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Religion Erodes Compassion

By Carl S ~

It all began this way: I was reading an article from the magazine Free Inquiry, of 10/11/2010, entitled "Does God Destroy Our Sense of Compassion?" and I started reading a part of it to my Christian wife. To wit: "A perfect God, however, isn't subject to our limitations in knowledge or power, or indeed to any real limitations in knowledge or power. So no perfect God has an excuse for exploitation, even if we sometimes do . . . Yet many children endure intense, undeserved, and involuntary suffering every day, all over the world. What should we do when we encounter them? Obviously, we ought to act compassionately toward them . . . But wait. If God exists, their suffering must be needed - somehow, even if we can't see how - for the overall benefit of those very sufferers. In that case, what happens to the moral duty we thought we had to prevent or relieve their suffering? It disappears."

So, I explained to my wife that I had a similar thought years ago, about a supremely wise, all-knowing being with the knowledge to know that all will be ultimately for "the greater good", ergo, we should do nothing.

We veered off into that "mind of God" stuff, and she offered that she could not follow subjects that are “too deep.” But, I pointed out that some things are simply common sense. I also defended the position that what I and other atheists, agnostics and humanists say is not just opinion, but that there are real truths to be known. I asked her, as an example of this, “If you were in town and saw a child about to run out in front of a truck, wouldn’t you attempt to rescue that child even if it endangered yourself? But your God does nothing.

Religious faith [...] erodes compassion. Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” – these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this. -- Sam HarrisShe excuses the excesses and immorality of religious spokesmen with the comment, "We're all human." So I pointed out the fact that thousands of children would not have been raped without the trust parents gave to "men of God," and without the cover-ups of their superiors. (It breaks my heart to see believers blithely excuse and forgive these atrocities.) Yes, I agree with her that these abuses take place in the secular realm too, but religion was an enabler and frequently hindered stopping the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

I brought up the Great Flood and the biblical texts wherein the deity admits that it was all a mistake; that humans are human and nothing is going to change us. I mentioned that slavery is approved by this god and she admitted that she had missed that.

The explanation for getting into all of this with her, I think, lies in my frustration at not being able to get across how I feel, and what drives me as a moral but not spiritual man, dismissed as an eccentric who is irrationally intolerant of religion. I awoke at three a.m. that night to write down the words, "in exile." I long to be among those who are sensitive and understanding of the prime importance of truth and fairness, but I know of only a handful, with only one nearby. I am in exile in my own community.

I told my wife that, as a writer, I had to choose my words carefully, to find the ones that best conveyed what had to be said, sometimes at the cost of many re-writings. Then, very carefully, I said, "All religions are anti-human, in that they teach people NOT TO QUESTION." And, as we were leaving in the car, I added, "It is only through questioning that humans make progress."

The right to question is denied to the religious. But to question is a natural condition of being human, and religious "authorities,” who arrogantly and unethically insist that we should believe without questioning, pre-empt our individual consciences.

So, in conclusion, I say, “Question everything!” Ask believers, "Why are you afraid of questioning?" Or just send them to me. I am like a five-year old child, as we all should be, always asking questions. I'm also, as one lady told me many times, "Like a dog that won’t let go of a bone." They must simply hate me because I can't be silenced. Let's keep hammering away, ridiculing the ridiculous, appealing to "common sense," and insisting on our innate goodness as human beings.