by Scott Hughes
I had a friend recently ask me why I called myself an atheist. She said, “you seem to have such a big heart.” Apparently, she thought that there was something oxymoronic about a benevolent atheist. (In her defense, it turned out she thought I was a Satan worshiper, not an atheist. )
As a history buff, a news junkie, and a political activist, I certainly must acknowledge all the helpful and philanthropic accomplishments of religious people and religious institutions. One must commend what religious people and religious institutions have brought to this world – in terms of education, healthcare, nourishment, housing and unity.
Even though I acknowledge these achievements, the idea that religion could possibly have a monopoly on philanthropy shocks me in its absurdity.
I could reject the suggestion of a link between religion and philanthropy on the basis that religious people have committed great atrocities in the name of religion. However, humans have committed great atrocities in the name of many non-religious ideas as well – Namely communism and nationalism. The fact of the matter is that humans commit atrocities, religious or not.
Despite that cynical point, I think it’s manifestly false to say that the only reason a human would be kind is because a god or gods told the human to. Yes, mankind is far from perfectly benevolent. However, mankind is equally far from perfectly callous.
The reason I help people is not because a god told me to. The reason I help people is not because I believe such actions will get me into heaven. The reason I help people is not because I believe it is moral. I don’t even believe in god, heaven, or morality.
I help people because it makes me feel happy. I believe that I am not the only person who receives this pleasure. In fact, most (if not all) of humanity takes pleasure in helping each other out.
Love may be a deep emotional connection that’s hard to define, but I think it�s a secular word. Philanthropy literally means love of people. There is nothing necessarily religious about loving people. People, religious or not, love other people. Are we not all philanthropists in our own light?
I’m a cynic; don’t get me wrong.
It may seem that the abundance of social conflicts between mankind are incompatible with the theory of mankind’s inherent philanthropy. However, this seeming incompatibility quickly vanishes when one remembers that people often engage in self-destructive and foolish activities.
If one can accept that a person would harm themself due to their own self-destructive folly, one can equally accept that a person would harm the object of their love due to the same self-destructive folly, even if that object is all of humanity.
What religious people may call sin, I call foolishness. What religious people call good, I call wise.
Whether you are religious or not, let me ask you to do something that will make you happy. Remember that inside of you and every person is a quintessential love. This quintessential love conflates the self with humanity. Fundamentally speaking, to say one loves oneself and humanity is redundant. Whether you believe this love is endowed by a godly creator or not, let yourself act on that quintessential love. By helping others you help yourself. By pleasing others you please yourself. Let yourself be at one with humanity.
About The Author: Scott Hughes owns and operates Millions Of Mouths – a website dedicated to ending hunger. Read more articles like this at the hunger and poverty blog on MillionsOfMouths.com:
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