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A Pagan View of Suffering

By John Beckett

Religions exist for many reasons, most importantly because of the experiences people have had of Gods and spirits for at least as long as we’ve been human. Another important reason is to deal with the Big Questions of Life, including the question of suffering. Why is there suffering? Is there meaning in suffering? How can we best respond to suffering? These are questions we need to contemplate as the modern Pagan religions mature.

It’s helpful to begin with a brief look at how two other religions address this issue. Buddhism says suffering is caused by desire: when our wants are not met – whether those wants are realistic or good for us or not – we suffer. This is a gross oversimplification, but my goal here is not to critique Buddhist philosophy, just to offer a basic point of comparison.

Christianity says suffering is caused by sin. From a practical standpoint there is some truth here – doing unwise and unhelpful things will cause us to suffer. But the idea that there was once a time when there was no suffering but then disobedience brought it into the world is both historically wrong and a misreading of the Eden myth.

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