Hard as we try to keep things scientific, theology (in our cultural context) keeps rearing its head in pain ideas. Sometimes in the survey has come the remark that one wants to “disappear”. What is this feeling about? It isn’t about dying, it is about finding the self, OR ELSE. It about not being here, but being gone, and feeling disappearance would avoid the ideas about life and death. it is about accelerating the clock while in pain, because life is very confusing and difficult. It is about the need for research. It is about escaping the accusing mouths, which seem to persist in ignorant attitudes and prejudices toward pain.
Pain is very controversial. There is no escaping it. We have often written here about the inability of the lay public (and most of the medical profession) to view Central Pain in other than theological terms, despite the fact that many of the “scientists” are atheists, or at least agnostics. We find this ironic, since scientists are just absolutely sure that the universe makes sense, ie. it has “meaning”. When they find vast reaches of space with radiation so potent that it would instantly blast anything living into space dust, the scientist does not say this state, which represents most of the universe, shows that the earth is a unique spot. Instead, they refer to such areas are “birthing” areas for planets, or in other words, necessary for the creation of places where life can exist.
We smell a rat. And so did Einstein. He noted that the amazing thing was that the human mind could COMPREHEND the universe. If life were nothing but random accumulations of molecules, and molecules were nothing but random accumulations of atoms, which were nothing but random accumulations of quarks, which were nothing but random accumulations of something incomprehensibly small, so small that they had no mass, then why would the universe wind up with something living in it which could comprehend this??? For Einstein, this meant that that there must be a God. A universe, part of which can comprehend itself, is itself alive. since comprehension is a life force. Was that force connected to a Being? The believer usually says yes.
Most of the “Greek” philosophers, who gave us our ideas on the nature of God, actually lived in Carthage in North Africa, where Greeks went for an education. The older civilization and libraries of the Egyptians were nearby, and of course, the Egyptians were preoccupied with the hereafter. Studying in Africa gave legitimacy to the Greek education, even if the Egyptian had been pretty well eclipsed by the Phoenicians, who gave us our alphabet. As this article is typed, the Phoenicians rise from the dead in the formation of the letters. Being mostly merchants, the Greeks were happy to adopt the Egyptian idea of a pantheon of gods.
Progressive philosophical thought did not reduce the number of gods, but added a fair amount on what the NATURE of godhood must be like. The essence was that gods could not have bodies, nor anything physical. With this device, still unquestioned today, even after the shift to monotheism, the philosophers, now called neo-Platonists, avoided the toughtest question of all. what is God like if there is suffering in the world. Their notions were very durable, although they claimed them from reasoning and not from revelation. Even after the Punic wars moved this power to Rome, everyone still accepted the ideas of the Carthaginians, who were transplanted Phoenicians. Their old religious environment (Phoenicians were the Old World traveling merchants who apread ideas around the ancient world) became the cultural environment (Rome), which is now the religious environment again (although we call it the “Modern” view). “Of course you have pain, you are saddled with an evil body, when perfection can only be in the spirit. That is all you need to know, except that you probably needed to learn something. By complaining, you are refusing a gift of God.”
The rhetoric of the philosophers was famously successful. We still don’t consider ourselves educated unless we learn their ideas on the big questions of life. Why ape the Carthaginians? Because it has always been done. Where God is concerned, going against the old ideas can be downright dangerous, let alone academically disadvantageous. Although the originators were pagans, no one defends their reasoning more rigidly than theologians. Jefferson was accused of being an atheist for disagreeing with Plato and his “mysticisms, which are the craft and profit of the priests”. Someone forgot to tell Jefferson’s minister that Plato was NOT aligned with anything in the Bible. Plato, whose followers gave us the names of our advanced degrees, our graduation robe and significantly, our religious vestments, reasoned that mortals suffer and have bodies. Therefore God must have no body. We have not gotten past this conclusion even today. Copernicus managed to break Ptolemy’s stranglehold on which heavenly body rotated around which other body, but Plato is sitll hanging in there because it is harder to prove or disprove what God is made of.
Augustine was well educated in the Platonic traditions before he became a Christian, and then said he was so embarassed Jesus had a body that he was moved to tears when he had to admit it. Even Augustine knew pain, however, and declared that “Physical pain is the greatest evil.” (Today’s platonists see pain as God’s will). We have been leaning on these pedestals for so long, we are afraid to shift our weight.
We do not feel Plato had any special credentials on the matter. We have bodies and need pain relief, not words explaining why it is here, especially words implying it is particularly God’s will with respect to us personally.
Because Einstein thought of matter as derivative, or perhaps even more because it was the dogma of the churches of the day, Einstein presumed God was a spirit, because he could not conceive of a matter which would express godhood (a holdover idea from Plato, who also lacked any vocabulary by which he could understand God). He admitted this was a presumption. We don’t really know what God is made of and probably couldn’t comprehend it if we did, so it is a difficult contest to argue whether God has form or substance. If someone feels better calling Him “nothing”, he has only avoided the question. The Bible seems to indicate that we are in His image, but given the problem of language and words, something Central Pain sufferers know all too well, perhaps God cannot really tell us in our ignorance what He is made of.
Even those who declare He has an actual body should not just put that in their hip pocket and walk away with it. Those are merely words in the English language they have hold of. Those who say he has no body have not told us much either. That puts us pretty close back to the “nothing” definition which is a “nothing definition”. The old idea of the totally elusive God is probably too far in the other direction. It comes from the Phoenicians, who were not exactly a “moral” people, but their eventual culture in North Africa was the origin of Greek and Mediterranean culture and philosophy, which in turn spilled over into early Christian times. It seems we can never escape the ideas of the past.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts” the Bible intones, so we get the message. We are incomprehensibly stupid in comparison and so we should try to have faith where we do not understand. This brings us back to pain. Why is it there. It seems to destroy us. It does destroy us. But then there are the big radiation fields out in space that seem to be lethal even to matter. Then there are the black holes, which scientists are trying to reshape as some sort of storage area, but there is little evidence for this. They seem capable of destroying the universe, but still the universe exists. Do we have to give meaning and a positive spin to EVERYTHING? Is this to justify God to ourselves? If so, then why do atheists do it? Why assume pain is positive?
Are there any mistakes, errors, accidents, or just plain bad luck. Something of the kind has to exist if there is to be free will in the universe. If beings such as ourselves are indeed to have our free agency, as the scriptures say is God’s will, so we will be actual creatures and not just robots, then what does this risk of wrong lead to? It is as if there must be opposition in all things. Life and death (which we should probably call a transition which is very hard to reverse), pleasure and pain, good and evil, etc. etc.
Now admittedly, the reach of this is probably beyond the human mind and we are not going to solve here what the philosophers of the ages have been unable to solve. Much has been written about Jesus. Was he a God, the son of God, a prophet, a man, a mad man, an historical figure, or just a myth. The problem is that his teachings are so sublime that it is unlikely the garden variety of man could produce them, and even less any committee of ordinary men. That union of ideas would be even more unlikely than that Jesus himself, as some sort of unique individual (you must choose from the above what you make of Him) was who He said He was. There are other mystics historically, but we prefer to speak of Jesus here because we only have a record of HIS experience with Pain and according to the Bibie, it was his ULTIMATE experience. The magnitude of pain strikes a resonant note with us. We do not have a similar story from other religions but would be glad to publish it here if someone would submit it to us. We desperately want to be nondemonimational, but can find no equivalent outside the story of the Bible.
No matter who Jesus was, and especially if He was the son of God, a God himself, WHY would pain be a necessary part of His earth life. The scriptures say the pain in the Garden of Gethsemane was to atone for the sins of mankind, but HOW could pain atone for sin, and why would the eternal laws be satisfied by that???? Presumably certain traits make us unable to dwell with God, but the pain part is still obscure. Jesus himself clearly indicates that He could not understand. Neither will we, in theological terms, so we should stick to the science. Pain does not seem to make us more sane, more righteous, more anything except more low and more unhappy.
Those in terrible pain are in danger of sinking into that area where mankind does not exist, in the sense that life makes no sense, its nature seeming to be only defeat and death. WHY would the human organism possess the characteristic that if you injure its pain nerves, the genes of those nerves fall out of control, and the protein production become single minded in spewing out pain exciters which make life a living hell for the CP sufferer. This seems to be a mistake of Nature, but then again, such speculatioon assumes that Nature can make a mistake, or even have a purpose, which takes us back to Einstein and his conviction that God must exist or we could not comprehend the universe, for intelligence implies God.
Now these are very deep questions. They are so deep that they make people angry at us for even asking the question. Since Jesus, let us assume His Divinity for the sake of this line of reasoning, was intelligent, He must have accepted that it was necessary for Him to undergo pain to acccomplish the ends of what occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. Today, Christians tend to overlook Gethsemane, and focus entirely on the time of Christ’s death, but this was not always so.
The fathers and doctors of the Christian churches (early writers AFTER the time of the apostles), were quite preoccupied with the contrast between Gethsemane with Golgotha. This was based on Jesus’ response in both places. For example, we owe a great deal to John Chrysostom, an early writer (about the fourth century A.D.) who wrote an entire book on the topic.
This was a time of pain. Governments used it freely on their own citizens and honed it to a madness in the treatment of prisoners. It was a sport in the Roman coliseum. Pain never had a bigger era. Chrysostom had written to Christians about chastity, temperance, forgiveness, and other topics, but he also chose to write on pain. What he said is interesting. He begins by indicating that pain in Gethsemane is a common topic among the church members. why it existed, etc.
Then, he points out its potency by comparing Christ in Gethsemane with Christ in Golgotha. He says that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “argued” with God. Was there not another way? He debated that all things were possible with God, as if to attempt to best or change the mind of his Father over what lay ahead (which Jesus apparently knew and had known for a very long time, in THEORY). Chrysostom says if pain is so potent that it would cause Jesus to argue with the Father, then pain is a really big deal, in fact the biggest. Then Chrysostom points out that on the cross, Jesus asks his Father “WHY he has withdrawn Himself?” but he does NOT try to argue the point, as He did with pain. These remarks are not intended to trivialize death–we are just repeating Chrysostom.
In other words, to Chrysostom, the endurance of terrible pain was a greater test than the surrendering of life because one caused Jesus to argue with God and the other did not. Is this illogical? Think it over. Pain vs. Death. Which is the bigger tyrant. According to Albert Schweitzer, it is pain. He said. “The greatest honor I have as a physician is to relieve pain in my patients. PAIN IS A MORE TERRIBLE LORD OF MANKIND THAN DEATH ITSELF. (caps inserted)”
Those closest in time to Jesus’ life felt pain was much the bigger test. It is now common to say Jesus died that Man might live, but less often is it heard that he “suffered pain for the sins of mankind”. This shows how remote pain is to the human mind. As Chrysostom said, “Pain made Jesus argue with God, but he did not argue over death”. If pain is greater than death, we have to take a serious look at it. Pain is not just a passing thought, even less a mistaken thought. Remember Steve McQueen in “Sand Pebbles”. He had to choose between ending someone’s torture or ending his life. We see in that movie the fallacy of assuming the soldier is always painless.
A current best seller chronicles the life of Daniel Boone. The early settlers did have their problems with the Indians, and vice versa of course, some the fault of the whites and some the fault of the natives. Revenge was typically taken out on the innocent, just as it is today. Boone could never have done anything without the backing of a wealthy friend, William Russell. Russell lived in southwest Virginia at a little town called Castle Rock. He was wealthy, a lawyer, and also a hero of the Revolutionary War.
Russell’s close relative, John Sevier, was a General and considered to be the main hero at the Battle of Point Pleasant in the French and Indian War. Colonel William Russell had ambitions for land. Boone was his “best friend”. Together they planned to explore “Kentuckie”. Moving toward the Cumberland Gap, an advance party went, consisting of Russell’s son, Henry, and Boone’s son James, and two slaves, one of whom escaped from an attack. They were caught by a group of mostly Delaware Indians (revenge was spent on the Cherokees) who attacked the men. According to a survivor, Henry and James fought long and hard, but were overpowered.
Unlike the so-called “painless soldier” (a favorite topic among those who do not realize how the memory behaves with regard to pain), these two were overwhelmed by the pain of the continual wounding, but fought on. Then, when they were finally held down, one Indian proceeded to pull out their fingernails. At this, the two unquestionably brave frontiersmen changed and began to plead to be killed instead. The other Indians, anxious to make an escape, obliged them.
In the repercussions set off by Russell, Boone, and other family members a general hatred of Indians resulted. Some not involved in the tragedy had excessive fury. One result was the cowardly murder of the wife of Shawnee Chief Logan, a formerly great friend of the whites, who then became their deadliest enemy. It was all too tragic. The fighting only subsided through the efforts of the great Cherokee leader Nancy, who was considered a prophetess by her people, and who deflected the deaths of many whites at Watauqa, the first white settlement in Tennessee. The tale of infliction of pain, told by an escaping survivor, was what set off the outrage which led to so much wrong. Now what was going on here? Two brave men, in the midst of battle, deciding death was preferable to pain. This illuminates the process we are discussing. Pain is really terrible, and terrible pain is really, really terrible. So how come pain even exists??
Now let us go back to our original question. The universe seems rather a dangerous, hostile place, so hostile and so deadly that Einstein thought God must exist for a sentient, intelligent being like man to inhabit any part of the universe. What the scientists called order in the universe, for Einstein, was a presumption of the Divine, since order would not come out of chaos without a force. He chose to believe that force was God’s force. We see borrowing of his term in the movie series, “Star Wars” where “THE FORCE” is a pseudonym for God, it being offensive to use God’s name in the media for fear of offending those who call Him by another name, and also to save us the difficulty of deciding or speculating on what the nature of God really is. We like a vague term, one which does not seems too presumptious, so “force” gets the job done, but doesn’t explain anything.
Just like Central Pain has no vocabulary, the real nature of God probably has no vocabulary either. Proceeding with this thought, it is undoubtedly presumptious to compare our pain with that of Jesus, provided He did as was said. The word “pain” doesn’t always equal other pain. So now we come to the crux of the problem with Central Pain. It is a mix of noxious sensations, and therefore is different. Authors have preferred to use the descriptive term, “bizarre”, but “unfamiliar” is just as expressive. Yes, it is presumptious for those who have experienced normal “pain” to think they can take the measure of Central Pain, and yes, the use of the word “bizarre” is pejorative and should be changed.
Of course a MIX of sensations feels unfamiliar in CP, since the pain system is so well worked out for the body’s protection that we feel pain with a precision matched by no other sensation. Aversive learning is essential for survival. When pain loses its laser quality, it is mixed and mushed, but it is definitely not less painful. Nevertheless the puzzlement and preoccupation with pain by the post-apostolic writers indicates that they had a healthier respect for it than some today. They did not attribute pain to evil, but certainly accepted it as having terrible consequences. Why should we care what Chrysostom thought about pain? The reason is that the traditions about a major pain event were more current then.
Superstition from the Dark Ages has painted pain in a light which would be strange to Chrysostom. Pain was the terrible lord of mankind which his Lord could hardly withstand, and even then not without His debating God over the necessity of enduring it. Today, too many claim without benefit of blowtorch, that a person caught up in the ecstasies of religion need feel no pain. This may be false doctrine and false science. In fact it IS absurd doctrine and absurd science.
Chrysostom, having lived in Antioch, which is now in the Eastern Orthodox Church area, has been ignored. However, Lord Saville, the chief translator of the King James version of the Bible, used as a crib, Chrysostom’s translation of the Bible into Latin. The purchase of the leather (parchment) copy was at great risk to life at the time, but fortunate because it allowed Saville help in making sense of the many manuscripts. The scripture was conflicted. Some passages might be said to have been bizarre. Having Chrysostom around to set things right was a help. although anything from his part of the world was disfavored. IF the WORDS of the scriptures can be said to be confusing or difficult, then it tends to exhonorate humans who must tell others that their PAIN is confusing, conflicted, contradictory, and indescribable.
We hope we have distanced pain from theology to some extent here by comparing it to the processes of theology. It is an earthly phenomenon, a consequence of the body, which is part of the universe, which is therefore comprehensible by the mind of man, If we dare to solve the riddles of space ten billion miles away, without fear of chellenging God, why is it that the idea persists that the pursuit of a cure for pain is still considered hedging against the Divine will? Why is it that some are in denial that pain is real??? Enough of the psychological thing. The blowtorch ends the theory that pain is psychological instantly, yet the myth lives on. The nerves of those with central pain produce the same NMDA, PKC, CREB, and other pain chemicals which flow through them when the blowtorch is applied. WHY would one think such pain is not real, when the chemistry is the same, or even worse. Injury causes acidifying chemicals which make nerves send a signal, which the brain perceives as pain. If the perception is there, the pain is there.
We ask the ministers to reexamine the source of their “doctrine”, and we ask the scientists to get real. Every advance in pain has had its fierce opponents from both of the afore mentioned groups. We have written elsewhere about the physicians put to death in Holland in the 15th century for relieving pain in childbirth. When Morton discovered ether, the doctors at Johns Hopkins, except for one, were furious about it. Morton died in disgrace and poverty. When Bonica discovered the epidural block, it took fifty years for obstetricians to accept it. All the arguments for pain vanish and fade away shortly after a solution is found. What was “God’s will” no longer is, once science cures any aspect of pain. WHY this reluctance to relieve pain. There can be no other explanation but that pain is being viewed in theological terms, and the theology in which it is viewed is a false remnant of the Dark Ages, not the word of God.
Although we oppose speaking of pain in theological terms, we have been forced to take undue license about religious ideas here, because the survey and the comments show unequivocally that the greatest opposition to pain research and pain treatment comes from misguided religious types. How these falsehoods can be attributed to One whose ministry shows that He was about relieving sickness and pain, and that such was God’s work, is a mystery. How these evil accusations against pain sufferers can be foisted off on One whose history, if accurate, reveals a great assumption of pain in order to spare the same to mankind, is a mystery of the first order. We ask the religious world to listen and to take note. Jefferson said the priests are always the greatest obstacle to freedom because they yield to tyrants to preserve the intactness of the church.
We know that this is not always the case. So we hope finally to stop having to fight, contend, and debate theologians about pain. Pain is NOT God’s will. NOT PAIN is God’s will. If anyone can advance anything logical to the contrary, they are welcome to make the argument in the comments and we will publish it. But we believe when they sit down to write such a rebuttal, they will find they cannot do it. This being so, let the doors of the chapel swing open to the CP sufferer. Let the criticisms, the accusations of wrongdoing, and the judgments of unworthiness cease. Let the entire matter be handed over to science, where it belongs. Let us hear no more about pain as a theological disease. It is not. That is a superstition and a myth. It comes to the unfortunate, not the unworthy. Please stop lambasting the poor pain subject. They are doing the best they can. They need help. And from the pious, self-righteous pain disparager they need a new perspective which inciudes them among the worthy children of a Heavenly Father. Since we are told “the seating order will be reversed in the hereafter”, one proud to sit at the front of things here must be careful whom they place in the back.
Jesus faced powerful paradoxes over pain. We can do no better. However, the reason pain is here is no different from any other disease. It is just as logical to ask why asphyxiation or a blood clot to the lungs was fatal to Jesus, as to start to get theological about pain. Why get superstitious over pain alone, and not other diseases? If you will tell us why diabetes is here, a genetic flaw, we will tell you why Central Pain is here, a genetic malfunction.
Those of us with Central Pain do not know the answer, but those of you who do not have CP, do not even know the question. If you will avoid asking us theological questions, we will avoid giving you theological answers, which we are unqualified to give. We must all remain on the commmon ground of science. Not that theology does not have a place, but because Central Pain is not a uniquely religious disease. As to the behaviorists, go get a syringe of Capsaicin and stop bothering us. Your nerves are not immune to the process either.