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Why It’s Okay To Speak Religiously in the Face of Tragedy

Suffering

True suffering — whether in death, disaster, or disease — is united by the fact that we hate it. Our beings reject it, our minds refuse to comprehend it, our bodies are sickened by it, and it’s all a simple matter of definition: To suffer is to experience that which we do not want to experience.

Now it’s impossible, from a purely secular standpoint, to answer the question of why we suffer. For if there were a good reason for our suffering, then that suffering would become tolerable to us — and then it wouldn’t be suffering at all.

I’ll try to be clear: If we could say with precision why we suffer, and to what end, then we wouldn’t be suffering. We would be athletes with sore muscles. The athlete knows why he is experiencing pain, and he knows to what end (becoming stronger, improving at his sport, etc.). He will not be swept up in fear and confusion after each workout, nor will his very being rebel against the pain in his triceps. He is not suffering in the strict sense, and we’d be fools to treat him as if he were.

Or take burning our hand on a stove. Again, this pain is something we want to experience. Pain, after all, is the message rammed into our brain to remove our hand, lest we burn ourselves through to our muscle and bone. Pain of this sort is useful and answerable — it is not suffering, and no one treats it as such.

It seems that for suffering to be suffering — for it to truly be that which do not want to experience — it cannot have a satisfactory answer. To put it another way: The existence of a clear, natural purpose to “suffering” indicates that the experience in question is not “suffering” at all. Thus there exist no support groups and therapy sessions for stove-pokers and athletes, and quite a few for cancer patients and the survivors of massacres. The difference is simple. The former can point to some greater purpose to their pain — an un-destroyed hand or bigger, stronger muscles. The latter cannot. All we can give those truly experiencing suffering are expressions of support or comfort. We can give no purpose.

This is no failure on our part — it's not our fault we're unable to give a rational, secular purpose to suffering. It simply speaks to the fact that if there existed for us a perfect, satisfactory answer to the problem of suffering, then we would not really be suffering. Suffering, to be suffering, seems to require its awful purposelessness.

This, of course, is a terrible paradox and an immediate problem. It is our natural response to the experience of suffering to ask “Why?!” and “Why me?!” Few would deny this. Yet it is inherent to the nature of suffering that there be no answer to these questions. This is a tension begging to be released, a conflict in desperate need of resolution.

I cannot blame the atheist then, for speaking in religious tones after a great tragedy. I cannot blame the agnostic for going to a Christian memorial service. I don't fault the materialist for finding comfort in the words “Rest in Peace,” even if he believes that the only peace after death is that of oblivion. Since we are necessarily denied a natural solution to suffering, we turn our minds to the supernatural.

This is no sign of weakness, but a sign of common sense. If I were to sit in a classroom and find that there were no answers I could give using the English language, it would be no weakness to conclude that my answers must be given on a different plane, in French or Mandarin, depending on the class. So too, if we find in this life a question that necessarily has no answer on the secular plane — in this case, “to what end do we suffer?” — then it is no weakness to begin operating on the religious frame. In fact, it’s entirely natural.
 
 
Originally posted at Bad Catholic. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Red Letter Christians)

Marc Barnes

Written by

Marc Barnes is an English major at The Franciscan University of Steubenville. He writes at Patheos.com for the Catholic Channel, focusing on bringing Catholicism to secular culture through natural law, humor, and ADD-powered philosophical outbursts. He recently created and released the website 1flesh.org with some friends, a grassroots movement in opposition to artificial contraception, promoting natural methods of family planning. He has also written for Crisis Magazine, LiveAction.org, LifeSiteNews, and his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. He loves blowing things up, and has a man-crush on Soren Kierkegaard. Follow Marc's blog at Bad Catholic.

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  • David Nickol

    Since, according to Christianity, Jesus knew exactly why he had to be scourged, crowned with thorns, and crucified, does this mean he did not suffer?

    I used to know a woman who had had cancer, and she went through a round of chemotherapy that eliminated the cancer. She knew exactly why she was having the chemotherapy, which she found so excruciating that she says she would die rather than go through it again. But she knew why she had to go through it, so did that keep it from being suffering?

    I don't accept the whole premise. Knowing the "why" of suffering doesn't render it any less suffering. It may or may not render it more bearable. But to willingly suffer for some desired end ("no pain, no gain") doesn't make pain any less painful.

    • http://mountincompetence.wordpress.com/ Nolan

      David, I think you're right on. I think that just brief reflection brings Marc's entire post into serious question, because his definition of suffering is flawed.

      To extend the hand-burning example, let's take a person with third-degree burns over 75% of her body. I think it would be laughable to deny that such a person goes through enormous suffering. Yet even Barnes acknowledges a "purpose" in such pain.

      Suffering does not need to be purposeless to be suffering. To claim otherwise would be to create a totally esoteric definition of the word in order to try to push a philosophical claim.

    • Moussa Taouk

      Since... Jesus knew exactly why he had to be scourged, crowned with thorns, and crucified, does this mean he did not suffer?

      My guess would be that He suffered in His human nature in that He surrendered Himself to the Father's will trusting in the Father's providence, and that He did not suffer in His divine nature.

      I don't accept the whole premise. Knowing the "why" of suffering doesn't render it any less suffering. It may or may not render it more bearable. But to willingly suffer for some desired end ("no pain, no gain") doesn't make pain any less painful.

      I think there's a difference between pain and suffering. If we distinguish between the "pain" that you're talking about and the "suffering" that Marc (in the article) is talking about then I think the problem is diminished. That is: pain is the repulsive sensation that one experiences, while suffering is the ache of the apparent purposelessness and futile nature of the experience.

      • David Nickol

        My guess would be that He suffered in His human nature in that He surrendered Himself to the Father's will trusting in the Father's providence, and that He did not suffer in His divine nature.

        Jesus was one person, so it seems to me he either suffered or he didn't. How can a single person, even a person who allegedly has two natures, both suffer and not suffer. When you are having a nail hammered through your wrist, what could it possibly mean to suffer in one nature and not the other?

        Hebrews 13:12 says, "So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood." It doesn't say he suffered in his human nature but not his divine nature. What could that possibly mean? Jesus was one person, not two persons in one. If Jesus suffered and died, one person suffered and died.

    • Pat L

      Exactly! The entire premise that understanding the cause or purpose of one's suffering makes it not qualify as actual suffering is ridiculous. Understanding may help in coping with the suffering, in the sense that it may mitigate the psychological aspect of the suffering to some degree, but that's it.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    I don't know what Mr Barnes means by "precision" but I certainly do think there are perfectly non spiritual reasons that account for human and animal suffering.

    I think his distinction between pain and suffering is misplaced, rather there is huge overlap between these two.

    The fact that we feel pain when we are physically hurt makes great sense from an evolutionary point of view. The fact that we abstract pain into psychological suffering also makes great sense. We, like many other animals, have evolved to empathize and suffer along with like members in our social group. We build emotional connections with our goals and desires. When these are crushed we feel bad, this is a great incentive to protect our in group and further our individual goals, and so on.

    So when a great tragedy happens, say a thousand people are killed in an earthquake. We recognize that we suffer because we have an emotional attachment to those people that has been severed. The closer we are to those people, the worse we feel.

    Being an atheist can be actually quite helpful in the face of tradgedy. We might ask "why" but we are actually able to answer this. We accept that natural disasters are.. natural. They are not messages from a god, they are not punishments for sin. They have natural causes, we don't feel the suffering of why would god take my child, why he didn't intervene and save him like I asked in my prayers.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree with you that when Marc writes, "it’s impossible, from a purely secular standpoint, to answer the question of why we suffer," he is just plain wrong. I suffer thirst and headaches and general bodily soreness because a virus has attacked my body. I know why this is happening. Maybe knowing why and knowing it is not going to be fatal (this time) helps because it makes me less afraid. But I am still suffering all those things.

      • David Nickol

        I agree with you that when Marc writes, "it’s impossible, from a purely secular standpoint, to answer the question of why we suffer," he is just plain wrong.

        I agree that Marc is wrong, but in your example, I don't think your questions go deep enough. You could be asking, "But why did I get the flu?" or "Why did God let me get the flu?" And then you could be asking, "Why why does something like the flu virus (or any pathogen) exist in God's creation?"

        • Ben Posin

          Ah, but Kevin was discussing how one might answer these questions "from a purely secular standpoint."

  • DeeJei Palma

    http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/world-news/detail/articolo/sindone-shroud-sudario-33948/ If the Shroud of Turin is real, then it seems Jesus suffered quite a bit, according to this new study.

    • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

      Interesting that with all these studies of the shroud, they aren't able to properly carbon date it. Show us the fibres in the shroud that are not from less than a thousand years ago.

      Is the shroud not long-debunked nonsense?

      • DeeJei Palma

        According to some recent studies, it seems neutron emissions from an ancient earthquake may have affected the results of the 1988 dating and might even account for the creation of the shroud itself! This is all very interesting as the gospels report an quake occurring on the day of Christ's death. Maybe there were aftershocks?

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          The neutron theory makes no sense at all - from a physics and chemistry point of view.

          There is no evidence that the shroud is the burial cloth of Christ, and a fair amount of evidence that it's not.

          It's also not relevant to Marc's article, which I agree seems to not be particularly well-thought out.

        • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

          But it only shows up in a piece of cloth in Italy? I would think Jerusalem is possibly the number one place in the world that is constantly carbon dating artifacts particularly to determine if they are from around the 1st century. But they discover that there is a problem with carbon dating in Jerusalem, not from the artifacts found there but from some cloth found in Italy? Even Fox News doesn't seem to buy this one.

          "Even if it is theoretically possible for earthquake-generated
          neutrons to have caused this kind of reaction, the study doesn't address why this effect hasn't been seen elsewhere in the archaeological record, Gordon Cook, a professor of environmental geochemistry at the University of Glasgow, explained.

          "It would have to be a really local effect not to be measurable
          elsewhere," Cook told Live Science. "People have been measuring materials of that age for decades now and nobody has ever encountered this.""

          http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/02/11/shroud-turin-could-ancient-earthquake-explain-face-jesus/

        • Ignorant Amos

          Kook research we'll and truly debunked as such.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        If you study the Shroud of Turin I think you will find that there is nothing nonsensical about it that needs to be debunked. It is at the very least one of the most amazing works of religious art ever created but in fact nobody knows how it was made.

  • GCBill

    I remember reading this post when September 2012. I admit that I find it no more persuasive now than when I originally read it.

    It simply speaks to the fact that if there existed for us a perfect, satisfactory answer to the problem of suffering, then we would not really be suffering.

    There's no reason this is any less true of religious purposes than secular ones. So when suffering serves the function of redemption, it's no longer suffering. On the Catholic view, the problem turns out to be an illusion after all.

    The other option is that Marc is simply out to lunch, and that suffering can still have purpose.

  • David Nickol

    So too, if we find in this life a question that necessarily has no
    answer on the secular plane — in this case, “to what end do we suffer?” —
    then it is no weakness to begin operating on the religious frame. In
    fact, it’s entirely natural.

    The problem is that you can come up with any number of answers, but none are guaranteed to be true. You suffering could be a punishment for something you have done (or failed to do). Your suffering could be the result of the wickedness of others (hurricanes and tornadoes because of abortion and same-sex marriage), and you are collateral damage. It's a long story, which I won't tell, but I remember someone telling the story of her daughter's trials and tribulations and saying she told her, "The Lord must love you a great deal because he sends you so much suffering."

    There are many different religious explanations of suffering. It's just that one contradicts the other, and there is no evidence that any of them are true.

    • Loreen Lee

      If no one herer has yet explored the Buddhist explanation of suffering including the six realms, and the twelve areas, (forget word), may I recommend same. I won't give a link, because it's quite simple to Google, Samsara, for instance, and follow the links according to your interest.

      With respect to this article, although it discusses physical causes of suffering, it might be 'enlightening' to discover the relation in Buddhism between the cosmological and psychological 'wheels of life', and the three causes: ignorance, aversion and attachment. May you enjoy.

  • Ben Posin

    When I see an article like this, I wonder: who at StrangeNotions reviewed it before it was posted, and what was that person's reaction?
    Brandon, was it you? What did you think when you read this article?

  • http://mountincompetence.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    I'm somewhat confused by what seems to be Marc's major conclusion. He is claiming that suffering is necessarily purposeless, and therefore asking why we suffer is unanswerable.

    What I find strange is that he concludes that it is reasonable to turn to the supernatural as a next step. But how could there be a supernatural answer if suffering is necessarily purposeless? By Marc's own logic, if the supernatural answered the question of why we suffer, it would no longer be suffering, but just "sore muscles."

    It's like arguing that a question can't be answered in any language, and then concluding that therefore we must use Mandarin Chinese to answer. I find this logic inconsistent.

  • Moussa Taouk

    Hello Administrators,
    Sorry to write here, but I've written twice in the "contact" section and haven't received a reply, so just in case you're not receiving my communications, I just want to know whether I can submit an article for this website. Although I don't have relevant credentials, I think it presents a "lay" view from a theistic perspective and might prompt some good dialogue.

    Thanks.
    MT

  • Ignorant Amos

    People look to the supernatural for answers only when preconditioned to do so by indoctrination.

    My daughter, an atheist mother of two, was four when her mother died. She was never indoctrinated, went to a school for all religious and none, I deemed it necessary that she decide her own way for herself, so all she knew growing up about my lack of belief was that I was non plused either way and didn't attend church outside marriage and funerals.

    When Kelly Ann is asked why she is atheist, her first reply is "If there is a God, why did he allow my mother to die a painful death leaving me without all the life experiences a daughter having a mother would have?". She was, and is not enterested in feeble theological excuses. BTW, she is a far cleverer person than I could even dream of being.

    Her younger brother, Stephen, was eighteen months at the time, he gives it less thought, he is also an atheist, also attended an integrated college, a rarity in such a sectarian environment may I add, but he is a bit less philosophical about it. He is more like his father, a bit of a hot head that just thinks the whole thing doesn't make much sense and see's it all as a lot of irrational tosh.

    So anecdote over, it is only those with a predisposition for the supernatural that will look there for answers where, and according to the OP, there won't be one.

    • TwistedRelic

      "The whole thing doesn't make much sense and it all seems to be a lot of irrational tosh"
      Yes....it does seem so. And while it is true that only the "preconditioned" look to the "supernatural" to provide the ultimate answers to the conundrum of existence. However....I think even the most rational educated,intelligent persons at least ask the question.
      I've said it before....While it is true that it seems improbable and unlikely that there is such an entity as a creator "god", it is also true that suffering and evil do not in and of themselves...disprove the concept of a creator....but at the same time, there is nothing at all to suggest that that any creator "if" in the unlikely event it were to exist, is loving, or even cares about humanity in any human sense of the word..... Experience, history and nature suggest otherwise......that "though theuniverse/nature/god may not be...... malevolent all indications to the casual observer are that IT is at best indifferent."
      Here at SN we keep going round and round the mullberry bush! ;-)

      • Martin Sellers

        " And while it is true that only the "preconditioned" look to the "supernatural" to provide the ultimate answers to the conundrum of existence."

        What exactly are you mean by "preconditioned"?

        • Ignorant Amos

          Brainwashed from birth...or indoctrinated if you like.

  • David Nickol

    Of course, "speaking religiously in the face of tragedy" can take many forms, like, "The reason you have cancer is because God is punishing you." Or, "The reason the hurricane struck the east coast of the United States with such ferocity is that liberals have promoted abortion and same-sex marriage, and they have banished prayer from the public schools." In the Old Testament, Israel is always suffering catastrophes as punishments from God. Much of the religious explanation for suffering is not, "There, there. Everything will make sense to you when you get to heaven." Rather, it is, "You deserve what is happening to you."

    • Martin Sellers

      Why can't EACH method of ""speaking religiously in the face of tragedy" as you described above be true all at once? Why does God have to work in only one mod or the other?

      • David Nickol

        Why does God have to work in only one mod or the other?

        I suppose there is no way to prove that God does not send hurricanes or earthquakes or tsunamis to punish whole countries. And I suppose it is possible that God allows (or causes) people to be maimed in accidents or to be stricken with cancer or Alzheimer's to punish them for their sins. If you want to believe in this kind of God, you are welcome to. It does, of course, mean that anyone who is the victim of some disaster or disease has to wonder if they did something wrong. And also it must make good people who have troubles wonder if the healthy, rich, and powerful are God's favorites. I recently told a story of a woman I had known who said she told her daughter, "God must love you so much because he allows you to suffer so much." This kind of thinking allows you to give the same explanation for complete opposites. You are suffering greatly because God loves you so much, or you are suffering greatly because God is punishing you. Or you have good health and prosperity because God is rewarding you, but on the other hand the Old Testament often raises the question of why the wicked prosper and the good suffer.

        So you have a God who sometimes rewards the good and punishes the wicked, and sometimes allows the wicked to prosper and the good to suffer. If something good happens to you, it may mean you are either good or wicked. If something bad happens to you, it may mean you are either good or wicked. As I said, if you want to believe in this kind of God, you are welcome to. I don't see where it gets you or anybody else to explain either doing well or doing poorly as some kind of sign from God. It allows you to make up anything you want to explain any phenomenon as either some kind of positive or negative sign from God.

        It's kind of like a medical test for Disease X, and when you get the result of the test, the same result can be interpreted to prove that you have Disease X or you don't have Disease X.

  • Benedict Augustine

    Marc makes an important distinction between suffering and pain. People do not frame their outlooks on life because of pain, but because of suffering. One can either sense something deeper in it, as something redemptive and necessary, or one can declare its meaninglessness.

    In any case, the nature of suffering with its absence of a knowable cause, confronts the person with a choice: do you try to find a reason, or not? If pleasure and pain constitute the only reality for a person, then suffering (pain without a reason) represents the greatest evil that one must avoid at all costs, and pleasure represents the greatest good that one must try to maintain as much as possible. If a person accepts a reality beyond pleasure and pain, and their good is doing God's will, and their evil is rejecting God's will, then suffering offers an opportunity to depend more on God and respecting His will. Often the suffering Christian will find a greater peace and joy in their trials than they knew before because they realize a greater truth than ephemeral joys and pleasures that daily consume people's attention.

    Atheists are free to deride this hope and confidence in a greater truth as a desperate person trying to comfort himself with a pretty lie. Then again, what do they know? Their claim that suffering has no meaning and should simply be avoided when possible and accepted when unavoidable could also be the result of a person trying to find comfort in an easy explanation. He has made the choice to seek no meaning in suffering while the believer has made the choice to do otherwise. In the former case, one has eliminated the opportunity for growth and enlightenment, making them ever more susceptible to the despair brought on by suffering; in the latter case, one can grow in their humanity and have some clarity on the problem of suffering, making them more hopeful in trying to address it and helping others who suffer.

    • Ben Posin

      "Their claim that suffering has no meaning and should simply be avoided when possible and accepted when unavoidable could also be the result of a person trying to find comfort in an easy explanation. He has made the choice to seek no meaning in suffering while the believer has made the choice to do otherwise. In the former case, one has eliminated the opportunity for growth and enlightenment, making them ever more susceptible to the despair brought on by suffering; in the latter case, one can grow in their humanity and have some clarity on the problem of suffering, making them more hopeful in trying to address it and helping others who suffer."

      Wow. I can't say I cotton to the idea that atheists accepting rational, physical, understandable causes of human suffering constitutes denying oneself an opportunity for growth and enlightenment. If I get lung cancer, am I a worse person if I don't try to invent some overarching theme or purpose behind my disease, rather than just acknowledging the pretty well understood reality of how such things happen, and why? I'm going to suggest that you stay off the cancer wards.

      Also, why limit this to suffering? One could seek this sort of "enlightenment" by imagining there is "meaning" to EVERYTHING that happens. Do you explore the possibility that you live in the matrix, and everything that happens to you is programmed by your artificial intelligence overlords? That you're on some version of the Truman show? That you are at the center of a CIA conspiracy?

      You don't? Man, you're missing some huge opportunities for enlightenment.

    • TwistedRelic

      >b>Any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted.

      Hmm....biting my tongue to the point of biting it off.:-)

    • Danny Getchell

      Argument from consequences.

    • mriehm

      I certainly do hope that suffering babies will reflect upon their suffering, and, in so doing, apprehend that greater truth of yours.

  • Loreen Lee

    What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger: Nietzsche

    That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger is a famous saying by
    German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This quote has reasoning that
    suffering is an inevitable part of life thus human beings have developed
    many ways to try to ease it--one of which is bestowing upon it
    transformative powers.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      And that transformation does not require god.

      • Loreen Lee

        Some people might think that this idea of Nietzsche's, (with which I agree with you that he does not think the transformation to the ubermensch requires 'God',) might conflict with idea of 'Eternal Recurrence', in which the same thing repeats itself in an eternal metaphysics. However, I took note when I read Nietzsche, that he definitely put this possibility as a hypothetical only. He was in the midst of convincing someone that if they did not 'work'???? towards transformation, they should consider the possibility that their present state could be thought of as an eternal recurrence. His ubermensch, by the way was not the Nazi dream, but the overcoming of all the negative and troubling causes of psychological (spiritual?) suffering in one's life.
        When it comes to transformation, (besides the now known transformations that take place within the cosmos), I believe Christianity emphasizes this more than any other religion. This is true from the fulfillment of the Old Testament, through the concept of 'repentance' which means 'change'. In the last case, however, there is unfortunately, more emphasis on the penitent, guilt laden recognition of the 'sin', when in Guy Finley for instance, as well as in Buddhism, the emphasis is on the positive development of the person.

        In considering whether this emphasis is due to what is regarded as the 'real' person or not, I am still comparing Christianity with the atheistic Buddhism, the latter of which replaces the Other as God, with a concept that what we strive for is to overcome our ego or false self, (as tied to the world/cosmos of samsara) and become our already existing pure, eternal 'real' self which is nirvana. The only trouble there is that the 'individuality of the soul/person' known in Christianity is lost in the transition/transformation. We become nebulous nothings!!!! (My understanding).

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Actually, I would suggest that Buddhism puts far more emphasis on transformation than Christianity does.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote from my comment above: In the last case, however, there is unfortunately, more emphasis on
            the penitent, guilt laden recognition of the 'sin', when in Guy Finley
            for instance, as well as in Buddhism, the emphasis is on the positive
            development of the person.

            I concur, and believe that the Buddhist psychology including meditation and mindfulness is specifically directed to that purpose: i.e. transformation of character. My point about Christianity is that the transformation process is not restricted to this, but is philosophical and 'cosmological' as well.

  • Max Driffill

    Understanding why we suffer would not make us suffer any less. It takes no longer than the very first paragraph for the reader to realize they are in for an article that will be long on assertion, short on deep knowledge and equally short on evidence.

    "True suffering — whether in death, disaster, or disease — is united by the fact that we hate it. Our beings reject it, our minds refuse to comprehend it, our bodies are sickened by it, and it’s all a simple matter of definition: To suffer is to experience that which we do not want to experience."

    What does it even mean to suggest that our "beings reject it," or that "our minds refuse to comprehend it?" What does it matter what "our beings" do or do not do in the face of their suffering? They will experience it regardless and know they are experiencing it however stoically or hysterically they experience their suffering. And comprehension also is not important to experience of suffering. When I am in my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class during the last rounds of the night, in a terrible position against a tough fresh opponent I grasp fully the reason for my suffering. It doesn't mean I am not suffering, or that such comprehension matters. Understanding can make suffering more bearable at times, but not all the time (as when I look up to see the round time nearer to the end of a 10 minute match in which I am having a tough time, vs seeing it at eight minutes fifty-nine seconds to go).

    But looking closer at my example, those tough times are something I kind of want to experience, need to experience to get better in my art. So can I be said to be suffering? Not according to the author. However I would invite him to deal with a 260lb opponent for 10 minutes and get back to me on the quality of that experience. Suffering also isn't simply definitional because it is an emotional response to specific stimuli, and the expectations surrounding the duration of said stimuli. Simply saying suffering is to experience that which we don't want to experience doesn't sufficiently cover the kinds of experiences we call suffering. For instance I didn't want to experience an article on suffering that was poorly reasoned and specious. However I read it anyway. Did I suffer? I have some problem calling it suffering given the kinds of things people really do suffer. But maybe I did. Suffering is not characterized in a simple binary way, suffering vs not-suffering. Rather suffering exists on a gradient from very minor suffering, to major suffering.

    Does a patient who understands the broad details of cancer and the nature of chemotherapy, and radiological therapies suffer?

    There is also a lot of heavy weather made of the "purpose of suffering." Mr Barnes seems to think there needs to be a point great than, these experiences are unpleasant, I will take action to correct them to the best of my ability." There are clear reasons why evolutionary processes would have taken care to develop organisms with such drives to limit their pain and reduce their suffering, over organisms that didn't have such drives. Those organisms with the desire to reduce and eliminate their pain and suffering probably left more descendants than those that did nothing about it. Hence we live in a world populated by organisms that do their best to not suffer. Does there need to be another explanation other than that?