The “Infinite Blessings” of Suffering

Andrew Sullivan quotes from a (paywalled) article by New Yorker writer Aleksander Hemon, whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer at 9 months old. He quotes the terribly bereaved father as saying this:

One of the most despicable religious fallacies is that suffering is ennobling—that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel’s suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world.


Now let’s flash back to Crisis Magazine’s Barbara Nicolisi and her reference “to the infinite blessings that come through suffering…By removing suffering and the meaning of suffering from our culture, we make the final step in denying and defying our creature-hood.”

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10 Responses to The “Infinite Blessings” of Suffering

  1. Yes, and as you suggest in an earlier post, the craziest thing about this issue is not only that we are expected to agree that suffering should be embraced, but also that we should empower our government to force us to suffer. Once you’ve accepted that it should be legal for the government to force us to suffer, it’s hard to argue meaningfully about any policy issues at all.

  2. Eric says:

    Unfortunately, hard core (or unthinking) theists will simply respond that we have no way of knowing that the poor child’s suffering hasn’t touched someone in the world and thereby had a positive effect. After all, there are all the medical professionals who came in to contact with the child, not to mention everyone reading the story, etc…

  3. Abelard Mavrides says:

    The “suffering as benefit” argument put out by certain religious people convinces me that religious belief is nothing more than intellectual masochism.

  4. Susan says:

    I’d prefer to stay “untouched” if the price of being “touched” is this infant dying in agony.

  5. Joe says:

    Maybe so, but religions people are hardly the only ones to suggest that suffering can be a “path to enlightenment.”

  6. Frederick Santal says:

    Obviously it’s nobody’s choice that this child should have died of a disease, so why write emotionally and angrily as if it was a choice somebody made?

  7. Frederick Santal says:

    >Obviously it’s nobody’s choice that this child should have died of a disease, so why write emotionally and angrily as if it was a choice somebody made?

    I see what you’re saying. Christians don’t court suffering or prescribe it to attain some better goal. But it *is* a reality of what happens. Before glory there is suffering. We will experience what Jesus, the Forerunner, experienced. In this fallen state, in this fallen world, suffering exists whether anybody courts it or wants it or doesn’t want it or what have you. Suffering can be a positive thing if its a shock to your system that changes you for the better, or awakens you to a greater degree of self-awareness, or even just makes you stronger. These are things that are more so seen as virtues if your world view includes more than annihilation at death.

  8. Frederick Santal says:

    I meant to quote Joe’s comment, not my own.

  9. Abelard Mavrides says:

    “For all religion’s empty talk about release to a better place, the determination to anchor souls to writhing corpses is disproportionately found in the faithful.”

    This logical self-contradiction seems to lie at the heart of the Abrahamic religions and is a primary reason why I rejected them a long time ago.

  10. Jason says:

    Suffering *can* lead to greater things, though I agree that the suffering of children doesn’t. But to say, or imply, that suffering is *never* ennobling, or constructive, or character building, is ridiculous. It’s a matter of who’s suffering, when, at what age, and why.

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