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Ramblings About Good and Evil

by Teresa's Child

The reality of suffering has dominated my mind, all my life. How to cope with it? How to alleviate it? How to help others alleviate it in their lives? How to prevent it before it happens?

Can all suffering be prevented before it happens? I mean, that’s the basic question. A random plague? A recession? A dictator that comes to power? A mother abusing a child? Everything has a cause. Even the random plague started from something. Nothing comes from nothing, and so theoretically everything can be stopped. An omnipotent, all powerful being that can be everywhere at once could technically prevent all these things.

But can such a being prevent all suffering? What about the case where a man wants something that someone else has? Help the man get it and the other will suffer. Help the first keep it and the one that desires will suffer. What about two people that hate each other? You cannot stop their hatred from harming each other, no matter who you help. What about someone that hates himself?

So we see now that not all suffering can be prevented. Indeed most suffering cannot be prevented, because most suffering doesn’t come from the natural world. It comes from humans. Humans that suffer. Humans that make others suffer. Human desire, hate, fear, jealousy, anger, vengefulness, pride, etc. Things labelled as “sin” in Christian theology. These things cannot be prevented.

Well, there is one way. One way to stop the suffering of all the situations described above. Kill all parties involved. If everyone dies, the disease of hate, fear, anger, jealousy…these things won’t spread. This equality is the only way to completely prevent suffering.

What about allieviating suffering? Maybe I can’t stop suffering, but can I help all who suffer? You can cure illnesses, you can sort out unfair situations and be just. But once suffering takes root in a heart, the repercussions will happen. That suffering spreads, and there is no cure for that spreading of suffering. Except, as we have seen, compassion and mercy. If the one who suffers shows mercy and can feel compassion, the suffering may stop spreading. Similarly, if someone who is about to suffer clings to discipline, courage, rationality, ethics, and hope, then they may be able to avoid their own suffering, or mitigate the effects of that suffering in their heart and mind.

But this isnt something for another to do on someone else’s behalf. If the question is, what can I do for the suffering of others, then the answer is basically…try to get them to help themselves? This is probably the logic with which the proverb “God helps those who help themselves” was coined, because really, to get others to help themselves, you need to be untouched by fate. Otherwise the trust is broken. For example, why would I let someone try to guide me out of suffering, if that person was actively suffering himself? But no human being is untouched by fate. So…this too, is a no-go.

In Christianity, Jesus carried the sins of the world, or so the story goes. This is all well and good, and the visualization of the suffering that sin creates is I agree a powerful deterrent to creating more suffering. But that’s only for people that care in the first place. It doesn’t solve the problem that people still spread suffering. And so, while it is a good try to get others to help themselves, it is not enough.

So, we have two sides to stopping suffering. Destruction, and compassion. Either way, one thing is necessary. Power. Because obviously a weak person cannot destroy anything. Less obviously, a weak person cannot truly be compassionate to everyone.

So, good and evil. A desire to end suffering, and the creation of suffering due to ‘”sinful” action. And within “good”, two different approaches.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Perhaps…what I’m trying to say is, even with a straight-cut goal, there is still so much internal struggle. What to do in each individual situation is always unclear.

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23 comments

rivets 10/26/2018 - 3:04 pm

There is a universality behind any sort of answer to the question of suffering that has to be addressed. I remember back in the day, I read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. Then I re-read it several times. It seemed bizarre to me that someone would have to devote so many pages to something so ubiquitous in human experience. It’s a given we all experience pain and suffering in one form or another. Everybody takes it for granted because we all share some innate understanding of it.

It seems like this single subject has dominated theistic thought for centuries. Augustine obsessed over it. Aquinas wrote a book about it. Even Paul talked about it incessantly in his letters. Personally, I’m a Viktor Frankl sympathizer. Suffering need not be a bad thing, although it’s clearly never a good thing. If you can’t escape it, all that’s left is to bring levity to it and find some sort of meaning in it. Sadly, I don’t think there are any religious teachings or moral imperatives that can do that. It’s up to each person to find their own meaning in their own suffering, and (hope of hopes) try to lessen their own contributions to others.

thehusk 10/26/2018 - 3:38 pm

I think the problem with that is that meaning/significance is felt or believed in, not consciously constructed. If I consciously decide that I’m going to view enduring my suffering as an act of heroic defiance against a cruel universe, that doesn’t actually change my experience of that suffering, unless I also feel that the endurance of that suffering is toward some end that I feel is worthwhile.

Meaning is not consciously sought and found so much as it is subconsciously generated and experienced. You cannot reason your way into feeling that something is meaningful on the basis of the thought that it would be preferable to do so.

Mordred 10/26/2018 - 8:28 pm

I agree with thehusk on this one rivets. While it’s definitely a good thing to find meaning in one’s suffering and try to change one’s perceptions of it, that doesn’t change the fact that it objectively exists. Unless I’m actually a Bodhisattva, I will still suffer and inflict suffering, and watch others suffer, no matter how I view these things.

But thank you both for commenting. Always nice to read others’ thoughts on these ramblings.

rivets 10/27/2018 - 12:52 am

I wouldn’t argue that eliminating suffering is possible, or even desirable. I didn’t think I had implied something like that with my comment. It seems more like we agree on the foundation, but we’re looking at it from different sides of the thing.

However, that being said, meaning has a lot of different connotations, which is appropriate for the word, given the way it’s woven into human life. Words have meaning, and can elicit emotions and compel a person to act differently than they would otherwise. Finding new ways to understand the most basic experiences is never just intellectual, but it does have an intellectual component.

Cause of Death: Suicide 10/26/2018 - 5:48 pm

Have you read Nietzsche ?

Stable as Uranium 10/26/2018 - 8:09 pm

I have, and I’ve also read How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I find them to be fundamentally the same thing.

Cause of Death: Suicide 10/27/2018 - 12:50 am

Well I have the book so I thought to comment on it. Being that the book is called “Between Good and Evil.”
I read it when I was really young a long time back and didn’t get much out of it because I wasn’t quite at that level.. but I do have some quotes readily on hand that I can share from a section..

“71. The sage as astronomer.— As long as you still experience the stars as something ‘above you’ you lack the eye of knowledge.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

“69. One has watched life badly if one has not also seen the hand that considerately—kills.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Mordred 10/26/2018 - 8:30 pm

I have, but I don’t think he has much to say on this subject.

Stable as Uranium 10/26/2018 - 8:13 pm

I find the same philosophy to be present in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song Have You Ever Seen The Rain, that’s why I posted it here a few days ago.

Stable as Uranium 10/26/2018 - 8:14 pm

Whoops. Meant to be under my previous comment.

Cause of Death: Suicide 10/27/2018 - 1:03 am

Plague was caused I believe by bacteria rats would pick up.. and the rats would have easy access into their homes…. and it would get into the water supply… just something I was researching lately… ha.. Black Death

Kind of like how many people Mao Zedong murdered. I was researching the other day what disaster caused the most casualties… peaches n’cream though?

Operation_Barbarossa I suppose?

rivets 10/27/2018 - 5:05 am

Prion disorders are more interesting than bacteria, imo.

Cause of Death: Suicide 10/27/2018 - 7:29 am

Can you tell me about those. I was thinking on mad cow disease the other day

rivets 10/27/2018 - 11:28 am

Well, they’re like what happens when you try to fit a person through a commercialized and predatory mental health system, only for proteins. Prions aren’t alive, but they make every other similar protein misfold upon contact, causing ever-expanding damage to sensitive brain bits.

a1957 10/27/2018 - 11:46 am

“commercialized and predatory mental health system”

I hate that system. It harms all who come in contact with it. That system is the evil twin of those practitioners who are capable and caring.

hope432 10/27/2018 - 5:26 am

In my opinion, God is wholly good, loving. He definitely exists but he is not omnipotent. He cannot control everything in the dominion of evil, on planets like earth.

Mordred 10/27/2018 - 4:10 pm

In some way…I do agree with you. But I think…hm. Perhaps I just think pure goodness won’t cut it these days. Do you know what I mean? To put it in your terms, I don’t believe imitating the God you mentioned is good enough to stop suffering. If everyone tried to imitate God, then suffering would end. But while there are bad people in the world, perhaps we need to look deeper then just the precepts of justice, morality, etc.

Oldone 10/27/2018 - 7:43 am

Charles Dickens had a good amount to say about the human condition of suffering. It seems we humans have an innate ability to asign fault for who is deserving of their suffering and who is not and it has absolutely no boundaries of age, class, sex, race, creed, etc.
If you’re rich the poor deserve it. If you’re poor the rich deserve it. The young haven’t suffered enough while the old created all the problems for the young. Woman ate from the apple. (They should be banned from the fruit section of the grocery store) It’s the Jews who were the original Christ killers or was it the Romans? Now it’s brown skinned people creating all our problems or so we’re told so we must build walls to keep them out despite years of proven failures of walls.
Personally I think it’s the fault of stupid people, but who gets to decide who is stupid and who is not? Perhaps it’s just the decision makers who are at fault and they’re the ones deserving of suffering so nobody should ever decide anything. But then perhaps the fault lies in the dilly dalliers who cannot decide a thing. The fault must be with those who rely too much on spell check. Kill them all says those who cannot kill.

Cause of Death: Suicide 10/27/2018 - 10:05 am

Jesus died a Jew, I hear. Do you have anything to say on that with your eloquent speech. Curious I may be on your Roman/Jew spiel

Mordred 10/27/2018 - 4:04 pm

I hear you. It’s pretty arbitrary if one is going to assign repercussions to actions, and of course killing them all is the wish of the unlucky fellows that can’t actually do it.

I loved your comment by the way @oldone

a1957 10/27/2018 - 12:00 pm

Well written. Well thought out. I have long wished the human race could go away so that suffering among them would end. I have long wished I could go away so my suffering would end. Now I recommend to others that they seek heeling for themselves. But still, we all know the suffering of humanity going goes on.

I am familiar with Christian teachings. Taken as a whole, they indicate every individual will make choices for themselves and about others, for better or for worse, for now. They also indicate that both reproduction and death will come to an end at some point.

Mordred 10/27/2018 - 4:06 pm

Thanks @a1957 , and yeah, Christian theology does indicate that. I think that speculation is where the line between ethics and religion is drawn, so I have nothing to say on that point, but thank you for the comment.

a1957 10/27/2018 - 4:20 pm

I don’t known where that line is drawn either. I have books on both. I could say, casually speaking, that I hope that any person I encounter has enough of one, the other, or both, to treat me decently. I hope.

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