Saturday, August 22, 2009

Suffering

I'm glad that JP took a stab at the problem that suffering poses to Judaism and to religion in general. In so doing he exposes the ugliness and irrationality of his beliefs, and gives me the perfect opportunity to thoroughly repudiate and refute his claims.

Lets begin with the title "the kindness of suffering". How twisted can you get? It makes a joke of the English language and the meaning of "kindness", which is usually to the benefit of the recipient. It implies that without this supposed "kindness", we'd be worse off. We should thank god that he punishes us, where would we be otherwise!

I actually agree with JP's comment about media distortion of reality. Its a plain fact that bad news sells. No newspaper or TV channel would survive financially if it reported mostly the good things that happen.

He then claims that "He is also just. Every sin is punished and the punishment is always big." I don't know where he got that. The Torah and Talmud specify different types of punishments, some more severe than others, for different sins. JP might be trying to explain the otherwise inexplicable catastrophic things that happen to seemingly good people, thus justifying for example, killing a baby with cancer because the parents weren't strict in the laws of muktsah. But this is contrary to the biblical narrative and rabbinic interpretation. God didn't destroy Sedom because of tax evasion or giving inexact change.

JP admits that the "punishment" is often far removed from the "sin", sometimes coming even in the afterlife. At the same time he compares it to spanking a child, which is done for behavior modification. This is a ridiculous analogy. The father administering discipline does not HARM the child. He inflicts discomfort at the time of misbehavior so that the child will learn. JP's God, on the other hand, inflicts gross harm on people, and does it in such a way that neither they or anybody else know what the sin was, nor, if in the JP's Hell, can they do anything about it. Think about the 3500 year history of God's behavior modification program for the Jewish people. What an abysmal failure! For millenia god must repeatedly inflict, with loving kindness, catastrophes upon the Jewish people. JP doesn't even address the issue of suffering of gentiles, I guess because they don't matter at all.

JP also refers to God's "anger". What's the deal, then? Is punishment due to a divine temper tantrum or an attempt to improve people's behavior?

Thus, JP's concept of the divine hand and suffering is immensely childish and internally contradictory. It appears to be the product of a mentally disturbed person, or one who hasn't gotten past the emotional age of a toddler. Instead of JP's father/god analogy, I think a more apt one might be to a drunken, abusive father, who because of his erratic self-destructive behavior, bad temper and violent demeanor drives away his family. But some people, like JP, the enablers, stand by Him, prefering the abuse to being all alone without Him.

In Judaism there are much more rational and mature ways of dealing with suffering, but that will perhaps be a subject of another post.

4 comments:

G*3 said...

> God didn't destroy Sedom because of tax evasion or giving inexact change.

Actually, according to the midrashim the last straw for Sedom was people stealing things worth less than a prutah.

> the same time he compares it to spanking a child, which is done for behavior modification. This is a ridiculous analogy.

And not just for the reason you give. Punishment isn’t very effective at modifying behavior in the long term. Mostly it just teaches people not to get caught. Immediately rewarding good behavior, and telling the person explicitly what the reward is for, is the most effective form of behavior modification. Shouldn’t God know this?

> Is punishment due to a divine temper tantrum

Definitely. The God of the Bible, without the apologetics of the commentaries, is jealous, petty, and given to fits of destructive rage.


A far better solution for the evil problem is to say that God is able to make all of the complicated calculations needed to ensure that everything that happens in for the best, and we, with our limited perception of the whole, just can’t see how this is so. The problem with this particular explanation though is that it assumes what it is trying to prove, that God is omnibeneficent. If we take it as given that God is all-powerful, all-seeing, and that everything he does is good, then the bigger picture explanation works very well.

DrJ said...

G3- insightful comments as usual.

Kind of reminds me of the Jim Carrey movie Almighty Bruce. Its a cute analogy, but only works when it comes to granting (or not) people's petty wishes. Even if we assume the all powerful omnificient, etc, it falls apart when it comes to massive human suffering; saying that god is doing what is "best" is a perversion of the word and is illogical. And since God is supposed to be omnipotent, can't He come up with a way to make things "best" without causing innocent suffering?

In any case, you come up with a God who is either nasty, incompetent, or apathetic (or all 3).

G*3 said...

The implication that God is somehow constrained by universal laws come up frequently in hashkafa seforim when they discus why the world is at it is, particularly on the issue of evil. Without going into detail, apparently God HAD to make things this way, or else we wouldn't be able to acheive our full potential / appreciate our reward / have free will / etc.

Which begs the question, why would an omnipotent being be constrained in any way at all?

onionsoupmix said...

he has a handicapped child, making his latest post even more strange.