Compassion is Rational


One of the criticisms I receive is that I tend to think rationally. It’s not that I don’t have an emotional response to some act by someone else, it’s just that when I stop and consider a problem that I perceive, I make every attempt to evaluate that problem soberly, with consideration of all of the facts that I am aware of at the time. That may appear cold and dispassionate to some, but it’s not. As I already said, I am jua\st as liable to have an emotional response to something as anyone else. The difference is, I don’t act on that initial response.

We’re all, as humans, emotional beings. If someone hurts or attempts to hurt someone we care for, our immediate response is to get some sort of revenge. That’s not necessarily a bad response, but it’s not a reasonable one in that we may have identified the wrong person as the culprit. That’s why we have laws and people we pay to enforce those same laws. If all of us were to go out and commit our own form of justice on those we believed caused us some sort of harm, society, if there was one, would be chaos.

There are those that believe that there is a plan for everyone’s life. That’s what they’ve been taught their entire life in some house of worship. But is tht true? A son. daughter, husband or wife is killed in a war; How does that translate to a plan for the survivor’s lives? Grief, somehow is a plan for the others’ lives. Sorry, I don’t see it. Why would any supreme being want to  inflict that kind of pain in its creation? How does the death of a loved one bring anyone closer to that being? I’m sure there’s a pastor or preacher that could somehow rationalize that horror into something good, but the person listening, the grieving parent or spouse would have to have a tin ear to accept what they were told. That event is final and forever.

We are able to do good as well, no supernatural beings required. A few years ago, I helped a young woman with a 5 year old daugther get off the streets. Yes, she was homeless. I called in a favor after learning that she had been a highly trained Satellite (communications) technician in the Army. Today, she and her girl are doing great. No god needed, just someone being compassionate to another human being. That was something new to me. I probably stopped because it was a young woman with a small child. Would I have done that for a man, young or not? I don’t know but I’d like to think so. I have helped others, homeless, to find a shelter where we are, and I just think that’s the minimum I can do. We can all try to help another person, no matter what their issues are, and we should. That’s actually the rational thought I have. Do something good for someone, without needing anything in return, That may sound like a religious philosophy to some, but it;s not, it’s a humanist philosophy. No gods required for any of us to take it upon ourselves to do something for another person.

So yes, even though when /i firt approacehed the young woman with her child, I had no idea what to expect. Was she a substance abuser? Was she mentally ill? Would she take my approach as something other than what it was, that I meant no harm? I had no idea as I approached her on that ice-cold December morning. But my rational thought was that no, she wouldn’t see me as an aggressor or someone that was going to cause harm. I was right. Sometimes people are actually who they appear to be. Today, we’re still friends. In fact, I’m the only family she has.

Sometimes, outcomes are good, other times they are not what we expected. In either case, the attempt was made. Some actions we make seem to have no rational thought behind. But they all do, whether that thought contains some form of emotion or compassion, or is just a stark reality. The difference is that those thoughts are our own and no one forces us into any situation that we’re not prepared to be in at any time,

4 thoughts on “Compassion is Rational

  1. Along with other atheists, I am tuned into the here and now. I do good for goodness sake. Not for the sake of getting some treats in an afterlife or to avoid a god’s hell. I have a rational consideration of the consequences in this life. That my actions, whether intentional or accidental, have an impact on others. And if I’m going to co-exist with other people in this world, I have to recognize that impact. Having your internal worldview more consistent with reality is ALWAYS the key in everyday life. Because we’re talking about decision making and if I’m going to make decisions that affect what I do in reality, then if my internal review of reality is more consistent with actual reality, the better. And the more divergent my internal view is from reality, the worse.
    And yes, I’ve been asked where do I get my morality w/o god? I just trust my feelings to tell me that good things are right and bad things are wrong and it just seems to fall into place. I don’t know maybe it’s a miracle. Well what’s the alternative? A Christian morality that embraces all the barbarism of Leviticus while ignoring the simple wisdom in the golden rule? Well thanks but no thanks. I don’t need supernatural guidance to tell me whats right and wrong anymore than I need a flashlight to cut my grass in broad daylight. Essentially all theists unknowingly exercise their innate, secular ‘morality’ or conscience by cherry picking and choosing which parts of their religion to follow.
    Secular morality is far more superior because it’s foundation is based on rationality, well being & reality. And what is beneficial or harmful to society. Doing good for goodness sake, irrespective of a reward. Which makes those good actions selflessly good.
    Religious morality is based on ” whats’ in it for me?” Doing good for the sake of an afterlife. Which would make those good actions selfishly good.

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  2. From “Good Reads”

    Steven Weinberg — ‘With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.’

    I would add that any extremist fanaticism is like a religion that makes good people do evil.

    Doesn’t it seem that the easiest route for human beings should be to do good to others; to live in harmony rather than discord? Why then is it in reality, the hardest? The very simple message of saviors is often, “Honor the Creator, love one another.” For atheists, the Creator is Nature or The Universe or Energy, maybe. If theists require a Deity and the simple message remains the same, wouldn’t that be great?

    No threats, no dogma, no groveling, no blame, no sin…just this simple message of honoring what brought/brings life and loving your fellow humans.

    And kicking SARS-CoV-2 off the planet, plus saving the global economy and bringing back the incandescent lightbulb.


  3. Jim, I really loved the point you made about how we all have emotional reactions, the difference between behaving rationally and emotionally is whether or not we act on those emotional impulses or allow ourselves time to think it through. Excellent piece.


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