Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Help me think about pain...

... theoretically. No physical takers, please!

I'm trying to finish editing the chapter of the philosophy book on the problem of evil. It's a difficult chapter because it's a difficult issue. I wanted to hear anyone's thoughts on the following paragraphs, especially from any atheists or skeptics out there.
On the one hand, it is surely true that not all pain is ultimately bad. Sometimes pain can lead to greater happiness, like an unpleasant shot that helps you get over a serious illness. Of course, recognizing the potential pay off of pain is usually of little comfort when we are in the middle of the suffering. Nevertheless, we can find some truth even in Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous saying that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.”[i]

"Man [sic] is in the process of becoming the perfected being whom God is seeking to create. However, this is not taking place… by a natural and inevitable evolution, but through a hazardous adventure in individual freedom… If, then, God’s aim in making the world is the “bringing of many sons to glory” [Heb. 2:10], that aim will naturally determine the kind of world that He has created." (John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 256)

From a philosophical standpoint, it is not clear that death in itself is evil or even that suffering is. They are usually undesirable to us, to be sure. But it is not clear that they are evil. As un-reassuring as it is, it is quite possible that the problem of evil sometimes looms larger to us than it should, simply because we do not have a good sense of the overall picture or of what is ultimately of greatest importance. We think our individual lives to be more significant than they really are in the vast scheme of things. We exaggerate the significance of our pains and pleasures.

And we should probably point out that our insignificance becomes infinitely greater if there is no God. If there is no God, then—while we may become infinitely significant to ourselves—we turn out simply to be biological machines meaninglessly concerned with our own fortunes and circumstances. If undirected, atheistic evolution is the ultimate explanation of what a person is, then there is no goodness—or evil—to the world at all. The fittest survive, the weak get eaten, and neither outcome really matters one way or another beyond the feelings of the few, insignificant animals involved.

Certainly it is the fallacy of subjectivism to think that something is true just because it is convenient for me. Yet the existence of God would seem to be the only hope for suffering having any real meaning at all beyond ourselves and those who care for us. Ironically, while the continuance of suffering raises the strongest objections to the idea of a God of love, it is only the notion of God’s love for the world that makes suffering significant at all beyond the chemical reactions in the brains of a half dozen homo sapiens.

[i] Twilight of the Idols.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Since none of us know what will happen tomorrow, why do we "bank on it"? This is the American ideal, as this is how goal setting, productivity and accomplishment is measured! But, as with the economic crisis, we don't know what will happen. So, why do we try to control and manipulate? because we want to be significant and "make a difference".

Theologians theologize for this "goal setting" as Pastor Steve's sermon did last Sunday on "stewardship" because that sanctifies and sanctions what we do. We do it "for God". So, suffering that we bring upon another is justified in our consciences as "right" because of the "greater good" and it is "called love". Hmmm....no ethics here...We must never intentionally bring "pain" on another, except in the case of parenting.

"Spiritual parenting" (if there should be such a thing) is "presumptuous", as we all come to faith, and understand its meaning differently. There is no right or wrong here, as it is a way that we "see" and understand that gives one a sense of "something" that is an emotional need.

Suffering that we find all over the world, due to the political, moral, or natural becomes absurd when we theologize it...It just makes us "feel better". Evil, injustice and suffering will not go away, so I find it very offensive when others think they can alleviate it by "doing injustice"...

If one wants to approach it from a human standpoint taking "god' out of the picture, then, if one desires to attain a goal of some kind, there will be a "cost" of training for the accomplishment. This view, again, fits well the American "ideal"...earning respect, and "leadership". After all, it seems to me that leadership is just a model of survival of the fittest. The leader being the fittest and in the Christian context, "called" to be "compassionate" toward the "unfittest"...that is "transformation" :) to become compassionate by "training".

This view limits others in their diveristy of interests, personality, talents, etc. as it makes the Christian "ideal" one of conforming to a certain "goal", "standard" or "belief". This is what religion is about, conformity. And religion is a useful tool to maintain social control, teaching about submission, respect for authority, "god's control" (which is really leadership's control or vision)...social control is necessary to accomplish the goals of the certain organization, or corporation. But, in our nation, society is not socialized in this way, as we can be, do and think freely, for the most part.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with respect for authority, it should not be a tool to intimidate, or control another. Freedom to be different is a natural and given right in free societies. Determination is control of another, which in our political frame hinders and limits another's life, which is demeaning to life and unethical.

The political realm is the world of the "real". People are affected for good or evil if government is not "properly ordered". Therefore, proper respect in our Western society is known as "law and order". But, this response is still a conventional level morality.

A person who will face "whateve" may come" because of principle is a person of conviction, this is a level that is not motivated out of fear or consequences, because they cannot deny themselves. It is an issue of integrity. This is where moral models in the political, social and religious arena "make a difference"....and this transformatin of the social, political or moral is not done without suffering..

Bob MacDonald said...

I don't think you can deal with pain and not deal with pleasure - Psalm 16 - last verse

You will make known to me a path of Life
satisfaction of joys in your presence
pleasures unending at your right hand

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I'm listening to NPR about the financial crisis as it concerned the situation of the banking industry. It is hard for me to follow, except for the risk the banks took in investing in those who were not prepared to take on mortgages, and then when default happened, the banks did not have the capital to support the risk...most of us understood this, but it seems to be so complex when you talk of globalization. The complexity is a macro/micro level complexity as the part to the whole, the individual to the group, the nation to the globe!

I remember how they begin to talk about regulating the interest that could be charged on credit cards...and the "check-cashing" schemes to get money out of those who have little they can manage to loose, and these institutions are playing off the poor for their own busniness interest!

Someone close to us went to a "for profit" school and left because they started to recognize that the charges were not "adding up" and when they approached the management about it, it was obviously not "up front". Many were going to school there at great costs, but had too little education to know the difference!

It does begin to boggle the mind..

Drew Tatusko said...

Something to bounce this idea off of is Simone Weil's notions of affliction and force. Too much to get into here, but I refer you to Springstead and Allen's book "Spirit, Nature, and Community" for the best explications of it.

Essentially nature is indifferent to human pleasure or pain and in the act of creation God elected to limit God's own freedom. Weil likens the creation to the first crucifixion. To that end there is a strong correspondence to Plato's notion of world soul, but for Weil it is the being of the Trinity that likens to it with the creation from the father on one side, the resurrected Christ on the other and the spirit in between holding the creation's order together. On either side of existence all human suffering has been accounted for by God.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I hope you don't mind my taking another "shot' at this challenge...as I always "chew" on everything and sometimes my regurgitation happens a lot later...

Pain is not something that one seeks after, as it makes us "run". We do not connect to pain, as pain warns us of "danger". Danger is the healthy response to pain, otherwise, we are deadened, hardened, or half-hearted or we cease to be human.
Pain is registered in our brains, as a warning. Sometimes physical reactions or responses can come from painful experiences. So, pain teaches us what we don't want, and reminds us that we are not invincible, but human.

Bob MacDonald said...

Angie's last comment got me thinking of two ways of "running" - perhaps she meant avoidance but pain also makes us "run" like gas makes a car run. So the awareness of the potential pain of poverty kept us providing for our families all our lives. The pain of shame teaches avoidance through conscience. The pain of hunger teaches resource management. In contrast the searching for pleasure is not achievable - as Psalm 139 notes - "such knowledge is too high for me, I cannot attain it." "Unable to attain" could be seen as inability to attain a philosophical position that is superior to omniscience, but I don't think that is where the psalmist is coming from, rather it is the pleasure of God's presence as beyond the control of the participant. Almost as C.S.Lewis notes, Aslan is not a tame lion.

Rambling ...- but may trigger thoughts for you

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks all!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Today is Ash Wednesday. We are to think about 'giving up' to remind us how much we depend on this world. But, at the end of our "giving up", is the joy of "getting back". Giving up is not because we need to live ascetic lives, but because we too often forget that we are dependent on this world.

I find that viewing discipleship as asceticism is a view that hinders the grace, gratitude and gift that life is. It becomes a lifestyle of "denying life", instead of "affirming life". And the view toward the world and life is based on how we understand "sin" and "fallenness" and this world...God said that the world he created was good, and I believe so too...

So, today, a "little pain" will remind us of our blessing. We must choose to benefit ourselves with this choice of "self denial" and then "recieve it back" as a gift...

Jonathan Parsons said...

For the religious individual the fact of evil and suffering generally constitute symptoms of a deeper problem, problems that are overcome by religious transformation. Obviously if a naturalistic description of the universe is true, then any "problems" that human beings experience are only mundane problems.
It's funny that you mention Hick here, because the motif of personal transformation expressed in "Evil and the God of Love" is the same type of motif he offers in his religious pluralism later. As far as Hick is concerned, if it is the case that humankind all experience the same sufferings in this lifetime, the idea that justice will be completed only for a select few is entirely problematic. This is partially why he thinks the logical conclusion of religious transformation entails a pluralistic outlook.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jonathan, I don't know whether I am understanding you, or not. Are you saying that coming to pluralistic understanding is religious transformation? And/ Or that justice and suffering from injustice should be understood as a common human problem, thus "transforming our view of it" to the wisdom of "what else is new?"? Thus, life is about suffering, and pain, not about delverance from it? As even theology, is viewed as an attempt to "escape this life"...(which is true)

Suffering seems to me to be choices that are made that are bred in systems, where the individual is "lost". The "lostness" of the individual within the system bring on a hosts of "injustices", because this indivudal life was not considered, or it was considered as a "means" to an end...the determination of a life is the epitome of evil, because it eliminates choice, responsibility, accoutability, etc..