I’ll get back to the pope and the Vatican and secrecy and Crimen Sollicitationis – today was a bit rushed – but meanwhile, there is the related, large, vexed subject of suffering, and what to think of it, and what to think of what religion tells us about it and does about it. I did a piece on the subject for Comment is Free – but I didn’t say everything I could have (in a longer piece) or thought of.
I didn’t for instance say that it’s true (as one commenter mentioned) that suffering can teach us sympathy for other people (or it can get us to shut up inside ourselves – it all depends), and that it’s also true that we wouldn’t need sympathy for other people, and other people wouldn’t need our sympathy, if there were no suffering, so we can’t really say it’s good to have suffering because it teaches us sympathy when the sympathy it teaches us is parasitic on suffering.
And yet – I share the feeling, or intuition, that in some sense we would be worse off if sympathy just didn’t exist. What, even if suffering didn’t exist either? Yes, sort of. But the thing about that is, we are what we are, and what we are is an animal that is never immune from suffering, and that (obviously) shapes how we think about these things. So we’re trapped in this circle.
Anyway I don’t think sympathy is worth the worst kinds of suffering, which are all too common. And I don’t think we should make friends with whatever it is that makes suffering inevitable. Natural selection stinks. If you think God did it, you should think God stinks. We shouldn’t let God get away with the ‘suffering is necessary for compassion therefore it’s a good thing’ excuse. We can have doubts about life with no sympathy at all, and still think God stinks.
I didn’t say that at Comment is Free because I said other things. One can’t say everything, though commenters at C is F seem to expect one to. They also ask ‘Why didn’t you say what I would have said instead of what you wanted to say?’ I have great sympathy for them, but I cannot help.