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There are standard religious explanations for evil and suffering. Some
people believe that this life is a test or preparation for another,
better, life after death. Some say ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ –
though that, of course, is no explanation at all. Others claim that
evil and suffering are part of a divine plan, one that we must simply
accept. Some believe that god gives us free will, misuse of which leads
to suffering that is our own fault. Some believe – incredibly – that
evil is a punishment for the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve, which caused
us all to be born ‘sinful’.
These ideas will convince only the religious – and philosophers often draw out inconsistencies in the arguments. Humanists do not believe in such supernatural explanations for suffering.
Humanists focus on how human beings typically have a fair degree of choice and control over their lives and must take some responsibility for the way they turn out. Some evils, for example, war, famine and poverty, are caused or made worse by human greed and folly. Others, such as illness, floods, or earthquakes, may have natural causes or happen by chance. Humanists believe that it is up to human beings to fight evil and suffering and they ought to do their best in improving the lot of human beings (and not at the expense of other sentient creatures).
Critics of the humanist approach to life often say that it has nothing to offer for the bad times in life, because it is too positive and only focuses on happiness and fulfilment. If suffering is just the result of random luck then, religious people may say, it has no purpose and meaning, making it more difficult to deal with, but humanists reply that we must accept reality and have to learn ways of coping with that reality.