When suffering is inevitable, it is clearly better that the pain be borne with courage. If someone can turn his own suffering to good use in the form of spiritual advancement, so much the better. Offering an interpretation of suffering in spiritual terms may well be a good way to lend courage to (“encourage” in the literal sense of the term) those who must suffer in any case.
What scares me is the risk that these ideas will help make those who hold them indifferent to the avoidable suffering of others. As the Steve Goodman song has it, “It ain’t hard, puttin’ up with somebody else’s troubles.” In particular, I’m strongly averse to being ruled by those who think that suffering might be spiritually good for me and my fellow-citizens, or for that matter think it might be good for humans anywhere.
The rigidity of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual issues, as translated into public policy, has spread untold misery around the globe. If that rigidity is partly generated by the thought that the suffering involved somehow completes the Passion, that makes it (in some twisted way) easier to understand, but not any less horrifying to contemplate.
The application of the principle supporting that contempt to the idea that truth might be determined by the prayerful examination of textually corrupt documents in ancient languages, as read through the Thomist version of Aristotelian philosophy, and that the truth about sex is best determined in that way by groups of celibate men, is left as an exercise for the reader.
Might there not be some set of truth-seeking institutions other than the fashionable salon and the conclave?
Update: Prof. Bainbridge replies,, distinguishing what believers in the salvific power of suffering want for themselves and what they are willing to impose on others who believe otherwise.