Saturday, January 28, 2006

Empathy, Religion and Politics

Don't yell at me before you even read the post.
And hey, I can talk religion if I want to, it's my blog!


First, let me start by saying that Slate, in their article Tear Up the Road Map, quoted me and my article Hamas Victory - What Does It Mean? that was posted in my "political" blog.

Why am I telling you this? First, for the obvious tooting horns reason. Second, because I'm about to direct you back to Slate and I just wanted to say that I prepared this post before I knew about Slate's quote.

Unity Chain
Uploaded on August 6, 2005
by olivander
Anyone not aware, Slate has a Meaning of Life TV, and this morning I listened to a fabulous interview with Huston Smith, who used to be a professor of philosophy and religious studies at MIT and Berkley respectively (among many other credentials). The interview is about 7:30 minutes long.

For those too lazy to listen, I summarized the main points - Robert Wright asks, Huston Smith answers:

Q: In today's integrated world and globalization, are there any adjustments religions need to make?
A: In theory religions need to adopt a policy of 'live and let live,' working their own destiny.
In practice, however, I'm not optimist because of human nature. All religions point to a human flaw - putting ourselves and our interests above those of others. When it comes to institutions, groups of people, it's the group's interest that matters above those of others.

Q: Has one religion been more tolerant than others?
A: Historically, it was Buddhism, but today even Buddhism isn't that tolerant.

Q: Isn't it ironic that while religions are supposed to help us transcend beyond our own perspectives, the religions themselves can't get over it?
A: The main virtue religions preach is empathy. But we can't really feel what others feel (such as hunger of a starving man). This is the challenge of life - we can never achieve it completely, but we can incrementally work at it.

Q: In this global world, can religions make accommodations for each other? Doctrinal?
A: No. These are bleak times. Religions have been seized by politicians and politicians have no conscience; they will seize anything to help themselves.
Much of what religions are blamed for, the politicians should be because they use religion for their own end.

I just wanted to share...

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ME Strauss said...

I was just thinking. That would be an interesting character/plot a story about someone who actually did the things that religion preached . . . was nonjudgmental toward everyone, not just those in one's own religion, had empathy etc. and how the character was treated. Probably gets killed in the end by the folks who decide the character thinks that he or she is above them when, of course he or she doesn't because of the original premise. . . . :)

melly said...

That sounds vaguley familiar, Liz ;)

Pat Kirby said...

Heh, yeah, I was going to say, me strauss's character sounds like Himself, Jesus.

All religions point to a human flaw - putting ourselves and our interests above those of others.

Since I'm not religious and see humans as super-smart animals, not God's annointed ones, I see self-interest as an aspect of all living things. So some degree of selfishness is inherent to all humans. Sadly, the point of religion is to transcend those base human/animal instincts.

I also see people as needing to identify with a group or institution. As social creatures we are programmed with an innate tribalism (herd/pack mentality). What we are is defined by what we are not. "We are not," say some, "like 'those people.'" And by default those people aren't people. It's rather easy to kill other people and justify collateral damage (dead women and children) if they are not us.

Some [people]lack empathy because to give into empathy is to understand the enemy and recognize that "he is us," that brought up under the same situations, we might follow exactly the same path. Most people don't want to recognize the darkness in themselves. Yet in the end, in pursuit of "the enemy" and hard-to-define principles like democracy and freedom, they end up embracing the darkness anyway.

Jennifer said...

That was an interesting post. I read it yesterday and it still has me thinking on the topic...I always enjoys when that happens.

Glad you posted it.

Melly said...

Pat, thanks for sharing your view. I'm glad the empathy bit is something many think about as important to positive relationships. I often ask people (when debating political issues) to put themselves in the others' shoes. Many simply refuse flat out.

Jennifer, thanks, that was exactly the point :)

Carter said...

Liz, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein hit that exact point.

This post sums up my opinoins about organized religion. Thay all start out with only the best intentions, but it does not take long before the religion becomes less about the interests of the followers and altogether too much about the interests of the leaders. "Power corrupts" is too true, and worldly power too soon outweighs moral virtue in the minds of humans.

Melly said...

Stranger in a Strange Land, it's been ages since I read this I don't even remember the ending. But yes, I remember the premise.

Deborah said...

It's been ages since I read that book, too. But I remember the passage about the pink monkey. "Put a pink monkey in with a pack of brown ones, and they will tear him to pieces because he is different." I doubt I got the wording right, but it went along those lines.

The last Q&A struck a chord with me. I refuse to practice any organized religion because I feel that the vast majority (not all) are phony and use religion as to raise themselves up in the community.

On the positive side, religion can teach you humility, strength, and compassion.

Melly said...

Deborah, I forgot all about the pink monkey. He.

I agree, religion in and of itself, can teach good things. But take any doctrine (religious, political, etc.) to the letter, to the extreme and you've got yourself fanaticism. Not so good...

Patry Francis said...

I love Huston Smith. Thanks for posting this.

Melly said...

You are most welcome, Patry :)
I'm so happy others find value in his words and wisdom.