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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who’s More Compassionate? People of Faith or Atheists?

Once a week I visit a local senior center (am I still allowed to call them nursing homes?) and I lead a Bible study and hymn sing. A handful of older ladies attend. They enjoy the time we spend together, and I enjoy it as well. I do ask myself every so often why I am doing this. Is the reason based upon the pleasure I receive from my trips? Or, is it because I have compassion for the people of this particular senior center? Or is the reason because of some religious law or conviction that compels me to help the poor and down trodden? I’m not sure, but I can tell you that the reason is probably hiding in those questions somewhere.
There was a study released recently that claims atheists are more compassionate than religious people. You can read an article about this claim here. I don’t have the time to study the study and see how they came up with this stuff. However, on its face, the claim makes no sense because of the problems that arise from attempting to identify compassionate people. How does one quantify compassion in someone else? How does one experiment and/or test compassion? Usually these studies are done through some sort of polling. The problem with asking people questions about themselves is the inability to gauge whether a person is answering truthfully. This is especially true when asking questions about morality and ethics. Everyone says they are good, everyone says they are moral. In the end all you have is a study that doesn’t really say much about anything.
That has not stopped atheists from lifting up this study as a way of feeling good about themselves. An example of this can be found on this website. Hey, whatever floats your boat. The problem is that this study and the people interpreting it do not understand what religion is. They do not understand what motivates religious people, and therefore they do not understand that the desire of a person of faith to be compassionate comes from loving God and loving people.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28)
For the faithful, compassion comes from relationships. We are in a real and powerful relationship with our Father in Heaven. God is present within me; I experience God’s love for me first hand. God treats me with compassion every day, just like my parents have treated me with compassion my whole life. And because of this I know what a loving, caring and supportive relationship looks like. I know what compassion within relationships looks like because I have lived it. Thus I am motivated to keep extending my circle of relationships. Because of the loving relationship I have with God I want to develop loving relationships with the people around me. Compassion to a person of faith is simply experiencing something wonderful and desiring to spread the wonderful feeling around. What separates us from people who do not experience God’s presence, is the universal nature of our compassion. The Bible teaches us that we are all in relationship with each other and with our Heavenly Father. As result we have embraced the vision of extending love and compassion to every human being on the planet. Our mission is no less than creating a world of brotherly and sisterly relationships, under a heavenly parent. This vision inspires the people of faith to reach out with compassion more profoundly than any law or moral code ever could.
Maybe the people who did the study should sit with me as I hang with my lady friends at the senior center. Maybe then they might see that compassion has nothing to do with polling questions. It has everything to do with loving God and loving people.
God bless you,
Pastor Bill

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