Suffering and the human person

-If there is a self, there is suffering.

Christianity = yes, and there are selves.

Buddhism = yes, but suffering can cease.

Modern World = No, selves will do away with suffering. There are two variants:

(Christian variant) God and the Church exist to humanize us, minimize suffering, and lead  all things lead to heaven

(Secular variant) the main task of reasoning and science is relief of man’s estate. We will humanize him, provide more goods, figure out the laws of nature and put them under our control. Humans do not need to wait for heaven to enjoy the life of a self without suffering.

-Humility is selflessness, so both Christianity and Buddhism involve fundamental selflessness. For the Buddha, the last obstacle to conquer is the comparison of oneself to others. For Christianity, one of the two ultimate goals of human life is to see persons as other selves.

-For Christianity, to deny the reality of the person is to deny God first. Personality exists in excelsis though unfathomably. Freedom and power exist without unactualized possibility, communion exists with absolute sufficiency of each self, the goodness of each person is equal to their community, and (most of all) origination exists without causality.

-The West has not lost the theological conviction that the self exists in excelsis. Our humanist atheism is unthinkable except as the substitution of man for God, i.e. placing humanity in the empty space of the God who does not exist, and who somehow kept humanity ignorant, violent, and without technology. That this substitution was even a possibility is something we learned from Christianity first, which consists in just this sort of man-God substitution.

-If the West lost this sense of personality in excelsis nothing in our present consciousness of the world would make sense.

-New atheism is the last mode of prophesy, perhaps even the last call to repentance. At bottom it is the horror that we would lose the ability to curse God, blame God, substitute humanity for him. We can only live in the hole left by the god who never existed. Sure, Dawkins is blaming christianity and Pinker is proving it is violent, backward, stultifying, irrational, but there is a critique of atheism-as-oblibiousness too since if we lose the sight of humanity as divine substitute then we will lose humanism too. For example, the central humanist value of compassion is based on an account of humanity as a species fundamentally willing and able to do away with suffering. Humanist compassion must see humanity’s motives as pure, its power and technological potency as unlimited, its knowledge of the true causes of things as having no fundamental limitation. Sure, Pinker would deny this if we put it so explicitly, but the denial could never enter into the structure of humanist compassion, since humanist compassion could never be, say, Mother Teresa’s compassion of solidarity in suffering and an acceptance of its redemptive power and our inability to meet it with some final solution. Saintly compassion is exactly the sort of misguided compassion that our technological and social engineering is already solving and will continue to solve.




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