Self-centered Compassion??

10 02 2009

We live in an age where people think themselves more civilized than ever before. One quality or character that a person may lay claim to which contributes to such thinking is compassion. Or at least, what appears to be compassion. (Tolerance may be more accurate but for the sake of discussion, I will use “compassion.”) Never before have those in developed countries cared more for those people in developing countries, enabled by globalizing technologies such as the internet, television, the speedy transportation, the cellular phone, etc. We live in a truly connected and caring world…. or do we?

I say “what appears to be compassion” because it is only outwardly or nominally so. In actuality, I would like to say a lot of compassion is self-centered. To take a step further, I would say it is self-love. Not to fall into the endless debate about whether true altruism can exist or not, but rather assessing the motive of the worlds actions, our actions. Why are we compassionate?

At the end of last year, Charles Blow wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about who Americans thought would go to heaven. In two surveys, 65-70% of Americans said that all religions lead to heaven, including atheists…. Okay. Maybe our age is religion illiterate, but I think there is another side to this coin. As Blow mentions in “Heaven for the Godless?“, Americans generally want good things to happen to good people. Which I do not doubt, but the question is “Why?” I would say that with the exception of a small numer of truly compassionate people, most just want the image of being compassionate. It is the ‘hip’ thing, nowadays. This desire for all to be saved is in essence motivated by a selfish desire to look compassionate, or accepting of people. But true compassion goes deeper than the surface. For one, the needs of the other takes primary interest. Secondly, the actions take heed and is in accordance to fill that need. This American compassion, if not selfish, is at the very least unintelligent, only looking toward the end of heaven and not considering the means by which people can get there. Maybe part of the problem is that heaven is just a ‘good thing’ for Americans, maybe we do not know what heaven is going to be like. Maybe it would have been more appropriate for Blow to title his piece: The Godless Heaven.


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