Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The fear of suffering

Here's the second part of my response to David Allen White's response to Hugh Hewitt's question about human suffering. (The first part was entitled "An old essay on human suffering."

Mr. White observes that "the most obsessive idea in the Modern Age is the avoidance of suffering." In my opinion, this is one of the most important things anybody who wants to understand modern American religion absolutely must grasp. At the heart of the Therapy orientation is the deep-seated conviction (usually never even consciously formulated, much less questioned) that the whole point of religion is to make you feel better. In all of human history there has never been a society less willing than the modern American society to hear Christ say, "If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, and pick up his cross, and follow me," nor any society less capable of comprehending how the apostles could possibly rejoice that they had been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. ...continue reading...

What's more, if you try to point those passages out to a modern American, the odds are good that he won't say, "Oh, maybe I ought not be trying so hard to avoid suffering." He is much more likely either to explain the passages away and refuse to believe that Christianity could really place value on suffering -- or else to believe what you're telling him about Christianity, and therefore instantly condemn the religion with scorn as a religion of sadomasochism. I'm serious; the words sadist and masochist will absolutely come into play...unless, that is, you're dealing with somebody who actually has some training in psychological disorders and therefore knows something about what those words actually mean. The Baby Boomer won't look at you and think, "This man disagrees with me; perhaps I should reconsider my views." He will look at you and think, "That man is a pervert and I can dismiss his views categorically without further thought."

Then he will walk away congratulating himself on how much more open-minded he is than you are.

In 1996 I wrote a very, very long post to a gentleman on altchrist.net, which dealt at great length with the problems posed to theism by the existence of human suffering (as well as other issues). I never got around to actually posting it, and I'm considering resurrecting it for the blog. The only problem is it's so long that it would absolutely overwhelm the blog -- it turned into a full-blown apologetic piece seventy single-spaced pages long complete with a bibliography. I'll try to figure out how I can adapt it for the blog format.

In the meantime: your average American comes at religion in order to make himself feel better. Christianity warns you up front -- Christ warns you up front -- that the way of the Christian is the way of the cross. Therefore a great many American "Christians" invest massive amounts of desperate energy in the attempt to convince themselves that Christianity can "work" for people whose fundamental religious goal is categorically rejected at the outset by Christ himself. It is no surprise, then, that so many Americans take a brief sojourn in the camp of nominal Christianity and then walk away saying, "Christianity just didn't work for me," nor that so many other American "Christians" (both liberal and conservative) have invested such energy in finding ways to explain away all those teachings of Christianity that they find inconvenient or onerous.

Previous posts on human suffering:

An old essay on human suffering
The college students, and a meditation [on suffering]


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