Monday, August 17, 2009

On pain and piety

Frida wrote a thought-provoking post on the significance of crucifixion in regards to understanding pain.

Speaking as an atheist, I don't really know of any other atheists who mock crucifixion. "The" crucifixion, maybe, but that is because the one single event is teased out of the tens of thousands and held up as something special, while all the others who died horrible deaths, alone and in pain, bodies disposed of like refuse--nothing and nobody so who cares? But taking Jesus as a representative case--as Frida does--rather than a special case is a healthy approach, I think. It acknowledges all the others, elevates the worth of all the other individuals who are largely nameless, recognizes the shock against humanity inherent in torture and murder. And in that way, the example is edifying.

The trouble with pain is that it can't be seen by others. People who are comfortable like to flatter themselves that they have somehow done something to deserve their comfort, that those who experience misfortune are maybe pitiable but still deserving of their hardship. And I wonder if, in this age when human sacrifice and mass execution is no longer in vogue, if the refusal to honor the pain of others, to respect and allow the alleviation of pain, isn't some sort of vestige of the past, a sacrifice that pain sufferers are supposed to nobly endure for the sake of the larger community? I remember reading a short story years ago in which a society had developed without any want, deprivation or pain--except for one child, who was kept locked away and tormented, whose suffering was considered essential to the well-being of the rest of the society. I think there is an extent to which poverty, pain, and disability treated that same way now, so to the extent that a lot of people allow themselves to think about those problems, they are seen as sacrifices. And in that way, the usual story of Jesus is again reflected, making a widespread social and political problem that could be resolved with human will into disparate special acts of sacrifice that should not be tampered with and that bear no relation to each other. After all, the lesson of the crucifixion as I was taught it as a church-going child included stress that Jesus wasn't like those he was crucified with. Those others, they deserved it, but Jesus was pure. I reject that. No one deserves pain.

1 comment:

FridaWrites said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts on my post--I find myself agreeing with all that you say.

I probably did not make clear in my post that most atheists do not mock the crucifixion (my husband does not do so; I'm sometimes a waffler about God but I don't)--I've seen only two people do it in person and a few on the web. To me what shocked wasn't at all their belief or nonbelief, but the mocking of the suffering--as unthinkable as mocking victims of the Holocaust or slavery.

I agree with you that no one deserved crucifixion. Jesus himself preached forgiveness and most atheists I know are pretty humane. Jesus also hung out with the sinners, not the saints.