Compassionate Atheist November 19, 2007

Compassionate Atheist

Spanish Inquisitor tells a really touching story of a woman he met at a recent high school reunion. (He went to a Catholic school.)

I’m including a long excerpt below, but the whole story makes for a nice read:

… I was surprised when one girl… came into the room and grabbed me, said my name, and then “I want to give you a hug.” She grabbed me and squeezed me tight, holding on a bit longer, and a bit more forcefully, than I would have expected from someone I saw only five years earlier… When she stopped, and extended her arms, holding my shoulders, I realized who it was, but still didn’t know why I got the hug, until she told me.

“You sent me a beautiful card when my son died”, she said, and then I knew. I had forgotten that about 2-3 years ago, her only child, her son, was killed in an auto accident after a ski trip. I read about it in the local paper. I wasn’t close enough to call and intrude, but I did know her, and so I went out, got a card and sent it, I think with a little note of condolence. Then I forgot about it, as we all do when life intrudes, until I got that hug.

… the sympathy I felt for her in her time of loss was not something that arose because of my religious upbringing. I’ve been ruminating on it for the past two days, and I think it’s something deeper, something more primitive, that motivated me. It was concern for a fellow human being, someone I knew, but more than that, someone who had suffered a terrible loss I could imagine myself suffering, one I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was pure human empathy that caused me to do that.

… my motivations for reaching out to someone who was experiencing my greatest fear – losing a child – had nothing to do with religion, religious upbringing, or any sense of spirituality. It is a one on one human reaction to human loss. And while she may still be religious (she in fact mentioned that her faith helped her get through it) I really don’t believe her faith made her tell me how much it meant to her, thereby making me feel good about what I did. I think she felt compelled to tell me because she truly appreciated what I did, and knew that I would appreciate knowing that. Again, a human to human contact. At that moment we created a bond between us, one that will probably diminish with time, but will always be there.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Richard Wade

    This beautiful story deserves a comment. The entire thing is well worth the reading. Thank you Hemant and Spanish Inquisitor for bringing this to us. It is a superb refutation of the bilious slander against atheists exemplified in the recent post here called, “Atheism: Isn’t It Wonderful?” The last paragraph is so powerful in its simplicity I feel compelled to copy it here:

    Frankly, I think this is a better basis for human morality than those premised on religion. But that’s just me. To do good things for the pure sake of their goodness, and how they will make others feel, is the highest form of morality I can think of. To do those same things because you want to curry favor with god, because you think he might withhold the keys to heaven from you, is so selfish, I can’t imagine how we ever formed a sense of morality based on it. In a religious based moral system, you really don’t do good for others, you’re really doing it for yourself. My sense is that people who say they do it “for the glory of god” or whatever, are actually giving in to their primal human empathetic notions, and don’t even realize it. It’s as if religion is a mask they put on for conformity’s sake. Good theists, then, would be very comfortable with humanism. Shedding god, they would still be moral. They don’t realize it, but it’s true.

  • Here Here. Well Said.

    Its interesting… I heard a pastor preach last Sunday on the problem of greed…. and that Christians are not supposed to be greedy. But is there anything more greedy than wanting to live forever?

  • Thanks for the link and post, Hemant. I appreciate it. I was just connecting a few dots for myself. Glad you liked it.

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