A friend of poverty and suffering

Helen Dale a few hours ago:

Mother Teresa wasn’t a friend to the poor, she was a friend of poverty. There is a difference.

That’s also my view of her.

An academic in political philosophy and ethics has an opposed view:

Most Christians think that God can allow us to suffer if the suffering is redemptive. I think that too. And that looks like all she is saying, [is] that God can heal our hearts through some kinds of suffering and that we can accept it as such.

Then a few minutes later:

Most atheist attacks on her character focus on her view of the morally purgative effects of suffering (again, see the thread), and I think that while she may have publicly exaggerated at times (though many of the quotes adduced to that effect don’t demonstrate this, as you can see from the discussion earlier in the thread), she has a view that is defensible within Christianity about how we can choose to let suffering fundamentally improve our characters and to draw nearer to God.

Later again:

Christian belief by no means guarantees good and right moral belief, but I think she just had a different, but reasonable view about suffering and God than you do. And people who disagree reasonably about moral matters can both have good character.

After that, unfortunately, he stopped engaging.

Is this idea about suffering “reasonable”? I’m not convinced it is, at least not in the sense I understand “reasonable.” It may be reasonable within a Christian system of thought, i.e. if you accept certain assumptions…but maybe it’s not reasonable to accept those assumptions.

Or maybe it is. Either way, I don’t see much merit in this claim that “we can choose to let suffering fundamentally improve our characters” – because I don’t believe that suffering does fundamentally improve our characters. I think it’s a rather sick and ugly way of looking at things to think it does. (This was the sort of thing Nietzsche hated about Christianity.)

What does it mean to say that “God can heal our hearts through some kinds of suffering”? I wonder if it means it breaks us, and thus makes us less “arrogant” and thus more submissive to “God.” But that doesn’t improve our characters, does it, it just makes us more obedient to the boss-God who isn’t there. It’s all rather circular. Pain perhaps makes us more receptive to “God”…but what’s good about that? Swap Hitler or Stalin for God and it becomes obvious that it’s not, so the claim is senseless unless we assume not only that “God” exists but also that it’s good. It’s fatuous to assume either of those, let alone both.

Or maybe he means the Victorian idea that suffering makes people “patient” – like Beth in Little Women. But what’s good about that? How does it improve the character? It’s just self-regarding – I am strong, I can take it, I can suffer in silence. Who cares? That doesn’t make the world a better place. We don’t need martyrs and Beths and silent sufferers and obeyers – we need people who do things. Sick people need good medical care, not nuns leering at them while they suffer.

There are of course religious people who do things, including providing good medical care. It’s just that “Mother” Teresa wasn’t one of them.

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