The other day I was listening to a talk by author Rod Dreher who, in discussing the contempt for suffering in our contemporary culture, brought up this excerpt from chapter 17 of Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World:
“But I like the inconveniences.”
“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to- morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
In the course of this discussion I said, “Sometimes Christian doctors say, ‘We don’t know how to communicate the value of suffering to our patients without making them alarmed that we won’t mind if they simply suffer more.’ How can we evangelize a dechristianized society about the value of suffering without giving the wrong impression of it?”
To this, Dreher said, “Tell the stories of those who have suffered nobly.”
His key recommendation is to remedy the cultural poverty by showing exemplars.
Specifically, Dreher mentioned the 2019 film A Hidden Life, which is about an Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstätter who faces the threat of execution for refusing to fight for the Nazis.
Secondly, he recommended the 2010 film Of Gods and Men, which is about nine Cistercian monks who were living peacefully among their Muslims neighbours until seven of them were kidnapped and assassinated during the Algerian Civil War in 1996.
His third suggestion was to become acquainted with the story of the 21 Coptic Christians who were martyred by ISIS along the coast in Libya about whom I have written here.
A friend of mine recently said to me, “I don’t know anything about redemptive suffering apart from the suffering of others being open to me.”
Stories of suffering clarify that we do not seek out suffering; we bear it.
Bearing suffering nobly is heroic and all the best stories teach us that we are not really made for comfort but for the drama of human freedom and meaning.
Fighting for the right to suffer is a fight for our very humanity.
Photo: Still from the film A Hidden Life