As always, Tom Flynn has written another spirited essay, this time in response to Dennis Prager on atheism and consolation.
I agree with pretty much everything he writes. Yet I find myself thinking, “Yeah, but …” as I read it.
I think the first thing that needs to be said is that what counts as “consolation” is inherently subjective: it’s going to vary from person to person and from time to time. Some people will find it consoling to know that the dead cannot suffer, whereas other people will not. I guess that has at least something to do with how much a person was suffering before or at the time of their death. When someone dies after a long and painful battle with a terrible illness, I think most loved ones are comforted by the fact that the deceased person is no longer suffering. But when it comes to the death of little children who presumably were in perfect health at the time of their murder, I doubt most parents will be consoled by the fact that the children are not suffering.
Prager denies that “the dead do not suffer” offers any true consoling
power. “Were these children suffering before their lives were taken?” he
asks. “Would they have suffered if they had lived on?” If you live in
the real world, you know the answer is yes. Everyone suffers! Children
get taunted on the playground, they fall and skin their knees. Their
dogs bite them. When they get older, they’ll probably have their hearts
broken a few times. Maybe they’ll lose a valued job, maybe they’ll go
through a bitter divorce. Some of them will die too young of terrible
diseases, whether in childhood, young adulthood, or middle age. And some
will know truly terrible suffering from chronic disease, injury, or
violence. That’s just life.
Everything Flynn writes is obviously correct. Again, however, since what counts as consolation is inherently subjective, there is no objective fact of the matter. All we can do is survey people and ask what would console them. In the event of the hypothetical murder of one of their small children, my guess is that most people would not find much consolation, if any, in the fact that the future sufferings described by Flynn would be avoided by the dead children.
I, for one, would not find any consolation in that fact.