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“The Empathic Civilization”
This is wonderful. (I mean, whole “X-Eve” and “Y-Adam” DNA studies are a bit sketchy, but that doesn’t change the message.)
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So I was reading this post on slacktivist’s blog, and the whole thing just felt very odd to me — I mean, beyond the usual oddness of trying to wrap your head around a subculture you don’t belong to. And I realized a little later that what was striking me as odd was the whole concept of martyrdom. I don’t get it at all.
I mean, from my perspective, the choice of ‘renounce your faith or die’ isn’t a choice. The answer is: you lie. You lie your head off. (It becomes much more understandable in a situation like Joan of Arc’s, where you’re going to die no matter what you say and lying really wouldn’t do you any good. In that case, yes, stand true to yourself and your faith. But if lying can save your life from an unjust tyrant, you fucking lie.)
Okay, yes, telling a lie is ‘wrong’, but there are mitigating circumstances. Slacktivist writes elsewhere (I can’t find the post) about the ‘righteous Gentiles’ who lied and lied and lied to the Nazis in order to protect hidden Jews. It’s the whole ‘lying to a murderer who asks where his victim is’ thing. Those lies are at the very least ethically defensible, if not obligatory.
And — more to the point — what use are you to anyone if you’re killed? If you can lie to get away, then you can continue helping others and serving your religion and doing good, even if you have to do it in secret. If you get killed for your faith, maybe you’ll be able to inspire others, but you won’t be able to feed them or protect them.
In Judaism we have an entire holiday around the New Year — Kol Nidre — which is based on this. Essentially, at Kol Nidre you say to God, “Hey, I’m just letting you know that in this upcoming year, I might have to lie about my faith in order to survive. If that happens, know that I don’t mean it, that you and I are still cool even if you hear me say otherwise. Sorry in advance.” That is how you do it, how I’m used to doing it. That’s what I was raised with.
I don’t know all that much about Christian martyrs, early or otherwise, so if I’m missing some vital part of this whole process, please let me know. And know that I in no way intend to offend anyone, Christian or otherwise; I have enormous respect for all Christians (and all people), especially those who are dedicated to the principles of kindness and charity expressed by their religion. I’m just expressing a cultural difference that jumped out at me while reading this post.
I love you all, and I hope you found this interesting or enlightening in some way.
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Atheists are a diverse bunch. (Quoth Eddie Izzard: “We’re from everywhere.”) Some have had bad experiences with religion, and some haven’t. Some were raised to atheism; some found it on their own. There are as many different ways to be an atheist as there are people who claim that label.
But, there is a way to do it wrong. Embracing prejudice, bigotry, and comforting lies (including Us vs. Them conspiracy theories) means you’re doing it wrong. Casting all religious people as The Sheep or The Enemy is absolutely an overgeneralizing, vicious fiction, exactly the way that religious persecutions of The Godless Heathens is based on a cruel fiction.These are things that atheism purports to reject.
It’s possible to wed your atheism to cynicism and gloom, and go around hating people and this Earth. That’s a way of doing it, but in my opinion, that kind of atheism is also doing it wrong. The way I see it, atheism should be about engaging this huge, confusing, fantastic, horrifying and splendiferous universe exactly the way it is, without any embellishments or avoidance of the empirical truth, while endeavoring to make the best of life right here and now for oneself and others.
But that’s just my own path. Like I said, there are uncountable paths to be an atheist, and they all have a few things in common, besides the lack of belief in a deity. The big one is, if your atheism makes you an asshole, then you are doing it wrong. If you are an asshole, then you are doing BEING A PERSON wrong.
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Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not because this will get you into Heaven or keep you out of Hell; not due to your gratitude for the undeserved grace of God; not because you love Jesus, who asks this of you or because you’re trying to follow his model of the best of humanity; not because of the law and the prophets or because of some Kantian or Rawlsian imperative or some utilitarian calculus. Simply follow the Golden Rule because it will protect you from becoming a gaping asshole.