Saturday, July 14, 2007

pain and suffering in theology

I think our understanding of unfairness in the world is mostly relative and based on our imagination which is based on our experiences. Even if the world were objectively better we would just adjust our expectations for happiness and fulfillment upwards and still suffer accordingly. If the average lifespan could be increased to 1000 years, then when someone dies at 316 folks would still say: "What a shame, she was cut down so young. She had so much of her life ahead of her". If no one ever got diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis or Huntington's then atheists would use paper cuts to question the mercy of God.

I also think it works in reverse. If one of those bug species, where the female eats the male after sex, evolved into intelligent and sensitive creatures with technology and civilization but the same basic means of reproduction, they wouldn't necessarily be more likely to doubt God's mercy. They would probably just accept that violence was a part of their life cycle and move on. (Consider how, even for us human beings, in certain parts of the world family life is marked by violent rituals and customs, often with religious sanction).


sondjata said...

interesting post. In terms of diseases, in Ifa such things are seen as either lessons for the "untouched", consequences of someone's actions (still a lesson) or a necessary trial for something else (A lesson still). Since we don't believe that God has a direct intervention in the affairs of humans, such a question of God's mercy (or the devil's evilness)has no bearing on the subject.

I seriously doubt an athiest is the least concerned with paper cuts, though I think that was an attempt at sarcasm on your part.

Much like Budhhist, Ida practicioners ascribe the pain and suffering directly to the people involved rather than necessarily devinly motivated. Therefore a level of violence in life is expected because there are violent people (too much fire). We are a part of a diversity of people and things so we expect to see every aspect of life and death around us. I think some people use their religion as a means to wallow in suffering in hopes of some future where they can lay about for eternity. I think that in many cases it is a very debilitating attitude and allows them to excuse their own responisbility for things that happen in their lives

May said...

That's so true,,,I agree on how people try to adjust their expectations of happiness.

I think traditions and customs have a big effect on our world. In many cases people's conceptions of things are measured on whether it is right or wrong or it is positive or negative according to others around them, and that limits their understandings of life logics such as fairness, experiences, and God's mercy.

It is a point that people should focus on despite the fact that they are know that there are some wrong conceptions but still they have to be reminded again and again.

thanks for the idea, nice discussing it.

hope to hear more from you!

Abdul-Halim V. said...

paper cuts comment wasn't intended as sarcasm... A typical atheist argument in our world really is to look at the extreme examples of pain and suffering and injustice in our world and use them to question the existence of a merciful God. So I actually do think that if we lived in different universe where God had eliminated the possibility of the most extreme examples of pain and injustice, atheists would then use smaller examples to make the same argument.

In terms of whether suffering is divinely motivated... I think I can see both perspectives...maybe even reconcile them...

this is somewhat in the background of my more theological posts... i think that in some sense, God is really beyond human understanding... he is so amazingly amazing that he beggars human thought. There is none like unto him, as the Quran says. So from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to use impersonal language to describe Him (the Tao, the Higher Power, Being, etc.) So from that perspective, I wouldn't go around imagining that there is a person, like a human being, who is making plots and plans regarding my life, and decides to give me this disease or that job, etc.

But on the other hand, I think human beings have obviously found it meaningful, useful, inspiring, in really deep ways to refer to the Ultimate Reality as a person, as a Thou, as a being to whom we should be grateful, reverential, be in communion with, etc.

And if I undergo some adversity in my life, maybe I can view it as a growth opportunity presented by life. Or I can also imagine that my own personal cosmic Teacher is sending me a specific lesson. And what I would suggest is that I wouldn't want to get hung up on the distinction between those two perspectives...

does that make sense?

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Yes may... but then I would also think that at some point our customs and rituals are based on reality too... so that adds another layer of complexity.

sondjata said...

Well let me deal with the Atheist issue. I disagree with you on that point. The atheist who makes an argument about suffering does so because the majority of people who are religions (in the US meaning Christian) make the claim that "God is love" There's even a whole song to make the point. Under such a proposition, one gives the atheist the noose to hang the theist because logically, no loving person allows children to get cut out of the womb, allows slavery, etc. etc. It is simply not a loving thing to do. Furthermore, the same theists claim that God controls everything, therefore by that logic God is responsible for evil since "he" created lucifer and knew full well what Lucifer was going to do. God could have simply not created Lucifer if "he" wanted people to live the good life.

The good thing about the atheist is their willingness to ask the questions and heighten the contradictions that are in most if not all religions have.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

sondjata, I'm not sure exactly what you are disagreeing with. I feel like I would basically agree with your first paragraph. That's exactly the kind of atheist argument I had in mind.

God is generally defined to be good and loving (In Islam Al-Wadud or the Loving is one of the 99 traditional names for God). But, as you argue, some atheists would then say: "no loving person allows children to get cut out of the womb, allows slavery, etc. etc."

And what I'm saying that if God did a "do-over" on creation and decided to make a world where slavery never happened and no one ever got Huntington's disease, etc. etc. then in that world there would still be atheists only they would argue "no loving God would allow children to get paper cuts".

sondjata said...

then in that world there would still be atheists only they would argue "no loving God would allow children to get paper cuts".

I simply disagree with this statement. Atheists exist, in my opinion, only because of the contradiction between religious dogma and "reality". If there were no suffering I doubt Athiests would exist and if they did, the "suffering" argument wouldn't even come up. Ultimately though, that is a guess since we'll never know.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Again, I'm not sure what you are disagreeing about. Obviously, atheists think that there is a conflict between belief in God and perceived reality. While people who believe in God find ways to reconcile their belief with perceived reality.

Maybe the part that you are not getting is that the hypothetical world I'm talking about in the first example is still not a perfect. I'm not saying ALL suffering is gone, just the some most extreme, tragic and dramatic kinds of suffering which come up in our world. There would still be minor examples of suffering (like paper cuts) but if that's the worst thing you'll ever experience I think it might still subjectively seem really bad.

For example, have you ever seen a small child cry their eyes out over a small cut? In their short and limited life, that small cut is the worst thing in the world. But when you get older a small cut doesn't cause the same kind of traumatic and emotional suffering, you realize it is a small problem (relative to the other problems in your life) and you just go get a band-aid.

Another idea which I had considered putting in the original blog entry was something I'd heard from S.H. Nasr on tv (I think it was the PBS series on the Book of Genesis)... he was saying that only God is absolutely perfect. And so since the creation is something distinct from God, it can't help but be flawed and imperfect. The world is finite, and so death is inevitible. Personally, I find that a really compelling answer to a lot of these sorts of problems related to the existence of pain, death and suffering.

Elenamary said...

just an aside, i think you would enjoy the book dr.tatians sex advice to all living creations

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Elenamary, Thanks for the reference. Seems like an interesting book. I'll have to check it out.

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