May 2, 2012

Atheists, Fundamentalists, and Empathy

A title in Raw Story really caught my eye.  “Study:  Atheists more driven by compassion than highly religious people.”  As a PK (preacher’s kid) and an observer of human behavior for almost 60 years, this comes as no shock to me.  What surprises me is that this connection is finally being made in a larger venue than the whispers and shakes of the head I have seen when I bring this topic to light.

I have blogged earlier about the hijacking of Christianity in self-titled fundamental Christian churches.  Trust me, they are nothing close to fundamentalists.  I had a conversation with a conservative acquaintance who spouted all kinds of incorrect facts to me to make her point.  I asked her to give me websites for proof to back up her assertions.  All she should tell me was that she heard people say they were doing what she proclaimed they were doing.  I then asked her that if I said I was a millionaire, then that must be true—because I had said it.  Just because people call themselves fundamentalists does not make them fundamentalists.
According to the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science out of the University of California (,  “Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”
Why is this?  What has happened that has completely derailed the decency that one would expect from an organization that professes Christian beliefs?  As I have said before, money certainly plays a big role in this—particularly in the mega-church organizations.  However, this goes beyond that.  Barry Goldwater, one of the co-founders of the modern conservative movement, observed the following in 1981.
"There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.' "
I believe he hit the nail on the head.  One problem with these people is that they will have no compromise whatsoever.  While I understand why they do it, it is unreasonable to demand this in a heterogeneous society.  The biggest problem, however, is that the assumptions or “facts” that they base their arguments upon are largely incorrect. 
First of all, this country is not a Christian country.  It was founded as a Constitutional separation between any church and the state, which drives them absolutely crazy.  James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, gave his first veto against a bill that gave a religious group money to take care of indigent people.  While he agreed with the intent, he disagreed with the role of government giving public money to religious organizations, something that GW Bush and Obama have since allowed.
Now we see that these “religious” organizations do not even believe in the basic tenets of Jesus Christ (feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, curing the sick, taking care of the children, turning the other cheek, etc.) unless a profit is involved.  Yes, government is important in taking care of its people (the common good), but does not need to be involved in the accessory aspect of society.  It is the right thing to do.  It is the just thing to do.  Now, however, being a fundamentalist means turning your back on such ideas. At least, now it is being discussed.  Maybe a movement will develop that will remove the tax-exempt of these havens for the rich.

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