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PostPosted: Sun May 15, 2011 1:26 pm 
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ-v3FbufEg&NR=1


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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 8:46 pm 
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1. State the question
2. How important it is
3. The logic of the problem
4. Try to solve it

Making sense out of suffering. What is SENSE? Sense means an explanation. Unlike the animals, we simply don't accept things as they are, unless we're pop psychologists. We ask. We question. We wonder. We ask especially the question, "Why?"

Aristotle, the master of those who know, the most common sensical philosopher of the history of Western philosophy, gave us one of the ideas that no one should be allowed to die without mastering one of the ideas that is a requisite for mastering civilization. It is the so-called theory of the Four Causes: all possible answers to the question "Why?" All possible "becauses" fit into four categories.

1. What IS the thing? Define it. What is its form, essence, nature, species? That is the formal cause.
2. What is it made of? What is in it? What is content of it? That is what he called the material cause.
3. Who made it? Where did it come from? That is the efficient cause.
4. What is it for? Why is it there? What purpose does it serve? That is what he called the final cause.

When we talk about suffering, there's not too much difficulty about the formal cause - we know what it is. The material cause - well, it is made of different things for different people. It is made of the Yankees for Red Sox fans; it is made of the Red Sox for Yankees fans. But the efficient and the final cause are the mysteries. Where did it come from? And what good is it, if any?

It is an absolutely essential question.

This can be seen through comparing a couple of thinkers. Let's start with Viktor Frankl. A wonderful book, "Man's Search For Meaning." He is a Viennese psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, but didn't just survive it - he played Socrates in Auschwitz. He asked questions. For instance: What makes people survive? And his answer is: Freud is wrong, it's not pleasure. Adler is wrong, it's not power. Even union is wrong. It's not integration, or understanding the archetypes, or anything like that. It is meaning. Those who found some meaning in their lives, survived. Even though all other indications predicted that they wouldn't. And those who didn't, didn't. He writes, "To live is to suffer. Therefore, if life has meaning, suffering has meaning too." That seems to me to be utterly logical. The corollary is that if suffering does not have meaning, then life does not have meaning. Because to live is to suffer.

He observed that different people had different answers to their question. Why are we suffering this absurd and agonizing thing? But all the answers had one thing in common: they all turned the corner from asking, "Life, what is your meaning?" to realizing that life was questioning them. By name. What is your meaning? And they could only answer the question by action; not just by thought. And those who believe in a God behind life, asked the question of God. God, why me? What are you doing? Why? And those that turned the corner realized that God was questioning them. Which is exactly what happened to Job: when God showed up, He didn't give answers. He gave questions. How Socratic God is.

A second thinker who takes suffering very, very seriously is Buddha, one of the greatest psychologists of all-time. He based an entire religion/philosophy system upon the Four Noble Truths. The first of which is, To live is to suffer. The trauma of birth. The trauma of disappointment. The trauma of pain. The trauma of death. Life is trauma. His whole system is geared toward salvation from suffering. And his startlingly simple diagnosis is that to end suffering, you must end its cause. And its cause is egotism, or selfish desire. But in his psychology, the ego-consciousness and egotism are inseparable. And therefore you must see through the ego as an illusion, and transform consciousness.

Let's contrast Buddha to Christ. He, too, takes suffering very seriously, and claims that he comes to address this problem. But his solution, like Frankl's, is more a deed, than a thought - like Buddha's. And, contrasting Buddha, his way is a way in to suffering; not out of it. He, too, claims to be a way of salvation, but the problem for him is not-so-much suffering, but sin. It is a different sort of thing. And that has something or other, vaguely, to do with the whole moral order.

Which brings us back to Socrates. Socrates famously taught in the Gorgias that it is better to suffer evil, than to do it. In other words, suffering isn't so bad - sin is worse. It is much worse to do evil, than to suffer it. That sounds hopelessly idealistic. If you had the choice between doing something a little wicked - let's say, cheating the IRS on your income tax - or being tortured. Roasted over a barbecue spit for 13 hours straight. Unless you're very unusual, I bet I can predict what you would choose. What in the world could he have possibly meant by saying it is better to suffer evil than to do it? Well, Socrates had this notion that, at the essence of a person, was this thing called the soul, or the self, rather than just the body. And he taught, almost with his last words, that "No evil can happen to a good man, whether in this life or in the next." A very strange thing to say, because clearly he is a good man, and he has just been unjustly condemned, misunderstood, condemned to die, put into prison, and his life is taken from him - that's as bad a thing we can do to people. So what could he mean by "No evil could happen to a good man"? He is in the middle of evil happening to a good man, and he says it doesn't really happen. To the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Socrates' answer is, "They never do." What in the world could he mean by that? It sounds absurd. Well, a person is a soul. And evil never happens to the soul. It happens to the body. You know that bumper sticker that summarizes all of human history with such eloquence: S H I T HAPPENS.

But that only happens to the body; it doesn't happen to the soul. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. Great evil can be done to the soul, indeed, but I am the agent of it. I am the agent responsible for folly, and vice. Not you. Once Socrates realized that, he could die with a smile.

Jesus said something a bit similar. Although, as a Jew, Jesus takes the body much more seriously, because it is part of the image of God, and God created it, and he doesn't have this dualism that the Greeks have between body and soul. But, he too said, the most practical sentence every uttered in the history of the world: "What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but lose his own self?"


None of the aforementioned remarks are meant to be a solution to the problem of suffering. They are meant to hone in on its centrality.


There are two forms to the problem of suffering: one is practical, one is theoretical. The practical one is What can we do about it? And we have come up with a number of answers, all of which are inadequate. For example...

In "Civilization and Its Discontents", Freud raises the wonderful question: Why, now that we have become gods, aren't we happy? We don't need God or gods anymore because we've got technology. Technology has attained the wishful thinking that produced religion. We'd like to be above the "thunder and lightning"; knowing it and controlling it, Zeus. Instead, we cower in superstitious fear in caves, thinking that the thunderstorm is the wrath of angry God. Well, we've become God. So, we need not fear. We are sending messages through space, at will! Since we have becomes Gods... since these natural human desires have been attained, we certainly should be happier, because happiness is the fundamental desire. But we're not! The more civilized we are, the more happy we are? Oh, no, not at all. Freud even toys for awhile with Rousseau's notion that the more civilized we are, the more unhappy we are. And that we'd be happier to go back to being a noble savage, which of course is impossible.

It is a great question. And Freud confesses honestly, as a good scientist, that he doesn't know the answer to it.

So, practically speaking, we have not come up with an answer to the problem of suffering. The only thing we can do about suffering is to live through it. To live is to suffer.

So, let's look at the theoretical problem of suffering:


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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 10:32 pm 
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The logic of the problem. Why must we suffer? Explain it. Maybe you can't solve it, but at least, let's explain it.

It makes a difference whether God is thrown into the equation.

Suppose you are a Marxist. What is the cause of suffering? Inadequate social structures... class conflict... What can be done about it? They can be modified, and something like a heaven-on-earth can be attained by a bloody revolution. But you still have to die. And you still got pain nerves all over your body.

Theoretically, the problem comes in much greater if you believe in God. I mean, if suffering just happens... well - then it just happens. But if the whole of ourselves, and of our lives, and of our universe is a design - a deliberate design - not an accident - a novel written by God: why does he write such a lousy novel?? Thus, Job - the classic philosopher, the classic sufferer - would not have nearly the passion, including the intellectual passion, if he didn't have God to get angry at. Perhaps one of the things God wants us to do is to get angry at Him! Because that makes us like Socrates, it makes us ask questions.


I have never found an atheist who can state the problem of evil with the logical cogency and force and personal passion of a theist. The most sympathetic case for atheism in the history of the world has been made by one of the great theistic writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ivan Karamozov is the most persuasive atheist in the world's literature. I tell my students, "If your faith is weak, and you're afraid to lose it, then don't read The Brothers Karamozov."

I often teach the philosophy of religion and I play Socrates and I try to get the students in a dialog and I try and divide them into two groups: believers and unbelievers, or believers and skeptics, or strong believers and weak believers, and once I get the two groups, I say Now we're gonna dialog about whether there is a God. But those of you who classify yourselves as believers - you're gonna have to argue for atheism. And you who classify yourselves as UNbelievers, you're gonna have to argue for theism. And they say, "That's ridiculous!" and I say, "No, it isn't. If you don't understand the other position, you can't really argue against it."

I've done this 3 or 4 times. It has always turned out EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. There is no discernible difference in the intelligence level, between the atheists and the theists. But the atheists always give a ridiculously WEAK case for theism, and the theists always make a knock-'em-down, drag-'em-out case for atheism. And it is always based on the problem of evil, by far the strongest case for atheism.

So after that happens, and the students are kind of surprised, I say, "Why did that happen?" And then the real argument begins. The atheists who were pretending to be theists said, "Well, you had us argue for Santa Claus, it was a ridiculous position that you gave us." And the theists who were pretending to be atheists said, "No, we see both sides, you don't. We see your best arguments, you saw our weakest ones." And then they argue about that.

Well, let me give you the strongest argument for atheism that I know, based on the problem of suffering. Emotionally, it is something like Ivan Karamozov. But intellectually, here is Thomas Aquinas' incredibly succinct formulation to the problem of evil:

If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is completely destroyed. But God means infinite goodness. Therefore, if God existed, then there would be no evil discoverable anywhere. But there is evil. Therefore, God does not exist.



That is a very powerful argument. How do you answer it?



Atheists and agnostics also want an answer to suffering, although God is not in their equation. So, the question is universal but it's worse for the theist. I will try to give you six answers, none of which is original. Three of them come from natural reason, philosophical reasoning, without any reliance on religion or Divine Revelation. And three of them do come from religion or Divine Revelation.

1. Basically the answer of ancient Stoicism: we are finite creatures. We have limits. We have desires which are not going to be satisfied. So we have a choice of either adding to our inevitable frustration. Or, not. Here you are in the dentist chair, and the novocaine hasn't taken. And the dentist says, "We're doing root canal work, so you have to tell me where the pain is. There is no alternative." What choice do you have? Well, you have a choice between enduring the physical pain and rebelling against it. If you rebel against it, you add psychological pain and terror and fear and make the pain worse. So, why not be a Stoic and just accept it? Red Sox fans understand that. So, one possible explanation for suffering is that we are animals. We are finite creatures.

2. All the myths, of all the cultures of the world: something happened, way back when, before history. Things aren't supposed to be like this. Once upon a time, Adam and Eve ate an apple.... Once upon a time, Pandora opened a box.... Once upon a time, the magic bird that was supposed to drop the magic berry of heavenly happiness into the mouth of primal man fell in love with itself and swallowed the berry.... There are various versions of the story. But it is astonishing how almost every culture has some myth of Paradise Lost. Now, that doesn't mean it's true. But it does mean that it is in the collective unconscious. And to say that there is no truth in it at all is to be a snob.

(That's my fundamental argument against atheism, by the way. If atheism is true, then the incredibly small minority of human beings, most of which are concentrated in our uprooted society, are the only ones who are wise, and everyone else is living their lives with a fundamental illusion at the center. Exactly like Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey." He believes in this 13-ft-high invisible rabbit, even though he is in his 40s. That's a pretty grim view of humanity. It doesn't prove anything, but it at least ought to give you a bit of pause.)

This universal myth that our present situation is unnatural seems to correspond to our present psychological data: we all have a lover's quarrel with the world. We CAN'T obey the advice of the pop psychologists to accept ourselves as we are, and to accept the world as it is. We just can't do it! If we're human! Animals can. There is a perfect, ecological relationship between the animals' instinctive desires and its environment. What they want, they can get. There is one thing that we want that nobody in the world has EVER gotten: complete happiness. It is our glory that we can rise to the dignity of despair. Thus, a nihilistic existentialist like Nietzsche is more noble than a nice, pop psychologist.

3. It makes us wise. To quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the wisest men of the 20th century, "The man who has not suffered... what could he possibly know, anyway?" Or to quote Aeschylus, "Hour by hour, minute by minute, pain drips upon the heart. And, against our will, and even in our own despite, comes wisdom from the awful grace of the gods." If wisdom is more important that pleasure, then it's a good deal. And if we're so foolish that we wouldn't voluntarily make that deal, then how wise of the gods to force us to that deal! While you're suffering, you don't want to make the deal. After you're finished, you're glad.

Think of the hardest thing you ever did. Or the biggest pain you ever had. Are you glad now that you have gone through that? Oh, yes. To quote Nietzsche again, "Whatever does not kill me only makes me stronger." But of course, while you're there, you don't think that.


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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 10:36 pm 
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Am falling asleep. Will continue later, more to add.

"Making sense out of suffering"
Peter Kreeft

Originally was to leave this thread blank with a half-serious, half-joke link to Tom Hank's solution. gumtree raised the question in her own thread, however that seems to be going another direction.

I thought, Why not? One more thing to explore and share.


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PostPosted: Wed May 18, 2011 2:19 am 
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What an admirable discourse - :D
Tommy, the wheels of this old mind grind exceeding slow these days! I shall certainly read and inwardly digest but this will certainly take awhile before any further reply from me is forthcoming :? Hope the others here join in !

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PostPosted: Wed May 18, 2011 3:04 am 
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:)

No pressure.

It is a lecture that I've listened to here and there, and have always wanted the transcript. I figured now is as good a time as any other to do it myself.


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PostPosted: Wed May 18, 2011 7:18 am 
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Tommy GS wrote:
:)

No pressure.

It is a lecture that I've listened to here and there, and have always wanted the transcript. I figured now is as good a time as any other to do it myself.



And i must say you are doing very well. You've written your piece with humorous articulacy that not in any instance did i yawn or raise a brow reading your lengthy chronicle. Great job tommy.

As sh-- HAPPENS, we might as well go the Nietzsche way javascript:emoticon(':mrgreen:')






:mrgreen:


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2011 5:11 pm 
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Suppose you throw God into the package.

What is God's answer to the problem of suffering, when he finally appears and gives Job - the archetypal sufferer - his answer? Job asks all sorts of great questions and God doesn't answer a single one of them. He says, basically, "Hush, child, you couldn't possibly understand. Who do you think you are anyway? I'm the author; you're the character."

And after the first shock, we realize that that makes immense sense! If in fact we are characters in a story written by a transcendent author, then for us to understand each syllable of this mysterious play would refute the hypothesis that there is a transcendent being - he would no longer be transcendent. He would just be us, or a projection of us. It is utterly rational that life be irrational!

Or, to use another argument: probably the most difficult verse in the whole Bible to believe... the most astonishing claim... the one that, like Socrates, seems ridiculously wrong is Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to his purpose." Oh, come on, you gotta be kidding! Well, wait a minute - let's deduce that from three premises - and almost anyone, except an atheist, will accept these three premises:

i. God is omnipotent. If God is weak, there is no God.
ii. God is omniscient. If he's stupid, there is no God.
iii. God is all-good. If he is wicked and cruel, he is not God.

Well, if he is omniscient, then he knows exactly what we need; if he is omnipotent, then he can supply it; and if he is all-good, then he does. Therefore, as a logical deduction from those three premises, we must need everything that we get. It certainly doesn't seem that way! Once in awhile, we see with Greek wisdom, how suffering produces some wisdom in us and we can look back on our lives and say, "I'm glad I went through that", but much of the time, we can't. Which is exactly what we would expect, on the hypothesis that there is such a God. So far from refuting the existence of God, suffering that seems irrational and cannot be explained fits that hypothesis.

It also fits the hypothesis of atheism. Thus you are left free to choose. And you are left to do something like Pascal's Wager. Since the theoretical arguments are inconclusive (or if you think the theoretical arguments are inconclusive) then, let's use a practical argument - what can you gain/what can you lose? You can gain nothing by atheism. Maybe you're right, but once you're dead, you're dead, and there's no reward. What can you gain by theism? Well, maybe nothing. If it's false, there's no life after death, no rewards, no punishments. But, if it's true -- you gain everything, and lose nothing. That's not a very high and holy argument, but it's an utterly rational one (as anyone knows who has ever played poker!)

But let me offer three more specifically religious arguments that depend upon faith in the supernatural and in a Divine Revelation. One coming from faith, one from hope, one from love.

1. One answer to why we suffer is basically God's answer to Job: "Trust me." An invitation to trust. What parents give to children. You're a child, you can't understand, but you can love, you can trust. You don't have to. But you can. Try it, you'll like it. That is basically Jesus' first version of the gospel -- "Try it, you'll like it!" Look at his first words in John's gospel: Come and see. What an open-minded invitation.

2. Hope. Faith directed toward the future. Suppose that this is just a womb. Suppose that the entire universe is a very small thing. When you were in the womb, you probably thought that that was the whole universe, that was enormous! Is there life after birth? Maybe so, maybe not. You found out that there is, and it's much bigger. Well, maybe that will happen again when you die. In which case, you couldn't POSSIBLY understand the meaning of suffering here, this is only the womb! When you were a little fetus, you probably said, "Why have I got feet? Why am I kicking? There are no sidewalks!" But now you know. So, probably 99% of what we do here is preparation for the next life. It is possible to believe the claim of St. Teresa (who suffered a lot, and asked God about it and got some answers) when she said, "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel." If that's not true, then heaven is not heaven.

3. The deepest answer of all: love. On a human level - solidarity with the sufferers. If you really love somebody, what is the fundamental thing you want? What is the aim of love? True, complete, deep human love? Unity. Intimacy. Closeness.

Philanthropy, which is a genuine form of a love, although not the most intimate form, wants to aid and benefit the other person, including giving them more happiness, and less unhappiness, less suffering. But if you're more than a philanthropist... if you're a lover, then if your beloved is suffering, you want to be with them in the suffering, because you want to be with them everywhere.

Well, according to Christianity, God acted that way. When he came to earth to solve the problem of suffering, he didn't give us a technique for getting out of it, he didn't give us a philosophical or mystical explanation of it -- he invited us to participate in it. Because he participated in ours. I think the most moving, divine answer to the problem of suffering is the shortest verse in the Bible. When Jesus' close friend Lazarus died, he went to the tomb and the words are, "Jesus wept." And the next verse, everybody said, "See how he loved him!" That shows us what God thinks of our suffering.

For some strange reason, we tend to think of God as an absentee landlord, cold and indifferent, with some philosophical or mystical answer to the problem of suffering, and from afar he says, "You must go through this." But according to the New Testament, it's not like that at all. God is intimately present in the worst sufferings. WHERE. WAS. GOD. IN THE HOLOCAUST! He was in the gas chambers. He is in every little baby who suffers. He is in the victim. He identifies with the victimized and never the victimizer.

That doesn't solve the philosophical problem of suffering, but it certainly solves the emotional problem. I don't see how it is possible to love a God who doesn't identify totally with human suffering, because that's not a lover.

Suppose your car is stalled in the middle of the night in stormy weather, and you don't know how to fix it, and there's no tow-truck. What you would like above all is a cell phone with you, to get a taxi or a tow-truck. You can't. Let's say the only person you can call is your brother-in-law who lives nearby. And he comes, and he doesn't know anything about cars either, and he doesn't have a cell phone, and he doesn't have a tow-truck. So what does he do? He stays with you in the car all night. And then in the morning, you're freed. Aren't you much more grateful to him, than even to a tow-truck? So even when God doesn't immediately tow us out of our suffering, the fact that he is with us in it is I think the most impressive and satisfying answer to the problem of suffering that I know.

And therefore, God doesn't give us a lot of words to the problem of suffering. According to Christianity, he gives us a single Word, and his name is Jesus.


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2011 7:12 pm 
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Tommy GS wrote:

I have never found an atheist who can state the problem of evil with the logical cogency and force and personal passion of a theist.


Of course not, your theist can explain it as you have done , as being God's will.

1 Trust

Quote:
One answer to why we suffer is basically God's answer to Job: "Trust me."


Why on earth should we? Some truly, wonderful, good, kind devout people suffer and we are still meant to go on trusting? Come on, in real life you are let down once, even twice, but how many times are you going to go on trusting? And please don’t come back with “forgiving” in this context, you may forgive many many times, but you would be a fool to trust forever.

2. Hope

Quote:
So, probably 99% of what we do here is preparation for the next life. It is possible to believe the claim of St. Teresa (who suffered a lot, and asked God about it and got some answers) when she said, "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel." If that's not true, then heaven is not heaven.


By that logic we could be being prepared for even worse suffering – unless we trust this person who has let us suffer for no apparent reason, other than it is somehow good for us to suffer so we can appreciate non suffering even more ?

3.Love

Quote:
... if you're a lover, then if your beloved is suffering, you want to be with them in the suffering, because you want to be with them everywhere


Yes, being with them to give comfort, and as the lover you may wish you could take on their personal pain, but step back from the equation to the other side.

If you are the beloved are you so incredibly selfish that you really want your lover to have the same pain and suffering as you? To lose a leg, to have an incurable disease, to lose their family in an accident,................?

Or as the beloved don’t you want the same from your lover as you have attributed to the philanthropist?

Quote:
wants to aid and benefit the other person, including giving them more happiness, and less unhappiness, less suffering.


So if you have cast God as the lover being with the beloved, and having aforesaid omnipotence, why prolong and increase the pain?


Even trying very hard to be unbiased I cannot find any logic in your arguments which seem to be circular.


Also, to revert back to an earlier point, yes, pain, physical or mental, can sometimes bring out unexpected strengths, but this is perfectly valid as a survival technique.

The worst things that have happened to me - yes, I did find the strength needed at the time. Am I glad they happened, no, why should I be?
Who says those particular strengths weren't there anyway, only to surface if needed?

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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 7:22 pm 
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1. The answer to why we should trust was explained in the rest of the paragraph: "Try it, you'll like it." I can personally testify to this, what with significant life-changing experiences last summer. 180 degrees. However, also as explained in paragraph, it is a choice. (Also, some do Pascal's Wager, what can do you gain, what can you lose?) I guess we get out of it what we put into it, don't we.

2. Good point - we could be, but considering certain premises (re: God's traits) then I doubt it. Why do you assume that we suffer for no apparent reason? Remember, Viktor Frankl said that to live is to suffer. If life has meaning, then suffering has meaning too. If you believe that suffering does NOT have meaning, then life does not have meaning. Are you meaningless?

3. Are you of the opinion that philanthropy trumps intimacy? Do you prefer the cell phone and the tow truck, vs. your brother-in-law? I don't.





You are right, suffering is NOT good, in and of itself. But, to live is to suffer. If life has meaning, then suffering has meaning.


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 9:45 pm 
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:lol: We are not going to agree, but it has been highly entertaining.

Briefly( I tried) and my last comments

1. Tried it, respected basic premises, loathed man's interpretations. Pascal's Wager is very bad example to use in any discussion - ethical dishonesty, not committing to either.

2. I myself as a life form am meaningless, only part of evolution. I do not specifically need suffering and pain to make my personal life meaningful, the people I love do that. But as struggles are inevitable, along with the good times they provide the balance we mentioned elsewhere.

In the overall survival context suffering will continue as we have nowhere near evolved far enough to overcome man's worst traits or to deal with what the natural world throws at us from time to time. Man is very unlikely to be the life form that can eventually exist free of suffering and in harmony with the earth. If the earth can survive that long.

3. I didn't imply philanthropy trumped intimacy, merely questioned the form of love hoped for, from a lover, in a situation of a beloved's pain.

So you wish it had been your brother in law who had broken down in the snow with no means of rescue, instead of you ? What a meana!
And if he had had the means of calling the towtruck all along, you would prefer he came and kept you company instead and make you wait??

Enough is enough is enough. Should have listed "Fencing with Tommy" in my "Indulgences and Distractions". :mrgreen:

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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2011 3:54 am 
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:mrgreen:


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