=relmfu

  • Gilles

    You define suffering (as far as I can tell) as: “To suffer is to experience that which we do not want to experience.”

    Then you say “[The athlete] is not suffering in the strict sense, and we’d be fools to treat him as if he were.” So for this statement to be true, the athlete must desire suffering in order to meet your definition. Does he truly desire to suffer? Or is suffering a foreseen and accepted consequence to gaining what he actually desires?

    As well, did Christ not suffer on the cross? He understood why he had to suffer, did he not?

    • Gilles

      Mistake, I meant to say the “athlete must desire or at least be indifferent to experiencing pain”.

  • Zachariah

    “Now it’s impossible — from a purely secular standpoint — to answer the question of why we suffer.”

    Your basic claim is wrong. It is possible from a purely secular standpoint to answer why we suffer: there is no purpose to suffering. That means all suffering, as you define it, occurs without purpose or meaning. It just happens. That you don’t like this answer is immaterial.

    You have said elsewhere: “If you don’t believe [we want suffering resolve], develop leukemia, have a close family member die, and then try being content with not having any answers, meaning, or purpose.”

    This statement is infuriatingly arrogant. You don’t know me, my personal history or anything to be able to claim that I haven’t experience suffering. I have, and I still claim it has no purpose. It just happens, it isn’t just and we have to act in order to make it better.

    This entire article is based on a false premise.

  • Mike

    This is utterly ridiculous. It is flawed from the beginning. The question “Why do we suffer” has already been answered quite completely and it isn’t this. We suffer because we are intelligent beings evolved in a natural universe. We feel pain because it is useful to survival and we possess empathy for others because it is a useful trait. Bad things happen in this great big random world that hurt us, and we feel pain. Bad things happen to others and we feel empathy. That is all.

  • Jodi

    Go Marc


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