A little (well, very) late to reply to Damon's original post, but let me just preface this by emphasizing my less-than-a-baby's knowledge of Arabic (at least a baby might say "ma-ma" in the language :). Having said that, in my view the litmus test of any interpretation of Qur'anic verses is that it be consistent with itself, and crucially, that it maintain the Qur'an as fully consistent with itself; it should introduce no contradictions. And perhaps more crucially, the test of consistency should focus on the message, moreso than the linguistics. We're only human, endlessly capable of faults, but God's message is pure, faultless.
Now, if I understood your argument correctly, you are saying Ramadan is referring to a time when a people recognize and experience evil and corruption as being widespread, and that's when the believers are meant to apply the Qur'an to purify their selves through the practice of abstinence for a few numbered days. And you further argue that the ones who suffer the most in such times are the believers with their being outnumbered by those who glorify evil, and so it is this external suffering that prompts them to abstain while seeking out solutions to their problems through a study of the Qur'an.
I respectfully disagree with this interpretation on purely logical grounds. In my experience, the more I’ve studied the Qur'an, the more I am aware of and sensitive to my faults; a sensitivity which brings me suffering (if it can be called that) similar to the external suffering you mention. As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. And divine knowledge brings with it the obligation to find solutions to prevailing problems at any time in our lives. But this obligation to serve causes suffering from within, not from without.
But as per your argument, I would only need to practice abstinence when external conditions have reached a boiling point. Putting aside the subjective nature of figuring out what constitutes this boiling point, and noting that you don’t recognize the physical aspects of abstinence (no eating, drinking, sex) as being valid, I have to ask: what is left?
I mean, as to being prompted by external suffering to study the Qur’an and looking for solutions therein, this should be happening throughout a believer's life, not just when the external environment reaches a boiling point. So what is left in your interpretation that justifies the word Ramadan carrying a unique meaning and message that hasn’t already been repeated multiple times in the Qur’an?
Also, you said that the word literally meaning ‘eat’ has been used elsewhere to mean "Take Pleasure In, Absorb, Consume". But you must recognize that the Qur'an can be quite poetic in its use of allegories. So why can't the same word be used both literally and allegorically in two different places in the Qur'an?
The above are food for thought, meant to respectfully point out how your argument might not be consistent with itself. Now, here’s food for thought for why it might not be consistent with the message of the Qur’an.
You have repeatedly mentioned that fasting seems senseless, so it can’t be what Saum means. I’m inclined to agree, as I wonder about how a poor day-laborer working in the summer heat and makes just enough to feed and shelter his family could ever fast or perform one of the alternatives to fasting, if Saum indeed meant fasting. But what if the fasting aspect of Saum refers to disciplined eating and drinking, as Dr. Shabbir has translated it? This seems to make plenty of sense to me. It makes me recall a historical event I read in one of Dr. Shabbir's works where believers called to serve in arms were made to drink but a sip of water to test their resolve, and echoes what has been repeated on this forum about it being a form of military training to put to test one's self-control in trying conditions.
Or more to the point (and a final food for thought for you): if a team of scientists guaranteed a piece of pork as being completely clean at the cellular level, they might say that we Muslims are being senseless for considering it forbidden. Would you eat it? Are we completely sure that we understand the full purpose of a verse; that we are considering all the domains of knowledge when interpreting God’s message? Could it not be that God has forbidden the eating of pork even for future societies when it could be guaranteed clean as a test of humbleness and belief?
Again, I’m unable to contest any of your points on the linguistics of it, and only mean to provide some constructive criticism towards perhaps making your argument more consistent.