Monday, January 19, 2009

The Glorification of Suffering: Another Empty Doctrine

If something can be said to be as certain as death and taxes, it is suffering. In all its manifestations, suffering is one of the most defining aspects of humanity. The pervasiveness of suffering stirs many to attempt deciphering its meaning, rationalizing its potential and assigning it a redeeming value.

Suffering also has a timeless quality as a core component of the Christian theme of redemption. According to doctrine, death and resurrection complete the mysterious triad of achievement accomplished by none other than the man who immortalized for his followers the very concept of suffering, Jesus himself. To this day, many Catholics continue the longstanding practice of a devotional meditation known as the Stations of the Cross, during which intense contemplation of the final suffering and ultimate death of Jesus is commemorated at 14 distinct points, or stations, along the road to his crucifixion. The message of 'The Stations' is clear: suffering is the path to salvation.

But is the assignment of suffering as something people should aspire to truly healthful, functional or enlightened? In a somewhat ironic twist, rather than actually accepting the church's teaching that the suffering of Christ was endured precisely so that humanity would not have to suffer, many believers take from this the idea that man's calling is rather to emulate Christ's suffering as a means of assuring their own redemption. Suffering thereby becomes the price of admission to one's future heavenly abode, and driven by the urgent desire to gain this admission, the faithful amid this flock will stop at nothing when it comes to disregarding the human duty to mitigate suffering, especially one's own.

At its core, suffering is a symptom - a symptom of illness, failure, dysfunction, injustice, etc., and treating this symptom demands a moral imperative be made of the action required to alleviate it. Blindly accepting suffering as an inevitable consequence of human interaction without challenging its moral underpinnings is an act of cowardice. Further, the glorification of suffering suggests a futility amid efforts to minimize its effects thereby contriving the need for many to create for themselves an entity fully capable of eradicating suffering altogether - an entity many refer to as God.

There is no escaping the responsibility we freely impose upon ourselves to acknowledge, confront and eliminate the ubiquitous scourge of personal pain. Guided by innate goodness, man is destined to serve as the enforcer of his own moral charter, and in the trenches of daily human life, there is no higher calling than to relieve one's fellow man of the inimitable burden of suffering.

1 comment:

  1. I have never understood the need for people to feel we need to suffer to earn or learn anything. It is beyond my comprehension.

    Great post.