The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Empathy

January 5, 2006 | 57 Comments

The chief criticism of my post about the West Virginia mining tragedy seems to be that it demonstrated a lack of empathy. But if empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and judge how he or she might feel, I think iit’s my critics who lack that quality.

Yes, I’m the real victim here.

I’ve explained it all before, but no one seems to have taken the time to understand what I did. So I’ll take you through it, step by step.

Imagine that you’re The Raving Atheist trying to think of a post last Tuesday night. Bleak news about the miners dominates the television coverage. They’ve found one guy dead, so it doesn’tt look good for the rest. And of course, everybody is praying for a miracle, led by the President of the United States. But you know you’re not going to go anywhere near that angle. It would just be too cruel, because all the evidence points to the likelihood of twelve dead men.

But then what happens? A miracle! They’re all alive! (Not really, but we’ll come to that later).

Do you honestly think I wasn’t elated to hear that news? To witness the delivery of those poor, sad working people from the depths of despair to the height of relief? Of course I was! Did it bother me knowing, with 100% certainty, that all church-going folk were going to proclaim it a “miracle”? Or that that single word would be the headline of virtually every daily paper in America the next morning? Of course not! All I wanted to do was share in the joy.

What better way to celebrate (given the nature of my blog) than to write a post pretending to be disappointed that an apparent miracle had occurred and deprived me of an opportunity to gloat about the futility of prayer? I knew that it would make the believers among my readers happy: it would give them the opportunity to gloat back about the power of prayer. Additionally, they’d get to patronize the poor bitter frustrated atheist and wish him a “better luck next time” on his pathetic agenda. Plus, the atheists among you would be happy with the self-parodying aspect of the story. And don’t any of you pretend otherwise.

So I wrote that post. To make everyone happy. Even happier than they already were upon hearing the good news.

But what happens then? The unthinkable! My computer freezes, and by the time I’m able to post I discover that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding and the miners are all actually dead!

So again, imagine you’re me. Not only are you depressed by the dreadful news, but you’ve got a perfectly good post that you can no longer use. You’re far worse off than other bloggers, who can at least assuage their pain with sympathetic platitudes about how their thoughts (and prayers) are with the families of the deceased.

And remember, I spent nearly an hour writing the thing. I know Steve G has fixated on this point as evidence of my insincerity, but the fact is that it was another, very real circumstance which added to my pain. No, I obviously didn’t feel as badly as those who were directly affected by the tragedy, but I was certainly worse off than those commentators who were at the same distance from the events as I was. It was an hour (nearly) spent in anticipation of making others happy, and now in view of superceding events I realized it would have quite the opposite effect. Plus, it was going to be my post for the day and I suddenly had nothing.

Think of what I must have gone through in deciding to use the post. Q the Enchanter has rightly described it as a form of courage. I was well aware of how shabby I would look if I presented the piece in any form whatsoever, and of the opprobrium that would be likely be heaped upon me by my readers — and, worse yet, the praise I would receive from those I detest.

Catholics (I think) describe the highest form of charity as good works which are performed anonymously, with no expectation reward or recognition. What I did tops even that. I contributed the post with the near-certain knowledge that I would be vilified, perceived as lacking a conscience or perhaps missing a piece of my brain, the piece that controls the sort of basic human decency that stops you from doing things like what I did. And I did it all for something which only barely qualifies, if at all, as charity — stimulating a discussion. It’s easy to be a Jesus or a Mother Teresa or a Martin Luther King, Jr. when you know your cause is a recognizably worthy one that no one would think of denigrating you for. It quite another to pursue a lowly goal in a manner almost certain to damage your reputation.

Could you have done that? Have you ever experienced the sickening, sinking feeling of pressing the “publish” button on a highly questionable post, not quite knowing how people will react by expecting the worst? It’s an mortifying combination of fear, insecurity and self-loathing. You have no idea whether you’ll figure out a convincing way to justify what you did, and know that more than likely the excuses will only make you look worse.

The number for the Sago Mine Fund is 1-800-811-0441. I’ve given $25. I think the world with my posts and my donation is better off than it was without either — and certainly better than your comments and criticisms unaccompanied by any donations. I know that sounds self-aggrandizing and manipulative, but again, I don’t care. I know I’m better than you. Prove me wrong.

Comments

57 Responses to “Empathy”

  1. Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator
    January 6th, 2006 @ 12:16 am

    Doctor: Mine survivor critical, but making progress

    The 26-year-old sole survivor of the West Virginia coal mine explosion that killed 12 miners has med

  2. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 1:06 am

    …and if you didn’t write that number for the Sago Mine Fund, here it is again 1-800-811-0441. I challenge the theists that lurk here to out-donate us heartless, unfeeling atheists! I’ve donated $100 myself. Put your money where your mouth is and show the other side whose really gives more of a *!@t about humanity.

    (and if, instead, you want to shoot me for being a puss-headed cheerleader…well, then you have to find me first).

  3. Interested Atheist
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:48 am

    Keep up the good work, RA! Great posts!

  4. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 8:28 am

    I tried that same kind of appeal last month when RA posted a request to help his friend Ashli help a mom-to-be in need. It didn’t work and brought a scold down on my head, from more than one self-righteous atheist. I think you are safe, though, Fake, because us theists never scold anyone for encouraging acts of charity.

    RA, I am sorry to say it, buddy, but you got what you deserved. You allowed ego (I spent a whole hour writing this great post!), mental laziness (I am not going to write another one), and a miscalculation of your audience to push you into doing what you ought not to have. Not to worry though. All great writers (now– bloggers) are misunderstood. It is in the job description.

  5. Hero to None
    January 6th, 2006 @ 8:58 am

    Well I took a break from porn and decided to tourcher myself by coming here to read this slop. I walked away dumber. I’m pissed that I sat through the post. I think this RA gets his kicks by saying things that are knowingly stupid to get people going, and others buy in to it and he feeds off of it. Of course it helps that there are others that take his side. The botton line is everyone has to much time on there hands. If everyone would just look at porn there would be no fights. May be a sword fight but no one would get all worked up about it. By the way I donated $10,000 so people can quite trying to break there arm patting themselves on the back.

  6. Thorngod
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:03 am

    Right on, RA! I WOULD have been irked in knowing the “miracle” tags would proliferate, but otherwise I’m with you.

  7. PanAtheist
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:18 am

    Hey I rang that number and they won’t be set up for credit card donations UNTIL MONDAY!

    You can send cheques (made out to “Sago Mine Fund” to P.O. Box1510, New York, NY 10150).

    (I’ll wait till Monday, as I’m outside the USA).

    The operator asked me where I’d heard about the number, and I said the internet. She sounded pleased and a bit surprised.

    I anxiously hoped she did would not ask me which site though! (She didn’t!)

  8. Steve G.
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:31 am

    Yes, I’m the real victim here.

    You see, it’s exactly this type of comment that makes it difficult to take your pleadings seriously. I still, after three full posts now, can’t clearly tell if you are in earnest, or simply continuing to stoke the fire.

    If you could manage to put the sarcasm, hyperbole, and wittiness aside for just 1 post, it might be clear what your intentions are. But this post continues in the same manner as the other two…

    Yes, I’m the real victim here.
    So I wrote that post. To make everyone happy.i>
    I know I’m better than you.

    …and despite your protests, I am still guessing that your intent is mostly to continue to poke at people and stir things up.

    And remember, I spent nearly an hour writing the thing. I know Steve G has fixated on this point as evidence of my insincerity, but the fact is that it was another, very real circumstance which added to my pain.

    I’ve fixated on it because it’s an utterly inane comment and again signals an insincerity in all of this. ONE HOUR! ONE WHOLE HOUR! OH THE HUMANITY!

    Can you not see how hollow this reads? Either you simply want to continue a ‘controversy’ or you take yourself, your time, and your blog WAY too seriously.

    Think of what I must have gone through in deciding to use the post. Q the Enchanter has rightly described it as a form of courage. I was well aware of how shabby I would look if I presented the piece in any form whatsoever, and of the opprobrium that would be likely be heaped upon me by my readers — and, worse yet, the praise I would receive from those I detest.

    Courage? Vice is sometimes described as one of the virtues gone out of control and going unbalanced by other virtues. It would have taken courage to simply eat the hour, post the number to the mine fund, and move on. THAT would have taken not only fortitude, but a measure of prudence as well.
    If you want to think of this as courageous, it’s the kind of courage that fundie displays when they drop in on your site simply so they can shout ‘Repent or you are all going to hell!’. It’s a kind of blind courage people lacking in empathy often display.

    It’s easy to be a Jesus or a Mother Teresa or a Martin Luther King, Jr. when you know your cause is a recognizably worthy one that no one would think of denigrating you for.

    You mean like the denigration of Mother Teresa that I’ve seen here time and again (not from you necessarily) that she was evil because she wasn’t walking around tossing handfuls of condoms to those poor people in India? So it is always easy to be good, and no one EVER mocks Mother Teresa, Jesus, or Martin Luther King, Jr.? But wait, MLK was assassinated, and Jesus was crucified, and Mother Teresa gave basically her entire life?

    Maybe you are right though. Maybe you are justified in thinking your post was far harder to follow through with and cost you so much more (one WHOLE hour as you’ve repeatedly mentioned) then those people doing good that you mention.

    Have you ever experienced the sickening, sinking feeling of pressing the “publish” button on a highly questionable post, not quite knowing how people will react by expecting the worst? It’s an mortifying combination of fear, insecurity and self-loathing.

    Yes. Anybody who’s spent any serious time in cyberspace discussions and posting has had that experience. And you know what a some folks do after the fact? They follow Tony’s advice and apologize (I’ve had to do it more times than I can count) for being a jerk off instead of continuing to lecture on how misunderstood they are.

    You have no idea whether you’ll figure out a convincing way to justify what you did, and know that more than likely the excuses will only make you look worse.

    Finally, something we agree on.

    The number for the Sago Mine Fund is 1-800-811-0441. I’ve given $25. I think the world with my posts and my donation is better off than it was without either — and certainly better than your comments and criticisms unaccompanied by any donations. I know that sounds self-aggrandizing and manipulative, but again, I don’t care. I know I’m better than you. Prove me wrong.

    Since the highest form of charity is to do it anonymously, I’ll not trumpet whether I donate or not, nor will I make it some kind of stupid competition so I can outdo you or godsarefake or anybody else. If I give, I’ll do it for the only reason that matters.

    Because there are REAL people down there (some of them even atheists I am guessing) who are in pain, and probably need help and aid while they attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives and put them back together.

  9. tarkovsky
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:54 am

    Fifty-three people were killed and at least 60 injured in Thursday’s collapse of a hotel in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, a Saudi official said Friday.

    etc etc

    Lame, lame, lame, lame human mammals. People die every day. Get with it. Miners, Irakis, whatever. Painful for their kin. And that is part of life.

    It’s so “judeo-christian” to feel guilty for saying the truth, RA. Your argument to why I should in fact give anything to Sago Mine Fund (than to name-your-favorite-other-worthy-cause) is lame.

    Are you trying to redeem yourself? Are you actually thinking that $25 is the price to pay to save your soul? Geez being an atheist means to stand up and fight for your cause. You use sarcasm as your atheist writing weapon? Then get ready for some scars and this is one of ‘em. I found your original post right on the spot, with my apologies to the families of the deceased.

    Heck I say: Rosa Parks, you better sit tight on that goddamned atheist bus seat.

  10. Anonymous
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:00 am

    Hey RA, what happened to you? Your original post wasn’t even that pointed, for you, and perfectly explanatory anyway. So some jerkoffs once again objected to you calling bullshit on them. So what? That’s your job. Why this week did you suddenly become a coward? The people who declared “Look, God’s power is real” then had to quickly change to “Oh, well, actually, God works in mysterious ways that we can never hope to understand” are the real heartless bastards. You had it right the first time, stop apologizing.

  11. severalspecies
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:14 am

    To Steve G,

    Excellent post, yet somehow in the light of world wide events, (massive tsunami’s, mutiple hurricanes, world hunger, AIDs, etc….) RA’s tastlessness just doesn’t quite bother me.

  12. Steve G.
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:32 am

    severalspecies:
    You are 100% right. Thank you for bringing a sense of perspective back to the situation.

  13. Ian
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:33 am

    “Since the highest form of charity is to do it anonymously….”

    Who says this is true at all? Where is the logic you are basing this statement on? Would not the highest form of charity to be to give, and cry out to your fellow man as loud as possible “look what I did, imagine what WE can do!” Give, be generous, act in cooperation and unity, revel in your ability to be optimistic and idealistic. Where is the crime in being generous and being proud of being generous and encouraging others to be generous?

    I am guessing you did not give, that you simply choose to hide behind anonimity and the safety from judgement that it brings you. I am guessing, like most theists, you have suspended any kind of critical thought and are simply echoing the teachings of your wise cleric elders… never questioning, never seaking to better yourself or those around you.

    It’s too bad you have choosen not to think, question, or even participate with your own thoughts.

  14. Hero to no One
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:38 am

    RA where is my post you dont want people to know the real truth about your sorry ass blog. You edit out the shit you cant take or what. Be a man and let the posts stand.

  15. A Man
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:42 am

    RA your a sorry ass bitch. I feel real bad for you and your blog. People died and I should feel sorry for you and your plight. Get a clue. I ghope all atheist arnt as dumb as you.

  16. Thorngod
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    Talk about getting raked over the coals! S.G., if you have concerns about really important events around you, you must spend 18 hours every day casting complaints and reprimands in every direction in a wide variety of modes. However, I did enjoy your analysis.

  17. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 11:02 am

    Ian:
    What on earth are you talking about? At whom are you aiming that fatuous and misspelled paragraph about “theists”? If you want to argue that atheists are more charitable than theists … you have a lot to learn and a little time googling {“charitable giving” volunteers} would be a good place to start. The first thing that comes up is a study in Policy Review that notes among many other interesting findings that:

    The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).

    I would suggest that you make time to read this and other interesting things that come up in your google search, after you finish studying for your algebra test.

  18. Viole
    January 6th, 2006 @ 11:08 am

    No, Lily, great writers are never misunderstood; they are controversial. Any misunderstanding is done on purpose, consciously or not, because a reader doesn’t like the message they’re getting. Which is not to say that any controversial writer is great. (Sorry RA. Perhaps I’m still a bit put out from a lack of verses about me appearing on this page?)

    If you’re a frequent reader of this site, Lily, as you seem to be, you should no by now that very little of what RA says can be taken at face value. This post does not appear to be an exception. This goes for you as well, Steve, and the rest of you theists.

    That said, RA’s original post certainly was tasteless. Propriety is meaningless, kids. Just like profanity is a body of words we’ve decided we can’t hear, propriety is a serries of words we’ve decided we must hear.

    Long term readers will also recognize that RA does this insult and repent thing regularly.

  19. Steve G.
    January 6th, 2006 @ 11:19 am

    Viole,
    I get it. It’s why I still maintain it’s tasteless and shows a lack of empathy, and I don’t accept the ‘apology’. I am pretty sure its phony (as I think I said in my post).

    I also recognize that it’s TRA’s blog, and if he wants to post tasteless crap, that’s his right. And as long as the he leaves the comment boxes open, I’ll excercise the privelage he’s extended to point out that the tasteless crap is indeed tasteless crap.

  20. Jeff
    January 6th, 2006 @ 11:36 am

    What the fuck are you people on about? For fucks sakes, he’s just jerking your chain. It’s a BLOG for fucks sake, go outside once in a while.

  21. hermesten
    January 6th, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

    “The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).”

    Oh pish. I’ve read this report and these numbers are a load of hooey. For one thing, it counts just about any money anyone gives to his church as “charity;” and it counts time that benefits no one outside the congregation –like painting the rectory– as volunteer time. So if you don’t go to church, your opportunities for “contribution” are automatically reduced, by definition.

  22. Suelzle
    January 6th, 2006 @ 12:47 pm

    Check out this blog:

    http://greeklogic.blogspot.com

  23. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

    Hermesten:
    Your reading of the article is mostly correct. That doesn’t change the fact that other studies using different measures all reach the same conclusion. And then, of course, there was my own little experiment in sending RA’s friend the urls of some big and very good Christian blogs, since I knew she wouldn’t get much, if any, help here. Just as I predicted then, the need was met by the theists. No surprise.

  24. Alfredo
    January 6th, 2006 @ 1:23 pm

    Lily, you theistic douchebag:

    Can you point to these “other studies” that “all reach the same conclusion”, or is this mere hyperbolic bullshit, kind of like your skygod worship?

  25. Alfredo
    January 6th, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

    Steve G, you sad prick:

    The only thing worse than people who bark whenever their chain is pulled are people who think they’re taking the high road whilst doing so.

    Surely your time is better spent quelling your nameless fears with rigid, dogmatic spirit worship?

  26. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:21 pm

    Alfredo: You athesitic, sad windbag– do the Google search I designed and see for yourself. Why are potty-mouthed atheists so intellectually lazy?

  27. Dada Saves
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:41 pm

    SteveG writes, ‘Can you not see how hollow this reads? Either you simply want to continue a ‘controversy’ or you take yourself, your time, and your blog WAY too seriously.’

    Dude, get a grip, count to ten, breathe in a paper bag — whatever it takes. And think about who else just might be taking this blog WAY too seriously.

  28. hermesten
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

    Lily, I haven’t read “the other studies.” I’ve read this particular one only because I’ve seen it cited before. However, my experience in reading different studies on many different subjects suggests to me that almost any study quoted in the popular media is misrepresented in a variety of ways.

    You can count on anything that has to do with statistics or scientific principles to be misundertood by the vast majority of our so called “reporters,” since as a group, they are mathematically and scientifically illiterate. You can’t explain what you don’t understand. Then there is the fact that our MSM is primarily a promotional and advertising venue, not a news source. They might have an interest in educating their audience if it made them more money, but it doesn’t, so they just play to their perceptions.

  29. hermesten
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:50 pm

    Oh yeah Lily, I forgot the most important thing. Because reporters are ignorant, but also because it’s cheaper to recycle a press release than actually study something and report it , something like 80% of what passes for “news” in this country is nothing more than a partial or complete regurgitation of someone’s self-promotional press-release (or so I’ve read).

  30. Dada Saves
    January 6th, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

    Lily so smooth. She can use ‘sad windbag’ and ‘the Google search I designed’ in the same breath without so much as a blush.

    I’d like to take all the ‘charity’ accumulated by churches, then subtract the cost of the churches, brass candlesticks, etc., back taxes (I’ll give you pass on the interest), and see how much is left to actually do some good with.

  31. Choobus
    January 6th, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

    A man wrote

    “RA your a sorry ass bitch. I feel real bad for you and your blog. People died and I should feel sorry for you and your plight. Get a clue. I ghope all atheist arnt as dumb as you.”

    You retarded cunt “a man”. People are dying all the fucking time. 38000 people are dying EVERY MONTH in the Congo
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4586832.stm The resdt of Africa is fucked up as well with millions facing starvation in the next few months.

    Are you going to send them money and make sure no bloggers say anything about it that you don’t like? I doubt it.
    12 miners is nothing compared to this you fuckhead.

    And if you intend to write a sentance in which you question the intelligence of others for Christ’s sake try to get the grammar right.

    Your an assclown is not correct.
    You’re an assclown is correct

  32. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Hermesten:

    What is going on with you? You’ve been in a bad mood for how long now? Snap out of it– it is no fun for me to poke holes in your arguments, if you aren’t feeling up to speed.

    DS-How smooth does one need to be with a hit and run potty mouth? As for your question, you could do all that and since it would still not be enough to relieve the suffering we see all around us, Christiians would still continue to dig deep into their pockets and give and give and give. Just like we do now.

  33. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 5:21 pm

    Lily:

    Dada Saves and hermesten have very salient points to the issue of philanthropy (at least in the secular and atheist worlds). While the non-secular individual may be more philanthropic, as you assert, the track records of efficient spending by philanthropic institutions is highly dubious. To use your source, Policy Review also has an article entitled “The New Mission for Philanthropy: Shocking amounts of charitable giving are gravely misdirected and wholly ineffective” which reports on just how poor philanthropic institutions are doing at getting the money to the most needy in this country. If churches make up the majority of philanthropic money, as you assert, are you willing to accept the findings of this article that say they are largely ineffective?

    There are also too many other issues of what exactly constitutes a secular vs. non-secular donation that throw the entire body of existing research into philanthropy in to question. I mean what about the IMF and World Bank? What about government funded entitlement programs for the poor, which is a charitable source of money that far out distance any private philanthropic sources in giving resources to the poor. To me, these are secular charities. Most secular people who donate depend upon the government, rather than the church, for supporting the poor. How do we weigh the philanthropic value of hospitals and schools, where a lot more secular money goes than non-secular? What about the huge volumes of money sent overseas by individuals with family in other nations?

    I think we might agree that the research available on philanthropy is really quite incomplete and at this time is really impossible to fairly evaluate which side, secular or religious, donate more to the needy.

  34. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 5:26 pm

    Lily:

    Oh, and thanks for the heads up on expecting ridicule for trying to spur on more donations. So far, I find it kind of funny that my status as an atheist has possibly given me a free pass in here.

  35. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

    Fake: Now that was an excellent post! It is well written; there were no douchbags or a–clowns in it and, best of all, it actually moves real discussion forward. Give me a moment to pick my jaw up off the floor.

    Done.

    Actually, if I gave the impression I was talking about corporate bodies of any kind, churches, foundations, etc, I was badly off my point. I really had in mind individuals digging into their own pockets to help where help is needed. And, since I don’t tend to trust big organizations to use money well, I usually consult sites like Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org/) and Charity Watch (www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html) first, before giving money to any group I don’t already know.

    I do believe there is enough evidence out there to conclude what I think is obvious just from reading the responses to the three posts here about the tragedy in WV. It is not atheists who are in a hurry to help (besides you and RA). In fact many of the responses have been down right ugly and sick-making– see #8 here and there are others like it and worse on the others.

    Still, this is one subject I would love to wrong about. I hope you and RA are able to help bring the miners’ families lots of aid.

  36. Dave
    January 6th, 2006 @ 7:04 pm

    You mean people died in a mine that had many safety violations and prayer didn’t work to undo those safety violations. On top of that, magnets don’t heal either, WTF! It’s a real shitty day.

    It’s somewhat unbelievable that this issue is going on on this site for 3 days now. People died. People lived.

    But whatever we do, just ignore the man behind the curtain.

  37. The Atheologist
    January 6th, 2006 @ 7:11 pm

    Dave,

    Pat Robertson is looking into the situation. It may just be a problem with the prayer techniques that they were using or Atheist interference. See my blog for more details.

  38. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 8:26 pm

    Lily:

    Don’t be so fast to condemn Tarkovsky’s point of view (or Chooibos, for that matter who I know is also one of your “favorites”). While their rhetoric might be offensive to you, their message (at least here) is quite sound. These guys are simply illustrating the need for apathy in one’s everyday life, especially if you live in a media rich part of the world. Apathy is a very human reaction to the shear numbers of disastrous things going in this world at any one time. I mean, how do you get through your day if you spend even a second to mourn – or donate a dime — every time there is senseless loss of human life reported in the news? You either go broke while crying yourself into an early grave, or you have some mechanism that shuts off your emotional reaction to it all – i.e. you develop a certain level of apathy.

    The only real difference between them and us, is that you and I (and RA and PanAtheist) chose to subscribe to an emotional belief that embraces the idea of caring a tiny bit is a better path for ourselves than not caring at all – and so we have chosen to not be completely apathetic like they are. But our chosen “philanthropy” is logically indefensible, and we simply do it to fulfill our own needs, just as they stick to their apathy to fulfill their needs. So, for the same reason I don’t feel its fair to tell other people how to live their lives based on my own values, I don’t think its fair to judge someone who doesn’t get a kick out of donating money or lending their effort to a cause. They find solace in remaining more distant from disaster. Its not a flaw in them, its just a chosen difference in their way of life. I commend their individuality rather than condemn them for being different than me.

  39. Angie
    January 6th, 2006 @ 8:41 pm

    And sometimes you just have to laugh … not at the miners dying of course (before anyone gets bent outta shape) but at the reactions of a post and an explanation of that post.

    RA — I love your style! :)

  40. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 8:53 pm

    Lily:

    As to the issue of philanthropy, I did understand you were talking earlier about individual philanthropy and not institutions. I am glad you take the time to make an effort to give your money to institutions more effectively, than, say, blindly giving it to the Catholic Church (or, I am guessing, in your case, Baptist?) , but the truth of the matter is the path of money usually flows through institutions and they, not the individuals, are clearly the greatest benefactors of this supposed personal philanthropy you speak of. That is why I phrased my first paragraph as a question to you. I am willing to fully acquiesce your point that, individually, religious people tend to give more often, intend to be more giving people, and may even give more money than we do in the secular world. However, you need to acknowledge the obvious incongruity of this action which makes us secular people question the motives of most religious people’s philanthropy. People who generosity funnel money into corrupt institutions can hardly be seen as philanthropists. The religious world has a huge task ahead of themselves if they are to correct this problem (which I personally don’t think is possible) and, once the corruption has been shaken lose a bit, your claim that religious people are in fact philinthropic (rather than, say, simply giving in order to perpetuate their own religion) may gain some real meaning. Even though you may be wiser than many of the pious out there, and are truly being philenthropic, generally, religious people come off as willing stooges to one of the biggest flimflam scams ever created – the church’s collection plate.

  41. Choobus
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

    godsarefake,

    you raise a very good point, and in my case at least you are exactly right. I actually worry that if I started to care about what was going on in the world I would go completely insane and so something crazy. I cannot do as you dfo though because how do you decide who is worthy of your compassion? Do you go by numbers? Unpleasantness of deat and/or degree of suffering? Whatever fox news tells you? It’s impossible for me to make that kind of decision. Sometimes I might be caught off guard and be moved by some horror story (usually involving children) but, as you pointed out, I need my apathy to survive in what is, without any doubt, a horrible world (on average).

    As for Lily, well I’m afraid my hypocrisy meter has just gone into overload. You seem to think that because you don’t use colourful language to express yourself, everyone will believe that you are a sweet gentle soul, but your true nature (vindictive, malicious and hateful) shines forth regardless, like a kernel of corn trying to hide in a turd.

  42. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

    Fake:
    I can’t agree with you at all! Not with any of it. Apathy is not a virtue nor is it ever an appropriate response to the sheer number of tragedies and disasters in the world! Appropriately channeled anger is, when humans are at fault and the event could have been prevented. That is why groups are formed, laws passed, e.g. safety laws etc. There are other responses that are appropriate, when no one is to blame but apathy isn’t one of them.

    And while the sheer numbers can be mind-numbing, it is a cop-out, pure and simple, to wring one’s hands and say “well, I can’t help them all, so I won’t help anyone”. Bah humbug!

    Neither you nor I can save the world but we can make all the difference to one person. Are you old enough, by any chance, to remember Robert F. Kennedy? I was pretty much an ankle-biter but I remember hearing a speech (or a report on one) and one metaphor has always stuck with me. I can’t quote it but it was to the effect that all our good deeds even the smallest matter. It is like casting a tiny stone into a pond. The initial impact is small but the ripples fan out– ever larger.

    Philanthropy is not logically indefensible. It can be defended on a number of grounds; some more selfish or, perhaps I should say, prudential than others. However, there is a whole other category of giving that depends on sympathy, empathy, love (love of God, love of mankind, etc.)

    It is simply untrue that it “I do it to fulfill my own need” and I don’t believe that you do either, even if you think you do. Shoot, if I wanted to fulfill my own needs, I would save the money I set aside for any charitable impulse that moves me to buy a fire-engine red Mustang convertible. Talk about a need!

    As for the rest, well, as a theist, I don’t have any trouble at all imposing … er… recommending my values to others. Since it is hard to argue that the little part of the world in which each of us lives would not be immeasurably improved, if we would each turn to someone on our street or in our community and lend a helping hand, make a kind remark or spend a little money to relieve a need (these are all acts of charity, you know), I don’t hesitate to recommend them. Ripples, ripples, ripples, etc.

  43. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

    Fake, Sheesh, just in the time I was composing my reply, there is more to respond to.

    I won’t bother to argue the point about churches with you. That is useless. But obviously I think it is sheerly crazy to think that the collection plate is a scam. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to back that up with actual facts. Yes, there are individual churches that have behaved scadalously. But they tend to be non-denominational individual groups (i.e. they don’t have boards or trustees or a larger body to oversee what is going on). Now, I don’t know of a single denomination that doesn’t open its books willingly. Every church I have ever belonged to has an annual meeting of the members to work out the budget, has a treasurer and some sort of board and gives a running account of how much is coming in each week. I am guessing this comes as news to you.

    Nor do I agree with this People who generosity funnel money into corrupt institutions can hardly be seen as philanthropists. Well of course they are philanthopists but they are naive ones. Their impulse is still generous and good. But I think, as I think most people do, that one should know what one is helping to fund.

    Oh as to your question–no, I am not a Baptist, though I did once regularly attend a Baptist Church (Northern) when I lived in New England. I am a protestant who will soon be received into the Catholic church.

    Choobus! What can I say? I actually sort of missed you while you were gone. But I am over it now.

  44. choobus
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:10 pm

    Oh Lily,

    would you donate money to help me if I was trapped in a mine and came out with brain damage from all the fumes?

  45. godsarefake
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:26 pm

    Chooibos :

    How do I decide who to help? I really don’t make much of a conscious effort, and just wait for “the mood” to strike me. My criteria to pitch in and help someone or some organization is not much different than the criteria I use to decide who I chose to talk to or befriend – I can’t really rationalize the mechanism, I just know, on occasion, the dog needs to be walked, so to speak.

  46. choobus
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

    godsarefake,

    so if you get cold called by someone asking for donations to help starving orphans or something will you automatically give, or will you tell them you are unable to help if you have already satisfied your good deeds quota for the month? I went through a phase of giving money to homeless people for beer but after a while I found it was just too damned expensive. When I stopped giving I found that it was so arbitrary to give to some and not others that I stopped giving anything (although, talking of dogs, if they have a dog I still give them money and I ask thenm to get something for the dog as well as beer for themselves).

  47. Choobus
    January 6th, 2006 @ 10:34 pm

    By the way, don’t mines make quite a lot of money? Why doesn’t the company provide funds for those affected by this?

  48. Lily
    January 6th, 2006 @ 11:02 pm

    Choobus:

    I can’t speak for anyone else but it doesn’t seem rational to me to give an unknown group money because of a phone call out of the blue. Whenever I get such calls, I ask the person to send me details in the mail along with their most recent audit. Need I say, that that rarely happens? In fact, in my entire adult life it has happened once.

    As for helping you… the comic possibilities in answering that question are just about irresistible. Yet I must … I must… resist.

    To answer that question seriously (or try to at least), it would depend. Because the range of causes and needs are so vast, like everyone else, I have my favorites. And I always like to try to help locally first. I count on donations to reputable organizations like the Salvation Army and World Vision (to name ones you may have heard of) to help with those needs further abroad.

    So what about helping you? Well, if I knew about your need and if your spokesperson promised to duct tape your mouth, if you showed any signs of being able to ask … that question, I might. I might.

  49. godsarefake
    January 7th, 2006 @ 12:53 am

    Lily:

    (apathy thread) yeah…well, its your “recommendation” that gets you religious folks into so much hot water with us atheists. I do emphatically believe in what I said and I do take some umbrage to your suggesting otherwise (no need to apologize, I forgive your inflexibility). Clearly my way is far more accepting than yours in regard to apathy. All I can say some mighty awful things have come to unfold by the best intensions of honorable people – and, while the lack of actions of apathetic people may never provide a lending hand, on the other hand, there lack of action certainly doesn’t ever break anything either.

    A couple of corrections: I did not hold apathy up as a virtue, I simply don’t think philanthropy is a universal virtue (you, however, obviously do). Secondly, I did not say philanthropy is not defensible, I simply said there is no logical explanation for it. Your reasons, while viable on an emotional level, have no “weight” in constructing an argument that could be presented to, for example, to a Machiavellian who may view philanthropy as a sign of weak character.

  50. godsarefake
    January 7th, 2006 @ 1:06 am

    Lily:

    (church) “Collection plate” was meant as a metaphor for any method of money raising used by any religious institution, I did not mean to imply I was singling out the local parishes as particularly corrupt. Sorry about my literary misstep.

    As to the rest of this thread – it is obvious we will continue to greatly differ on our general defense/attack on the true motivations behind the great body of philanthropists in and out of the church. While I will accept naivety as a partial defense of motivations being true, it is self evident that there is a HUGE infrastructure behind many churches that costs a lot of money and that, alone, is enough for me to question just how much money is being spent on truly philanthropic ventures and how much is simply perpetuating the church. I guess one profound difference between us is that you probably don’t make this distinction in your definition of philanthropy – to give to the church is a viable philanthropic venture to you, right? That is the root of much of our disagreement here. On anther note — open book policies are not enough to assuage my concerns. While you may be more familiar with book keeping than I, my experiences (I am a programmer that writes accounting and inventory control software) has firmly convinced that even a fairly dull minded book keeper can hide and divert assets virtually for ever, and a good one can do things that make even me wonder if they aren’t creating “miracles.”

  51. godsarefake
    January 7th, 2006 @ 1:24 am

    Chooibos:

    I hate telemarketing, so if anyone calls me that I don’t immediately know, I hang up on them (yes, I do make an occasional mistake, but that’s just tough, I say email me instead). I cracked up at your quest into philanthropy with giving out beer money – I used to do the exact same thing and came to the same conclusion. When the mood strikes me, however, I occasionally still slip a homeless guy a few bucks. I remember once giving this little old bag lady ten bucks who came up to a female co-worker I was with at the time. The old lady screamed at the top of her little crackily voice, “Give me some fucking money, you stupid bitch” and simply walked away. While my co-worker stood in shock, I chased her down and gave her money. I couldn’t stop laughing about it the whole rest of the day. Most of my philanthropy is not monetary, however. I prefer to donate my time, rather than money, to help out people I know (and the people they know) more than anything – I feel far more secure that my time isn’t being misappropriated. Emergency funds for US based disasters (like this one) are also a personal weakness I have — its hard to fake a natural or man-made disaster in order to bilk people out of money, I get to keep my donation dollars “at home” (which is something I like to support too), and they happen infrequent enough that I don’t go broke with an influx of demand.

  52. godsarefake
    January 7th, 2006 @ 1:35 am

    Choobus:

    Also I appologize for mispelling your name three times before I noticed — perhaps its time for me to put the wine bottle down

  53. Lily
    January 7th, 2006 @ 10:29 am

    Fake: I pretty much figured that we had said it all but you did ask one question that I think should be answered because I have seen it asked here before in various ways but not answered.

    You wrote: it is self evident that there is a HUGE infrastructure behind many churches that costs a lot of money and that, alone, is enough for me to question just how much money is being spent on truly philanthropic ventures and how much is simply perpetuating the church. I guess one profound difference between us is that you probably don’t make this distinction in your definition of philanthropy – to give to the church is a viable philanthropic venture to you, right?

    Actually, no. I don’t think that giving to the church is a philanthropic act. I don’t think many (any?) Christian would, either. I am a part owner of the church (in its physical sense). I want a building to meet in, chairs to sit on, a library. I want a pastor/priest, I want electricity, air conditioning, a paved parking lot, etc. I want a kitchen to make the Sunday a.m. coffee and out of which we can run the soup kitchen. I want certain activities funded, be they a school, a daycare and mother’s group, literacy training, etc. All of these things cost money. The money that gets collected each week from members is the money we promised to give each week (or month) to support the budget we agreed on that pays for all these things. Visitors and non members chip in, or not, as they wish.

    Obviously, the bigger the church, the more extensive its outreach programs, the more money it takes to support it all. Certainly, appeals to help certain causes get made through out the year and responding to those would, I suppose, fall into the category of “philanthropy”. But I wouldn’t insist on it. It is just the nature of what we do.

    It didn’t occur to me to say so but thoughout our discussion, I never had giving through the church in mind. I was thinking of individual responses to needs that become known to us.

  54. godsarefake
    January 7th, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

    The kind of philanthropy you seem to have in mind is clearly a very specific form of it. To me, it sounds more like this discussion is less about secular vs. non-secular generosity, and more about the difference between the beauty and splendor found only in small town people vs. the harsh(er) “facelessness” found in the majority of city people.

  55. Siria
    January 7th, 2006 @ 2:22 pm

    No critisism whatsoever. I think you are honest, intelligent and I regret not knowing people like you.

  56. Smokey
    January 7th, 2006 @ 6:21 pm

    RA, personally I think you apologize for what you shouldn’t. It’s clear prayer didn’t do anything in saving these people’s lives, and it should clearly be made known, that even though you, as much as any other decent human being, regret these people not making it, one should not be regretful proclaiming the futility of prayer acts. When do Atheists ever get such praise, and acclamation in the media for being responsible enough to acknowledge that only hard work, and determination, with real rational analysis make things happen? Never. So, to bend over only because a few resentful Christians can’t accept the senslessness of their actions defeats the point of even having this website. If you refuse to stand up for rational cause only because you worry someone’s going to get offended, then you may as well never say anything. All anyone has to do is say they’re offended at you with anything they disagree with you on. It’s an easy emotional cop-out for anyone who doesn’t care to discuss, only promote their view.

  57. Tony
    January 8th, 2006 @ 12:29 am

    “Since the highest form of charity is to do it anonymously….”

    Who says this is true at all?

    Jesus. :)

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