The “Meaning” of Suffering is to Fix It

So, a little while ago, Marc Barnes at Bad Catholic, in his typically condescending way, decided to try and explain the problem of evil to us atheists who can’t seem to get how an omnibenevolent god allows evil to happen. It was mostly post hoc rationalizations and really horrendous circular logic, which is roughly what I expect from Marc Barnes (he’s one of the big promoters of the dangerous and dishonest 1Flesh campaign which tries to make unsafe sex look cool again). I’ve gone rounds with him in the past in comments, but I think I’ll let the much smarter than me Dan Fincke take the philosophy on this one.

What struck me, though, was not Barnes’s ridiculous post, but rather Fred Clark’s reply.

First, I have no problem with Clark agreeing on the theology, because quite frankly it seems a little meaningless to me, no more significant than breaking out our Harry Potter books and agreeing that yes, the accent in the levitation charm is on the “o”, not the “sa.”

However, Clark then goes on to make the more important point which is that the problem of suffering is not primarily a theological one, it’s a human one. The metaphysics are rather unimportant to a starving person, and a rape victim doesn’t care that Jesus still loves them.

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…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 goes to my repeated (ad nauseum) assertion that intentions are a fairly meaningless conception when compared to actions. The fact of the matter is, debating why evil exists in the world of an all good, all powerful creator being makes for interesting philosophy, but does nothing to actually help those people that are the victims of evil. It does nothing to promote awareness that these victims exist and deserve consideration. All it does it ignore a very real problem.

I don’t think there is a metaphysical “meaning” to the world, so the meaning we apply to suffering is that we should attempt to do something about it. And if we can’t, we should try to get others to do something about it.

If our first impulse is to justify it in the context of our theology, we’re doing it wrong.

4 thoughts on “The “Meaning” of Suffering is to Fix It

  1. Pingback: The folly of ascribing meaning to suffering « Reality Enthusiast

  2. Pingback: Occasional Link Roundup | Brute Reason

  3. Pingback: Occasional Link Roundup | Brute Reason

  4. Basically, if you cant fix it, don’t break it more. And telling someone to ‘seek jesus” to alleviate suffering is to pile a wad of guilt on top of a wad of suffering, especially if the seek jesus route doesnt work. Those poor folks, awash in guilt because they didnt pray hard enough, or long enough, or were facing the wrong direction…

    Suffering happens for a lot of reasons, not all of them intentional or even human. People think they’ve been selected by some divine lottery process to be spared in a tornado, or have the baby whizzed away in a tsunami. They just can’t settle onto the fact that shit happens, and if you’re in the way of it, it happens to you. It ain’t personal, it just is.

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