Is Suffering Good?

I’m reading the superb book Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne Conover Heller.

Ayn Rand never liked to acknowledge that she was Jewish. Ayn considered herself an atheist and no part of the Jewish people.

In 1940, Ayn made a new friend: “Isabel Paterson (January 22, 1886, – January 10, 1961) was a Canadian-American journalist, novelist, political philosopher, and a leading literary critic of her day. Along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand, who both acknowledged an intellectual debt to Paterson, she is one of the three founding mothers of American libertarianism. Paterson’s best-known work, her 1943 bookThe God of the Machine, a treatise on political philosophyeconomics, and history, reached conclusions and espoused beliefs that many libertarians credit as a foundation of their philosophy. Her biographer Stephen D. Cox (2004) believes Paterson is the “earliest progenitor of libertarianism as we know it today.” Ayn Rand wrote in a letter in the 1940s that The God of the Machine “does for capitalism what Das Kapital does for the Reds and what the Bible did forChristianity.”” (Wikipedia)

From page 134: “Rand believed that suffering was anything but noble and had no redeeming value. Paterson casually but firmly disagreed. She thought that suffering could be instructive, particularly for writers.”

Why did Paterson think suffering was noble and Rand think it was not? Because Rand was Jewish and Paterson was Christian. The Jewish perspective is that this world is the focus and therefore suffering stinks and should be minimized. Christianity holds that the next world is more important than this world and that suffering ennobles. Christ suffered on the cross and we must suffer too.

Christianity is at core a romantic religion while Judaism at its core is unromantic.

Rand believed, “Who but a religious mystic would argue that suffering had an upside?”

From page 172: “Rand held faith of any kind to be inconsistent with rationality; she particularly despised Christianity, with its insistence on suffering.”

Rand was a real nutter. She was “violently against birth families. She believed in relatives by values, not by blood.”

Greg Leake emails:

Hi Luke,

I always have difficulty trying to pin the idea of suffering on one religion or another.

Our friend Rabbs is about as Jewish as you can get, and it certainly has not put a stop to his suffering. In fact, to hear him speak, Judaism has mightily contributed to his suffering.

From what I gather, it looks to me like people in the holocaust may have done a little suffering. Whatever virtues Judaism may possess, I certainly don’t see the end of suffering as one of them.

Although I admire ayn Rand’s view of capitalism, and I certainly believe that government can be responsible for a lot of suffering, I don’t believe that Ayn was delivered from suffering because of her philosphy. When Nathaniel Brandon refused to go back with her, she had fits for quite a while and had plenty of suffering. Her husband silently drank himself to death in his inadequate attempt to cope with his wife. Ayn died of a terrible condition, even though at the end she attempted to give up smoking. Lots of suffering. Plenty to go around. No shortages. Come one, come all, everyone will be served.

I know that there is a Christian idea that suggests that since Jesus bin Joseph was crucified and went through the agony, Christians are called by faith to endure such travail as life offers them: they try to follow Christ’s example. In actual fact, in the real world, Christians suffer about as much as Jews and objectivists, and I don’t believe that one needs to be a rocket scientist to figure that out.

I think the Buddha was probably the wisest when he asserted that all life is suffering. You’re either in suffering, or you’re in nirvana. For Buddhists there is just no getting around the suffering of life, with the exception of a profound state of consciousness that is out of the reach of most of us. The monks and nuns and citizens of Lhasa, Tibet, have suffered terribly under the yoke of Chinese aggression and tyranny. The Dalai Lama lives in exile (and the other day said that he is in favor of Marxism… chew on that.)

My view is that religions overall have given very little solace in the area of suffering. I think that Victor Frankel, who spent time in a Nazi prison camp and came out to write Man’s Search for Meaning, has come about as close as anyone can to offering instructions about suffering. Anyone who can come out of the prison camps and offer hope and encouragement for mankind is worth listening to. He said that it is not we who should ask God why we suffer. It is we who are asked by God. God puts us into various circumstances of suffering, and by doing so asks us a question. And we are the ones who answer God with our response. And the way of response is the way of responsibility. The answer we give is the meaning.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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