Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Centuri0n from ' ... and his minsters a flame of fire' takes up the question of atheism and compassion.
Now hear me clearly: the question is not, “does the atheist feel compassion?” I would bet you that the atheist undoubtedly would feel compassion, and does feel compassion. There is no doubt that the atheist is not a Vulcan ascetic with no feeling and only logic to guide him in his choices about what to do. I am sure the atheist, faced with this woman as she was walking down the street, would feel something called “compassion” and, if he was not in a hurry, he’d do something about that feeling. He’s not Stalin or Nietzsche because he’s late for a meeting any more than the Christian in the same situation with the same day behind him and ahead of him who did nothing would be Torquemada.

Indeed: the question happens to be: “How do you manifest compassion to those who are unlike you?” Because it is very easy to manifest compassion to other American white middle-class people with college educations most of the time – they are just like us, and we have a lot of the same points of reference. You need a penny? I got a penny. You need a job? I know a guy. You’re having a mid-life crisis and you’re wondering if you should have been a doctor or a painter or a writer or a bar keep? Dude: shut up and cut your grass and tell your wife you love her, and mean it – don’t be stupid and throw out what you have for what you think might have been better in some way.

But what happens when we run into, for example, this girl who is nothing like us except that she is another human being? She’s not smart – so she’s not going to get our jokes. She’s also not very equipped to handle commercial responsibility – so you can’t really get her a “better job”. She’s also not as ridiculously-complicated as we are – so she probably doesn’t even comprehend some of what motivates our compassion for her from an atheist perspective. How do we decide how to offer her compassion?
A mini-essay worth reading - the fellow makes some good points and in a very readable manner. Where does compassion come from and how does it (if you will) flow downhill?

I have no answers - only an observation: Those who do not profess a religion are less compassionate to those perceived as beneath them socially or economically.

I do not say this is a Universal Truth, only a general observation. Note also that no one I call an acquaintance or friend (virtual or in real space) falls into this category - but I am choosy about the people I associate with.
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