Friday 27 October 2023

The sufferings of this world should Not be regarded as the primary issue of life

It is not the Christian view; but it is very common among both secular/ atheist/ materialists and those of an "Eastern religion"/ oneness/ perennial philosophy type - to regard the sufferings of this mortal life and earthly-world as The Main Issue of Life. 

This is often true implicitly, even when it not stated and affirmed. 

If the suffering is the Main Issue, then its alleviation and elimination are the primary concern. But there is a contradiction between believing that quantitative alleviation of suffering is worthwhile - or whether partial alleviation is meaningless/ actually futile; and only the qualitative elimination of suffering is a valid goal. 

Mainstream politics and its majority-adherents can never seem able to decide whether what they regard as quantitative improvement in (for instance) racist attitudes is worth having; or whether this makes no essential difference, and after some 70 years of active social engineering things are just as bad as ever. 

The tone flips back and forth between self-congratulation at the huge improvements (as the left sees it) since the middle 1960s; and assertions of here-and-now massive, vicious, endemic, 'systemic' racism that permeates and distorts every social institution in The West (and which it ought to be the number one global priority to address immediately). 

I regard this deep incoherence as a modern, secular version of a deep confusion and incoherence that permeates the metaphysical-religious stance which focuses on suffering. Whenever Christianity has focused on this-world conditions, it enters an identical contradiction. 

It is due to the assumption of an objective and subjective world: once this is assumed as reality then there can be no coherent answer to the problem of suffering. 

One reason is because suffering is subjective, yet all action taken to alleviate or eliminate suffering is objective. We live in a world that regards thinking as private, having no effect outside the brain and body; yet we purport to dedicate the world to alleviation of the subjective state of suffering - when thinking (including suffering) is something about which outsiders can know nothing 'objectively'.

Another reason is that we partly believe that suffering is quantitative, such that being imprisoned under harsh condition is worse suffering than somebody saying something mean to us. Yet at other times 'micro-aggressions' (i.e. somebody saying something mean, that hurts another person's feelings - allegedly) is treated as an absolute offence for which no punishment can be too severe (loss of employment, social vilification, violence...). 

Modern Man affects to be focused on suffering as The Evil that must be addressed; but cannot decide whether suffering is quantitative, such that mass genocide is worse than a single death, and enslavement worse than suffering subjective micro-aggressions - and such sufferings can be diminished over time; and this is "progress"...

Or; whether suffering is qualitative and absolute - such that all suffering is equal, and there can be (and has been) no "progress" in the elimination of suffering in this world or in individual persons; and only the 100% elimination of all forms of suffering is really worthwhile. 

Furthermore, anyone who thinks deeply and consecutively on the subject will realize that much suffering is innate to the human condition of this mortal life: disease cannot be eliminated, neither can degeneration, neither can death - and the sufferings caused by the death (etc) of others. And there are many natural disasters and constraints. 

And - of course - much suffering is a consequence of humans living together in society such that we impinge-upon each other's gratifications in a multitude of ways; yet for individuals to live utterly without society is not just impossible, but also a nightmare of suffering.

My conclusion is that to focus on suffering on suffering as The Problem of this mortal life and the world is not just wrong but incoherent; and will lead to permanent frustration and meaningless contradictions. 

If we do - at present - regard suffering as the primary problem of existence; then we are in error

And we therefore need to examine and change our fundamental assumptions. 

Note added: It may not be at all easy to change our assumptions regarding suffering. For modern people in the conditions in-which we find-ourselves; it is often quite spontaneous to focus-upon - and be overwhelmed-by - the vast scale of suffering in life: of human, plants, animals, and even for the planet. This applies to self-identified Christians, as to everybody else. What I am saying is that this focus is incoherent, hence futile, consequently counter-productive. We ought not to accept the suffering-focus; but should fight against it - even though this likely will lead to subjective guilt - at least initially; and almost certainly accusations of being 'uncaring'.  

1 comment:

Dana Hilldale said...

The Christian tradition teaches that suffering does in fact help us achieve sanctification in our lives. Jesus himself assured us that we will suffer. I reread your essay and substituted “the alleviation of suffering” every time you said “suffering”, and then it made perfect sense. I believe the problem today is a focus on the alleviation of suffering, and the lack of the Church and the faithful to teach how we should view, endure and even embrace suffering to join our hearts and souls to Christ’s suffering.