The meaning of human suffering is not The Meaning of Human Suffering

I started writing this a while back in response to a long, thoughtful, but ultimately misguided post at Bad Catholic on the problem of human suffering (“An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out“).

Bad Catholic’s post is a constructive bit of theologizing, pointing toward profound truths that I wholeheartedly agree with about the incarnation and the crucifixion. I’m totally down with all that Moltmann and Weil stuff. Amen. Preach it brother, as far as that goes.

But the problem is that this is not the problem. Our desire to explain human suffering, or to make sense of what it means, is a problem, but it is never, ever the problem.

The Fifth Station: Fire Capt. Chris Fields cradles Baylee Almon on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City. Photo by Charles Porter.

Human suffering is not primarily a metaphysical problem. It is also that, and such metaphysical conundrums are immensely important in many ways. But these philosophical and theological dilemmas are always secondary.

The meaning of human suffering is never primarily The Meaning of Human Suffering. The meaning of human suffering is to be relieved.

Hunger, for example, is not a metaphysical problem. It is an acutely, urgently physical problem. The meaning of hunger is not to be found in theodicy or philosophy or mysticism. The meaning of hunger is to be fed.

Why do the hungry suffer? For lack of food. Why do the oppressed and enslaved suffer? For want of liberation.

These are not, primarily, metaphysical puzzles for us to ponder. Such puzzles are also significant, but they mustn’t ever be confused for the most important, most urgent, or most obvious response to human suffering. Human suffering is cause for action — for individual and institutional and structural steps to relieve it and to prevent it.

This, I think, is where that Bad Catholic post goes astray. It frames the matter of human suffering as primarily something to be explained, rather than as something to be addressed. And it goes one step further into abstraction by framing the matter as something to be explained to atheists. That’s fine, as far as it goes, that can be a fascinating conversation. (As to whether BC’s explanation is something atheists will find persuasive, see responses from vorjack and Daniel Fincke.) But such apologetic concerns aren’t even a secondary matter. If we’re going to set about trying to justify The Meaning of Human Suffering, then such justification does not need to be addressed to skeptics but to those humans who are suffering.

This business of theodicy isn’t important for Christians because it may come up in the next debate with Richard Dawkins. It is important because when we encounter people going through misery, horror and pain, we don’t want to add insult to injury by responding with something glib or shallow or stupid.

That Bad Catholic post is not glib, shallow or stupid, and yet, like every primarily metaphysical response to suffering, it still is inadequate. Because, again, suffering is never primarily or exclusively metaphysical.

When it came to human suffering, Jesus always kept his eye on the ball. “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he said. Not, “For I was hungry, and you gave me an explanation as to how the existence of hunger could be reconciled, philosophically, with belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God.” The latter gift is unlikely to be appreciated unless it accompanies the former.

Hungry people want food. That is the meaning of hunger.

“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,” Jesus said. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. …”

It exposes how far we’ve come from what Jesus was talking about — and how far removed we are from who he was talking about, “the least of these” — that this can strike us as a dodge, as some attempt to evade the question of theodicy and The Meaning of Human Suffering. That’s backwards. For the hungry, the thirsty, the alienated, the naked and the sick, all of our metaphysical thumb-sucking is the evasion. They believe, rightly, that they have the more urgent claim.

“Love is never abstract,” Wendell Berry wrote. And I suppose that is, itself, an abstract statement of an abstract thought. It’s probably not possible to avoid abstractions and theoretical musing about the nature of love or the meaning of suffering. But I think what Berry was saying was that whatever else may be true about all such theories and abstractions, if they are not also made material, then they do not matter.

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

“Keep warm and eat your fill,” can be an excellent thing to say to someone who is shivering and hungry. Or it can be a hideous and horrible thing to say to them. The meaning and the value of those words do not depend on the words themselves, but on what the person saying them is doing. If the speaker is, as the epistle of James says, supplying their needs, then those words are meaningful and they go a long way to addressing The Meaning of Human Suffering. But if the speaker is not meeting those needs, then the words are meaningless. If those needs are not met, then any words are meaningless — even the most profound and insightful ruminations on theodicy and metaphysics.

“As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth,” John’s Gospel says. And his disciples immediately took this as the basis for a metaphysical discussion.

“Rabbi,” they asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What is the cause of this suffering? What is the meaning of it? Who is to blame? What should we think about this?

Wrong question, Jesus said. The meaning of blindness is this — and he healed the man’s eyes and restored his sight.

The meaning of human suffering is that it be relieved.

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  • Michael Pullmann

    See, this is why people hate pragmatists. Always focusing on results instead of who’s “right”. Can’t they just engage in self-aggrandizing “debate” like the rest of us?

  • Mark Z.

    Observing that free will is illusory

    Excuse me, but how does one observe that? You make vague references to “scientific evidence”, but to my knowledge nobody has built a freewillometer. How do you detect the existence of free will?

  • MaryKaye

    I agree with thread that what you believe about suffering is less important than what you do about it, but since I’m not doing anything about it this afternoon….

    I’m not a Christian but will put this into relatively Christian-ish terms for convenience:  I think that there is a specific value in humans that is not found in angels, and I think that humans as we know them cannot exist without evil. If the Divine values humans, it has to create evil.  It’s a package deal. And this applies to natural disasters as much as it does to human evil, because a world in which humans hurt each other but the natural world was totally benign would produce very different people than our current one–to start with, there would be an incredible pressure to be solitary, and all misfortune *would* be someone’s fault.

    To me it’s much the same question as “Why do I want to live even though existence is full of suffering?”  I find value in myself, in living.  I personally do not believe that the cut-rate angel produced by taking me and removing both external and internal evil would be “me” in any real sense.  So if the Gods wanted me to exist, all this awfulness…comes with the territory.  Didn’t want that, shouldn’t have had humans.  Where I part company with other theologizers is that I don’t think the alternative of evil-free humans is even logically possible.  (Try writing a story about them.  Just try, I dare you.)

    This ties in with my pagan view of the creator-god, if one exists, as being an artistic rather than a moral force.  It created all good and all evil.  It can’t really be all-good.  I therefore don’t feel impelled to worship it–some appreciation when I encounter a particularly fine part of the creation, perhaps, but I save worship for other deities.  The imperative to reduce evil doesn’t come from the creator-god who made both good and evil, but from the deities I’m personally pledged to, who are not seen as omnipotent.

  • Joshua

    Observing that free will is illusory does not equal flaccid acceptance that things are unchangeable. There is a wide gulf between between recognizing that personal agency is chimerical and apathetic fatalism. Our actions still *matter* and have consequences. Causality is self-evidently still in operation.

    This I do not get. How are things not unchangeable if I have no agency to change them? Causality may still work but I have no agency to introduce any causes.

  • Joshua


    That said, the illusion of free will does have consequences for public policy. Perhaps when I say “Should we…” I actually mean, “Does it make any sense for us to…”

    Personally, my main criterion for the question “Does it make any sense for us to engage in retributive punishment against child molesters?” is whether that course of action is the best we can devise to reduce the harm caused by child molesters. Whether we or they have free will is beside the point, it’s strictly an empirical criterion.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t think the alternative of evil-free humans is even logically possible. (Try writing a story about them. Just try, I dare you.)

    Hold that thought, though, I’m supposed to be data-entrying, not creative-writinging.

  • (How, exactly, I might oppose an omnipotent deity, I’m uncertain. I’m counting on Him to have foolishly created a Saint of Killers who has the power to slay Him.)

    Robin Williams opined that God sometimes gets stoned (hence the existence of the platypus).  So I figure we just wait until one of those times, and strike then.

  • Joshua

    I believe I’ve read that if the laws of physics were even slightly different than they are life couldn’t exist, but I’m not a cosmologist so I can neither confirm nor deny this.

    I have studied cosmology, the astronomical kind, and this is indeed true. One particularly sensitive parameter is the overall mass density of the universe. If it was smaller by one part in some number with lots of zeroes, universal expansion  would have been so rapid that no large bodies of matter would have formed, eg stars or planets. If larger by the same amount, the universe would have collapsed into a black hole in the first few minutes.

    At the time I was studying, why the mass density looked to be so carefully chosen was a bit of a mystery. Since then, this has been an active area of research (and dark energy has been discovered) and I think it may currently be thought to be a consequence of inflation or something. I’m not sure.

    Anyway, for this parameter as well as a number of others, metaphysical explanations tend to be along the lines of the anthropic principle for atheists, and “This is evidence that God exists and wanted to create a universe with people in it” for theists. I was uncomfortable with either, frankly. The weak anthropic principle seems to me to be tautological, with no explanatory power, let alone testability. “God exists” may make sense at the time, but makes you look a little foolish when research moves on and you see a good reason why that particular parameter should have wound up that way.

  • AnonymousSam

    Simple enough prospect: just remove the apple tree.

    I had a setting consisting of this. It doesn’t make for very interesting writing by itself, but it can be done quite easily. The requirement that a story have antagonism and character foils is purely a human device.

  • Joshua

    we require brains to function

    No no, that’s zombies.

  • Joshua

    I’m trying to force myself through that blog post but, as with my attempts to read Socrates, I find myself raising objections to the writer’s basic assumptions and then growing more and more furious as they build their entire argument on sand. “LOOK”, I scream to myself. “You can’t put a brick there! What no what are you doing? Stop! Your entire argument is built around these flaws, my brain is screaming as you screw the fallacies in deeper!”

    I also feel this reading Socrates. I’m trying to wade through Plato’s Republic, but after having this reaction to every single thing Socrates says I’ve kinda given up. At least I gave a good translation.

    Doesn’t help that his opponents are idiots who never call him on this bullshit. If the real Socrates was as portrayed by Plato, I probably would have fed the sarcastic bastard hemlock myself.

  • olsonam

     MaryKaye – You seem to suggest that evil exists in a tangible way like good does.  The general Christian belief is that evil isn’t something that exists in balance to good but it’s more like how darkness exists when there isn’t any light. Simply put, heaven is filled with light and there aren’t any dark corners.  And while Christians have the imperative to help one another, there isn’t any imperative to fix the innate corruption of nature. Hence why salvation, redemption comes from God, etc.

    And it seems like one undercurrent question I’m seeing is “How can you believe in God when your religion doesn’t adequately explain needless suffering?”  And in answer I can say that no, the question isn’t adequately answered by the Bible, but the Bible does provide hope, comfort and love, as well as some myths that may point to a higher truth and does promise that one day suffering won’t exist.  I don’t think answers are promised though, haha.

  • B

    This is a great example of why inclusive theism is just as exasperating (sometimes moreso) as exclusive theism.  It starts to erode down a gooey nub that permits no meaningful statements whatsoever.

    If God is equal to the the all-inclusive One Thing that includes the subset of the Universe, what possible effect does this have on human life, and how can it possibly be distinguished from a reality in which there are no deities at all?

    Well, I’m not saying you have to believe it.  It’s just what I believe. :-)

    If you mean “can we detect the existence of God via objectively observable consequences, as in the scientific process” then I don’t know, maybe we can’t.  I’m agnostic on that point. 

    As a scientist myself, I’m a great believer in the scientific process and I believe that things we discover through the scientific process do exist.  However, I’m not committed to the inverse: that nothing exists that can’t be discovered through the scientific process.  On the contrary, I’d be astonished to discover that one species of primate on one little planet — important and valuable as we may be — were capable of discovering and understanding everything in the entire universe.

    As far as subjective consequences go: there have been many people thoughout history who feel that they’ve in some way or another experienced God / the divine / the ultimate nature of the universe.  One can’t prove they’re correct — as I said, these are subjective and not objective experiences — but I don’t know that you can prove they’re wrong, either.

    As far as possible effect on human life, well, one, it doesn’t follow that only things that have effect on human life exist.  (On the contrary, I suspect the vast majority of the Universe has basically no effect on human life whatsoever.)  Two, on the contrary, I’d say that in this view God has a complete effect on human life and on everything else — if there weren’t God, there wouldn’t be anything at all. 

    Third, if one believes that humans do sometimes have experiences of the divine, then people who have had these experiences have clearly had a significant impact on human history, since they include individuals that have founded and spread religious movements.  (For example. Paul of Tarsus describes several such experiences, one of which led to his becoming a member of the early Christian movement.  Like him or hate him, I think it’s hard to argue that his becoming a Christian has had absolutely effect whatsoever.)

  • The Guest That Posts

    I am very happy that you wrote this post, Fred. Love will always be in actions, not words

  • B

     To take another example, we could take the question of “Why is there suffering?” in the most literal way possible, and ask, “Why do humans experience pain?”  Pain sucks.  If there were no pain, it seems like the world would be a much better place.

    Except that there ARE people who are born unable to feel pain, and it turns out it’s not such a great thing.  In particular, getting them through childhood without sustaining permanent injury is tricky since without pain they don’t avoid doing things that hurt themselves: I read one description of a guy explaining how he used to deliberately burn himself as a kid because he liked the sizzling sound it made, another of a couple trying to stop their child from constantly crashing into things while running at full speed (it didn’t hurt, so no reason to go around that pole instead of just crashing into it and bouncing off again!)  As adults the main problem is not longer hurting themselves deliberately, but rather just not noticing and treating injuries.

    (The article is short but has some very interesting external links.)

    Perhaps an organism that didn’t need to have the experience of pain to avoid inadvertently scratching its own eyes out would be logically possible.  I don’t know.  But such an organism definitely wouldn’t be a human — it would have to be different from humans biologically and psychologically.  And maybe it wouldn’t be better tham humans.  Maybe humans are actually good things to have around?  That one I can’t answer.

    So it might be logically possible to have a universe where the laws of physics were being altered or overridden — which would be necessary to have a God that eliminated all suffering —  but it wouldn’t be the universe we have now.  Personally, I’m taking it on faith that there’s a reason we have this universe and not some other universe.  Naturally, YMMV. :-)

  • B

    Oh, I’m not saying it’s proof that God exists.  I’m just suggesting it as a possible answer to the question, “If there is something like God, then why don’t we have a fundamentally different sort of universe, where everything is just like it is now, except that the laws of physics are constantly being altered in a way that eliminates human suffering?”  (So that people who topple from high places don’t fall, for example.)

    I’m suggesting that maybe the nature of the universe is much more constrained then we think.  It’s a very complicated system and changing anything, however slightly, is going to change other things it what may turn out to be undesirable ways, and at any rate would definitely not be the same as what we have now.

  • Honestly, looking at the Bad Catholic piece, my biggest question is: Why does Marc think that religious discussions “freak atheists out”?  And why does he think that his post, which contains no ideas I have not heard a thousand times before, would be less likely to freak out an atheist? 

  • I once attended a round-table “minority religion” discussion with a
    Scientologist, a Unitarian Pagan, a Nichiren Buddhist, a Tibetian
    Buddhist, and a fifth person whose affiliation I can’t remember anymore.

    Was this round table at a bar?  Because I think I might have heard about that.

    (ducks, runs)

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Excuse me, but how does one observe that?

    I would start here for the neuroscience side of things:

    There are also, of course, logical proofs for the illusory nature of free will (so-called “hard determinism”) that can be laid out in the abstract on purely philosophical grounds. Clearly, such proofs are not persuasive to everyone, as the continued existence of philosophers who accept empiricism *and* free will testifies.


    The atheist response is to pull the pin out and put a bandage over the hole.

    In an ideal world, maybe. In the world we live in, the catholic or the evangelical will conclude that there is a deeper meaning to the suffering, and the atheist will decide there isn’t one. And then all three of them will go off satisfied that they’d got it sorted, ignoring the pin, the arm, and the hole.

  •  Because he is the worst stereotype of an furiously intellectually masturbating goober with pretensions of being an philosopher, convinced that his ejaculations are pearls of wisdom. His abuses of that discipline are only surpassed by his ignorance of scientific answers to his inane questions.

  • Amaryllis

    Why do the hungry suffer? For lack of food. Why do the oppressed and enslaved suffer? For want of liberation.
    These are not, primarily, metaphysical puzzles for us to ponder.

    Nothing has changed.
    The body is a reservoir of pain;
    it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
    it has thin skin and the blood is just beneath it;
    it has a good supply of teeth and fingernails;
    its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
    In tortures, all of this is considered.

    Nothing has changed.
    The body still trembles as it trembled
    before Rome was founded and after,
    in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
    Tortures are just what they were, only the earth has shrunk
    and whatever goes on sounds as if it’s just a room away.

    Nothing has changed.
    Except there are more people,
    and new offenses have sprung up beside the old ones–
    real, make-believe, short-lived, and nonexistent.
    But the cry with which the body answers for them
    was, is, and will be a cry of innocence
    in keeping with the age-old scale and pitch.

    Nothing has changed.
    Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.
    The gesture of the hands shielding the head
    has nonetheless remained the same.
    The body writhes, jerks, and tugs,
    falls to the ground when shoved, pulls up its knees,
    bruises, swells, drools, and bleeds.

    Nothing has changed.
    Except the run of rivers,
    the shapes of forests, shores, deserts, and glaciers.
    The little soul roams among these landscapes,
    disappears, returns, draws near, moves away,
    evasive and a stranger to itself,
    now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
    whereas the body is and is and is
    and has nowhere to go.

    – Wislawa Szymborksa, tr. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

  • PandaRosa

    LL, you have found out the TRUTH, the undeniable TRUTH, therefore you must be forever damned, and shut out of the LAWD’s Good Heaven, and be pitched in an Olympic-worthy dive into the Lake Of Fire.
    So sayeth Jack Chick. So believeth every True and Proper Good Xian.

  • Andrew Wyatt

    How are things not unchangeable if I have no agency to change them? 
    Things change all the time. Does this really need to be stated? Just because we don’t have agency doesn’t mean we don’t affect our surroundings. We take actions, but we don’t take them because we will it to be so, but because of a host of external factors (many of them invisible to us).It admittedly doesn’t “feel” right to assert that we have no will, but that doesn’t change the evidence that it appears to be an illusion that emerges from the phenomenon consciousness, rather than a real thing. There are plenty of things in nature that seem to be one way to our limited senses, but are another way in reality. The moon and sun, for example, appear to be about the same size, but thanks to scientific advances in optics in rocketry, we know that they are, in fact, hugely different in size. We know by now not to trust our immediately perceptions of the world where the objective reality of the world are concerned.

  • The way I see it, given the possible existences of multiple universes, there is going to be some probability that one will develop that is ours, and will remain in steady state.

    I don’t really feel it’s that much of a mystery or that there need be any conscious ‘design’ behind the mass density problem.

  • Ben English

    Of course I won’t claim to speak for God or any other metaphysical being that may or may not exist, but it seems to me that, if humans as they are are somehow important (not necessarily optimal, or the logical consequence of evolution, but Significant because of our sapience) then a world in which there is no suffering wouldn’t work for us. A race consistently pampered and shielded from anything it perceives as negative wouldn’t be able to relate to each other or to the Deity at anything resembling an adult level, a meaningful level. We’d be less than pets.

    That’s not to say that this God desires suffering for us. All (or nearly all) religions teach that there is a metaphysical approval of good deeds, that suffering should be alleviated. To put it pragmatically, we earth-dwelling species evolved compassion before we evolved the capacity to comprehend the horrors that can be unleashed by those who lack it. As for non-intervention, it seems to me that if we accept the idea that omnibenevolence requires God to intervene miraculously in one starving village or smite one awful human before he commits crimes, then it requires God to intervene miraculously every time, which again negates humanity’s ability to have any moral agency.

    This is how I think about this issue. But as Fred says, the metaphysical questions are of secondary importance to doing good.

  • That ignore other possibilities for a god….  Your post seems to assume that the Christian ideas for deity are
    the only ones on the table, as if atheism was the only other option.

    Caveat: Urthman’s comment to which Carstonio was responding has been edited, so I might not be seeing the same comment he did.

    It looks to me like Urthman was responding to Fred’s discussion, which makes it quite reasonable to limit it to Fred’s Christian God.  On the contrary, it looks like you (Carstonio) have taken Urthman’s hypothetical no-Christian-God, and equated it to an atheist’s no-god-at-all, since Urthman simply didn’t discuss other gods, nor did he (I’m guessing) claim that it would be a mark against any other god(s).

  • Carstonio

    I wasn’t questioning why believers in gods hold those beliefs, I was questioning what I see as assumptions inherent in theology. I strongly suspect that NO proposed explanation for suffering, metaphysical or otherwise, can ever be falsifiable or testable, partly because we cannot really know if human existence can be any other way. And while emotional reactions to a theory have nothing to do with its accuracy, it may be that theories about suffering’s origins can never be fully satisfying, either. Promises of lives without suffering seem, to me, to be escapism at best and cruelty at worst, but I don’t blame anyone else for having different relations to those promises. 


    a world in which there is no suffering wouldn’t work for us

    I don’t know if this is true or not, though I’m inclined to doubt it. Even if I accept it for the sake of comity, though, it’s clear to me that less suffering works for us pretty well. I suffer in my life quite a bit less than many people I know, and I am nevertheless able to operate on an adult, meaningful, more-than-pet level.

    it requires God to intervene miraculously every time, which again negates humanity’s ability to have any moral agency

    And yet, all of the horrible atrocities that miraculously fail to manifest in our lives, that we don’t even know are possible and consequently don’t even have words for, haven’t robbed us of our moral agency. Why is that?

    Or have they? Do you think there’s some greater moral agency we could have, if only we were allowed to suffer those atrocities? Would you choose to suffer them, in exchange for having such agency? Would you choose for me to suffer them, in exchange for my having such agency?

  • Joshua

    The way I see it, given the possible existences of multiple universes, there is going to be some probability that one will develop that is ours, and will remain in steady state.

    Well yes, the strong anthropic principle, where multiple universes are explicitly a thing, would explain it if correct. And I suppose it is testable, in principle if not in practice. Build a multiverse-travelling machine and it either works or doesn’t.I don’t buy it as a practical answer to anything, but it’s the weak version at which I was really aiming my criticism.

    I don’t really feel it’s that much of a mystery or that there need be any conscious ‘design’ behind the mass density problem.

    Neither do I, although a lot of people do seem to. I would call it an open research question, at least it was back then.

    And while I believe there happens to be a conscious design behind it and the rest of the universe, I do not feel that there “need be”. At least, according to any evidence or chain of reasoning that I’ve found.

  • Carstonio

    Here’s what Urthman originally wrote:

    the questions are: “Doesn’t suffering demonstrate that there is no God?  Or, if there is, that God is not good, can’t be trusted, and should not be worshiped?”

    I read that as assuming that any god would be as described in Christian theology, and taking the Mark Twain stance on the character of such a being. It seems to throw out the baby with the theodicean bathwater. I’ve been arguing that suffering doesn’t necessarily disprove the existence of gods of any sort, but it does call into the question the assumptions used in the theology. 

  • Joshua

    I think you’ve kinda missed my point entirely. I do not mean that the universe is static, obviously.

    I was using the word “unchangeable” in the same sense you did in the comment to which I was replying. You did not mean by it that that the universe is static, either.

  • That’s similar to what’s happened in my family.  I wish I had something to say to make it better but, yeah, I know that one  (;.;)  I’m sorry you’re going through that too.

  • PandaRosa

    Dave, if you are not willing for your nearest and dearest to suffer beyond all human reason, then you are not a Real True Xian. 
    Now get on your knees AT Once and pray Pray PRAY for this sorry earth to be smited again and yet again, in order that the select few (and oh let it remain ever the smallest smallest sliver) may, and I repeat MAY repent. Nevermind if Faceless God accepts them, the important thing is that they REPENT.

  • I dunno, being as I suspect I’m a first level commoner bugbears would be pretty nasty.  I’m like CR 1/4… I get pwnt by housecats dammit >_<

  • Hilary

    Fred – are you sure you’re not Jewish?  Because that part of Matthew (I was hungery and you fed me) is the only part of the Gospel I really get.  Like, dude, do something concrete for once instead of just trusting to perfect belief. Better to have right action – feeding someone, getting them clean water, warm clothes, medicine, shelter, whatever – with shaky faith or less then pure motives then perfect belief that just sits there. 

    The whole point of the Law – of Mitzvot – is to make this stuff habit so even if you are having a bad day and not in the mood, you still drop off a can at the food shelf on your way out of a shopping center. From habit.  Argue theology later.

    Yes, I think the platypus is good proof of G-d getting stoned.  I’d condsider the giraffe proof of a pantheon, creating creatures by committee as well.


  • Fusina

     I’m coming up on the second anniversary of the break, so I am a bit gloomier than usual. I’ve told a bit of my story elsewhere in comments, so won’t go into it, but…I got cut loose by my most recent therapist a while ago–eight months, around, and part of the reason I needed one was due to this particular situation.
    Family has always been

  • That’s fine if you’re not interested in the question, but traditionally the “problem” of pain and suffering is specifically that suffering makes it hard to believe in a particular kind of God: one who is good, who loves us, who is worthy of our trust and worship, one who promises a Heaven free from suffering yet for some reason does not give it to us now.  And I was just pointing out that Fred’s essay doesn’t really address that problem. 

    I think I confused you because I said it raises the question of whether God exists.  I meant to say that either God doesn’t exist OR is not that sort of God, but I guess I wasn’t clear.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I was just pointing out that Fred’s essay doesn’t really address that problem.

    Well, no, of course not. Fred’s point is that that problem is a distraction from the many people who are in pain, who are in need, and who we are all capable (at least in a small way) of helping.

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for the clarification. My point was theodicy treats that particular kind of god as the only possible one, and many anti-theists argue against it to the exclusion of any other kind. Ellie is right that it is a distraction, which is why I questioned the need for even bringing up the metaphysical when talking about relieving suffering.

  • Idefeatedvoldemort

     And with your posts you distracted us to have a conversation about it so we all ended up sitting at our computers instead of going to the local soup kitchen to do some actual help. Lots of things in life distract us and we can’t always be helping so how about you and Fred and Ellie and co actually address ” the problem of evil” or just honestly admit that you haven’t got any more answers to it than any other believer has ever had?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m an atheist, Mr. Potter. The problem you wish me to address does not interest me.

  • Carstonio

    The “problem of evil” doesn’t need to be answered because it’s wholly artificial. We know that suffering exists but we don’t know if gods exist or what they might be like, and the problem starts with a particular concept for gods as if that one were obvious. Instead, suffering may be inherent to existence and we can never eliminate it entirely, but we should alleviate it when it’s in our power to do so. We don’t know if there is a life beyond this one, and that’s a big reason for alleviating the suffering of others, because we knows that our lives here are finite.

  • What is a place?  Are you a place?  We are taught that the world is a cold, dead, stupid thing that has to be forced to provide food and shelter for us (am I wrong?  are we not taught that?), when in truth we are part of the world, as much a part of it as any other object or life form.  All the same problems are still there (don’t worry!) but that business of thinking of the world as dead can be dispensed with.  So you’re that much ahead of the game, see . .  .

  • Idefeatedvoldemort

    Then perhaps you could stop making excuses for those who do believe and let them come up with them all on their own? It’s miss, btw.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Sorry; your username does imply male, though. And I don’t recall making excuses for anybody. I recall pointing out that addressing the problem you wish me to address, however valuable it may be to address it, is not actually going to provide any poor people with legal assistance or health care.

  • Idefeatedvoldemort

    Really, it is quite usual, isn’t it? You see a headline that promises a lot, perhaps the answer the question of why there is suffering or the meaning of life. You are of course curious, it would be swell to what the damn one is in this world for. Then you read the article. It proclaims the meaning of life to be “being kind!” and you just stare. Yeah, really profound and actual answer to a serious question. Promise a lot, deliver a little. Fred’s post is no different. This should not bother me anymore because it happens all the time but it’s still not very nice to find a yet another article that claims to deal with a certain subject but in the end is just full of off-topic platitudes masquerating as deep wisdom.

  • EllieMurasaki

    This, folks, is a prime example of Missing The Point.

  • AnonymousSam

    And missing the point she thought was the point.

  • Idefeatedvoldemort

    You don’t seem to understand the problem of evil. Evil being inherent in our universe would rule out God’s omnipotence since even God himself couldn’t create a different kind of world. It s solves the problem but leaves us with a weaker god. For many believers this is less than ideal. If you are willing to say that god is not all-powerful or that he’s just a real nasty bastard you have pretty much solved the problem of evil. This is a real problem only for those who want a god that is at the same time allpowerful, all-loving and all-knowing. They try the find ways out of this problem of course. Fred did not and just went ahead and dismissed the whole problem.