2009-05-20

Reason & Compassion

The two keystone virtues of Humanism are reason and compassion. I've recently come to appreciate that on this blog, while I've emphasized the former thoroughly, I've somewhat neglected the latter. Since I believe this life is the only one we have, that we should make the most of it, and that we're happiest when we work with others to improve the world, my goal in writing should be to truly help others rather than simply entertain my readers by discussing the absurdity of religion.

It's easy enough to point out why a belief is false; it's more difficult, and more productive, to identify why it's believed and address a believer's deeper concerns. Let's look at an example. Modern science quickly and easily dismantles the creationist worldview as a matter of fact, but we need to realize the centrality of a creationist's belief that God is in total control of the universe and thus of their lives. We can, and we should, explain why their beliefs don't match reality, and we need not always be gentle in doing so, but we can't forget that creationists are humans just like ourselves who happen to have a mistaken viewpoint. If one is to make any progress in promoting any idea, it does no good to simply dismiss anyone who disagrees as stupid. We need to appreciate that creationists don't cling to a non-scientific view of the universe because they're truly convinced by the evidence that it's correct; they cling to it because they're afraid of what it means if it's wrong. It's important to explain, therefore, how evolution has provided us with an instinctive morality and the ability to reason, and that the sciences have given us a greater understanding and control of our lives than religion ever did. It's important to make them understand that accepting evolution doesn't equate with descent into moral anarchy. Laughing at believers can be fun, but it has only entertainment value and should never be the majority of my religious commentary because it serves only ourselves. Showing believers they don't need to believe in the supernatural in order to be happy, on the other hand, is a work of both reason and compassion.

The non-religious generally understand the practical impossibility of truly hating the sin while also truly loving the sinner, but I have failed to realize that in hating religious belief, I end up hating the religious believer. It's unacceptable, however, to have greater concern for an idea, whether that idea be religious or secular, true or false, than for humankind. Since my innate tendency is to do otherwise, I must focus more on loving the irrational person than hating their irrationality. None of this should at all imply that I should ever back down from communicating or defending my disbelief, simply that I shouldn't let winning every argument and pointing out every logical error forever trump all other concerns. Perhaps the most frustrating experience in life is attempting to have a conversation on a particular topic with a person who has adopted an irrational stance toward it, but that doesn't excuse me for becoming upset when I should anticipate the probable reaction from the beginning. It is irrational, and thus hypocritical, of me to expect others to be rational. I shouldn't even respond in kind to those who antagonize me. There is little virtue in treating people well who return the favor; there is, however, much in rising above pettiness and treating others with the compassion they have not earned.

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3 comments:

mbiz said...

That is a great post. Lots of Christian values in it, I see you have kept.

Accepting people's differing opinions, and not being angry at the person but rather their beliefs or words. Every person is of value.

I am a Catholic humanist. You can say that about any real Catholic, Pope John Paul II? You bet, a humanist.

mbiz said...

Oh, and I don't believe in creationism.

Secular Planet said...

Compassion is a Christian value, but it's not really unique to Christianity; it's common to almost every religion and to almost ever life philosophy. Some people say Humanism is like Christianity without the supernatural, but I think those people are looking only at certain elements and forgetting that it doesn't need to be a polar opposite to be different.

You're right that one can be a religious (small-h) humanist, and if there was any pope who was, then it was JP2. (Capital-h) Humanism, however, has more specific meaning to it. Of course, the capitalization is only the recommendation of some Humanist organizations.

Yeah, most Catholics don't believe in Creationism, but you're still supposed to believe that humankind did descend from the original pair who were given souls, right?