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Speaking of Suffering

chicago dyke's picture

So we're asking why some people won't stop it, and why others who don't deserve it must suffer. I guess the moon is in that phase, or something, because driving around running errands today, I caught a few minutes of this guy on the radio. Ehrman's journey is one I can completely understand: from teen evangelical who converted to save himself from "hell," to ministry student and biblical scholar, and finally to atheist. I guess he's written some famous books too; they said Misquoting Jesus was a bestseller and that makes me glad. Today, he was talking about the book of Job (among other stories) and although I didn't catch all the show, I wondered if he considered that part of the story that has always increased my atheism. Specifically, Job's wife and kids.

If the ancients had known how powerful the monotheistic religions would prove to be, I bet in a do-over, they'd rewrite that part about "all-loving." Because without that part, it becomes a lot easier to believe that there is a god for this horrible world of ours. Back then, monotheists were a minorty, mocked and oppressed and not always very powerful politically. So it makes sense that their god would be described as loving them, as no one else did. Today, it's one of the odder things about the monotheists, the way they seem so insecure and in need to constant proof of that love. Or worse, telling people like me that I can't really know love, unless it's their kind. Love, Love, Love...and please don't pay any attention to those starving children over there. God hates shrimp, as well as amputees.

Anyway, to me the story of Job contains everything that's wrong with religion. He's a patriarch (ick); he's loyal to his god beyond all measure (loyalty above all else, hmmm, where have I heard that before?); he's "righteous" (stuck up towards those who don't share his faith); and most importantly, he doesn't seem to have the same kind of "love" for his family that he has for his god. Yes, the narrative includes a description of how much he suffered when god struck down his first batch of kids. But it sure doesn't say much about the wives or their feelings, except to include a passage in which the wife counsels Job to give up his faith. Great, yet another woman made out to be the faithless harpy. I guess that stereotype is older than the written word.

The whole idea that a god would strike down a man's children to prove a point is just sick. If we're talking about suffering, what about the times when the women were giving birth to those children? Is it at all relevant that after Job got his big reward, those women had to give birth ten times again? Ask any mother about how much she suffers, from the birthing bed to the day that child leaves her care; she does plenty. And the dead kids, what about their plans, their dreams? Why isn't that a point of analysis in the construction of the 'loving god?' Sure, they're all 'in heaven' with the same god that slew them on a bet. Wow, what a reward.

I'm glad NPR gave some face time to an atheist. So this is a reward good behavior sort of post. Golf clap. I'm not even really bitching about the guest or what I heard him say, he was fairly direct in his lack of belief. Still, I wish people would ask why we're still giving serious consideration to the construction of the Right of the Patriarch in this day and age. The story of Job should be a model for why monotheism fails to answer our most important questions. But I guess a lot of the answers depend on who "we" are.

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amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

totally unreasonable, capricious, manic/depressive, obsessive/compulsive, and really unlovable--a real tinpot dictator in the Torah/Old Testament. Like he was just starting out in the God business and was really insecure and not comfortable in the job yet (that thing about "having no other gods but him" is really telling).

That said, i like thinking there was someone looking out for my ancestors way back when, and am thankful we have hearts and minds and souls to take care of ourselves--and everyone we share this planet with.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

there are multiple instances in the Old Testament of God ordering them to kill all foreigners--including their own wives and kids.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

that much of that "slay all foreigners" including women and children was laid in God's lap by pissed-off short-armed war chiefs.

Like W, only pre-written history. (Oops. Sorry -- that's redundant, isn't it?)

I do, however, know from long-ago studies of history and religion in the Middle East that polytheism and (gasp) matriarchal societies pre-dated much of the monotheist/patriarchal "revolution" that got, e.g., the children of Abram a chunk of the turf.

To make themselves "separate and apart" and "holy to the Lord", then, these people HAD to deny that any good ever arose out of woman.

Why in the name of the seven bald steers that had to be the ONLY facet of their superstitious culture that stuck, I cannot fathom. But lo these many years later, there it is: Job's wife, Jezebel, Lot's wife, Abram's wife (who, by the way, didn't invent the lie about being his sister -- Abram did); Eve; you name it, all things evil and God-pissing-off originated with women.

Kinda makes you wonder how much truth there is to the old saying, "God created Man in His image, and Man, being a gentleman, returned the favor," doesn't it?

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Very fast and loose with Jung's "Answer to Job" essay: Old Testament God chooses to not consult his omniscience re the Job incident. If he had, he would have seen that Job would suffer needlessly due to god's capricious indifference--had he any claim to morality it goes out the window (as it did so many times before) when he, as a Totality, would know outcomes before causes. But gods are different from humans, so when confronted with this small man (Job) god gets all huffy and bellows "who darkens counsel?" when it was obvious that the god, who could smash everything to bits, was the one "darkening counsel."

What to do? Man was somehow more moral than the god, who chose not to reflect on his own omniscience. (Remembering that Jung saw these as archetypal events) it occurred to Jung that the incident with Job prefigured the arrival of the Christ--because god could not participate in the suffering of man, not being a man himself. He lacked intimate knowledge of the pain that man (and woman) bore due to their state. To rectify this imbalance he chooses to become man, so to speak, and the "second Adam" comes next.

If there is anything to "collective unconscious" reality this story makes sense psychologically: there is a god who behaves in a primitive, amoral manner, who lacks empathy and compassion. Now, since this character already exists in the Semitic tribal mythology (one can't just go back and rewrite Genesis without pissing off some of the temple priests) the only way to rectify this imbalance is to have the transcendent deity re-enter the world as a participant and not just as a distant father. This being a patriarchal monotheism there is scant attention paid to the suffering of the female characters. If I was to add chapters to the bible the next phase would release Sophia and Demeter and Gaea deep into the heart of humanity. Man, that would be cool.


Submitted by lambert on

Just saying.

Maybe adapt the chapter/verse format (and the red words), maybe even scholarly footnotes, but have the prose be as only you could do it.

The Book of Demeter.

The Book of Gaea.

"1:1 Now in those days, Gaea..."

You could call it the Queen Jane Bible...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

wow, time to check my nym-based stereotyping...

sarah: there really weren't any ancient "matriarchies" in the ME that predated the bibble-scribblers. this is my area of expertise, and it's actually a more fascinating story than the standard Bachofen line. not that i don't love that construct, but it's not really based in archaeology or the written record. there's more "there" there than current research reflects, absolutely yes; and too many scholars in ancient ME studies were/are men who are afraid of women, yes (yes!!!). but if you want to know the story of what the most ancient women and their societies were like, the best place is to start with Emesal speakers in the eastern areas, as well as the upper class women working in the temple system in egypt. they had power. they had independence. they worked in gov't. however, they were not exclusively and totally "in charge" nor were the women who came before them.

i will say i'm not convinced that in a practical sense, i have it "better off" than a sumerian high priestess of the 3rd M. women invented the written attributed story, and that still plagues me as a question for serious consideration. why would some woman (anheduanna) be brave enough to affront the gods and be the first to say, "...and this is true because I say so." that takes ovaries, if you catch my drift. piotr (iirc still at harvard) disagrees with me and says that the "kingship" was legally a step below high priestess in the early periods, but my mentors (joan, martha, marcus) all disagreed with that.

kelley b's picture
Submitted by kelley b on

There is only existence, and the good and evil in the world are human values we assign given our collective experience.

They do not exist outside our frame of reference. They are not entities in themselves. They are not physical quantities.

All of the evil I have found in this world stem from human stupidity.

The facts fit this hypothesis exactly. Design an experiment, or show the hard data that proves this wrong, and I'll modify my model. But the only data I accept are data I can measure, because those are the only data that are real.

No Hell below us
Above us, only sky

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

however my point was more about a woman daring to go against the prevailing social and economic tradition, and proclaim herself equal to (or at least rivalling) the construction of "the gods." remember what that meant back then, even today i don't think we can appreciate it. when philosophy, science, (and it was science, some of it) and religion 'are one' things are very different, no?

Jakebnto's picture
Submitted by Jakebnto on

on Fresh Air last night. It was a great interview. Terry Gross did a wonderful job of asking good questions.

I came to Ehrman's position on religion, and specifically Christianity, (and maybe something similar to your position, CD) at age 12. And it was the problem of evil, of suffering, that I just couldnt' get past. Either you believe, or you don't. I didn't. I couldn't MAKE myself believe.


kelley b's picture
Submitted by kelley b on

I knew you knew that, dear woman. I just had to say it for any lurking orcs.

...when philosophy, science, (and it was science, some of it) and religion ’are one’ things are very different

Indeed. About 30% of America think that way, and that difference is a scourge on the world.

No Hell below us
Above us, only sky

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

The numbers are reverse (maybe that’s what you meant to say) with 70% or more Americans accepting of the supernatural and skeptical of science.

This has been the result of a big push by the VRWC starting with Reagan in CA as governor, to disfranchise and destroy public education. Get the kiddies into private and home school where the agenda can be controlled without question, destroy science as a credible force and the people become more malleable, do as they are told, and learn to be satisfied with less.

Florida just crawled out of the swamp with a State Board of Education decision yesterday to include FOR THE FIRST TIME a mandatory clear discussion of evolution in school science texts. Previously the “e” word was not mentioned:

The previous set of state science standards, adopted in 1999, received a failing grade in a national assessment by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2005, which observed, "The superficiality of the treatment of evolutionary biology alone justifies the grade 'F'." The word "evolution" itself was absent from the standards.

The State Board passed the new curriculum requirement by the thin margin of 4-3 and at least a dozen local Florida school boards have passed resolutions defying the state mandate and stating their intent to teach ID/creationism and/or demean evolution as just one theory among many, so this battle is far from over. “Evolved” is indeed a relative term.

This a public policy issue where I am perhaps more apocalyptic than you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.