In a New York Times article this week, Susan Jacoby counters the frequent claim that “there are no atheists in foxholes,” that in the face of suffering and loss religion is a comfort while atheism offers no comfort. Jacoby’s response echoes that of Fyodor Dostoevsky from The Brothers Karamazov in a deeply personal way: as a girl, she witnessed her young and innocent friend suffer and die from polio. When she asked the grownups in her life why a God would allow innocents like her friend to suffer horribly, none could answer, and all showed anguish over the question.
As an atheist in her own adulthood, Jacoby notes, she endures no such existential anguish in trying to explain the the suffering of innocents. While her religious peers contort themselves with rationalizations and vague references to the “mystery of faith,” Jacoby takes the more straightforward and consistent position that sometimes Life Sucks and that there need not be a good and divine reason for innocents to suffer. Jacoby focuses on the human reasons for suffering and takes comfort in the possibility of people changing their behavior and the world around them for the better.