As a result of the unwavering nature of most religions and the fact that there is more than one perspective of God, we have feared, and fought, and killed each other over our beliefs. I recently engaged in fairly flaccid challenging of loved ones’ declarations regarding the condemnation of others by God to an eternity of suffering. This soft approach was dually motivated. I do not want to alienate my loved ones. But more importantly, debating would not seem to change minds. It only renders a winner and a loser. The loser is not likely to change his or her mind as a result of the loss. In fact, when it comes to a thing like religion, something that requires a certain amount of faith, such a loss may only require an individual to strengthen his or her faith. Logic which defies a religion’s beliefs becomes the enemy of the religion no matter how logical it may seem. It is this process that causes a thing like evolution to continue to be dismissed by many as simply a theory.
I was at our state capitol this weekend when I witnessed a man yelling at the people walking by. His message was clear and was one I heard many times before: “If you don’t believe what I believe, you will be punished for an eternity.” I disagreed with what he was doing, but loved him for his willingness to engage in this public display which seemed to alienate the people passing by in an effort to save them from having to experience the pain he believed they would inevitably experience. The man engaged me very briefly and handed me a pamphlet entitled “ARE YOU A GOOD PERSON?”. A video version of the pamphlet can be found here: https://youtu.be/TCSUKIhjevo.
The title, “ARE YOU A GOOD PERSON?”, is founded on what I believe to be a falsehood, the idea that there are “good” and “bad” people. I’ve theorized that empathy is the source of morality. Mirror neurons in our brains cause us to feel empathy. As this part of my brain does not distinguish between my pain and someone else’s pain, doing to you is very much like doing to myself. Without empathy, we could feel free to engage in completely selfish behavior. But people often engage in selfish behavior anyway. This is because personal history tends to define perspective. And perspective defines justification. Justification may work to counteract empathy. One common form of this is revenge: “You hurt me, so I’m justified in hurting you.” Or better, “You hurt an innocent, so I’m justified in hurting you.” Does revenge make one a “bad” person? In many parts of the world, this is called “justice”. This topic could take up chapters. The bottom line is that morality is relative. The idea that there are “good” and “bad” people divides us against each other via fear and a feeling of superiority.
The pamphlet/book goes on to condemn the main character, “MR. NICE GUY”, for being human: “HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A LIE?…HAVE YOU EVER STOLEN ANYTHING?…HAVE YOU EVER LOOKED AT SOMEONE WITH LUST?…HAVE YOU EVER CURSED GOD’S NAME?” The pamphlet/video proceeds to tally up MR. NICE GUY’s “SINS” and present them to a judge(God). It says God won’t forgive Mr. NICE GUY. But wait, the rules God is said to have put in place leave a loophole. The only way he could be forgiven is “IF A SINLESS PERSON OFFERED TO TAKE” his “PUNISHMENT…”. This would be “JUSTICE”. It would be “JUSTICE” to have an innocent person die for MR. NICE GUY’s wrong-doing… So God sent his son to die for Mr. NICE GUY. That’s right, the rules of the world God created require God to have his innocent son die so that MR. NICE GUY doesn’t have to be tortured for an eternity. For God so loved the world that he required an innocent man to die in the place of those who he deemed deserving of an eternity of pain and proceeded to send a majority of them to this tormentous afterlife anyway?
As illogical as this may seem to many of us, this pamphlet/video is based on the story which works as the foundation for many people’s beliefs.
So what can we do to put an end to this battle, this judgment and anger over others’ beliefs and their actions as a result of their beliefs? We just have to keep loving them. One is more likely to alter his or her perspective as a result of a loved one’s opinion. So let’s tell them what makes sense to us, not because we know we are right, but because we love them and want them to be able to be motivated by love instead of fear.