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Secular compassion in a time of tragedy March 24, 2011

Posted by laïcité in International, Religion, Unbelief.
Tags: , ,

I came across this quote by Sam Harris where he talked about the disasters happening in Japan, and I just wanted to share it:

Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.

The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.

Religious faith, on the other hand, 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.

It’s only human to try and rationalize why things like these happen to good, innocent people, but we should resist the urge to do so. We may not go as far as to claim that the tsunami was a punishment from god, but even claiming that god had a purpose behind this disaster is bad enough. If I had lost my loved ones, my home, my livelihood, my possessions and my dignity in a catastrophe like this, the last thing I would want to hear is that this is all part of “god’s plan” to make me stronger. How comforting. Thousands of lives lost, all god’s disposable pawns, just to teach some people a lesson in inner strength.

Some people say that they can’t live with the idea that we are ultimately at the mercy of Nature; a force that lacks intent, purpose, or the ability to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving. But I say that it’s a better worldview to live with than one that involves giving a reason to the loss of thousands of lives and attributing it to a “benevolent” god – and in doing so, making light of the sheer extent of suffering inflicted onto other human beings.



1. peddiebill - March 24, 2011

The Sam Harris quote is a good one, but just maybe it refers to an imaginary God of a popularist yet implausible nature. Wasn’t there a quote that says “Man cannot make a worm yet will make gods by the dozen” ? If we are talking about the creative processes which make the entire universe why would we be so egocentric to assume that such a set of forces were alterable and should be altered for human convenience? If Einstein couldn’t figure the forces out, what makes us believe we understand enough to describe the creation forces as a product of what we know God to be. To then go further and think nature can be altered to stop us having a bad day seems a tad arrogant. This is the equivalent of assuming it must not rain tomorrow because a couple of ants have planned to marry and the ant guests might get wet. To the extent God is a limited human concept, why not settle for God being a metaphor for Compassion or Love, in which case God is found in an earthquake as the victims are offered compassion by those able to do so.

laïcité - March 24, 2011

I think there is an important distinction between saying that some good can come from this tragedy, and suggesting that a sentient, omnipotent being INTENDED for this tragedy to happen just so some good can come out of it.

The former is about humanity at work, showing love and compassion in the face of others’ suffering – but if that is the case, why not just call it love and compassion?

In the latter, I simply fail to see how such a “god” would be consistent with benevolence or compassion.

2. LCC - March 27, 2011

Quite rare but a good piece of writing by ST: “Acts of God: It’s how we react”

laïcité - March 27, 2011

Thanks LCC. It was a great read.

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