Sunday, April 3, 2011

Humanity is good and evil. Don't blame it on god.

I would like to write today about humanity's nature. This is inspired in part by views I've held for a long time, by recent events in the world (such as the murders in Mazar-I-Sharif) , and the writing that some have done in response to those events (PZ Myers had a moving piece).

Christianity, Islam, and a variety of other religions tend to give the credit for the good and bad that humanity does in this world not to humans, but to either God or the Devil (or equivalent for the particular religion being discussed). The skill of a doctor who saves a child was guided and inspired by god; the murder of a child was brought about due to the devil's insidious whispers. God is begged for the strength to resist temptation, and praised when temptation is resisted, while the devil (or the flesh) is blamed when temptation is not resisted (the disconnect there is a subject to be touched on later). When great charitable acts are done, god is thanked; when selfishness rules, the devil gets his portion of blame.

This is all false. All the good and evil that humanity has accomplished in this world, is in us. When Hitler started the death camps, it wasn't an absence of god, or the presence of the devil: it was Hitler as human. When hundreds (or more) came together to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it wasn't the divine hand of god: it was hundreds of people as humans. When a little boy at a parade caught some candy thrown by a fireman, and saw another little boy upset and crying because he didn't catch any, it wasn't god who moved the first boy to share his candy, but that boy's compassion and sense of fairness. When one child grabs another's beloved toy, and breaks it, that's not the devil at work, but selfishness and spite. When a father sees his child crying and takes the time to kneel down and hug him, and find out what's wrong, and do all in his power to fix it, that's not god moving within him, that's a father's love. When a different father jams his thumbs in his son's collarbone and threatens punishment when they get home if the child makes another sound, that's not the devil at work, and that is NOT a father's love.

When we look at all the good that people do in this world, whether small or large moments, whether saving a life or sharing a piece of candy, and then attribute that to god, we denigrate the people who are choosing to take those actions. Let me say that again: when we thank god for the good that people do in this world, we are DIMINISHING, not the action, but the people taking that good action. To say that the hand of a surgeon who saves a life was guided by god, inspired by god, takes away from the years of hard work and stress that the surgeon has undergone to develop that skill, as well as the system that allowed the surgeon to develop that skill. Do not say "Thank God", for that misplaces your gratitude. Rather, say "Thank you Doctor."

By the same reasoning, if we blame the devil for a father who abuses his son, we are absolving him of too much responsibility, and thus raising him up higher than he deserves. We should deal with such a father, not as if the devil is his influence, but as if the father is to blame. Correct and reform the father if possible, but never let him hide behind the devil.

I can think of times when I have shown compassion and goodness, and I can think of times when I've been cruel, selfish, and so-much-less than good. I look at the people I love, and the people I've known, and I see the same: moments of compassion, and moments of pettiness. I look at the world I see in the news, and I see the same: moments of good, and moments of evil. And everywhere, I see things that fall between the extremes. To blame or thank god for any of it, to blame or thank the devil for any of it, is false. More than false, it seems at times downright harmful.

If we continue to excuse our worst natures with appeals to the devil, or because some lady ate a piece of fruit she shouldn't have eaten, it can only make it more difficult to mitigate or (dare I hope?) eliminate our evil. In addiction therapy, it becomes necessary for the addicted to acknowledge the harm they've done to others in service to that addiction before it becomes possible to truly make amends, and break away from the addiction. If humanity is going to progress and improve, we must acknowledge the harm that WE have done to ourselves, and stop blaming it on god and the devil. As long as we deny our culpability, we enable ourselves to continue as we always have.

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