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A Privileged View of Suffering

I haven’t posted on this topic for a while, and looking through old posts from five years ago, I came across this one.  I’ve edited it a bit from the first time, but my sentiments are pretty much the same now that I’m older and not much wiser…..

**************************************************************************

 

Sometimes people get upset because I deal with the problem of suffering even though I don’t seem to be experiencing any severe pain and misery myself. Here is an example of the kind of comment I occasionally receive, this from someone commenting to me on Facebook a couple of days ago:

“Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I’d take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I’m a non-theist. But I’m not a hypocrite.”

I take comments like this very seriously. Even though I recognize that it is, well, a bit hostile, my sense is that a lot of people who feel this way are themselves experiencing real hardship and find it offensive that I would have the gall to talk about issues of pain and suffering.

But I do want to say a few things about this kind of comment. Before doing so, though, I should say that my *harshest* critics along these lines (the ones I know about) are actually people even better off than me who have castigated me for leading a privileged life and having the audacity to speak about suffering, with the assumption that they themselves have much greater insights – even though they also have much greater privileges. I won’t name names, but believe me, I can. And *that* is what I would call real hypocrisy!

But apart from people of that ilk, I think it is an important issue and worth addressing. When I first received this comment on Facebook I had a number of conflicted and conflicting responses.  I can say up front that I prefer not to go into the details of any of the ways I’ve suffered in life; but I can also say that it is absolutely true that however much I’ve suffered before, I do have a very good life right now and I am very grateful for it.

But in addition to that, here are some of my responses:

• It does seem to me that even people who are not suffering in extremis – for example, starving to death in a slum outside of Mexico City – have the right to think about people who *do* suffer and to ask what their suffering can tell us about the world we live in and about whether there is a caring and powerful God who is in control of it. All of us, whatever our personal situations may be, need (in my opinion) to think about what we believe about this world, and this life, and the existence of a divine being. And none of us can do so by being someone other than who we are. I am who I am, so are you, and so is this person registering a complaint. And I don’t think any of us should be disallowed from thinking about the world and life as a result of who we are.

•  In my debates on the meaning of suffering with Dinesh D’Souza, he sometimes would raise a point like this person on Facebook, and stress that people who suffer are precisely the ones who are more likely to turn to a divine being, so that it doesn’t make sense for me to think about their suffering and turn *away* from a divine being. I think it’s an interesting point. But even though I’m concerned about people who suffering terribly, I don’t think that they necessarily have to dictate what my views about suffering, or about a divine being, should be.

• I’ve tried to think of an analogy. The person who is suffering from gross economic injustice and is, as a result, living in poverty: is that person necessarily better qualified to establish the policy for the International Monetary Fund than someone else? Or to set governmental economic policy for his country? I’m not sure that the person suffering is the only one allowed to think about the solutions to the problem of suffering, or the implications of the problem of suffering with respect to the existence of God.

• I think my bottom line is that I absolutely do not think that my views of suffering should be imposed on those who have different views, especially if they themselves are suffering more intensely than me. But I do think that my reflections on others who are far less fortunate than I should dictate how I myself behave in the world. I do not know if I’m a hypocrite or not, but I certainly try not to be.

* My ultimate view of suffering is that we are much better served to have a *response* to suffering rather than a ready *answer* for it. I think we should all do what we can to help others in need. If I’m hypocritical, so be it. But I’m not going to stop responding to people in need, or to stop thinking about the religious implications of their being in need – for example, by pulling into my shell and enjoying all the good things I have without giving a damn about others – simply because someone might think that I have no right to do so as someone who has a very good life.

In any event, those are some of my reflections as of now. More will probably come as I think more about it.


Jesus and My First Girlfriend: A Blast From The Past
Why Differences and Discrepancies Matter Theologically/Religiously

52

Comments

  1. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  March 11, 2018

    One of the things about the internet is being blindsided by hostile posts. I used to be a believer, although I was never a strict fundamentalist I was heavily influenced by them. My journey from faith to atheism/agnosticism was a slow journey that took many years. It was a painful journey.

    Suffering wasn’t the only issue that lead me to non-belief but for me it was the final issue. For me the start was the fact that believers all seem to fight and argue over what to believe while at the same time emphasizing the importance for correct beliefs. I also didn’t see any evidence for God dwelling in the hearts of people especially when it’s been the atheist and the agnostic, who generally don’t carry the religious baggage, whom I found to be the most loving and kind with no strings attached. I also did t find any evidence for a God that intervenes in the affairs of the world.

    I could go on and on. I do suffer greatly with a physical condition which is not life threatening but is very debilitating. While I know you do not suffer as I do, I do not think that disqualifies you for your views on suffering. One doesn’t have to suffer to see and empathize with the suffering of others or to reach the conclusion that no God exists, or at least, allows suffering to continue. All it takes to see that God may not exist in the face of suffering is some observations coupled with critical thinking.

    My little rant is over. I thank you for addressing this issue. I certainly do. It see you as a hypocrite!

    • Liam Foley
      Liam Foley  March 12, 2018

      Dang auto correct. The last line should read “I certainly do not see you as a hypocrite.”

    • Telling
      Telling  March 12, 2018

      Liam,
      There is an easy answer to what to believe. Believe nothing, yet respect all. They are our clothing.

  2. Carlflygt  March 11, 2018

    God is the author of a school in which evolutionary beings, because they circulate progressively between incarnation and discarnation, learn to engineer material nature into a form and condition that blends together, in original and astounding ways, with God’s primary transcendental form and condition.

    Suffering, which is always temporary, is an aspect of schooling.

    The engineering problem is a social one: to calibrate terrestrial norms and institutions to mutually dependent co-arising, governed fundamentally and cosmically by universal gravitation.

    • godspell  March 12, 2018

      Much as I can understand this interpretation of the world around us, when you put it that way, it does make God sound a bit like a Marines Drill Sergeant. And the world one huge Parris Island.

      We so rarely apply the problem of suffering to creatures who are not human. Why should God care any less for them? There are indications in scripture that this problem occurred to Jews and proto-Christians, as it certainly has to Buddhists and Hindus (ever read the end of the Mahabarata?) Islam is more animal-friendly than many believe. But any large religious grouping will also have many in it who regard the lives of our fellow creatures as worthless, inconsequential.

      A dog who is being neglected and abused can’t call out to God for relief, imagine some afterlife (we often do that for them, which can get a bit silly at times). A cat who has been abandoned, left to fend for itself, can’t pray for a warm house, a kind touch.

      And the animals we have not domesticated have mainly learned to avoid us when possible. They are God’s children in the most profound sense, relying entirely on providence, and their own faculties. Utterly free. We envy them that freedom.

      And they never complain. They never question their existence, that we can see. They accept all the good and evil that befalls them. Perhaps they do wonder sometimes at the contradictory ways in which we treat them. But c’est la vie.

      To be human is to ask questions. And to seek answers. And that’s why religion happened.

      • Telling
        Telling  March 13, 2018

        Once when I as at table with Christian friends, we were each asked to say a blessing, going around the table. With my rebel mind, when my turn came I thanked the chicken (we were having chicken) for giving its life for us for this meal. You might guess, it raised some eyebrows. But it was a good lesson. The chicken gave its life, Jesus gave nothing. He wasn’t in the picture.

        • godspell  March 15, 2018

          To be fair, Jesus never asked to be thanked for anything.

          In one story about him, he tells a man he healed not to tell anyone he did that, and the man does it anyone, and Jesus is pissed.

          And to be equally fair, the chicken never asked to be eaten, and isn’t interested in whether you thank her or not (I’ll assume it was a her). It’s a nice thought, but she’d have preferred not to be eaten.

          And Jesus would have preferred not to be crucified, but an awful lot of good things happened because he did, and some not so good things, and as Bart observed, we don’t really know whether we’d have the world we live in now without him.

          But agreed, there are no stories about the multiplying loaves and chickens. 😉

          • Telling
            Telling  March 16, 2018

            I agree, I wasn’t slamming Jesus, just saying we’re giving thanks to the wrong subject.

            But if you think about it, you would probably feel better about it if your devourers did give you a blessing and a thank you having good intent, and it might help you to better adjust to the afterlife. From the other side it is reported (metaphysics section of the bookstore) that prayers really help the soul that is crossing over, bringing good blessed energy to him. All cultures and religions generally have such beliefs and have rituals for the purpose. Tibetan Buddhists have a ritual lasting several days to help the soul find his way to a higher spirit plane of residence and avoid demons which are really from his own mind.

    • TallySkeptic  March 18, 2018

      What kind of person would create other persons so that they can suffer immensely and be “schooled” by their experiences of suffering? Would you do this?

  3. Steefen  March 11, 2018

    I was reading your book How Jesus became God: the exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee. When did Jesus become God? Answers before Abraham (Jn), at Annunciation, at baptism, I’m adding at court (You will see the Son of Man seated at the rt hand of Power), at Resurrection, I’m adding at Ascension because supposedly Jesus ascended to the throne of God.

    I haven’t finished reading your book so maybe the two additions I added you covered. If not, would you agree at court and the ascension supports the claim that Jesus was God?

    You write a lot about early manuscripts. With Jesus becoming God, what is the first prayer to Jesus as God?

    If one were to go to a Catholic book shop, one would find many prayers to Jesus, for example, see:
    https://www.catholiccompany.com/jesus-prayer-cards-c1307/

    I’m thinking we should make a distinction between disciples healing in the name of Jesus and an actual prayer to Jesus.

    We know Jesus was not recognized as a god in the Temple of Jerusalem ceremonies before its destruction in AD70 unless you have information otherwise; so, without a Jewish god being part of religious ceremonies in the Temple, I’m thinking we can go to the next thing people do in reference to gods, pray to them.

    Finally, in reference to feedback on your book, the six answers to when Jesus became god 1) at annunciation, 2) at baptism, 3) at court, 4) at resurrection, 5) at ascension, 6) before Abraham, these answers mostly date to the date of the gospels–for example, Jesus is not God before Abraham until Jn’s gospel says Jesus is the Word/Reason. (I’m not sure about baptism because the narrator in Mark says a voice from heaven said this is my beloved son, it didn’t say I am the Lord God who brought you out of Egypt and this is my beloved Son.)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2018

      Yes, the view that Jesus ascended to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God are both ways of expressing the view that Jesus was made into a divine being.

  4. Telling
    Telling  March 12, 2018

    It is good to explore other views of suffering, particularly Buddhism.

    The Buddha’s central message is these four “noble” truths:

    1. Suffering

    Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good, we always feel an undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty inside.

    2. The Cause of Suffering

    The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We suffer because of our mistaken belief that we are a separate, independent, solid “I.” The painful and futile struggle to maintain this delusion of ego is known as samsara, or cyclic existence.

    3. The End of Suffering

    The good news is that our obscurations are temporary. They are like passing clouds that obscure the sun of our enlightened nature, which is always present. Therefore, suffering can end because our obscurations can be purified and awakened mind is always available to us.

    4. The Path

    By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take exactly the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas do. We too can wake up.
    https://www.lionsroar.com/what-are-the-four-noble-truths/

    The same general philosophy is found in the Gospel of Thomas, and is in the four gospels to a much lesser degree. Buddha’s secondary main teaching is the eight-fold path, a subset of #4 above, giving methods for practice.The Crucifixion story, runs contrary to this message. However, “devotion” is within the methods taught by Buddha, so we might find some logic in the Crucifixion narrative, as it promotes devotion. I believe the Crucifixion story is Apostle Paul’s creation, not from Jesus, because aside from the devotion aspect, it is a model for suffering, an image that strengthens a false notion that “the good die young”, and is sometimes emulated, as happened with the twelve disciples and more directly, Bishop Ignatious of Antioch, who wanted to be martyred, so to emulate Jesus.

    • TallySkeptic  March 18, 2018

      While it is good to explore Buddhism, it is quite limited in truth and utility. Regarding the four points:

      1. Often when things seem good to me, they are good and I have no undercurrent of anxiety.

      2. Sometimes pain is present. It is not a delusion and it has nothing to do with craving and ignorance.

      3. Yes, our obscurations and our suffering are temporary and they will no longer exist when we die and no longer exist.

      4. The Path will not end suffering which is intrinsic to the human condition. Death will end suffering. However, the Path may decrease suffering.

      • Telling
        Telling  March 22, 2018

        In Buddhism, the awareness “you” is eternal; suffering does not end at death. Suffering ends when we understand the temporal nature of this world and what other worlds we incarnate in, in our journey. the temporal nature of things we desire or attach to is the cause of suffering.

  5. mannix  March 12, 2018

    Scientists estimate that if the microbe E. coli were allowed to reproduce without dying, resulting volume of the organism would, in one month’s time, fill the visible universe! This would be impossible of course, since the bacteria would soon run out of nutrients and be unable to survive, according to the requirements of life.

    So what does this have to do with suffering? Two main categories of suffering exist: Physical injury (violence, war, etc) and disease. Endpoints of both include disability, and at worst, death. If there were no suffering, there would be no war, no disease. Under a “truly merciful god “, it is postulated, this would be the case.

    You are probably familiar with the work of economist Thomas Malthus, who contended that the population of the human race would eventually outstrip its capacity to support itself. He lived at the end of the 18th century and thought this was imminent. However, the industrial revolution, mechanized agriculture and advanced farming techniques have , at least for now, postponed such an apocalypse. Perhaps distant future interplanetary colonization (ala “Battlestar Galactica”) will allow H. sapiens to proliferate indefinitely!

    Question: If there were no wars, disease, etc. what would the population of the earth be now? Double or triple what it is? Or would it have even got that far? Would it have gotten to the point it could not sustain itself before it evolved to the point of the ability to adapt (industrial revolution, etc)? Like the E. coli, there would be mass starvation and death.

    I’m not contending that suffering is “God’s Plan” or some such pap; I am merely suggesting that a “truly merciful god” would have created a widely different existence, not depending on our Natural Law if “suffering” was not part of it.

    • HawksJ  March 21, 2018

      I think the point is that, if he is a “god” in the sense that most people think of such a being, he could have set the conditions however he wanted. If he wanted E. coli to grow unchecked – with or without nutrients – he could have. If he wanted humans to live in peace and harmony, and disease-free, he could have.

      • mannix  March 22, 2018

        You basically reiterated my last paragraph…a world without suffering would be a vastly different one than we’re living in. My point is, in the present universe, suffering leading to death is actually necessary. You also alluded to a god “….in the sense most people think of…”. We assume “god” is all powerful and therefore has complete control over all creation. Why should that be true? Maybe “god” cannot control creation to the extent we assume. Perhaps he issues moral guidelines to follow and it is up to us to comply. Perhaps there IS a supernatural afterlife that we can enjoy to the extent we follow “commandments”.

  6. pmwslc  March 12, 2018

    One does not need to suffer in order to identify suffering in others, and to wonder about that suffering and comment on it and try to do something about it. Your FB harasser is way off base, as you already recognize.

  7. doug  March 12, 2018

    We all suffer. Some find comfort in believing there is a God who loves them. For myself, I can’t find comfort in believing there is a God who not only, for example, allows babies to scream in excruciating pain until they die, but who created a world in which we would inevitably suffer horribly.

  8. epicurus
    epicurus  March 12, 2018

    Holy cow – I’ve read your book “God’s Problem” as well as your articles related to suffering and I can’t say the idea of hypocrisy ever crossed my mind. What was noticeable to me was the many people who just blow off other’s suffering with a “God’s way’s are higher than ours” mentality. I think your facebook attacker and suppossed non theist probably just didn’t like the idea of the bible being criticized.

  9. RonaldTaska  March 12, 2018

    I admire your willingness and interest in trying to discuss a very difficult question and the respect you have shown to the person who asked it. I have nothing to add except let’s keep asking questions and trying to figure this stuff out. For decades, I have had one foot in an academic world and another foot in a very non-academic world, The difference is quite stark both with regard to religion and with regard to politics.

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  March 12, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, the “Problem of Suffering” is probably the most universal and the oldest philosophical question in human history. The Greek philosophies (e.g. Stoicism, Epicureanism, etc.) are centered around the question. The Indian religions and philosophies (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.) are all focused around it. Indeed, the Problem of Suffering is the very fundamental essence of Buddhism. Even Ancient Chinese religion and philosophy (Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, etc.) are concerned with the Problem of Suffering. Take, for example, when Confucius, a very privileged man, purportedly sought the wisdom of hermits and ascetics, primarily because their suffering put them more in touch with nature — and thus with the Tao. The same goes for many of history’s most famous ascetics: The Buddha, Saints Benedict and Francis, and, of course, Jesus. Naturally, this universal is also part of the Abrahamic faiths, in which suffering for one’s faith is seen as a virtue, as a way to get “closer to God”.

    That’s the rationale you’re seeing from your critics, Dr. Ehrman. You’re seeing pushback from these people who themselves feel this innate human need to experience suffering in order to become exceptionally tapped into nature, or God, or whatever you want to call it. And by the reverse logic, if you haven’t properly suffered, then you lack the experience necessary to know what you’re talking about.

    I’m curious, Dr. Ehrman. Have you ever felt the desire to give it all up? As when Jesus tells a prospective votary, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Do you see the paradoxical logic in such a command? That by giving everything away, you somehow possess more? If you have ever felt this way, then you have experienced, subconsciously, this universal part of the human psyche. This is the part of the human psyche that makes someone write what that person wrote on your FB page.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. By “give it all up” do you mean voluntarily leave this life? No, not really. Do you mean give away everything? It depends what one means by “everything.” If everything means everything, then that obviously is simply another way of committing suicide! But no, I believe in enjoying the good things in life and helping others to do the same.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 13, 2018

        LOL, no, I don’t mean committing suicide. What I’m asking is, when you were a fundamentalist Christian (or maybe even afterward), did you ever consider the possibility of taking Jesus’ command literally? Did you ever consider selling everything (or almost everything) you owned and giving the money to the poor? Did you ever think that it might be worthwhile (because the less you have now the more you would gain in the next world)?

        I’ll also add the question, do you think you would be the same person today if you did take on such a severe, austere lifestyle?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 15, 2018

          I did think seriously about living a live of poverty for the Gospel; but if one sells *everything* then one has no clothing or shelter, so that’s another way of committing suicide. And no, I would have been a very different person as a result.

  11. SidDhartha1953  March 12, 2018

    Your accuser fails to see that suffering comes in many forms. Sometimes the incredibly wealthy and privileged are tragically unhappy. As Jim Carrey’s character in «Liar, Liar» says to a beggar, as he hands him a bill, “But it won’t make you happy.”
    I have a sister in law who is financially well off, but has suffered for years with a form of macular degeneration for which there is no treatment. How painful that must be, to know you could afford the treatment — if only it existed! Is that how God balances the books: by allowing (or causing) the very wealthy to have dreadful problems that no amount of money can solve?

  12. Westscholar  March 12, 2018

    Like any intelligent person, you have knowledge of and are aware of great suffering and evil in this world. We see it every day on TV and read about it in news and books. Thank you so much for “God’s Problem.” Great book. Even though some would say that I, too, have had a privileged existence, my journey of doubt about an interventionist God has been the same as yours. You just articulated it better!

  13. darren  March 12, 2018

    This comment reminds me of people who say I wouldn’t be against capital punishment if someone I loved was brutally murdered. People suffering in extreme circumstances turn to all sorts of things — terrorism, for example — in desperation. The suffering may make the decision more understandable, but it certainly doesn’t make it right.

  14. wostraub  March 12, 2018

    The non-suffering Christian who remains convinced that God is beneficent is not only blind but selfish. He/she simply doesn’t wish to attract God’s wrath, hence the bowing and scraping one witnesses in church every Sunday.

  15. bmay  March 13, 2018

    I find your views on these issues refreshing even if I don’t completely agree. Your intellectual honesty and the courage to follow the path it has led you on is inspiring to me. I know by the comments of other members that many would agree with that perception.

  16. Eric  March 13, 2018

    I agree that anyone can observe and opine on suffering. In fact, i would suggest that there is suffering at every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, although I think we are more moved by others’ suffering, the lower down the hierarchy it is (starving outside of Mexico City being pretty low, severe clinical depression being suffering, but not as low in the hierarchy).

    But reading this article has my tilting at your theodicy stance once more and on generally the same grounds, but with perhaps a different illustration. Your important adjective is “a CARING and powerful God.” How could such a god allow suffering at ANY level on Maslow’s hierarchy?

    I am reminded of my teenage twins. They “suffer” a great deal in their own experience and perception at certain disciplines, denials, or demands our our parenting. And yet as parents, who are in this relationship powerful, and certainly caring, proceed nonetheless. They cannot (at times) fathom how we would cause them to suffer, let alone allow them to suffer. But we have good reasons, and it is for them. (We had a homework issue last night!)

    How are we qualified to know that God, caring and powerful, is getting it wrong, in our own interests? So much more would be “in play” in His calculation than we can probably fathom. One might say that much of the history of theology/philosophy has been an attempt to divine (see what I did there?) these transcendent factors.

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 14, 2018

    “Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor. If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I’d take you more seriously. And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap. Just for the record, I’m a non-theist. But I’m not a hypocrite.”

    First of all, the comment doesn’t make sense. He says that you are claiming doubt for the existence of God *because* you live the privileged life of a UNC professor, meanwhile, we live in a world full of suffering. Maybe he means you doubt there’s a God all the while living the good life but what’s more important, there’s this whole world of suffering going on. He could take you seriously if you were poor. Not only that, but you charge people to read about your—privileged life (?). That’s hypocritical.

    This person is confused all the way around. He must not understand that the blog is for charity or that you’re well aware of the problem of suffering. He doesn’t seem to know what the blog is about either.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  March 14, 2018

      Follow-up to my previous reply:

      The commenter’s words could be turned around and read in different ways, but it still wouldn’t entirely make sense. It could go something like—“You claim doubts for the existence of God because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor in a world of suffering…I’d take you more seriously if you were poor.” That doesn’t explain why being poor makes a difference since there’s an admission to not deserving a privileged life.

      I’m not getting that he thinks you don’t have the right to discuss your views of suffering. I don’t even see where he understands or has ever heard about your views on suffering at all. He comes across to me as thinking you’re charging for the blog in order to make a profit.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  March 14, 2018

        Okay, this is my 3rd reply just for this post, but I really want to figure out what this dang comment means!

        “Dude, in a world of suffering, you claim doubts in deity because you live the privileged life of a UNC professor.”—Huh? What does this even mean? The only thing I can come up with is that he wrote the word “because” when he really meant to write the word “but.”

        “If you lived in a 40-year-old trailer in Tarboro, I’d take you more seriously.”—I’m guessing Tarboro to be a slummy area.

        “And you even charge people to read your self-indulgent crap.”—I feel like this person wants to use the word “rhetoric” right here but doesn’t know that such a word exists, so he just goes with “crap” and is upset because you’re charging for it.

        “Just for the record, I’m a non-theist. But I’m not a hypocrite.”—He doesn’t believe there’s a God but doesn’t take advantage of others the way you do!

        My final thoughts for this post are that this person has read or heard something about your views on suffering and got it all turned around. It’s hard to tell really. He doesn’t understand the purpose of the blog either. And he may be living in a trailer in Tarboro or a van down by the river…..

      • Bart
        Bart  March 15, 2018

        Yeah, I didn’t get it either….

        • Jana  March 16, 2018

          Yes and he’s suffering and bitter and resentful and lashing out … irrationally as depression sometimes does … He’ll be in my meditations.

    • godspell  March 15, 2018

      I think it would be generally fair to say that most of us living in the developed world have a less developed idea of suffering than those who who live in horrific poverty.

      However, those who do live at the very bottom of the economic pile have little time or inclination for historical scholarship or textual analysis, and somebody’s got to do it.

      I think it’s a fair point to make that people who suffer a lot–including many who are well-educated–do often turn to some form of faith to give them strength. And any kind of faith is, by its nature, non-rational. And my problem is with those who want to say only their kind of faith is real, and the others are wrong.

      We all find our own path. Bart has his, and he’s got a right to talk about it, but as soon as he stops talking about his area of study, he’s no longer an authority. He’s just another person with an opinion. It’s useful for us to know what he believes, but the fact that he believes it need have no bearing on how we believe.

      One size does not fit all.

  18. IanB  March 15, 2018

    Reading the Facebook post that Dr Ehrman mentioned; it’s a sad world we live in when that’s the kind of comment one can receive for actually doing something to ease the suffering of others, or to even voice an opinion about it! Are we really to say – that only those that suffer can talk about suffering in a meaningful way? Or that if we grant that everybody suffers to an extent in this life (something i feel is fair to say); then the context of that suffering dictates if a person is ‘qualified’ to talk about it?

    I think it’s gracious to infer that the writer of the post may be suffering themselves, and offer explanation as a result. I prefer to think this comment is not representative of those living under difficult circumstances, and that any conversation that pushes the issue forward and raises public awareness can only be for the greater good. It seems to me, for that voice to be valid or ‘qualified’; it need only be human.

  19. Apocryphile  March 16, 2018

    On this topic, I don’t think it matters a bit from what vantage point you’re viewing the problem of suffering. As long as you have some level of empathy for the plight of others, and have really thought about the issue, I think that qualifies you to opine on the subject. Everyone has some experience with suffering, and unless you’re a born sociopath, I think you’re qualified to speak about it.

    Different people have, and have always had, their own ways of thinking about and coping with suffering. Buddhism approaches the problem from a viewpoint of ‘radical acceptance’, and a belief that once you accept the fact that life *is* suffering, you place yourself above it, and are no longer buffeted by the vicissitudes of daily life, and thus are able to obtain peace of mind and body. Other folks view suffering as a punishment and/or a test from God, the work of evil forces in the world, or simply a purposeless, uncaring universe, but regardless of one’s individual philosophy or belief, we must acknowledge in the end that the universe is what it is, and work to try to understand it with the tools and methods we have.

    We need to try to understand our world firstly through the scientific method, and remain open to what it can tell us. This includes taking seriously theoretical proposals that may have little or no supporting physical evidence, as long as they are derived from sound scientific principles and have sound mathematical support. To wit, I think we all (perhaps especially the American public) need to have a much better understanding of what science has thus far to say. I’m referring to what physicists and cosmologists call the “fine-tuning problem”. The concept is too detailed for me to explain here, but suffice it to say that there are only two logical possibilities as to why we or any other lifeforms exist: 1) an intelligent designer of some sort, or 2) a literal multiverse of other universes, most of which are not conducive to life (known as the Anthropic principle). That’s it – and that’s why the answer is worth pursuing.

    If there is an intelligent designer of some sort, we must acknowledge that he/she/it simply is what it is, and for whatever unfathomable reason the universe was brought into existence as we find it. This will involve jettisoning any preconceptions as to motive, intent, or nature (good, bad, or indifferent). Our *only* other option is to invoke an eternally inflating, infinitely random multiverse. No “warm and fuzzy” God here.

  20. Jana  March 16, 2018

    Regardless of suffering and cause and who has the right to define suffering etc, your response to perceived suffering has been and continues to be compassion and the urge to help others through your Charity. I therefore find the rest, irrelevant personally.

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