On Suffering as the Measure of Ethics and the Existence of God

The question regarding the existence of a personal god must be discussed critically in the light of the ever present reality of suffering before the validity of the theory may be established. For since there is the evident reality of suffering; then the matter of whether a supernatural being exists would have to be critically examined within the context of such. Furthermore, the reality of suffering being self evident and all too easily established, then it seems only reasonable to begin by studying the matter of suffering, and then to measure the theory of the existence of God against such findings.

From the moment we are born, discomfort is our nemesis and comfort is our need. With each breath we take, from the moment of our birth, until the moment we pass away, each thought is to instinctively seek comfort and to avoid any degree whatsoever of discomfort. We cried on the day of our birth due to the discomfort of the pain of hunger, due to the discomfort of thirst, due to the discomfort of being cold, and due to the discomfort of our own soiled diapers. As adults, we adjust the thermostat in the morning when we wake up, and dress ourselves in attire suitable to avoid discomfort relative to the daily temperature. We do so because, like a dog who seeks shade in the Summer heat, we likewise have a natural aversion to discomfort of any given degree.

And so it is, that just as suffering is a natural reality, our most basic instinct is that of a natural aversion to discomfort of any given degree.

In fact, the depths of our aversion to suffering are by no means limited to negative reactions regarding merely our own personal discomfort. Are we not likewise distressed at the sight of or by the sounds of the suffering of even a stray animal who is screaming out in pain? (Note: Would not an exception to such be so extreme as to confirm the observation?) Granted, the question as to whether such reactions are a matter of an inherent or a conditioned response has of course long been a matter of philosophical debate. However; our distress in such scenarios nonetheless manifests a natural aversion to the suffering of others, just as we have an instinctive aversion to our own discomforts and pains.

The universal aversion of humanity to suffering then is a natural moral compass by which to measure “right” from “wrong”.

Every culture to my knowledge; whether secular or spiritually based, maintains laws relative to physical assault of a variety of degrees (Note: As with the individual, so with collective, communal humankind. For if there is a culture which would prove an exception in this regard, then such would likewise be so out of the ordinary as to establish the point at hand). These seemingly universal restraints against physical abuse then would seem to be founded upon and rooted in our natural aversion to discomfort and suffering. And so it is that societies are generally known to utilize the concept of suffering as a natural and therefore reasonable moral compass by which to measure “right” from “wrong”; at least in terms of physical actions.

Hence, the basic understanding of humanity as a whole is that in general:

It is wrong to hurt someone, in any shape, form, or fashion; and .
It is wrong to allow someone to suffer when we have the means to adequately address such suffering.

These common understandings then form a natural basis for each person’s moral code. Now, as with most everything in life, the principles so stated must be governed by common sense relative to each specific situation. In that regard, there are of course exceptions to the first principle, but each such exception is nonetheless still based upon a natural aversion to suffering. For example, the doctor who performs surgery inflicts pain in the process, and furthermore knows that the person will have a degree of pain during the recovery period. Yet, the reason the doctor performs the surgery is in an effort to prevent suffering of a greater degree, or to even save the person’s life. Thus, although there is pain in the process, such is inflicted systematically in order to prevent further pain. Or the person who hurts someone while restraining them from inflicting injury upon another does so with the intent and purpose to prevent further pain and suffering. In fact, in such instances, the person inflicting the pain actually does so as a means to comply with the second principle as so stated. For in the case of the doctor, the means at her disposal to adequately address a person’s ongoing or potential pain is to perform surgery, even though that process naturally entails a degree of pain of its own. Or in the case of the person defending the person under assault, the means at his disposal is to restrain the person carrying out the assault, even though that act in and of itself may hurt the assailant in the process. Yet the suffering so inflicted under such circumstances, is clearly inflicted in order to prevent further pain.

Having established then undue suffering as the measure of “right” and “wrong”; we now turn our attention to the role of the Universe with regard to such. For the reality of suffering being ever evident; the role of the Universe in the process is key to understanding the nature of all things.

For I would suggest that the Universe is both an active party in afflicting humanity with all forms of undue suffering, and that the Universe nonetheless remains ever indifferent as to the effects so inflicted, regardless of how so extreme. As to the former, a mere newspaper or world news television should prove the point. Tsunamis, diseases, tornados, floods, droughts, fires, and any other number of “natural disasters” (aka in certain circles as “Acts of God”) manifest the active role that the Universe exercises in the affliction of humanity and all sentient beings with undue suffering. The fact that the tree that falls in the direction of the helpless child will do so without swerving to avoid inflicting the toddler with bodily harm, or that the body of water into which the small child falls will not transform to a state of buoyancy but will rather envelope the child and fill the toddler’s lungs to the point of a traumatic and painful death, or that the tornado will not divert its trek in order to avoid killing men, women, and children indiscriminately are but a few of several examples that the Universe is absolutely indifferent as to the effect of the suffering and the misery so inflicted.

The Universe then is indiscriminate suffering with indifference as to effect.

The fact that the Universe remains indifferent as to its effect upon sentient beings one way or the other, leads to one of two seemingly inescapable conclusions regarding the nature of the Universe:

The Universe is an impersonal reality; and thus unable to feel for the misery of sentient beings; or
The Universe is a malevolent personal being (or the agent thereof); and thus is
insensitive to the misery so inflicted.

The fact that Nature is seemingly devoid of any qualities of personality would seem to invalidate any theories of a personal deity of any given nature, malevolent or otherwise. The former theory however; makes sense in the light of the daily reality of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe.

And so, in the light of the daily reality of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe, I conclude that an indifferent Universe encompasses all reality, and hence there is no personal God.

Now, as I said from the outset, to me the logical course to pursue in ascertaining whether there is a god is to evaluate the theory in the consideration of the reality of suffering. Such is what I have done, hence in my mind the matter has been sufficiently investigated and the case has been adequately made that in the light of the daily reality of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe, there simply is no evidence whatsoever of the existence of a personal God.

Yet for the sake of social convention, I will consider briefly the Judeo-Christian theory that the Universe was created and is maintained by a benevolent god, as per the Hebrew Bible book of Genesis. As the theory is so commonly accepted in our society, I am compelled to address the teachings in the context of the current discussion. However; the same course of study will be pursued: The theory of a personal Creationist God by the name of Jehovah must be evaluated in the light of the evident reality of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe. Only then can we maintain the integrity of a sound discussion based upon fact and reality.

As I have already reasoned, since the Universe exhibits no qualities of personality, then there is simply no evidence to support the theory that a personal God exists and maintains or regulates such. Hence, I would suggest that the theory of Jehovah has already been sufficiently discredited on those merits. Yet a consideration of the Creation account of Genesis 1; assessed in the light of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe, even further tends to discredit the theory of Jehovah.

The Creation account of Genesis 1 and the reality of indiscriminate suffering in an indifferent Universe are seemingly irreconcilable concepts.

The reason being is, that if there is an omniscient God who created the Universe, then that God would have known in advance what would come to pass as a subsequent result of that act. Jehovah would have had to have known about every moment of suffering that would have naturally been experienced since the moment that he made the decision to create the Universe. To be clear on the matter: The decision would have been his to make. No one would have forced God to follow through with that decision. God then would have willingly and with complete foreknowledge of the suffering that would come to pass made the decision to create the world, thus having created the circumstances that serve as the context for any and all suffering.

The questions that must then be asked:

What did Jehovah know?
When did Jehovah know it?

If in fact, Jehovah is an omniscient and omnipotent God, and if the record of Genesis 1 be true, then it is the case that He Himself is responsible for the premeditated act of creating the context of all suffering which would ever come to pass. Such being the case, I myself simply cannot reconcile the concept of a deity being benevolent, and at the same time having been responsible for knowingly creating the context of all suffering which would ever come to pass. Under such circumstances, then God could have prevented all suffering that ever would have come to pass by simply not creating the Universe in the first place. But by choosing to do so, then God becomes responsible for the inevitable suffering which only He Himself could have foreknown, and only He Himself could have prevented. Thus, by the premeditated act of creating the context of all suffering which would ever come to pass, then God instead manifests himself to be a malevolent being, rather than the benevolent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition (Incidentally, such is the very reasoning for the Christian Gnostic and Marcionite Christian teachings that Jehovah was indeed a malevolent being, and not the Father God of the New Testament. Although I do not adhere to such, the logic behind the theory is consistent in the light of indiscriminate suffering in a Universe which is indifferent to such misery).

In the light then of a Universe of indiscriminate suffering and indifference as to effect; then the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” would actually be an indictment of the most irresponsible and insensitive act ever recorded in history.

In conclusion, the ever present reality of indiscriminate suffering in a Universe which is clearly indifferent to such seems to encompass all reality. Furthermore, there seems to be no evidence to support the theory of a personal deity. Hence I personally do not believe in the existence of any personal God whatsoever. I believe the Genesis Creation story to be the Hebrew myth in a time when such myths were common to many cultures of antiquity. Finally, it seems to me that the best a person or a society can do is to seek comfort for self and others, and insofar as it is possible, to refrain from hurting anyone in any way.

Such as they are then, these are my thoughts on the matter of suffering, ethics, and the question of the existence of God.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas


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