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Boyle Publishes Chapter Addressing Topic of Illness and Spirituality

Noel Boyle-XLDr. Noel Boyle, associate professor of philosophy, published a chapter in Chronic Illness and Spirituality. His chapter is titled “In Spite Of: Reflecting on My Son’s Pain and Suffering.”

Boyle’s son, Ciaran, now 13, has a rare and destructive seizure disorder known as Dravet’s Syndrome. Boyle tells the story of Ciaran’s suffering, including numerous brain operations, days with hundreds of seizures each, seizures lasting for hours, the isolation of lacking language skills altogether and about 1,000 nights in the hospital.

Refusing easy answers that deny the reality and purposelessness of Ciaran’s suffering and isolation, Boyle builds on the work of existentialist theologian Paul Tillich to find a more genuine standpoint from which to reflect on Ciaran’s suffering. Tillich maintains that, instead of fleeing from anxieties regarding such things as death and meaninglessness, we need to embrace them and take them on.

Following Tillich’s lead, Boyle does not deny Ciaran’s suffering, but asks whether joy exists in spite of his suffering, whether meaning emerges in spite of the pointlessness of Ciaran’s pain. While holding that authentic affirmative answers to these questions do not and cannot, come easily, Boyle suggests that they do come. In the end, Boyle suggests that an honest confrontation with Ciaran’s suffering has helped him more clearly what Tillich calls “the God who appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt.”