Dorothee Sölle draws on Simone Weil’s philosophy to explore the phenomenon of suffering as “affliction,” involving three distinct dimensions. First is physical pain, but this is the least, because once it is gone, it is as if it never occurred. Second is psychological pain, the sense of being poured out, empty, or numbed and imprisoned by pain. These two dimensions alone do not rise to the level of affliction, however, without the third pole, social degradation, in which the sufferer is abandoned or worse, ridiculed, blamed, and despised for one’s suffering state. According to Sölle, Christianity’s response too often has been a type of theological sadism.God comes to a sufferer only with pedagogical intent. Brutality and salvation become brothers, suffering serves to teach obedience and there is a perfect alliance between repressive theism and repressive society.
Sölle traces three possible interpretations of the suffering in the story of Abraham and the (near) sacrifice of Issac: First, God takes delight in annihilation; second, religious devotion requires obedience up to the sacrifice of one’s life; or third, the story writer is attempting to overcome the idea that God may be pleased with human sacrifice.
Ironically, at the same time, Christians in society assiduously avoid suffering, and therefore people become increasingly insensitive and indifferent to the suffering of others.People stand before suffering like those who are color-blind, incapable of perception and without any sensibility. The consequence of this suffering-free state of well-being is that people’s lives become frozen solid.
Even while Christianity has promoted a theological sadism, at the same time it has proclaimed an apathetic God, in other words, a God incapable of suffering. The worst form of apathy is found not at the personal but at the political level. Sölle connects the history of the Nazi period as a foretaste of the “inability to suffer” that only became clearer in the history of Vietnam.
Sölle furthers Weil’s exploration of the suffering of the oppressed working classes through meditation on the story of...
(The entire section is 882 words.)