"You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him." ~ James D. Miles
An Open Letter to Tom White
'I believe that it is a clash of religions, not of civilizations, and I don't mean Christian against Islamist but God-fearer against Unbeliever. The latter, by definition is always in the service of the Anti-Christ. And I further fear that our awful regime, while flying the false flag of Christianity and conservatism, is in fact a Mammonite show from top to bottom and as about as Christian as Nero – worse than Nero, in fact, because at least Nero wasn't a hypocrite calling himself a Christian.' (Bold added) -- One of 300 Million Takes a Stand by Tom White
Dear Mr. White:
I have enjoyed your writing at LewRockwell.com in the past and was certainly with you through most of your '300 Million' column. How any sane or compassionate person could be opposed to Cindy Sheehan and her message of peace is beyond me, and I appreciated your speaking out on the issue.
But then, in your final paragraph, you lost me when you suggested that I was somehow working for the Anti-Christ. I beg to differ: plenty of us who do not fear your god are, in fact, decent human beings working for love, compassion, and freedom.
More than my feelings are at issue here, Mr. White. To end evil and tyranny in this world, the two of us will need some help. So far, thousands of years of work by members of numerous religions, philosophies, and movements have failed in this regard. In the Twentieth Century, government regimes – with and without the claimed blessing of your god – murdered perhaps 180 million people, in addition to killing millions more in war. Dr. R. J. Rummel at the University of Hawaii was able to find 'only' about 133 million government murders (plus war, of course) in all of previous human history, so our approach has not worked well so far – the pace of government murder, at least, has increased dramatically. (Death by Government, 1997).
Given the size of the problem, alienating your natural allies seems counterproductive. You seem genuine in your desire for a better world, and I ask you to consider that 'Unbelievers' may in fact be decent human beings who are no more likely to support evil or tyranny than are members of your own church.
Perhaps we are using different definitions for 'Unbeliever.' It is true that I do not believe in the supernatural, which makes it impossible for me to believe in a supernatural deity; I am a complete Doubting Thomas on that score. As a teen and as a young adult, I had a chip on my shoulder about this because I grew up in the American Midwest, surrounded by professed Christians who were, in many cases, racists or bullies. Others were merely cynical or vaguely mean-spirited. In all, not many of the Christians I knew seemed to follow Christ's teachings, which – according to Jesus, at least – come down to this (from The Gospel According to Saint John, quoting Jesus):
13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Having spent years going to Sunday School and sitting through sermons at various Methodist churches, I knew that Jesus taught other things as well – followers would live forever in some fashion after death, for example, which never sounded possible or even appealing to me, and which I thought of as among the symbolic, non-literal parts of the Bible. It did seem clear, and not only from John 13:35, that the commandment to 'love one another' was the core of Jesus' teaching.
It is that core belief, Mr. White, that I find of value in Jesus' teaching and in other religions as well. Surely, whether a supernatural heaven and an afterlife exist or not, much of Jesus' teaching was aimed at bringing more love to the everyday world of the here-and-now. Indeed, some of Jesus' teaching suggests that one way to see the 'kingdom of heaven' is as an emotionally healthy world, here on Earth. Jesus makes this point very directly (to me, anyway) in a well known passage in Luke:
17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
While I cannot believe in the supernatural, I am a 'believer' in the brotherhood of man. I can expand on that a bit with a favorite quotation from Rose Wilder Lane :
'All men are brothers and each man is free.'
-- The Discovery of Freedom,, 1943
Lane's comment acknowledges one of the most important dualities in human life. Love comes from our sense of connection with others (fostered in the earliest months and years of life), while our need for freedom reflects the truth that we are individuals.
If we were rocks, 'freedom' would involve only being left alone; because we are all brothers and sisters, it must also involve compassion.
It is that last bit which confuses coercive socialists of all types: they believe, wrongly, that compassion can be imposed at gunpoint -- but that is another discussion. Back to whether I am a potential ally for you or a tool of the Anti-Christ:
The sentiments I have expressed about love and freedom seem, to me, perfectly deserving of the term 'belief.' I do not begrudge others a belief in a supernatural god or an afterlife, but I cannot see why such things are necessary in order to believe in love and freedom.
We feel compassion and respect for others when we are emotionally healthy enough to do so, not because of any philosophical or religious teaching we may have had. This is why so many Christians behave in un-Christian fashion, and why others who have never been formally taught to 'love their neighbor' do so anyway: loving one's neighbor is natural and healthy, not something which must be taught. My dog loves everyone he meets, and he's never once been to church; humans are the same way (in a much expanded fashion, of course) if given the love and respect they need early in life.
Those who need formal teaching on this score are unlikely to learn the lesson well – which, I believe, is why Christian and other religious exhortations to 'love one another' have not had more effect.
In other words: If you need to be told to love others, you probably can't.
This understanding put Jesus' teachings in a new light for me; it isn't that the message of love is wrong – it certainly isn't – but rather that telling adults to change how they feel about others can only have so much effect. Helping newborns, infants, and children to get the love and respect they need will, I believe, be far more useful in the long run.
This factor explains much of what you talk about and allude to in your '300 Million' column. In particular, it explains how millions of Christians can support the church-going George Bush and his occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq . It explains why many of those same god-fearing believers can show disdain rather than empathy for Cindy Sheehan. This is not to deny the many positive things that churches and believers often do; Christian response to the Katrina disaster is just the latest example of how churches often organize and enable the compassion felt by many individual Christians. My point is only that 'belief' does not guarantee emotional health or positive behavior. Conversely, 'unbelief' does not guarantee the opposite.
Alice Miller, especially in For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, has shown that much of the evil in this world is largely caused, abetted, and enabled by widespread cruelty and abuse to children, who then grow up angry and hateful, all too eager to inflict abuse upon others. This includes epic examples, as with the Nazi holocaust, the multi-nation Marxist holocaust, or the (far smaller in scope) Spanish Inquisition. Yet even in the worst of these episodes, some people are willing to risk their lives to help the victims. These are not always self-professed Christians or members of other religions – many of whom are, instead, collaborating with the oppressors. Indeed, one can find heroes and villains in both camps, among believers and among those who do not believe in the supernatural. Here is what Miller has to say about this phenomenon:
We admire people who oppose the regime in a totalitarian country and think they have courage or a 'strong moral sense' or have remained 'true to their principles' or the like. We may also smile at their naivet', thinking, 'Don't they realize that their words are of no use at all against this oppressive power? That they will have to pay dearly for their protest?'
Yet it is possible that both those who admire and those who scorn these protesters are missing the real point: individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out of a sense of duty or because of naivet' but because they cannot help but be true to themselves. The longer I wrestle with these questions, the more I am inclined to see courage, integrity, and a capacity for love not as 'virtues,' not as moral categories, but as the consequences of a benign fate. (pp. 84 – 85)
The 'benign fate' Miller is talking about is simply a warm, loving early life, which strengthens one's sense of compassion and connection to others. It makes almost no difference whether someone 'fears god' or is otherwise a believer in the supernatural. What counts, if you are interested in love and freedom, is whether people were raised with love and respect -- starting from birth and even before.
With enough of that, we will have a loving and respectful world – a world of compassion and freedom. Without enough love and respect early in each new life, our efforts will continue to fail.
I can support your efforts to bring more compassion and freedom into the world, despite not sharing your belief in a supernatural god. I hope you can support mine. We will need as many freedom-minded and compassionate allies as possible, working together, to bring about the change needed to save this world.