Some people, a friend observed, remarking on the way some Christians think Christopher Hitchens’ illness will bring him to Christianity, ”expect severe illness — or any other adversity, for that matter — somehow to work a radical change in someone’s religious convictions, or lack thereof.” This sometimes happens, “once in a while spectacularly, but rarely,” he wrote. But usually
adversity simply brings out and intensifies character and beliefs already developed, rather than altering them at all.
It reminds me of certain people from my parents’ and grandparents’ generation who would decry the decline in moral standards and then say, “What this country needs is another Great Depression.” They had a similarly romanticized notion that suffering automatically builds positive moral character. Well, it doesn’t — it simply brings into starker relief what is already there.
I suspect one cause is the desire to find something outside us that will change our lives, something that will pick us up and drop us at the finish line, so we don’t have to keep running slowly and steadily for a long time to win the race. If you have to suffer, you want to feel that at least you’re getting something out of it, and that your suffering is making you a better person without your having to work at it.
After 9/11 there was much talk of the changes the attack would bring to America and Americans. Some Christians predicted a religious revival as people suddenly realized how fleeting life is and how success cannot protect us from harm, others a new national unity, an end to partisan politics, a renewal of national purpose, etc. Didn’t happen. As with nations, so with individuals.