November 30, 2006

A Refreshing Word About Suffering

Sorry for the ironic headline.  It seems that's the only way to get people to think about suffering.

The link below is to a great little article by James F. Keenan, S.J. in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.  I came across this while doing some research for upcoming job talks (presuming I get interviews at MLA and then get invited for a campus visit).  My book draws upon some premises in Elain Scarry's The Body in Pain, a real doozy of a book dealing generally with pain and its effects on humans and specifically with torture.

Anyway, Father Keenan's emphasis is on the importance of listening to those who have endured suffering, instead of trying to intepret their pain for them--explain it away using theological interpretation.  Victims are denied voice, as Scarry discusses at length in terms of the way pain stifles the voice, or at least makes it incoherent, and they must be allowed to voice their own story freely.

Keenan feels he needs to raise this caution because many Christians try to interpret suffering and what its purpose might mean for those who have suffered, for example Catholics trying to improve Christian-Jewish relations by trying to make sense of the suffering Jews endured during the Holocaust.

Keenan admonishes, quoting Marcel Sarot, instead of asking how can we make sense of this suffering we must ask, "How can we prevent that Christianity ever again can provide fertile soil for anti-semitism and kindred movements?"

No comments: