Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor
Volume VII, Issue XXVII
Essential Knowledge III
Does the human condition indeed require Faith to sustain it? I write from that perspective in this essay, but there are those who would disagree. Indeed there is fresh argument to the effect that human compassion can (and indeed DOES) exist apart from Faith. Leaving the Sciences vs science arguements of the past, a new study from the University of California, Berkley, suggests that Compassion Moves the Non-Religious [click to read] more than the people of Faith. A closer look would not necessarily discredit the compassion of the faithful, but identify the top motivator in the life of a person who's life is not characterized by Faith.
"Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," explained Robb Willer, co-author of the study and UC Berkeley social psychologist. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns." -- Laura Saslow, Researcher
Saslow goes on to say that it is more likely that the person of Faith will cite Religious teaching as the reason for his or her actions. The person who professes NO belief will indeed cite compassion by default. Atheists often cite the observed lack or compassion they see in religious people as one reason they chose not to believe. For me the study has deeper implications. I remember Bertrand Russell's wrestling with the meaning of life:
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation be safely built. -- Bertrand Russell (from A Free Man's Worship, 1903)
In despair, one still reaches out to find an anchor. A soul adrift still seeks safe harbor. Conscience still leads us to the safe waters of compassion... even as we dismiss it as a simple evolution necessary for the survival of the species, that anchor becomes MORE important because we find nothing else to tie our rope to. The first irony implicit in the role of despair is that for many of us this was the point where we began our discipleship IN the Faith. Though those who want to deny Faith will undoubtedly reference obscure similarities to now extinct ancient religions to obfuscate the beacon that I follow, I humbly offer that compassion finds its roots in some very clearly marked repositories. Winston Churchill said it best: "There is no better hope than Christ's principles in the Sermon on the Mount!" Wallace Henley [click to read] writes:
"Everyone on the planet has a worldview. Those who understand reality through a biblical view know transformation is the fundamental issue. "Where do wars come from?" asks James, rhetorically. They come from our lusts and passions. We desire power and possessions, and we enter conflicts to satisfy those perceived needs.
Biblically formed thinkers are the ultimate realists. While many in the world try to find other explanations for "irrational" human behavior whether in the form of nations or individuals, those who embrace the Bible's worldview know the bottom line: "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
Then follows the question: What worldview can really bring human transformation that benefits the rest of the world? Certainly not a belief system that advocates intimidation, manipulation, condemnation, and domination to force global allegiance.
Suddenly the Christ towers in our precarious moment: the Christ who taught us to love our enemies, to be harmless as doves but simultaneously wise as serpents, to lead as servants, the Christ who renews the human mind, and who gives us a whole new way of seeing and living."
Alvin Schmidt concurs with Henley. In his book: Under the Influence [click to read], Schmidt documents well the roots of much of what the world today calls "Compassion," in the revelation of the Divine. The Berkley study first referenced finds two reasons for action: compassion (usually for those one feels empathy with), and doctrine. What if pure doctrine expands compassion? Consider those early Christians who pulled discarded babies out of the Tiber River and cared for them. What about the Righteous Gentiles who risked their own lives to protect their Jewish Neighbors from the Holocaust?
In fact Jesus once asked: "Who is my neighbor?" in Luke chapter 10. The lesson he proceeded to teach did just that... EXPANDED the reach of compassion! Jesus was always embracing lepers and talking with people he wasn't supposed to... like WOMEN. In a world where the (self) righteous man would pray, thanking the Divine that he had not been born a Gentile, a Slave or a Woman, Jesus brought the message of promise to all three, as well as to the House of Israel. IMAGO DEI was a non-negotiable concept for the carpenter from Gallilee.
A very sad story was seen in the Washington Post recently. It was about a 19th Century home for unwed mothers where the bodies of hundreds of discarded children had been buried. The story went on to explain the distain the surrounding community had for the "home babies." They mainly died from neglect. The picture of the building's exterior bore a chilling resemblance to a Müller home, but here the resemblance ends. Where Müller saw IMAGO DEI, the administrators of this facility saw only the children's unwantedness. Today the household of Faith extends compassion in ministry to unwed mothers and their unborn babies.
Expanding compassion might well take the same reporter who investigated this home to shudder at the case of Kermit Gosnell's abortion clinic in Pennsylvania. Where Gosnell saw only unwantedness, we are challenged to see IMAGO DEI! That is the challenge, and the destination we have arrived at... a personal challenge to expand the vision of compassion, directed by the Divine!