Suffering’s Stewards


By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

The Roman Catholic Christian Church Pope Francis – the guy who thinks he is the only Pope should look into the Discordians, adjacent to the Church of the SubGenius and its SubGenii – remarked on the problems with drug abuse or, less moralistically, substance misuse in the context of Duterte (Romero, 2018).

But this requires some context on Christian conceptualizations of suffering through time right into the present, which will, in due course, include commentary on Christian ideas of suffering, substance misuse, drugs, and the brain, and harm reduction in the Philippines and global context.

The image of pain, suffering, and misery sits at the Cross of the Roman Catholic Christians and other Christians, with the assumption of the redemptive work in a sacrifice of God made flesh, where the Salvifici Doloris states the meaning of suffering “illuminated by the Word of God” and reflected in the words of “Saint Paul” (John Paul II, 1984).

In this Christian context, of the largest sect and others, the meaning of suffering and pain, the purported mystery of suffering evokes “compassion,” “respect,” and intimidation and retains its plumbed linkages to a “need of the heart” and the “deep imperative of faith” (Ibid.).

Within this framework of the world, the alleviation of suffering is seen as only through Christ at the Cross and through no other, as this, simply put, is an emotional need and an imperative of religious faith and, therefore, an inexplicable and mandatory part of faith in Christ for a true Christianity.

Christianity, and its representatives in the largest sect and its highest offices to the supposed Vicar of Christ on Earth become guardians of this suffering, because without such sacrament of suffering and pain the redemptive power of Christ in a fallen world, so-called, would remain unneeded; the Roman Catholic Christian Church would become outmoded and irrelevant to the concerns of a mature and critical-minded, empirically informed, and logically coherent person of the future.

Intimations of this can be seen within the advanced industrial economies of the world which, historically speaking, were predominantly Christian and serious in their faith but, over time, they began to lose hold and slipped in their adherence to the faith, in degree and raw numbers. Throughout the 20th century, we witnessed a historic rise of the non-religious, of the individuals without the need or even basic want for a traditional religious life.

In this, we also, at least in North America, developed the post-WWII Healing Revival Movement with a wide range of people preaching the Gospel with renewed vigor and proclamations of the end times and purification of the world for the benefit of the Good and Christian – synonyms within the framework propounded for centuries, hence the sociocultural assumption of nonbelievers as amoral if not, worse, inherently immoral – including Rev. Billy Graham, Oral Roberts – who some during the higher heights of faith in Sigmund Freud labeled “Anal Roberts,” William Marion Branham, Jack Coe, Jack Moore, A. A. Allen, T. L. Osborn, Gordon Lindsay, F. F. Bosworth, Ern Baxter, Paul Cain, Kenneth Hagin, and O.L. Jaggers (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018).

All lunatics, charlatans, or ignoramuses in their own rights. The fourth option, of course, is knowledgeable; however, these individuals did not know much about the world but had, as per the statement by Hawking, neither ignorance nor knowledge but the illusion of knowledge, which, in the end, analysis, is far viler and the enemy of real knowledge about the reality abounding around us. To quote the late cosmologist once more, religion is based on authority. Science is based on evidence. Approximately, one can apply the same categorization sweep in the analysis of prominent creationists in history including Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, Immanuel Velikovsky, Duane Gish, and others. A lesson in life, learn to detect pseudoscience and nonsense and then move on, which saves time.

Famously, even the within-the-faith beloved supposed Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta, also known as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, the writings of the late purported saint remain littered with commentary on suffering and the importance of pain and suffering, as this retains a sense of the redemption of Christ.

Bojaxhiu states, “Suffering, if it is accepted together, borne together, is joy. Remember that the Passion of Christ ends always in the joy of the Resurrection of Christ, so when you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the Resurrection has to come—–the joy of Easter has to dawn. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Risen Christ” (Lau, n.d.).

Suffering shall be accepted as a joy; a joy as the “Risen Christ” (Ibid.). The nature of the framework represents an assumption of a resurrection from the dead, i.e., the death, burial, and three days later resurrection of Christ in so-called defiance of death.

The only crux, so to speak, of the issue of suffering from Christian theology, remains with the supposed resurrection and in the power of the sacrifice of a God-man, of God made flesh, on a Cross, through a form of Roman capital punishment.

Without veracity to these claims of a resurrection and to its panacea power for the supernatural moral blights of sin for all time – past, present, and future, the notion of Christian alleviation of suffering, or need for recognition of suffering as joy in realization of its reflection in Jesus’s or Yeshua Ben Yosef’s murder, becomes nothing.

It’s true, then, the Roman Catholic Christians did it: ex nihilo. They created something from nothing, more suffering than necessary through its enshrinement and as guardianship for access to the joy of Christ’s self-sacrifice at the Cross. Unnecessary suffering within a secular referent frame becomes immoral because of the tacit premise of a supernatural moral realm; whereas, to the Roman Catholic Christian Church, the secularly seen unnecessary suffering becomes necessary suffering via reflective qualities with the penultimate sacrifice of Christ for the so-called sins of humankind. That is to say, the well-being moral matrix of humanism stands opposed to the meta-physicalistic ethic of Christianity; although, if one takes the words of the Utilitarian ethicist and political philosopher John Stuart Mill seriously in Utilitarianism, the foundation of the ethics of wellbeing writ broad and deep with a eudaemonistic view of human life and their relations with one another becomes the moral nature of the Nazarene:

I must again repeat, what the assailants of utilitarianism seldom have the justice to acknowledge, that the happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness, but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbour as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality. As the means of making the nearest approach to this ideal, utility would enjoin, first, that laws and social arrangements should place the happiness, or (as speaking practically it may be called) the interest, of every individual, as nearly as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole; and secondly, that education and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the practice of such modes of conduct, negative and positive, as regard for the universal happiness prescribes; so that not only he may be unable to conceive the possibility of happiness to himself, consistently with conduct opposed to the general good, but also that a direct impulse to promote the general good may be in every individual one of the habitual motives of action, and the sentiments connected therewith may fill a large and prominent place in every human being’s sentient existence.(Mill, 1863)

This could lead into commentary on the ongoing and overwhelming sexual abuse of children and nuns entering into the news cycle at a rapid pace; however, this will not be the focus of this article (Dancel, 2018; Gomes, 2018; Pierce, 2018; Regencia, 2018; Macdonald, 2018; Long, 2018). Mill took a naturalistic frame of the Nazarene reflective of the morals of Utilitarianism, where the Roman Catholic Christian Church holds fast to the notion of supernatural lessons and an ethical gradient within this meta-material world of grace to sin.

Of the many foci within the categorization of pain, misery, and suffering of the Roman Catholic Christian Church, we can, also, come to the realization of the ongoing and international problem with the pain and death created through the substance misuse crisis around the world (WHO, 2018a; WHO, 2018b).

If we look at the deaths associated with the drug epidemic around the world, we can find approximately 70,000 to 100,000 people dying from opioid-related overdoses, alone, per annum, and as many as 99,000 to 253,000 deaths from to illicit drug use, circa 2010 (UNODC/WHO, 2013).

The main deaths from these substances are men (NIH, 2018a; NIH, 2018b). These statistics from the National Institutes of Health in the United States replicate to other parts of the world. This does not seem like a spiritual problem, as in some spiritual-moral realm corrupted and influencing the men to become addicted in the short- and long-term. One which damages families and communities, and leaving men to die alone.

The basics of addiction, rather than a spiritual-moral framework in years past filled with theological arguments and references to revelation, comes from a functional comprehension of the architecture of the mind, of the brain as an organic sense input receiver and information processor, as we are evolved organisms with imperfectly coordinated but good enough consciousnesses; where these systems can be hijacked by the substances, the neural networks can be, without context, activated based on the ability of the addictive substances to cross the blood-brain barrier and remain active and suitable for locking into neurotransmitter sites at gap junctions. It is well-known as the “biology of addiction” (NIH News in Health, 2015). One common and among the most lethal substances, and which is legal in several nations around the world, remain alcohol, which makes for a good example.

Dr. George Koob, the Director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, stated, “A common misperception is that addiction is a choice or moral problem, and all you have to do is stop. But nothing could be further from the truth… The brain actually changes with addiction, and it takes a good deal of work to get it back to its normal state. The more drugs or alcohol you’ve taken, the more disruptive it is to the brain” (Ibid.).

The Director of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, notes the decreased activity in the frontal cortex in individuals who harbor addictive tendencies or outright addictions, whether to alcohol or other substances; they take the substance in spite of the costs of losing “custody of their children” or real threats of a potential rightful entrance into a penitentiary (Ibid.).

These experts in the functional neurological and behavioral aspects of addiction do not mention the spiritual world or spiritual problems, or alternate and inexplicable dimensions apart from the ordinary, but these medical professionals and research directors at the highest level in the world direct attention to organized matter, a brain, and its malfunctions, e.g., the poor functional capacity of the frontal lobes and, in particular, the frontal cortex of the unfortunates suffering with or through addiction.

As Professor Adele Diamond of The University of British Columbia explains with regards to the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, the poor functioning of the DPfC, in particular, or the PfC, in general, can impair function in most important areas of personal and professional life, and associated with many mental disorders, including attention and conduct disorders, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders, even schizophrenia, and can impact physical health with poor health habits in either exercise or diet, reading and writing achievement, dependability, violent and emotional outburst events and degrees of said moments, retaining of a job let alone a career, levels of productivity, and success and harmony in work or marital life, and so on (Diamond, 2012).

A material, physical, or natural structure with impairments expresses widespread life problems, i.e., not a spiritual-moral issue by necessity and, by the principle of parsimony or Occam’s Razor, far more probable as a neurological impairment issue. This leads to some implications in the legal and social, and law enforcement, aspects of substance misuse epidemics. There has been a wide range of calls for the decriminalization of drugs to deal with this international problem, as would be a humanistic orientation based on evidence of the reduction in harms to the general public at all levels. That is to say, compassion- and science-based solution to this international problem. [Ed. I have written on this before and reference common knowledge within the international community on this subject matter, as well as prior references from other articles.]

The calls have been from the UN General Assembly Session on the Approach to the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in its 2016 unanimous conclusion, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, through drug policy and the Sustainable Development Goals, and others (UNODC, 2018; Yakupitiyage, 2017; UNODC, 2015; Sustainable Development Goals, n.d.).

The United Nations and the World Health Organization issued a joint statement calling for decriminalization of all drugs in 2017 (WHO, 2017). The Former Portuguese Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres called for the decriminalization of all drugs while the Prime Minister of Portugal; same while the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the prior Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon did the same (Secretariat to the Governing Bodies UNODC, 2018).

Some nations made continuous calls for decriminalization. They enacted the changes, including the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Portugal, and other countries (Travis, 2014; Vastag, 2009). The questions about this issue of drugs or substances with deadly or addictive potentials around the world remains the ways in which the substances are dealt with via the criminal justice system, the system of jurisprudence, and the assumptions floating within the public consciousness influencing the conscience of the general populace of a nation, including the Philippines.

If we look at the situation with the nation for me, Canadian society, in other words, we can note the ways in which the punitive approach to substance misuse has been an utter failure, even worse in the nation south of our border, i.e., the United States of America.

The punishment of the misusers, in fact, based on the firm and robust evidence showing the increase of the use, the severity of the outcomes, and how this punishment methodology simply leaves more people without support and possibly addicted/deceased, and the prison population filled more than before within the nation-state, based on the implementation of policies set forth with a punitive approach.

Most often, the poor and minorities within a state are the majority of the victims here; thus, if poor, male, and a minority within a nation, then the greater the likelihood of falling victim to injury, addiction, or death via illicit substance intake, whether orally, anally, or injections (Fellner, 2009; NIH, 2018a; NIH, 2018b). In general, this is counter-complemented by an evidence-based methodology towards the issues of substance misuse: harm reduction, which amounts to both a philosophy and a methodology (Harm Reduction International, 2018).

Much akin to the humanistic approach, as noted, harm reduction provides a basis for the implementation in societies around the world with a reason, science, and compassion foundation in the management of substance misuse as a human issue and a social health problem primarily, and secondarily as an issue of law enforcement. For example, if decriminalized, the black market in this sector becomes nullified.

The alternative to mostly punishment is harm reduction (Harm Reduction International, 2018). One major aspect of compassion would be the implementation of decriminalization, as per the national and international calls, and compassion oriented policies, programmes, and initiatives in order to alleviate the suffering of those at the bottom of society.

These methodologies can be as simple as needle exchange programs or safe injections sites. Others, if the population of young postsecondary students, can be an emphasis on naloxone kits on campus, which blocks the opioid receptors of the body and stalls overdoses for time to return the young person to the hospital. These remain solutions bound to a realistic view of a free country, likely, harboring illicit substances or licit substances that will be misused, and then the role of the government should be to protect and help the public in the most evidence-based way possible, which means the harm reduction approaches, while also respecting the bodily autonomy and choices of the Filipino/Filipina.

More than 1,000 Canadian citizens died in the province of British Columbia alone, which prompted an emergency task force to examine the issue and the evidence. This led to the proposals for more extensive harm reduction approaches, not less, where this mirrors the situation with Portugal under Guterres.

Humanistic approaches do not imply for all time or inherent completeness of philosophical foundation, in a symmetry with the logical findings of Kurt Godel about the incompleteness of any standard mathematical system proclaiming consistency or the inconsistency of any mathematical system proclaiming completeness, because the fundamental basis in science – process, discoveries, and substantiated empirical theories – amounts to a philosophy of discovery about the natural world and, therefore, an ethic, by implication incorporating it, becomes one of a wondrous continual searching, probing, retaining, integrating, and refining of inherent compassionate sentiments of the human heart reflected in the Golden Rule to the advanced scientific and technological landscape of the world today.

This brings us back into the subject matter of suffering and the context of Christianity, the Pope, Duterte, and harm reduction. As the Roman Catholic Christian Church from the previous Pope to a saint noted on the Christian conceptualization of suffering, as they live in a worldview of the teleological bound within this notion of God as a Logos or the source of absolute truth without room for deviancy – the Logos way or the highway (to hell, even paved with good intentions, presumably), the suffering in the world must have some God-given purpose.

Suffering comes from a fallen world but is extant due to some ultimate teleological purpose with God’s divine plan, even while the standard position of the Roman Catholic Christian Church is acceptance of Theistic Evolution with, in many eyes, humanity as the crowning achievement of creation. From an evolutionary viewpoint without teleology, a naturalistic worldview, the pain, suffering, and misery remain products of evolution carved via natural selective processes from natural disasters to reciprocal altruism to mate selection to kin selection to punctuated equilibrium and so on, without teleology. Kropotkin noted the factor of mutual aid in evolution at any rate.

The pain and suffering are seen as necessary and, potentially, needing encouragement or even praise as reflective of the joy identified with the notion of a crucified Christ, i.e., the ultimate in suffering and sacrifice then victory over the death of the mortal coil.

However, lacking the evidence or firm evidentiary basis for the claims in the narratives of a Christ who died and rose from the dead a la Lazarus, or the biological evidence to show natural means by which death has ever been forestalled indefinitely and even reversed then or now, the teleological view of suffering becomes less cosmic, more parochial, and akin to the Evolution by Natural Selection posited by Darwin in 1859 (On the Origin of Species) without a teleological lens on the development, adaptation, and speciation of species.

Suffering becomes another unavoidable aspect of the evolved organisms of Earth useful for long-term species survival while also, given the aforementioned sentiments and inquiring ethical discovery linked to science, becoming something human beings can alleviate, not only in themselves but in others as per the Golden Rule.

Some individuals seem to have less of this. Duterte, in particular, admitted to extrajudicial killings, stated, “What is my sin? Did I steal even one peso? Did I prosecute somebody who I ordered jailed? My sin is extrajudicial killings” (Human Rights Watch, 2018a).

In the anti-drug fervor of the nation, of the Philippines, more than 12,000 people have been killed, including men, women, and children (Ibid.), based on conservative estimates from “the nongovernmental groups Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and the International Drug Policy Consortium, as well as media outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald” (Ibid.).

There has been, also, the efforts to push an independent investigation via the UN into the killings associated with this so-called War on Drugs, which amounts to the punitive or punished oriented approach, in contradistinction to the harm reduction approach, mentioned before (Human Rights Watch, 2018b). This harsh tone and tough talk are not new from Duterte.

In a May 2015 election campaign rally, he, in a strong suggestion of a punitive approach to drugs, exclaimed, “If I became president, you [alleged criminals] should hide. I would kill all of you who make the lives of Filipinos miserable. I will definitely kill you. I do not want to commit this crime. But if by chance per chance God will place me there, stay on guard because that 1,000 [killed in Davao City] will become 100,000” (, 2015).

Golez quoted the Roman Catholic Christian Pope spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, stating, “This is precisely the rationale behind the President’s war on illegal drugs in the Philippines: to save the young and future generations of Filipinos from the drug scourge… Laudable developments have been achieved by the current administration in this regard, notwithstanding the noise coming from the loud minority composed of his detractors and critics here and abroad” (Golez, 2018; Romero, 2018).

In short, Duterte and the Pope speak in different tones but support the same social and law enforcement right-wing ideological perspective, which, in accordance with all evidence available to us, will not only maintain the terrible conditions but make them worse or exacerbate them for individuals and society.

As per the calls for decriminalization and the empirical robust support for harm reduction methodologies, the Pope and Duterte should take a complete about-face in their commitment, as they currently rely on an anti-science conservative agenda that harms the public and has resulted in, potentially 12,000 or more killings when a perfectly functional and evidence-based approach sits before them with support from the international community from the United Nations to the World Health Organization.

The implications of more suffering and then working to stamp this out does not sit apart from the work of mostly male world leaders working to maintain a tough-guy image and in the Christian conceptualization of human suffering as a derivation of a good reflective of the redemptive self-sacrifice of Christ at the Cross; but for God’s sake, the evidence and the naturalistic ethics bound to the sciences of the mind better suit the modern world and will, in fact, do what the purported holy figure and strongman want in their triumphal declarations: reduce the drug abuse or substance misuse problem – so, stop being the guardians of unnecessary suffering and death, and misery, and pain.

Then, maybe, we can thank heaven, literally or metaphorically.


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Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Original publication in Humanist Alliance Philippines International.

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

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