The Problem of Pain or Privilege?

So this will be a little different from any other post I’ve done.  I’m just going to ask a series of questions and leave it at that.  I don’t really have any answers.

Why are the people who suffer most in our world the most religious?  

I know, obviously that’s a gross generality.  But it’s also largely true.  For most of human history life was pretty miserable.  Work to the bone from dawn to dusk.  Sustenance farming.  No safety net of any kind save for the comfort care of relatives.  Horrific disease.  Injuries.  Death from common infections.  Women and children dead from child birth.  In fact, just death all the time.  Lifelong monogamous relationships are pretty new.  It used to be assumed a person would be married two or three times as previous spouses died off.  This was the case for my own great grandfather who in 1919 lost his wife and child within days and remarried 6 months later.

But suddenly (relatively) we flipped a switch.  The scientific method led to incredible advances in medicine, food production and commerce.  In several nations the immense physical suffering for eons commonplace suddenly subsided . . . and with it went our faith.  Here’s a quick, easy-to-read review of the stats if you don’t believe me.


I understand correlation doesn’t equal causation.  Certainly a skeptic could point to a plethora of other factors undermining faith in the affluent West.  But can we deny a lack of pain is one of them?  Can we deny that even in our world today the people who suffer most are also the most religious?

What does that mean?

Furthermore what does it mean for theological “problem of suffering” discussions?  Can wealthy, comfortable people who suffer relatively little even discuss such a problem credibly with out considering voices from struggling regions?

Obviously, the theodicy is nothing new.  People have always tried to explain why evil exists.  And the Book of Job certainly delves into suffering.  But still those are not quite the same thing you hear today.  Discussing the metaphysical nature of evil or the reason for suffering is not the same thing as being completely shocked that something remotely uncomfortable occurs after many years of uninterrupted blessing.

Back to my original question – if suffering and pain undermine so many people’s faith in the affluent West, why do those who suffer more than we here could ever imagine cling to faith in incredible numbers?

It’s an interesting question.

For clarification, I’m not saying wealthy Westerners shouldn’t ask questions about why God would allow suffering.  I’m just saying we need to consider the opinions of those who largely bare that suffering.  Will we allow their voices to contribute to how we shape our own faith?

I posted the following on Facebook the other day:  Has the problem of pain always been around or is that new thing?

A friend responded: It’s new- it happened when people started sitting in chairs, wearing shoes with arch support and forgetting how to socialize with other humans without their phones.

I think she may be on to something.

I look forward to your feedback.




3 thoughts on “The Problem of Pain or Privilege?

  1. It’s an interesting observation. Obviously, you know how I feel about the situation, so I won’t delve too deeply into it here. But do you agree that in most of the countries you used in your illustration, in addition to having lower life expectancies, more disease and poverty, they also have less education? I would think that’s another factor to consider when asking why they tend to be more religious. Not so say religious people are stupid or anything — I don’t believe that at all. Just that more education tends to open up different ways of thinking about things.

    1. Hey thanks for the response. I hesitated to even post this for a couple of reasons 1) I was afraid of coming across as callous to people’s real concerns 2) making observations like this always have a ton of variables so it can be tough to make generalities.

      I certainly I would agree that education broadens perspectives and leads to conversations in multiple directions. That being said, I think education is more wide spread around the world than many people think. Take India for example – it has high levels of college education, internet access and extraordinarily high levels of English literacy and yet remains incredibly religious.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m troubled by suffering as much as you and largely agree with many of your articles on it. All I’m saying here is we could possibly be missing something if those who are the subject of these discussion are largely remaining religious.

      1. Yeah, it’s definitely worth consideration. I always enjoy your posts, and this was no different. It’s the honest, thoughtful tone you use. Nice job. 🙂

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