We live in a world we are perpetually exposed to what William
Shakespeare described as "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". It is
true that much suffering is caused by accident and natural disaster and is
therefore almost unavoidable. A drunken car driver may kill or maim. Hurricanes
and earthquakes leave a trail of death, injury and havoc. Some steps may be
taken to lessen the likelihood of this kind of suffering by imposing severe
penalties for drunken driving, or living, if possible, outside hurricane and
earthquake centers, but the innocent still suffer, and are likely to go on
Unmerited suffering has always perplexed philosophers, who can rarely say more
than that we live in an imperfect world. Religions supply explanations; God, or
the gods, punish mankind for breaking the divine law, and to some extent this is
true. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex carries with it automatic
retribution. Whether catastrophe is a direct form of retribution for sin,
imposed by a divine being or beings is very doubtful. What is quite evident is
that we are required to live in a world which is dangerous, and whatever
protection from either natural or man-made disaster we can find has to be made
by ourselves. Some religions teach that there will be an after life in which all
wrongs will be set right, and where the injustices of this life will be
redressed. This enables the faithful to put up with whatever misfortune comes
their way in the hope of better things to come. Suffering has to be faced by
everybody, sooner or later, and it is no use philosophizing about divine
impartiality. "God's rain falls on the just and the unjust", says the Old
Testament. Nearer the mark is this rather flippant rhyme;
"The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella, But mostly in the just, because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella'.
The lessons of history are against the probability of abolishing suffering, yet
that is the ideal, the objective towards which all civilized human beings should
If selfishness and hatred could be replaced by unselfishness and love, this
would go a long way towards the alleviation of suffering. Ever since pre-history
there have been wars, usually caused either by pure aggression of by greed for
fertile and or
natural resources. Since 1945 war has taken on a new and horrific dimension.
Though nuclear bombs have been used only against Japan, there is a proliferation
of nuclear weapons, and recently there have been terrible examples of the use of
napalm, nerve gases, and chemical armaments. There is no need to enlarge on the
resultant suffering. And since all these armaments are universally available,
and since the arms trade virtually knows no boundaries, any real progress must
lie in the direction of multi-lateral disarmament and severe restriction on the
arms trade. This can only be achieved by a move towards the "one-world" concept
and a heightened respect for the dignity and basic rights of the individual.
The latter point raises the matter of political systems. Most civilized
countries today are governed democratically rather than autocratically. The
democratization of much of Eastern Europe is a real step forward. Gone are the
secret police and the barbarous acts perpetrated against the individual by the
previous regimes. However, political oppression and brutality to dissenters
still exists in many parts of the world. It is to be hopes that the major powers
will exert such pressure that autocracies will finally be overthrown. With that
overthrow could come an end to torture and the physical and mental degradation
which continues to scar the face of humanity.
There are three final points. First, religious fanaticism, an age-old problem.
Does God want "Holy Wars" and the self-sacrifice of teenagers on the battlefield?
Does God approve of hostage-taking, of the bombing of town centers or aircraft?
There is one theme common to all true religious belief; "Do unto others as you
would they do unto you".
Second, the poverty of the "third world". The wars waged by, and the cynicism
shown by many third-world leaders should be brought to an end, if necessary by
force. International and voluntary aid is often diverted to the purchase of arms
and the feeding of troops.
Finally, the frailty of the human body itself. It is true that
God allows physical suffering but has given man the intellect t alleviate or
prevent it, then medical research must not be hampered. Science is on the way to
finding the cause, and therefore the elimination of cancer and other inherited
diseases. Genetic in vitro probes can also prevent the birth of handicapped
children. Research must be given the green light.