Category Archives: Fellow Feeing

Slaughter by Divine Right

Things have been getting strange. Nearly every day it seems like the crazies are winning.

For a number of years Myanmar has been wracked by murderous attacks against a Muslim minority group of Rohingya people. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country with a significant Muslim minority. The UN states that the Rohingya people of Myanmar are among the most persecuted people in the world at this time. Myanmar security forces have driven the Rohingya people  off their land, burned down their mosques and committed widespread looting, arson and rape of Rohingya women.

There have been a lot of mass shootings recently involving religious groups from around the world.   We read about a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 where 6 worshippers were shot and killed while 19 more were injured. The lone gunman opened fire just after evening prayers.

In October 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg Pennsylvania 11 people were murdered and 6 more injured by a gunman. This was the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre was an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews—but it is by no means the first time that anti-Semitism has manifested itself in deadly violence against Jews in the United States.

In March 2019 there were 2 consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch New Zealand during Friday Prayer. The gunman who came all the way from Australia, launched two consecutive attacks that began at one mosque and continued at an Islamic Centre.  This case was also distinguished by the fact that the gunman live-streamed his first attack on Facebook. 50 people were killed and another 50 injured. These were the deadliest mass shootings in the history of New Zealand. The 28 year old gunman was described as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right movement that many Christians in America support. Just before the shooting he played “Serbia Strong” a nationalist song celebrating Radovan Karadžić who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

In April 2019, on Easter Sunday, 3 Christian churches across Sri Lanka and 3 luxury hotels were targeted by  suicide bombers in series of coordinated suicide bombings. Approximately 253 people were killed and another 500 people injured. This attack was believed to be in retaliation to the shootings in New Zealand. This is the fact caught my eye. Sri Lankan government officials said the attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama’ath a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties. The group was  previously known for attacks against Buddhists. The direct linkage between the two attacks was questioned by some experts. Yet these were clearly coordinated slaughters by a group of extremist Muslims apparently in retaliation for the recent attacks of the mosque in Christchurch New Zealand.

Then a couple of days ago, 6 months to the day after the slaughter at the synagogue in Pittsburg, there was another attack near a synagogue in California  where a man shot 4 people and killing one of them.  The suspect who turned himself in posted an 8-page manifesto online in which he boasted about being from “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jews.  He even said he had taken inspiration from the New Zealand mosque shooter in March of this year.

What do all of these events have in common? Violence? For sure. But violence of a particular sort. Violence in favor of or against a particular religion.  This is deeply disturbing. Have we entered the era of religious world wars?  They are happening everywhere.  What is happening here?

One of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, seemed to understand it best. As he said in his great poem “The Second Coming” which he wrote nearly exactly 100 years ago:

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

 

The Second Coming!

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Although this poem presages a “Second Coming” in the poem it is a nightmare. Just like the Roman World was shocked by the arrival of Christ, Yeats suggests, our world will be shocked and rocked by the new arrival. It will happen he suggest, about 2,000 years after Chris was born. About now in other words. It will be a “rough beast” that slouches toward Bethlehem waiting “to be born.” It will “trouble our sight”.  It will loose another “blood-dimmed tide” and may drown “the ceremony of innocence” once again. As the narrator of the poem seems to fear, it will no doubt wreak havoc and terror.

Is this the terror that is approaching? Is the beast moving its horrifying  “slow thighs?” Things are falling apart and the centre no longer holds. “Mere anarchy” is loosed upon the world. Why “mere” anarchy? The Extremists are taking over. The religious wars are back again. The rest of us are doomed.So it seems.

As I have said elsewhere, when religion leads to hate it is no longer religion. What we have is actually a toxic brew of hate and racism. All of these are inimical to genuine religion, but find fertile ground in the soil of pseudo-religion.

Some people (too many people) seem to believe that they have the divinely granted right to slaughter other people as a result of having been issued a licence to kill by their personal revengeful god. How can this be? Where do we go from here?

The Duty to Rescue

 

 

The American philosopher Peter Singer designed an interesting thought experiment. He asked people to consider this scenario: Suppose you are alone by a pond and you notice a young child has accidentally fallen into that pond and is crying for help. It is obvious that the child cannot swim and is drowning. Unless you help the child will die. As an innocent bystander you of course are not responsible for the accident. You don’t know the child. He is a stranger. You are a good swimmer and could easily save the child from drowning.  Would you be morally entitled to refuse to rescue the child because you did not want to get your shoes wet? I would think most of us would say no, the bystander has a moral duty to rescue the child. To do nothing would be abhorrent. Such people are not invited out to dinner.

In 1939 before World War II was over but after it was fairly well known that Jews were being persecuted in Germany and the European countries they still occupied, a German ocean liner, the MS St. Louis, was carrying more than 900 Jewish refuges from Germany. They wanted to disembark in Cuban, but were denied permission to land except for a handful of Jews that were allowed in because they had American passports.

The German Captain went to the United States next to try to drop off the refugees there, but they refused to accept the refugees.  After that he went to Canada and Canada refused to allow them in either. It was not our finest hour. He then sailed to various European countries where some but not all of the refugees were allowed in.

Many of those that were left were eventually rounded up by the Nazis and historians have estimated that about ¼ of them died in Nazi death camps. Some later referred to this journey as the “voyage of the damned.” This incident and others like it were instrumental in western countries coming up with a policy after the war of obligating countries to accept asylum seekers who legitimately feared persecution in their home countries. This is now part of part of international law.

Also early in 1939 an unidentified Canadian immigration agent was asked how many Jews should be allowed to immigrate to Canada. His reply is now infamous: “None is too many.” Few of us Canadians are now proud of what we did.

As I have argued elsewhere, the first principle of morality is the golden rule—fellow feeling. It is the basis of all morality. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is fundamental.

As Alexander Betts and Paul Collier argue in their book Refuge, referring to the thought experiment of Singer and refugees from Syria, “Like the drowning child, fleeing Syrians appeal to our common humanity…it is the raw compassion that is at the bedrock of the human condition. We might think of it as the first principle of the heart. It is not saintly to experience such a sense of compassion: it sociopathic not to experience it.”

We have some minimal moral obligations even to far away strangers. We have that obligation just because they are humans. I don’t think we have a duty to be saints. We can never sustain sainthood so I don’t believe we have to accept so many refugees that it would eviscerate our own society. But if the costs are low or even trivial, we have a duty to act. For example I am not sure that we have a duty to rescue a drowning child if it would seriously endanger our own lives. But if the cost is trivial, such as wet shoes or dirty clothes, we must act.

We don’t have to bankrupt our country to save refugees, but if it is readily within our means we should rescue them. If we don’t do that we are already bankrupt.

Buddhism: A Better Way

 

I recommend a wonderful little book written by Karen Armstrong called Buddha.  I love good small books.

I find Buddhism in many ways to be a surprisingly congenial religion.  Partly this is because it is very different from most other religions, especially the three severe monotheistic religions that were born in the Middle East.

For one thing, Buddha, unlike most religious leaders always wanted the members to think for themselves rather than relying on a charismatic leader. He expected his followers to exercise their own critical judgment. That is unlike almost all religious leaders.

Buddha believed that he became enlightened when he awoke to the truth that he had found embedded in the deepest structure of existence itself. He found that truth in himself, and believed that anyone could do the same.  In fact, he believed it was necessary for each individual to experience that himself or herself, or the experience would not be genuine.  That is why, again unlike other religions, the Buddha did not try to elicit faith. He did not want faith.  He wanted each of us to experience the truth ourselves.  He would be willing to help or guide us to this experience, but he could not tell us the truth.  He could not tell us how to find it. That was our job.

Only then would each of us could become a Buddha.  That is what enlightenment is.  One becomes a Buddha.  For the same reason one should not revere the man, the Buddha, it was rather his teaching, the dhamma (or sometimes dharma)that was important.  The word is used in multiple Indian religions. In Buddhism, dharma means something like  “cosmic law and order” but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha.  Reverence for the man would just interfere with one’s ability to experience the truth.

Similarly, one would not be able to get any help from the gods. Unlike other religious groups again, the Buddhist cannot expect any supernatural help to achieve enlightenment. Buddha believed that these truths embedded in existence were entirely naturalto human beings and could be experienced by any genuine seeker free from distraction.  Buddha therefore refused to make belief in a Supreme Being part of the creed.  One could believe in that if one chose, but it was not a necessary part of the enlightenment.

One of the beautiful aspects of Buddhism that really attracts me is this expansiveness or inclusiveness.  It is willing to accept that there is more than one way to enlightenment.  To someone brought up in the Christian religion that seems impossible. The Buddha just says how heachieved it. There might be other ways.  It is up to each of us to achieve and experience the way on our own.  If belief in a Supreme Being helps us to experience enlightenment so much the better for us.  If it is not necessary that is all right too.

What the seeker sought was peace free from all the travails of life. As a result “the new religion sought inner depth rather than magical control. The Absolute could be found in everything, including oneself.  Buddha was within each of us, all we had to do was find it in ourselves.  As a result, again, unlike many less congenial religions there was therefore no need for a priestly elite.  We are expected to experience the enlightenment directly, without an intermediary.  In fact, that is the onlyway one can experience it.

Prior to Buddha the religions of India were generally extremely ascetic.  One was expected to renounce all pleasure and desire.  In fact according to some sects one was expected to seek out suffering and pain to help achieve enlightenment.  While Buddha realized that often in life we were distracted by our desires and our search for personal pleasures, he did not preach asceticism.  That too could become a distraction.  Instead he advocated a middle way between the two extremes.  We must be free from domination in order to find enlightenment. We have to be truly free.

What the enlightened one would have to achieve would be a genuine compassion for others.  Complete fellow feeling for all creatures of the earth, not just humans. Selfishness would have to be overcome. Concern for others required in other words a complete subjection to the Golden rule.  “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  This is exactly what I have been saying about religions.Especially for laymen who had not experienced yoga training one could not expect that they lay aside all concern for themselves. I would suggest it is impossible in event and not desirable.   However they would be expected not to be imprisoned by self interest.  One would be expected to have genuine fellow feeling for others.  One would have to have the ability to empathize and sympathize with the plight of all other creatures.

To me this is a very congenial religion.

Darwin: The Greatest Religious Thinker?

 

Charles Darwin is reviled by many evangelical Christians. Some of them have suggested that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a godless philosophy that removes the sacred from the world.  I disagree. Not only that, I turn this around 180º. Darwin’s theory of evolution is a theory of great and profound beauty.  In fact, I think it is profoundly religious.

To Darwin, all life is one. All organisms are different branches of the same tree of life. This is a deeply marvellous idea that all of lifeincluding human life, is united on this planet.  There is solidarity to all of life.  I do not find this notion anti-religious.  In fact I would say this goes back to the original root of the word religion from its Indio origin, which was ‘connection.’  This is the original meaning of “religious”.  In fact I would go so far as to say that any so-called religion, which leads to separation of humans from each other, or from all of life, is deeply un-religious.

Typically fundamentalists around the world, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or whatever, try from time to time to usurp the meaning of religious to their own narrow purposes. When they try to expropriate the meaning of the world “religious” for their own restrictive and exclusive purposes they ought to be resisted strongly.

The most extreme versions of these religious beliefs have in the past turned to murderous doctrines.  Some famous examples include the Christian crusaders, Muslim terrorists, and Sikh assassins, to name only a few from a vast legion of candidates.  To these people I would suggest that as the button my wife Chris owned  said, ‘When religion turns to hate, it is no longer religion.’  Religion that does not help us to connect with others, or connect with the world, is no religion worth having. It is actually sacrilegious.

Darwin’s views in this sense are fundamentally religious.  In Darwin’s day the claim that humans and chimpanzees had a lot in common was a radical claim.  Remember there was no science of genetics or DNA at that time. Since then of course a lot of confirming evidence has been gathered.  First, there has been substantial fossil evidence which suggests that chimpanzees and humans had a common ancestor as Darwin claimed, and as many have been loath to admit ever since.  Remember Elmer Gantry, played by Burt Lancaster in the movie about the travelling evangelical preacher who had a chimp on stage and said to the crowd, ‘this may be your uncle, but he sure ain’t mine.’

In the late twentieth century scientists started gathering convincing evidence from DNA, which has led to the same conclusion.  Scientists have found that all living things have DNA.  For example organisms as diverse as frogs, bacteria, and humans all have DNA and the DNA evidence has been used to show how close the various species are to each other.  The DNA of humans and chimps is very similar.  DNA sequences which are read letter by letter indicate that humans and chimpanzees are in fact a stunning 98% identical.  They are basically the same.  Cut from the same cloth.  Scientists in fact now generally believe that the DNA evidence indicates that humans and chimpanzees did in fact have a common ancestor only a few million years ago.  This is very recently on the evolutionary time scale.  This could be compared with humans and rats who also had a common ancestor, but this was more like 80 – 100 million years ago.  This shows that greater changes occur over a greater period of time, but also shows that even humans and rats, which do not feel much fellow feeling for each, once had a common ancestor.

There is even growing evidence that humans and chimpanzees think and act in similar ways.  This is further evidence of their commonality, or close relationship. Researchers have found that chimps can gain complex cognition and even have the ability to count.  They don’t learn to count in the wild, because it is not necessary for their survival, but they can learn to count.  Chimps can even grasp complex notions like the concept of zero. Such evidence too suggests that chimps have a great deal of commonality with humans.  Humans and chimps even share the same blood types.

Many scientists now believe that this evidence points to the fact that chimps and humans did in fact have common ancestor as Darwin suggested.

For some reason the line of development or evolution, which led to humans led to an explosive development of mental capacity.  Natural selection favoured the evolution of organisms that could communicate, manipulate symbols, and construct language.  These were obviously evolutionary advantages for this species.

Some see this view of Darwin’s as basically irreligious since it seems to remove the concept of a divine creator from the world.  It actually doesn’t. Darwin himself believed in God. However, this does not make these views irreligious.  As I have said, I think these views instead demonstrate a fine sense of true religion in its original Indio sense of connection.  Darwin himself said in his monumental Origin of the Species, “there is a grandeur in this view of life with its several powers having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one, and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the 6th law of gravity from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”  Darwin did not remove God, but he did naturalize creation.

In my view the thought of Darwin is deeply religious.  Much more than the views of murderous fundamentalists or noisy evangelicals who so often seem to hog the stage.  Even though many people hold that Darwin removed God from science, he found an elemental connection between man and all living things.  I cannot think of anything more religious than that.  And that is what religion is ultimately about.  Connection.  It is not about what narrow beliefs one has about what to eat on what days, or whether the world was created exactly 4004 years ago.  No, religion is about a lot more important things than that, no matter what narrow-minded people think and preach.

Darwin’s view that we are all connected on the tree of life, is contrasted starkly by the views of Christian fundamentalists, and extremists of all religions, that they are superior to all others.  They want to be separate and apart from heathens, to say nothing of all life. They believe that they will go to everlasting pleasure in heaven while others will go to everlasting pain in hell. Such fanatics see an unbridgeable gap between them and other humans, to say nothing of them and other organisms. These are the most profoundly irreligious views imaginable.  Nothing could be more sacrilegious than that. I much prefer Darwin. In fact, I think he was one of the greatest of religious thinkers.

I’ve been told I’m going to Hell Soon: Fellow feeling and Religions

Some people just cannot grasp the idea that religions might actually have something in common. A couple of years ago I got in serious trouble with a real estate agent from the Bible Belt of Manitoba. I was speaking at a continuing educational seminar for real estate agents and we were talking about ethical rules. I told the real estate professionals, ‘Don’t worry about trying to memorize all the rules.’ I said, ‘Just know where you can find them and remember this—the fundamental rule: The Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I should have stopped there. Instead, I made a big mistake. I brought in religion of all things to an educational session for real estate agents. How stupid could I get? I said to them, this rule, the golden rule, was the basis of all moralityandall religion. I said all religions had this important rule in common. I presumed this would please people. Religions actually agree with each other. There is no reason to argue. They should be able to get along. But at least one agent did not accept that.

After my talk I was approached by a real estate agent. He asked me if I was “born again.” I knew immediately I was in trouble. No I said, “I was born only once to my knowledge.” But I did think about Bob Dylan who said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

The agent pounced on my comment. “I thought so,” he said. “You are obviously nota Christian because you are equatingChristianity with Islam. That means you are going to hell.”  And that was not enough. He added, “And you’re an old guy so you will be going to hell soon.” That last part really hurt. (Well not really)

Obviously this was a man without fellow feeling. He could not grasp that it was a good thing, not a bad thing that all or most religions agreed on the fundamentals. He much preferred to think that hisreligion was superior to all others. I would say that meant he was not religious at all. No empathy; no religion. No connection; no religion.

As I have already said, the word “religion” in fact comes from the old Asian/Indian word religiothat means “connection.” I think it explains religion perfectly. It explains how religion is what connects us to others. I would even add it is what connects us to the world, to nature, to all beings.

It is deeply interesting to me that religion has a common core.  Karen Armstrong has some interesting things to say about this. She had joined a convent at the age of 17 but found it was not for her. She became a scholar instead. For the next 40 years she learned a lot about compassion and dedicated her life to the concept. In my view she did not move far from the world of what a convent or at least religious retreat should be. When she studied world religions she too was surprised to learn that compassion was the core of allmajor religions.

She became a historian of religion, received the prestigious $100,000 TED prize in 2008 for her work promoting interfaith dialogue, and founded the Charter for Compassion, a multilingual and multi-denominational effort to transform the world’s religions into a force of global harmony rather than discord. She enlisted a wide array of thinkers from many faith and moral traditions.

Armstrong summed up her life long study in a book called Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. In it she wrote:

 

One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes called the Golden Rule, “Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you,” or in its positive form, “Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.” Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody— even your enemies.

 


         Armstrong also challenged the common view that religion is the cause of all wars:

“In fact, the causes of conflict are usually greed, envy, and ambition, but in an effort to sanitize them, these self-serving emotions have often been cloaked in religious rhetoric. There has been much flagrant abuse of religion in recent years. Terrorists have used their faith to justify atrocities that violate its most sacred values. In the Roman Catholic Church, popes and bishops have ignored the suffering of countless women and children by turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse committed by their priests. Some religious leaders seem to behave like secular politicians, singing the praises of their own denomination and decrying their rivals with scant regard for charity… Disputes that were secular in origin, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, have been allowed to fester and become “holy,” and once they have been sacralized, positions tend to harden and become resistant to pragmatic solutions. And yet at the same time we are bound together more closely than ever before through the electronic media… In a world in which small groups will increasingly have powers of destruction hitherto confined to the nation-state, it has become imperative to apply the Golden Rule globally, ensuring that all peoples are treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves. If our religious and ethical traditions fail to address this challenge, they will fail the test of our time.”

 

Armstrong quoted the final version of the Charter for Compassion, which was launched in November of 2009 and came to embody this spirit by offering an antidote to the voices of extremism, intolerance, and hatred:

 

“The principle of compassionlies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others — even our enemies — is a denial of our common humanity. […]

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.”

Armstrong offered the following as a definition of compassion:

 

“Compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Compassion can be defined, therefore, as an attitude of principled, consistent altruism.

In fact, the first person to formulate the Golden Rule predated the founding figures of Christianity and Islam by five centuries and a millennium, respectively — when asked which of his teachings his disciples should practice most tenaciously, “all day and every day,” the Chinese sage Confucius (551–479 BCE) pointed to the concept of shu, commonly translated as “consideration,” which he explained as striving “never to do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

Armstrong clarified this as follows:

“A better translation of shu is “likening to oneself”; people should not put themselves in a special, privileged category but relate their own experience to that of others “all day and every day.

Compassion, thus, is a matter of orienting oneself toward the rest of humanity, implicitly requiring a transcendence of self-interest and egotism. I would say that this means that we are not required to renounce self-interest, but rather to transcend it. We must combine it with beneficence. We must love others like ourselves, but clearly that entails, that first we love ourselves.”

Centuries after Confucius, the three major monotheistic religions adopted the strikingly similar doctrines that many believe are at the core of each religion. I also believe that this same principle—the Golden Rule—is the also at the heart of all morality. I hope to explore that in a subsequent post. It is also interesting that the compassionate spirit is ennobling in all cases and even when it has a secularorigin.In other words, fellow feeling or compassion is the basis of religions and a morality. I think that is important.

I think that real estate agent did not understand religion at all. Nor morality for that matter.

Golden rule

 

The golden rule is ancient and wise. It has 2 basic formulas—one positive and one negative. The positive version says something like this: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat us.” The negative version, sometimes called the ‘silver rule’, says, something like this: “”One should not treat others as would not like to be treated.” For my purpose it does not really matter which version is better. Both are good. It is a good rule.

I was stunned to learn that almost all religions have adopted the golden rule. They all have a version of it. Christians have it, but so do Jews. Islam has it. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and many other religions have it. Even very ancient religions have it. Some Christians think they had it first but that is far from the truth. Members of other religions probably thought they had it first too.

The Initial Declaration of the Parliament of World Religions proclaimed the Golden Rule. It was signed by 143 respected leaders from all of the world’s major faiths, including Baha’i Faith, Brahmanism, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Indigenous, Interfaith, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American, Neo-Pagan, Sikhism, Taoism, Theosophist, Unitarian Universalist and Zoroastrian.

In ancient Babylon there was an early incarnation of the Rule in the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest codes of moral conduct ever. The Torah had a version. The Old Testament had it, “Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”(Leviticus 19:18).

Ancient Egypt had a version: “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to cause that he do thus to you.” Another example from a Late Period (c. 664 BCE – 323 BCE) papyrus: “That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another.”

Ancient Greek philosophy had versions: “Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.” – Pittaccus  (c. 640–568 BCE). Thales (c. 624 B.C.- c. 546 BC): “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. Pythagoras who lived about 500 years before Chris had a version, and so did Epictetus and two of my favorite Greek philosophers, Epicurus, and Socrates.

Ancient China had it as well as shown by its  most famous philosopher, Confucius. So did Laozi. I could go on and on, but I think that is enough to make my point.

Virtually every religion has adopted the Golden Rule. It is what virtually all religions have in common. There must be something good about. And there is. It is the basis of religion. It is what connects us to each other. It is truly religious. And there is no need to denigrate any other religion. That divides us. They all have it! I think that is fantastic.

A Better way: Expansive religion

I have been critical of evangelical religion. That is what I am surrounded by here in Steinbach. Some of my friends have suggested that I have criticized a straw man—i.e. a religion that is easy to attack and no one subscribes to any longer.  I disagree.

In North America it a very large religious sector. That is particularly true in the United States, but in other pockets, like Steinbach, as well. It is also rapidly growing. A lot faster than the many more liberal Christian sects. It is also very influential.  Evangelicals were a major source of support for Donald Trump in the 2016 American presidential elections, as odd as that sounds. Evangelicals are by no means a “straw man”.

Because I have been critical I don’t want people to think that I believe everything is bad about religion. Far from it. I don’t want to be a nattering nabob of negativity to quote Spiro Agnew. In fact, I think there is a better way. I refer to it as expansive religion, rather than exclusive religion. It is religion that has jettisoned the old beliefs in invincible superiority of our religion over all others. Instead it sees what is held in common by religions.

Religions are so many and so varied it is very difficult (but not impossible) to find what they have in common. Some religions have dogma; others have none. Some religions believe in an afterlife; others don’t. Some religions have a God; others subsist without one. Some religions have beliefs and those that do have beliefs, they  vary widely, if not extravagantly. What then do religions have in common? I think you have to go back to the original meaning of the word “religious” for an answer.

Religion is based on an Indio-Asian word  “religio” which basically meant connection or linkage.  In other words, religion is what connects us or links us.  To what you might ask?  I think that what religion tries to link us to is first of all other people, but also other creatures, and even, ultimately, all life itself.  What connects us is religious; what severs that connection is blasphemy. That is my fundamental religious belief.

My wife once had a pendant  which she wore that said something to the effect that “if religion leads to hate it’s not religion.”  I have likely mangled the exact wording.  Yet the thought I think is clear and very important.  It goes back to that original concept of the word “religion.”

So religion is closely allied to the concept of fellow feeling or empathy.  If we have fellow feeling for others, or other creatures, or other life forms, we are acting religiously.  If we don’t, we are acting irreligiously. That is because without fellow feeling or empathy we are no longer connecting we are dividing  from each other. That is the opposite of religion.

Thus religion is based on fellow feeling.  The most important part of religion is the golden rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  In fact, it’s interesting that almost all religions endorse that principle as a fundamental principle.  I think it is the fundamental principle of religion.  All religions!  It is what connects us to others.  Do unto them, as you would have them do unto you. If you do you are acting religiously; if you don’t you are acting irreligiously.

I am not a religious person in any traditional sense of the word “religious.” However, I feel that the so-called “religious people” have hijacked this word for their own purposes.  I want to reclaim the word.  I feel that many people have tarnished the word “religion.” They use it to divide people rather than connect people. In  my opinion, they are sacrilegious no matter how many pious words they use.  In fact, I think it is them that are not religious, not I.

I think these things are important.  I resent those who in the name of religion try to disconnect us from others.  I resent those who try to claim that religion is a matter of us against them.  I particularly resent those that think that religion is a means of saying we’re better than them because our religion is better than their religion. That is the original sin. Worst of all are those who say those who believe like me are going to heaven forever, and those who don’t, are going to hell where they will suffer torment forever. That’s not religion at all. That’s the opposite of religion.

I intend to expand on these thoughts.

Donald Trump has the Empathy of a Turnip

 

I also heard an excerpt from an interview of Donald Trump in a July 2008 on the Howard Stern show. This shows the real Trump, if there is such a thing. It relates to an incident at Mar-a-Lago, Trumps estate for rich cronies and wanna be cronies. An 80-year old man fell from a stage to the hard marble floor and the blood started to flow.Here is how Trump described the incident entirely in his own words:

“I was at Mar-a-Lago and we had this incredible ball, the Red Cross Ball, in Palm Beach, Florida.

And we had the Marines. And the Marines were there, and it was terrible because all these rich people, they’re there to support the Marines, but they’re really there to get their picture in the Palm Beach Post.

So, you have all these really rich people, and a man, about 80 years old – very wealthy man, a lot of people didn’t like him – he fell off the stage. 

So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died.

And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away.

I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him. He’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible.

You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed colour. Became very red.

And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away

What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room.

They come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher.

They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side.

I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK.

It’s just not my thing.”

 This is a picture of Donald Trump by the man himself. Other people’s blood and pain is just not his thing. What is his thing? The stained marble floor. The rich people who are upset. He gives no thought–absolutely none–to an 80-year old man lying on the floor in blood. Donald Trump has the empathy of a turnip!

This is the same man who said about how disgraceful it was in Parkland Florida that the armed security guard stayed outside the school during the entire shooting incident in which 17 students were slaughtered by a former student with an AR-15 automatic rifle, and that he really believes he would have run into the school to confront the young man with a machine gun even if he had no weapon. This statement comes from the man who got 5 medical deferments from serving in the Vietnam War because the family doctor said he had a sore foot, an injury that Trump later discounted. Stephen Colbert said that he did not believe Trump because he did not believe that Trump could run. The story is about as believable as any other Trump ever told–not at all in other words.