Sunday, April 20, 2008

Problems with Compassion

Suppose you are a member of one of the Christian sects that believes that everyone who does not believe according to the teachings of that sect will suffer eternal punishment in Hell. What is compassionate behavior on your part? One view is that, "knowing" what you do, it is your duty to convert as many people as possible to your sect, to protect them from Hell - by argument, by harassment, even by force, if possible. No violation of others' "rights" to live as they choose can compare to the eternal damnation they face in Hell. The only compassionate thing to do is to convert everyone by any means possible.

Another view of compassion is that even though you might choose to save yourself from Hell by believing as you do, and even though you might use persuasion to try to convert others, it is wrong to impose your beliefs on others.

The second view is that which I believe is most common in our culture - certainly among atheists, but even among believers, it would be seen as wrong to convert a person to a belief system using force or other improper means, even though the believer might feel that failure to do this will result in the unbeliever spending eternity in Hell.

People who feel that their own lives are meaningful and worthwhile often assume that living is necessarily a great thing for everyone, and if anyone seems to want to die, it isn't really his wishes - or, even if it's what he wishes now, he will eventually come around and see that life is great fun, meaningful, and worthwhile. Protecting him from his own liberty is in his interest in the long run. These folks subscribe to the view that forcing every person to live, even against his wishes, is the compassionate thing to do. I propose that this is like saying that the compassionate thing for a Christian believer to do is to convert all non-believers at sword-point.

3 comments:

  1. Oh, come on. This is ridiculous.

    Fascinating subject. It is impossible to address this issue in the abstract. There is no one-size-fits-all character to this subject. SY, you make no room for this idea.

    I would have to think carefully if the individual in question were nearing the boundary of any hope for a meaningful existence, as infirmity, old age, or disease were gaining the upper hand.

    Our society or its agents would have think even more carefully, when a choice for suicide, though seemingly rational and informed, is but a ploy for attention and manipulation, as displayed by many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD.) They rarely have a true desire to end their lives. If they are successful in completing a suicide, it is usually because things did not go as planned to avert the suicide.

    We don't have to debate the issue for too long, when the one seeking their own death is grief stricken after a great personal loss, and feels they cannot go on without a spouse or child who died. Inevitably, the passage of time can restore personal hope, a desire to live, and thankfulness that their personal death was not granted too soon.

    I do not have to think at all, nor should anyone else, if my teenage daughter is depressed, finds life - and assuming an adult role in our society - not worth the effort, and is commiserating with an equally disillusioned young friend about helping each other commit suicide.

    No one has to think too long if a desired suicide is the result of counseling by a cult leader for whatever fucking crazy reason is concocted. Who, in their right mind, would not seek an injunction, armed troops, and child protective services, to stop the Reverend James Jones from preaching mass suicide to his flock and executing his plan.

    Finally, consider that someone has thought long and hard about ending their life, and decided that 'death by cop' was their preferred method. It does not take a genius, or any more than five minutes, to realize that society or its agents must act to prevent such a move to end their own life.

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  2. "We don't have to debate the issue for too long, when the one seeking their own death is grief stricken after a great personal loss, and feels they cannot go on without a spouse or child who died. Inevitably, the passage of time can restore personal hope, a desire to live, and thankfulness that their personal death was not granted too soon."

    No. This is wrong.* You don't know what you're talking about.

    * Many parts of your comment were wrong, but this one I know damn well is wrong, and I thought I'd point out your ignorance. I know this is wrong personally and I know it's wrong from reading the literature.

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  3. This reminds me of a post on a forced-anonymity forum that existed a few years ago. The same basic logic was discussed in how people could not only justify burning witches, but how it was a moral obligation because the belief system implicitly required it. The post went like this:

    > The burning of witches and the torture of nonbelievers during the
    > Inquisitions are stark examples of the evil of accepting religion.
    > Indeed, if you accept certain religious dogma, it can fairly be
    > argued that the torture of nonbelievers was not merely justified, but
    > actually morally demanded.
    >
    > Imagine that you accept the following four propositions as axioms:
    >
    > (1) Whosoever believeth in [Christ] shall not perish, but shall have
    > eternal life.
    >
    > (2) Conversely, those who do not confess their faith in Christ will
    > be damned to eternal and unthinkable torment.
    >
    > (3) An act of confession need not be perfect. If the confession is
    > "perfect" (i.e., genuine remorse for having denied God), then the
    > confessor completely avoids both Hell and Purgatory and goes straight
    > to paradise at death. However, a confession can be "imperfect" (not
    > given for reasons of genuine remorse), at which point the confessor
    > may still avoid the eternity of Hell, merely spending a finite amount
    > of time in Purgatory before being allowed into Heaven.
    >
    > (4) Love thy neighbor as thyself.
    >
    > Now, imagine that you are my neighbor and I love you. However, you
    > deny God. Based on the above axioms, I 'know' that you are doomed to
    > Hell, forever. As much as it would pain me to do it, since I love you
    > and don't want you to be damned, I would therefore have a moral duty
    > to do whatever I possibly could do to make you confess to God. If
    > persuasion wouldn't work, then I would be justified in torturing you
    > to death to extract your confession. As soon as you confessed (even
    > imperfectly), the torture would end and you would be immediately
    > executed so that you would not have a chance to sin again and screw
    > up your ticket to Purgatory instead of Hell.
    >
    > I don't see anything wrong with this reasoning, actually. The problem
    > is with the bullshit axioms. Please, people, don't let religion into
    > your heart. It is evil. Anything belief system that is founded on
    > bullshit will always admit evil conclusions that follow logically
    > from the bullshit.

    And it's the same kind of thing with the logic that is about preventing suicide at all costs. It's very cogent of you to recognise the problem with compassion driven by silly beliefs. Do you think there's a way to communicate this to actually be persuasive to them?

    One way might be to appeal to their intellectual integrity by asking them what it would take to prove them wrong. If they don't know, then they're not open minded and really cannot be persuaded. If they do, it'll likely be with either the logic being wrong (which it isn't) or the axioms/propositions that drive it being wrong (which they are).

    @Norman
    You do realise your post was just you being an example of the kind of the person in the final paragraph of the blog post, right? If you ever do come back here, please reread that paragraph and look at the logic used in your post, and then realise that not everyone sees it that way and it certainly doesn't make them ridiculous. 'self ownership' and 'live and let live' certainly seem more compassionate to me than 'humans have a duty to live'.

    Also maybe you should stop viewing humans as property that you don't want to lose because they decide they'd rather be dead than live with you?

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