BLOG: Humanist Thoughts on Coping With Evil and Pain

Part of an ongoing series that examines the wisdom from our Humanist Pulpit roots.

On Coping With Pain

There are three appalling evils connected with affliction. The first is the actual pain and suffering; the second is the shadow which is tends to throw over the universe, the doubts, the loss of faith it engenders; and the third is the prostration, the sense of impotence, which suffering produces.

Now as regards the first two, the idea of God has been very helpful. It does not make the pain any less but it helps people to bear it. It does not dispel the doubt or solve the riddle of the world, but it induces people to be willing to live on without the solution…

… Worse than the hurt of pain is the thwarting of high purpose. We feel that we are called upon to work for certain ends, to put our whole hearts into the service, and then we see that the course of events often thwarts our high purpose… There is a third evil besides the pain and the doubt, namely the sense of impotency, the sense of being utterly broken, a kind of blight or palsy that overspreads the faculties…

In affliction, the Humanist view would seize a man and lift him up from the ground, where he is lying prone. It then commands: Do something; do not merely accept the fact that smites you. When you are plunged into the sea of affliction, do not float, do not wait for arms to be extended from above to draw you out of the waves; spread forth your own arms and swim.

And so Humanism in affliction, as in everything else, would teach men not to depend upon some outside power, but to depend upon themselves. What mans needs above all else is to develop within himself the stamina necessary to bear his own burdens, to achieve that manhood which rises above the circumstances of life. There are no explanations that justify the fearful tragedies of life — they are simply the result of certain chains of causes, many of which are beyond our control.

… Marcus Aurelius has admirably described the Humanist’s attitude towards the trials of life. He said, “When a calamity has happened to you, be content that it has not conquered you. What has happened to you has happened to others, but they may not all have risen above it, and if you have, your calamity has already become a blessing.”

…. I have laughed some in my time, and so have I wept; and from my experience I can testify that I have never been so encompassed by loving friends as in the hour of sorrow. To feel this thrill of human sympathy, to experience this mystic oneness with other human beings, if it does not justify, it at least compensates for the ‘stings of an outrageous fortune.’

— “Meeting Trouble Without God,” by Rev. John Dietrich, delivered in the Garrick Theater, October 28, 1928

On Identifying Evil

How then are we to explain the existence of evil? Evil is those processes and social activities and individual behavior which are horrible, unpleasant, undesirable to men… What we call evil is… maladjustment… When man is rightly related or properly adjusted to real facts of the universe, the man finds security, health, happiness. When wrongly related or maladjusted, he finds calamity, sickness, disturbance. This principle explains evil, both physical and moral…

… Water is one of the crowning blessings of life and when properly controlled turns the wheels of factories, but if the laws are not observed in building our dams it devastates an entire city. Famine sweeps away millions… because agriculture is crude and means of transportation inadequate…

Our knowledge of the best modes of behavior for the good of mankind is as yet very meagre, but man’s interest has only recently been enlisted in this direction, and I believe that we shall rapidly gain light through the new sciences of psychology and sociology and all those social sciences which devote themselves to a study of human nature and human relationships.

— “The Life and Works of the Devil,” Rev. John Dietrich, delivered in Garrick Theater, November 27, 1927

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