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Suffering Notes

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Christian Moral Reasoning S Hauerwas : The Hauerwas Reader S H O U LD S U F F E R I N G B E E LI M I NAT E D ? 

Should we attempt to prevent disability?
Setting the Issue Hauerwas talks of a short film made by the American Association for Disabled Citizens which depicts a mother and father with a newly born baby with severe birth defects. They tell the viewer to 'prevent disability ' ('Don't let what happened to us happen to you'). Hauerwas notes that the film gives the impression that such an occurrence is nothing other than disastrous. Hauerwas writes that the film fails to denote the variety of disability but even more it fails to make clear that our view of disability may be due as much to our prejudices as it is the assumed limits of the disables. It has become increasingly recognised that disease descriptions and remedies are relative to a society's values and needs. Thus, 'disability ' might not 'exist' in a society that values cooperation more then competition and ambition. It is extremely important how we frame our relation to the disabled if we are to avoid two perils :

1. In assuming that societal prejudice is embodied in all designations of disability , seeks to aid the Disabled by presenting discriminatory practices in a manner similar to the civil rights campaigns for blacks and women. Because the Disabled are said to have the same rights as anyone, they should be treated normally.

1. But without denying right, surely it would be unjust to treat equally? It perhaps ought to be understood precisely that those who are handicapped can be accommodated as they need.

2. The second peril is that of oppressive care, a kind of care based on the assumption that the Disabled are so disabled that they must be protected from the dangers and risks of life. Such a strategy subjects the Disabled to a cruelty fuelled by our sentimental concern to deal with their differences by treating them as something less than human agents. Too often this strategy isolates them from the rest of society - in the interest of protecting them from societal indifference. As a result they are trained to be disabled. The challenge is to know how to characterise disability and to know what difference it should make, without our very characterisations being used as an excuse to threat the disabled unjustly. Half of those people with disability bear this label do so because of circumstances after their birth - cannot have better prenatal care to prevent. Even if we could eliminate disability , then what would society do with those who become Disabled ?
Suffering and the Disabled There is something wrong with the above observations - imply that since we can never ensure that no one will be born or become disabled, then we should not try to prevent disability . On such grounds it seems we cannot change our lives to ensure that few will be born Disabled so that those now are Disabled now and in the future will not be cruelly treated and may even receive better care. That is clearly a vicious and unworthy position. We rightly seek to prevent those forms of disability that are preventable. To challenge that assumption would be equivalent to questioning our belief that the world is round or that love is a good thing. Yet if we ask why, we struggle to find an answer. Part of the reason it seems so obvious that we ought to prevent disability is the conviction that we ought to prevent suffering. No one should will that an animal should suffer gratuitously. No one should will that a child should endure

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an illness. That suffering should be avoided is a belief as deep as any as we have . That someone born Disabled suffers is obvious. Therefore, if we believe we ought to prevent suffering, it seems that we ought to prevent disability . Yet, like many 'obvious' beliefs, the assumption that suffering should always be prevented, if analysed, becomes increasingly less certain or at least involves unanticipated complexity. Just because it implies eliminating subjects who happen to be Disabled should at least suggest to us that something is wrong with our straightforward assumption that suffering should always be avoided, or, if possible, eliminated. This is similar to some justifications of suicide : Namely, in the interest of avoiding or ending suffering a subject will no longer to exist. Just because in suicide there is allegedly a decision by the victim does not alter the comparison with some programs to prevent disability : both assume that certain forms of suffering as so dehumanising that it is better not to exist. This assumption draws on some of our most profound moral convictions. Aim is to show that our assumption that suffering should always be prevented is a serious and misleading oversimplification. To show why this is the case a general analysis of suffering is required. We assume we know what suffering is because it is so common - but on analysis it turns out to be an extremely elusive subject. The Kinds and Ways of Suffering To suffer means to undergo, to be subject. We undergo much that we do not call suffering. Suffering names those parts of our lives that have a particularly negative sense. We suffer when what we undergo blocks our positive desires and wants. Suffering carries a sense of suddenness - denotes those frustrations for which we can give no satisfying explanation and we cannot make use of to some wider end. Suffering names a sense of brute power that does violence to our best plaid plans. It is not easily domesticated. Therefore, there is no purely descriptive account of suffering, since every description necessarily entails some judgment about the value or purpose of certain states. It is not clear that the suffering from starvation is the same as that of cancer. We also use suffering in the sense of bearing with / permitting / enduring. There is a separation between those forms of suffering that happen to us and those that we bring on ourselves. We suffer from disease but also from other people, from living here rather than there. Suffering the befalls us is integral to our goals - only we did not previously realise it. In these instances we are what we suffer as part of a larger scheme. This latter sense of suffer seem more subjective - what may appear as a problem for one may seem an opportunity for another.

- What we suffer is relative to our projects - and how we suffer ins relative to what we have or wish to be. The situation of suffering is complex, we often find that essential in our response to suffering is the ability to make what happens to me mine. Cancer patients frequently testify to some sense of relief at their diagnosis. The ability to name what they have seems to give them a sense of control that replaces undifferentiated fear. Pain and suffering alienate us from ourselves. They make us what we do not know. Extreme suffering can as easily destroy as enhance. The distinction between the suffering that happens to us and the suffering that we accept as part of our projects is not as clear as it may first seem.

- Certain forms of suffering are not denied but accepted as part and parcel of our existence as moral agents. Humanly, we are right to view destructions as a source that we will neither accept nor try to explain in some positive sense.

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- Essential for moral health. We rightly try to avoid unnecessary suffering, but it also seems that we are never quite what we should be until we recognise the necessity and inevitability of suffering in our lives. That is, to be human is to suffer. On Why we Suffer If we could explain why we suffer, suffering would be denied some of its power. The question has one obvious answer - we suffering because we are incomplete beings who depend on one another for our existence - we depend on others not just for survival but for identity. 'Suffering is built into our condition because it is literally true that we exist only to the extent that we sustain, or "suffer", the existence of others, and the others include not just others like us, but mountains, trees, animals and so on' This is contrary to cherished assumptions. We believe that our identity derives from our independence, from our self-possession. As Arthur McGill suggests - we think a person is real in so far as he can draw a line around certain items - his body / thoughts / house and claim them as his own. Thus, death becomes our enemy as it is a threat to our identity.

- Our neediness represents a fundamental flaw in our identity - an inability to rest securely with those thing which are ones own and which lie between oneself and the rest of reality.

- Our neediness is also the source of our greatest strength - for our need requires the cooperation and love of others from which derives our ability to live and to flourish. Our identity comes from being deopossessed of those powers whose promise is only illusionary. Believing otherwise, fearful of our sense of need, when we rely on others we become subject to those powers. "We suffer because we are inherently creatures of need. This does not explain, much less justify our suffering or the evil we endure. But it does help us understand why the general polity to prevent suffering is at least odd as a general policy" Do the Disabled Suffer from being Disabled It is possible that the disabled are taught by us that the are decisively disabled and thus learn to suffer. If that is the case, then there is at least some difference between being blind and being disabled - since the very nature of being disabled means that there is a limit to their understanding of their disadvantage and thus the extent of their suffering. They may perceive that certain things for them are great effort and not for others but that is not itself a reason to attribute to them great suffering. Of course it can be claimed that to aid, the troubled needs to understand their limits. Perhaps what we assume is that they suffer from inadequate housing / medical care / schooling - they suffer from discrimination. This is not an argument about preventing suffering thought. Hauerwas argues that a policy of non treatment is often justified as a manis of sparing a child a life of suffering. It is not that every child should receive the most energetic medical care to keep it alive, but if such care is withheld it cannot be simply to spare the life of suffering. We all, healthy or not, are destined for a life of suffering. To refrain from care to spare future suffering can be a formula for profound self-deception. Too often the suffering we wish to spare them is the result of our unwillingness to change our lives so that they might have a better life. Or we refrain for live-giving care simply because we do not like to have those who are different from us.

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Our Suffering of the Disabled It is through our imagination that our fellow feeling is generated. Our sympathy does not extend to every passion. Sympathy enlivens joy and alleviates grief. We seek to sympathise and to be the object of sympathy. We do know those the way and the extent to which the disabled suffer. All we know is how we imagine we would feel if it were us. But we can easily be missing the point - we will not imagine their disability in the same way they feel it. We have no right or basis to attribute our assumed unhappiness to them.

- Ironically, the policy of preventing suffering is one based on a failure of imagination. Unable to see like the disabled, to hear like them - we rob them of the opportunity to do what each of us must to - learn to bear and live with our suffering. Need, Loneliness and the Disabled In many respects, our attitude is but an aspect of a more general problem. As Smith observes, we do not readily expose our suffering, because none of us are anxious to identify with the sufferings of others .We try to present a pleasant appearance in order to elicit fellow feelings. We fear to be sufferings etc - we feared the loss of fellow feeling. As much as we suffer, we fear more the loneliness that accompanies it. We try to deny our neediness as much as possible and seek to be strong. We avoid the suffering because it is in sufferings very nature that it is alienating. Suffering makes us unsure of who we are. We do not want to enter the loneliness of others. The disabled are particularly troubling for us. They do not try to hide their needs - they are not self sufficient, they are in need and do not evidence shame for being so. It is almost as if they have been given a natural grace to be free from the regret most of us feel for our neediness. An Inconclusive Theological Postscript It may well be asked what all this has to do with religious convictions for Christians. Christians are alleged to be concerned with the weak and the downtrodden. Christians are people who have learned to accept that life is under God's direction : They attribute to God the bad as well as the good. Parents, in particular, think it a presumption to try to determine the quality of their offspring. They do not presume arrogantly to ask why or to what purpose disabled children are born. Concern with the downtrodden can too easily result in sentimental acceptance and care of the Disabled that fails to respect the integrity of their existence. It condemns the Disabled to weak so they receive charity, rather than acknowledging them to be essential members of our community. The second position, God's will, has been and is used wrongly to justify acceptance of avoidable suffering and injustice. These more obvious theological connections are not the most significant for helping us understand how we as Christians should respond to the disabled. Quite simply, the challenge of learning to know, to be with, and to care for the disabled is nothing less than learning to know, be with and love God. God's face is the face of disabled, His body the same.

- It is a God who needs a people, who needs a son. Absoluteness of being or power is not a work of the God we have come to know through the cross of Christ.

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