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God would be an atheist... Pain and loss

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  • HumanCarol
    The idea that suffering is God s will – and in its most perverted form, that God s love is expressed through physical or psychological pain – allows
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2007
      "The idea that suffering is God's will – and in its most perverted
      form, that God's love is expressed through physical or psychological
      pain – allows Islamic terrorists to kill with impunity and Christian
      meddlers to deny the right to die to those who wracked by incurable
      painful disease."
      God would be an atheist…
      April 29, 2007
      All Rights Reserved © Martin Foreman

      [previous columns and further information: www.godwouldbeanatheist.com]
      Pain and loss
      The inevitability of suffering

      Suffering is universal to sentient beings. In fact, suffering – a
      physical or psychological reaction to actual, perceived or potential
      harm – cannot exist without awareness of oneself.

      As far as we can discern, the extent to which any being is capable of
      suffering is directly related to the extent of its self-awareness.
      More complex beings are probably subject to much greater suffering
      than simpler beings and simpler beings are almost certainly unaffected
      by pyschological suffering.

      An insect's reaction to the loss of a leg is therefore considerably
      less than a primate's reaction to a similar loss. A young puppy or
      kitten suffers when suddenly deprived of its mother but it is unlikely
      that baby fish or spiders notice the absence of either parent.

      Among animals, humans appear to have the greatest capacity for
      suffering. We not only feel physical or psychological pain when a
      distressing event occurs, but we may experience suffering on others'

      We can also anticipate suffering. It is that vulnerability which makes
      the threat of torture particularly effective. "If you do not tell me
      what you know, we will hurt you or your loved ones."

      Although at root all suffering is the same, each of us suffers
      differently. And the likelihood that we will suffer depends very much
      on where we are. In comparison to the hundreds of millions of people
      who live in misery, threatened by starvation, warfare and disease,
      most of those reading this column live in relative peace and comfort.

      We are unfamiliar with starvation or prolonged pain; we have not
      witnessed either man-made explosions or natural disasters, nor seen
      our family or friends slaughtered by mad gunmen or soldiers acting in
      the name of some government or insurgency.

      We can only imagine – and perhaps our imagination fails us – the
      plight of a woman in Darfur living in a refugee camp whose physical
      needs are being met, but whose husband was murdered, whose eldest son
      has disappeared and whose youngest child is crying endlessly from malaria.

      That does not mean we do not suffer in our own way.

      The woman in Columbus, Ohio, who is on the edge of a nervous breakdown
      because her husband is emotionally cold, the business she runs is
      facing bankruptcy and her eldest son is experimenting with heroin is
      undoubtedly suffering,

      On an objective scale, the African woman has undergone much more
      trauma than the American and her suffering may indeed be greater. Yet
      it may be the American who suffers more because she is less capable of
      enduring the emotional pain that overwhelms her.

      However much we suffer, and whatever the cause, at the end of the day,
      we know that between our first birth cry, or possibly earlier, and our
      last breath all human beings inevitably suffer.

      It is this inevitability and the fact that it has no rational cause,
      which allows religion to co-opt suffering and make it central to its
      false promise.

      According to the two most popular religions, Islam (which means
      "submission") and Christianity suffering is God's will. Practicing
      Jews are less likely to see God's active hand behind suffering and are
      more likely to be of the opinion that the deity's decision to allow
      suffering can never be understood.

      Hindus see suffering as punishment for misdeeds in past lives.
      Buddhism, which evolved from Hinduism, does not reject this view but
      places additional emphasis on the idea that suffering comes from
      attachment - if we were not attached to our family, our wealth or our
      physical selves, we would not suffer when deprived of them.

      Of all these viewpoints, the most rational is the Buddhist: suffering
      only ceases when our sense of self ceases. The least acceptable
      viewpoint to the rational mind are the fundamentalist Christian and

      The idea that suffering is God's will – and in its most perverted
      form, that God's love is expressed through physical or psychological
      pain – allows Islamic terrorists to kill with impunity and Christian
      meddlers to deny the right to die to those who wracked by incurable
      painful disease.

      Those extremes aside, it can be argued that the illusion of faith
      brings comfort to those who suffer severely – the parent whose child
      has died young, the individual who is severely disabled. The promise
      of paradise provides compensation and anesthetizes the pain.

      But that argument is patronizing. If we are to reach our full
      development as human beings we have to accept the reality that
      suffering will always be part of our lives and most of the time there
      is neither consciousness nor reason behind the pain we feel.

      Suffering is integral to the human condition. But only fools or
      sadists welcome it in the name of a mythical deity. As rational beings
      our response must be to minimize it whenever possible, in ourselves
      and others.
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