By their compassion ye shall know them,
or, The unbearable lightness of popcorn
Well, I never thought I'd be in agreement with Sam Harris (The End of Faith) except in a negative sort of way. No, it isn't right to kill in the name of one's God. No, we're not here to wreak vengeance on one another but to care for one another. No, Christianity isn't red, white, and blue, etc., etc.
However, today I read this commentary authored by Harris and thought, "Amen!" ...uh, I mean "Right on!"
Now, I admire people who can expound upon an idea, who can really develop a theme. But I also admire the lapidary turn of phrase. In two sentences, Harris makes mincemeat of what I was taught to call mysteries of the faith:
The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet billions of people claim to be certain about such things.When Harris uses the term "certainty," he means something scientifically verifiable. And when it comes to true spirituality, the scientifically verifiable is often beside the point.
A couple of years ago, I saw a video retelling of the Nativity story, produced and distributed by a Christian denomination --I don't remember which one. In the film every detail mentioned in the gospels of Matthew and Luke was taken as fact and historically reenacted: from the angel appearing to Mary to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. As each supernatural event unfolded before my eyes, I had a sort of disengaged, "so what?" reaction. And I also remember feeling as though something was missing.
My favorite and oft-blogged-about Christian writer, Marcus Borg, expresses what I had been feeling when he says that we impoverish Scripture by reading it as historic and even scientific record...when we privilege the details of the stories over their richer metaphorical meaning.
Getting back to Harris, after doing the usual lambasting of fanatics of all stripes and then even taking "moderate" and "liberal" adherents to task for "inadvertently shelter[ing]" fanatics, he goes on to say something I can't argue with:
Compassion is deeper than religion. As is ecstasy. It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know.Harris isn't just making the point that atheists are good people and often even kinder and more caring than the God fearing among us. Nor is he saying only that religion is all a crock. He's saying that true spirituality does not manifest itself in a willingness to believe ten impossible things before breakfast (as Karen Armstrong once put it), but by the compassion for our brothers and sisters and the passionate love of life ignited in our hearts.
Otherwise ...pass the popcorn. It's just another movie.
Popcorn courtesty of
Webweaver's Free Clipart