Thursday, July 15, 2010

Empathy could very well drive me to Hell.

I was reading a blog a few days back, and there was one comment from a conservative Christian that really stuck with me. Essentially, he made the claim that while he was an atheist, nothing prevented him from doing whatever he wanted. If he wanted to hit an innocent person, he did. If he wanted to hurt an innocent person, he did.

Now that he was a Christian and thus aware of the eternal consequences, he no longer acted as he might want to, but rather as God did. In his words, since atheists didn't think they faced those same consequences, there was nothing stopping them from doing whatever they wanted, nor was there any reason for them to stop.

The thing that really struck me about both of these scenarios is that the commenter doesn't demonstrate a sense of empathy in either case. He doesn't care who he's hurting, the pain they might feel or the humiliation.

And in the case when he's a Christian, the thing that's stopping him? Again, not empathy. Not the recognition that this is a fellow human being. What stops him is the threat of Hell. He doesn't want to suffer, and so he won't do whatever he wants.

(And, on an interesting note, if God truly had changed his heart, then shouldn't he no longer want to do the desires of the flesh/old man?)

If that's what prevents him from hurting others, then I'm all for it. But this isn't someone I'd want to maintain a connection with, nor be alone in the same room. Because the inference I'm getting from this is that he's not restrained by his lack of desire to cause me harm. He's restrained by his desire to not go to hell. He's restrained by a selfish desire, in terms of how the outcome would impact him.


Laura said...

On top of that, whatever he does, God will forgive him. All he has to do to evade consequence is repent. I actually knew a girl who was pressured into having sex by this logic (she was 14, just to note). He said, "Are you a Christian?" She said, "Yes." He replied, "Then God will forgive you." So people DO at least occasionally use this as an excuse to do things they believe are wrong.

Andrew said...

Good point! I think Christianity's Hell dogma and sinner's prayer view of salvation creates a lot of folks with a very hobbled ethical system.

Anonymous said...

I want to think that this guys thinking is an aberration but it is not.

Certainly there are times when I don't do certain things due to the consequences. I STILL like driving a car as fast as it will go...........but the consequences far outweigh the momnetary rush.(a lesson that took me 6 tickets to learn)

As a nontheist when I contemplate how I should treat others I try and consider how I would want to be treated. There is no god to stop me from being a mean son-of-a-bitch, BUT the common bond I have with others, as fellow worms, (as one Christian hymn says) I try and do the right thing.

Just don't cut me off in traffic though. All bets are off then, :)

Laura is so right about the sin, confess game. Nontheists can't play this game. We just have to bear our own guilt when we are less of a person that we ought to be.

I watched people use the altar like a Catholic confessional. A weekly clear the slate routine so they could then do whatever they wanted.(and I did it too)


Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorena said...

I must say that I was a hardcore fundamentalist Christian, but I never did say stupid things like that. Why? Because even though I was a Christian, I did live out in the world, and I paid attention. I knew well that my non-Christian friends weren't horribly immoral.

Do these people live under a rock or something? Haven't they noticed that non-church goers are good, very good people?

OneSmallStep said...


And even that rationale exposes the selfishness of the whole enterprise. In his mind, "Regardless of the wrong I do, it's okay because God will forgive me if I'm truly sorry." It's all focused on the person committing the wrong action.


Agreed, and that's part of why it's frustrating to hear that I reject this belief system due to pride or really wanting to sin or putting myself above God. No, I reject it because I see huge moral problems with the system.


**There is no god to stop me from being a mean son-of-a-bitch, BUT the common bond I have with others, as fellow worms, (as one Christian hymn says) I try and do the right thing.**

And I would so prefer to be friends with someone where the common bond stops them, as opposed to a belief in God. The latter is too much like the rationale of a five year old. "I can't do this because Dad says it's wrong."


I'm starting to wonder if I ever was in a Christian mode even when I called myself one. I never said that I shouldn't do something because God wouldn't approve or that it would make God sad. It was as though I didn't believe God was a part of the process at all.


They may notice it, but it's explained away that we're all enthralled by the one who masquerades as the Angel of Light. :)

Grace said...

You know, One, I wouldn't want to come across as a Christian in any way defending this type of thinking.

But, in a deeper sense, we don't all start at the same place in a life of faith.

As a non-theist, this person was quite a dangerous individual. Without empathy, or any external standard of morality, he/she was capable of anything, perhaps murder if the circumstance were right.

Prayers that growth in Christ will happen speedily, and that He will act out of genuine love, and the new life in Him, rather than from fear, and bondage to law.

OneSmallStep said...


**But, in a deeper sense, we don't all start at the same place in a life of faith.**

The difficulty I have with this line of rationale, though, is the context. I've seen this before -- that we can't judge all Christian behavior on the same standard, because they don't all start from the same place. Some have better, more loving, less broken backgrounds than others.

I'd buy that if we're talking about therapy, or trying to rebuild one's life through secular means. But if Christianity, and the influence of God, is supposed to be the one true thing that can truly repair everyone, and is the one true thing that will eventually make everything perfect, and if God is all-powerful, why is the healing time line the same as secular therapy? Why is it hindered or influenced by someone's background? Why isn't God's influence the same on everyone, regardless of any road blocks?

Sarge said...

These people are the recruiting pool for the Crusader, the Christian Soldier, the monst Militant of the Church Militant.

Just let them off the leash, tell them that their desire is "god's work" and ya better watch out.

Most of the people I've run across who thought that way were jerks and pigs in the first instance, and the bible and "Knowing The Lord" really didn't pretty them up any, no matter what they say or think.

Mystical Seeker said...

One of my biggest disappointments as a fundamentalist Christian teenager was my discovery that Christians could be big jerks just as much as anyone else could.

Empathy and compassion clearly have no relationship to one's theology.

Grace said...

I don't know, One. But, it's sure not.

I've read the comment that it may take a greater, and deeper act of grace, and compassion for a messed up sex addicted pedophile to refrain from molesting one child, than a doctor acting from a habit of ethics, and morality to save the lives of a hundred children.

A radical statement for sure...

We judge by outward appearance, but God knows the heart.

OneSmallStep said...


No kidding. ANd yet, perhaps there's a correlation between the Christians who lack empathy are the same ones so eager for warlike activities.


I think my disappointment is more along the lines of that person's inability to see how his views on theology convince people that it's immoral and thus they want nothing to do with it.

OneSmallStep said...


But then do you not see how these situations actually serve to work against the standard Christian theology? If God's power operates no better than any secular therapy, then how can it claim to the the best way to Truth? The only way to Truth? Or that God has this awesome power that can work wonders in your life and heal everything?

Yes, in the secular aspect, it no doubt would be much harder for someone struggling with pedophilia to act morally towards a child than a pediatrician. But that should have absolutely no impact in terms of how God operates in one's life. And based on how you're describing it, a person's background does constrain how well God can work in one's life.

Sarge said...

"No kidding. ANd yet, perhaps there's a correlation between the Christians who lack empathy are the same ones so eager for warlike activities."

I'm in complete agreement.

There seems to be a solipscism involved, there aren't people, there are "things" They Identify this deity with themselves, in some way; I guess they actually think it can hurt THEM, so they might just lay off others...who are not really people.

Grace said...


I don't know why God doesn't change us instantly to reflect the perfect love of Christ, but it truly does seem that "sanctification," is a life long process..

We are changed from "glory to glory."

Maybe God wants us to learn something on the trip, and impact others along the way. We play a role in the whole process.

Hey, realizing the reality of my own fallenness, and how much further I have to go to reflect the perfect love of Christ has made me a whole lot more tolerant toward others, and patient with those sinners in the church. (LOL)

Gotta go, One. I'm actually typing from a hotel.. Headin out West.

grasshopper said...

Moral behavior as a result of the fear of punishment is one of the earliest stages of moral development. I think Christian doctrine allows a lot of people to cease their moral development at around the level of a small child. Not all, certainly. But a lot. I also found this reprehensible around the time I was questioning the religion I'd been raised with, and it contributed to my leaving the church.

The atheists I know are among the most moral people I know, and not because they're afraid of anything.

Ahab said...

The person you described sounds like a sociopath due to his utter lack of empathy, something faith is highly unlikely to change. Sociopaths find remarkable ways of dancing around social and religious rules, convincing themselves that they are somehow exempt. Mark my words, a "Christian" sociopath will find ways of justifying his immoral deeds, and even of using faith as a tool to get what he wants. I knew such a person, and that's exactly what they did.

DairyStateDad said...

The real irony, in my view, is that the deepest message of the Gospel is ALL ABOUT empathy. The BS about believing that JC died for your sins to save you from hell is an ugly distortion imposed later on.

And I completely agree that this guy is probably a sociopath.