Religion and Suffering

Human suffering is the one area where I think religion has more interesting things to say than science. Religion salves the wounds from grief far more effectively than anything I know of in science. I was delighted to read in Mircea Eliade’s 1949 book “The Myth of Eternal Return” that the recognition of human misery as punishment from God may have been what allowed Judaism (and it’s children Christianity and Islam) to flourish while other Middle Eastern religions vanished.

The Messianic prophets’ steadfast will to look history in the face and to accept it as a terrifying dialogue with Yahweh, their will to make military defeats bear moral and religious fruit and to tolerate them because they were regarded as necessary to Yahweh’s reconciliation with the people os Israel and its final salvation

Among the Hebrews, every new historical calamity was regarded as a punishment inflicted by Yahweh, angered by the orgy of sin to which the chosen people had abandoned themselves. […] beyond the “event,” it was always possible to perceive the will of Yahweh.

Eliade makes the stunning point that the Hebrews invented added the notion of history to religion. They began to conceive of man as moving forward in a linear fashion. Prior to that the religion of primitive man was cyclical. Religion provided a way for learning the lunar cycles of crop harvesting

Last modified on 2008-06-15