Empathy: Bringing down the walls, one brick at a time

By M. Jefferson Hale*

What would happen if the entire world followed the greatest moral advice of the sages?  What would such a world look like? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not a concept owned by any religion. One finds it even in the words of secular humanists. It is almost universal:

It is Baha’i: “Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. . . .Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha’u’llah;

It is Buddhism“…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta Nikaya v. 353;

It is Christianity: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version;

It is Secular HumanismDo unto others as you would have them do unto you;

It is Brahmanism“This is the sum of Dharma (duty): Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.”  Mahabharata, 5:1517;

It is Islam“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths;

It is Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a;

It is Confucianism“When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.” Confucius, Doctrine of the Mean.

Indeed, reciprocity** is a moral concept advocated by these and many more religions, as well as atheists and agnostics the world over. It is possibly the highest moral value ever espoused, and yet most who claim to adhere to this philosophy often ignore it, especially in politics. If this were not so, then there would exist little or no poverty, little or no indifference, and there would be universal, nonprofit healthcare. Why would this not be something to which everyone could agree?

I confess to my own guilt here. I, like everyone, am a product of my environment and my genetic heritage. I am a work in progress. I have profound regrets for inappropriate statements and actions that brought stress to others, and still often have difficulty in controlling my desire for fractious confrontation against those with whom I have grievances in both social situations and politics. Civil debate is always better even if civility isn’t a trait of one’s opponent, and I am a firm believer in debate. Thus, I have to keep reminding myself that anger wins no converts, always troubles the soul, and makes the way difficult. Since I cannot change the past or my genetics, therefore, the best I can do is try my best to recognize my inclinations to self-centeredness, condescension, aggression, and resist.

On this site, I will call on readers to join me in traveling the difficult path of the sages. We are all subject to the same natural impulses and will often fall short, but if everyone were to try, it would be a far better world.

How hard can it be? Consider Matthew 25:32-46. Matthew, or whoever wrote Matthew, in his quest to bring about a more just society, did not suffer from any illusion that empathy is our primary motivating force. Self-interest is far stronger. He knew that without threat of punishment, relatively few would follow his words. Moreover, he knew that mere punishment, such as execution, prison, or flogging would not be enough. He knew the punishment must be far greater than anything dealt by society. It had to be the threat of divine punishment: unrelenting torture, without end, forever.

Yet, even that threat has never been enough. Why has it not? Because we human beings are only slightly less subject to our genetic heritage than other species. By nature, we are aggressive, self-interested, territorial beings. These traits are characteristics honed long ago by the drive for survival—a drive we’ve inherited from a distant past far more dangerous than the present when to lose one’s territory and possessions was to lose one’s life, or at the very least, create hardships.

Still, human territorialism is no longer the instinct it was long ago. An instinct is a drive that impels an individual, without recourse, to certain actions, not the least of which is to protect himself, his family, and his territory in an aggressive manner and to procreate.

We now have the power to override those passions, reducing what used to be instinct to mere impulses. We have become, collectively, more tolerant and less territorial. Even though we, for the most part, have intellectualized our territorialism in the form of property possession and sovereignty by force of law, our ethical concepts are evolving. We, therefore, now have the capacity to follow the path of the sages, difficult as that may be.

I can envision a future—not in my lifetime but long thereafter—humankind will live together as brothers and sisters. I can see a time when our primary motivation will not be self-interest, but universal empathy. The founders of that future are those who listen to the sages and have the courage to venture beyond the walls of their theological and self-centered ideologies, taking with them only the greatest words of wisdom; the words of benevolent reciprocity. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this.

* M. Jefferson Hale is the lead character in the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr

** What was implied by the sages was benevolent reciprocity. Simple reciprocity might allow for returning violence for violence, but benevolent reciprocity is returning kindness for violence. It is, indeed, a most difficult thing to do. Shouldn’t there be a Church of Benevolent Reciprocity?


— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical novel exploring the nature Divine Justice. Was Descartes wrong and God was a deceiver, after all? What would the world be like if empathy, not self interest, were our primary motivating force?

Based on biblical literalism, the story opens at the beginning of the Tribulation, but a professor of philosophy and evolutionary biology becomes the focal point for a change that alters Yahweh’s Divine Plan. Jeff knew the answer to a question unspoken.

IS GOD DEAF?

The Graveyard of History is strewn with the bleached bones of dead gods, each and every one laid low by the Broadsword of Disbelief. And for whom shall the requiem play next? It shall play for thee, dear Yahweh, and for all of our gods du jour. For the forgotten gods of antiquity were once the living gods of today, and the living gods of today shall tomorrow be the forgotten gods of antiquity.

 It must be understood, therefore, that universal empathy, peace, and love, can be achieved only through reason, and reason shall reign only when the gravediggers have no more gods to bury.

M. Jefferson Hale, Beyond Paine, 2025: Hale is the lead character in the novel, The Empathy Imperative, by Max T. Furr

I thought that I had posted this article some time ago on this blog, but apparently I had not. It is an article I wrote for ExChristian.net over a year ago under the title, “God is Deaf, God Remains Deaf, and We Have Deafened him.” Although the article is just over a year old, it is quite relevant today (and, no doubt, will be for centuries). It is the result of my research into the efficacy of prayer.

Perhaps I didn’t post it here because it incorporates the lead article of this blog, Empathy: Bringing Down the Walls One Brick at a Time. Therefore, I will post only the first half of the article (slightly edited). Anyone who has not read the lead article, which outlines why the “Golden Rule,” not exclusive, religious dogma, is the only doctrine that will bring about a better world, I suggest that it should be read as well.

And by the way, Exchristian.net is a wonderful site featuring many relevant books, articles, reviews, and over 6 thousand testimonials. Give them a visit and, if relevant to your life, join and give your testimonial.


God is deaf

Art by ExChristian.net

In 2004, the World Council of Churches(WCC) established the International Day of Prayer for Peace. Each year since, on the 21st day of September, the WCC issues a call for all people of faith to lift their voices to Heaven in a tsunami of supplication for peace. This day of mass prayer coincides with the United Nation’s annual International Day of Peace established in 2002 to encourage all the world’s combatants to stand down, at least for one day.

Every year since the first Peace Bell tolled in Jisenji-no-hana, Japan in 1947 in prayerful remembrance of the horror wrought by the Atomic Bomb, Peace Bells peal and citizens pray in many countries on various days of national commemoration. The United Nations Peace Bell, gifted by Japan in 1954, rings out every year on Earth Day, its bell-cord blessed and presented to the U.N. by Shinto priests in 1990.

Today, one can find on the Internet thousands of sites offering prayers for peace from individuals, to interreligious foundations, to large religious organizations.

These are certainly heartwarming displays of compassion for all humankind by tens of thousands, perhaps millions of good people from many religions around the globe, but are they effective?

The number of conflicts in the world at any given time varies depending on the criteria used for defining the nature of a conflict. WarsInTheWorld.com calculates the number of periodic border clashes, international shooting wars, and internal struggles. By their measure, as of November 13, 2013, there were 60 countries at war, among most of which 490 militia-guerrilla, separatist, and anarchic groups were engaged in internal conflicts.

HistoryToday.com uses a different scale to determine the number of international conflicts at a given time. They do not include internal struggles, but calculate only the number of pairs of countries (conflicts between states) engaged in hostile acts. Their definition of “conflict” includes all aggressive acts such as full-scale shooting wars, gunboat diplomacy (threat by show of strength), blockades, and border closings. By this method, they calculate that the rate of growth of conflicts in the world has increased significantly since the end of World War II in 1945. During the Cold War, the rate of growth was 31%, and during the 1990s, the rate of increase reached 36% per year.

Clearly, intercessory prayer is powerless in reducing the level of hostility in the world.

Attempts at direct mediation by religious organizations have been few in number and relatively ineffective. The United States Institute of Peace cites only two conflicts where mediation by religious groups brought about a cessation of fighting; the first Sudanese civil war of 1955-1972 during which two million people died, and the Mozambique civil war of 1975-1992 which resulted in one million deaths. Both conflicts displaced millions of individuals and families.

The Sudanese civil war erupted again in 1983. Mozambique still holds on to a shaky peace after the Renamo guerrilla leader, Afonso Dhlakama, declared an end to the 1992 peace accord on October 21, 2013. As of this writing, some fighting has occurred, but it was limited in scope.

Even though economic and social conditions have improved significantly in the country during the two decades, peace appears to be breaking down. As of November 10, 2013, foreigners were leaving the country and guerrilla fighting has begun in central Mozambique.

One might rightfully ask, then, is it even possible to achieve world peace and social harmony when mass prayer, and secular and religious intervention have brought about such dismal results? Is there no path to world peace?

There is a path, but to take it, we must shift our focus. This is not to say that religious and secular mediation attempts should not continue. Indeed, these are all we have. So, where is the path?

True peace and social justice, as Socrates suggested in Plato’s Republic, begins within each individual. For there to be harmony and justice in society, there first must be harmony and justice within each citizen.

Yet, by nature, individuals are not given to harmonious relationships with everyone else. Because this fact was not lost on Socrates, he suggested that the rulers of society must propagate a religious, noble lie of such a nature that everyone would accept his god-given place in society and work in harmony with everyone else.

Socrates’ approach has never worked. Governments are not composed of benevolent philosophers, relatively few citizens would dare to change their religious beliefs for any reason, and many citizens are not religious at all.

Additionally, most conflicts today have little to do with religion. The Sudanese and Mozambique civil wars are over oil and mineral rights. The true root causes of armed conflict, then, are religious intolerance, economic disparity, greed, and insensitivity—also the driving forces of economic disparity—not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Currently, most of our efforts to bring about peace are reactive, and there seems to be no other way. I suggest that the proactive, long-term solution is to target the root causes by first concentrating on the children. Teach them, instead of exclusive, religious dogma, the greatest concept to which most people already agree but tend to ignore or forget; The Golden Rule.

(Be)Li(e)ving Together

Max T. Furr:

A wonderful piece written by a very good, thoughtful blogger. It fits well with my theme of universal empathy.

Originally posted on Toad's Great Adventure:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are many people who in the name of faith or love persecute countless people around them. If I believe that my notion about God, about happiness, about nirvana is perfect, I want very much to impose that notion on you. I will say that if you don’t believe as I do, you will not be happy. I will do everything I can to impose my notions on you, and therefore I will destroy you. I will make you unhappy for the whole of your life. We will destroy each other in the name of faith, in the name of love, just because of the fact that the objects of our faith and of our love are not true insight, are not direct experience of suffering and of happiness; they are just notions and ideas.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Let’s talk experience:

1) On Christmas morning of 2012, I found…

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Through the Eyes of an Atheist

This Blog’s theme, as followers know, is about Empathy and Universal Benevolence. That means that one should try to see life through the eyes of others, even non believers. Without theists at least trying to understand this, the world will never find peace. And to say that the world will never find peace anyway is to close one’s mind to the possibilities, to be part of the problem, and to help ensure it may not happen.

This video is perhaps the best presentation of reality as seen through the eyes of an atheist. I have never seen better.


— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a philosophical novel exploring the nature of Justice and mercy, and demonstrating why religion often prevents us from extending those concepts to others.

Was Descartes wrong, and God was a deceiver after all? What would the world be like if empathy, not self interest or religious dogma, were our primary motivating force?

No One Hates the Doctor More Than This Bird

Be sure to watch this great video to the end. It gets hilarious! See if you can guess what she’s saying, especially so emphatically at the end.

IN YOUR NAME: Guantánamo torturer led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

The Guardian this morning has given us more to add to America’s shameful legacy. I post this because it could not be more antithetical to Human decency and empathy (short of ISIL and their ilk, of course). This is what our government became, in your name, and too much of it remains. I am going to establish a Hall of Dishonor and Shame and call for nominees.

A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.


Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a hard-hitting, philosophical novel on the nature of justice and mercy and why we don’t have it.

Confessions – Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist

Yanis Varoufakis, I fear, is yet another voice drowned out by the deafening cacophony of voices from the socially positioned, privileged, entitlement minded “free-market” capitalists (the neoliberals).

This article, from which I derived the quote below, is a must read for anyone remotely interested the root causes of economic disparity. Although he is writing to the economic crisis in Europe, his words ring out a warning to all capitalist nations, especially the U.S. and Britain. Liberals and progressives, in reading the article, need keep in mind his reason for not offering a radical change at this time. Remember the old adage; The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Both electricity and labour can be thought of as commodities. Indeed, both employers and workers struggle to commodify labour. Employers use all their ingenuity, and that of their HR management minions, to quantify, measure and homogenise labour. Meanwhile, prospective employees go through the wringer in an anxious attempt to commodify their labour power, to write and rewrite their CVs in order to portray themselves as purveyors of quantifiable labour units. And there’s the rub. If workers and employers ever succeed in commodifying labour fully, capitalism will perish. This is an insight without which capitalism’s tendency to generate crises can never be fully grasped and, also, an insight that no one has access to without some exposure to Marx’s thought.

Here is the ever widening gap of economic disparity in the United States:

income disparity in the USincome_inequality

Biblical Counseling — Exposing the Darkness Disguised As Light

Max T. Furr:

I’ve little to add to this wonderful post. It should be required reading (including its links) to all parents and expecting mothers:

Originally posted on Victoria N℮ür☼N☮☂℮ṧ:

Excerpt from Got Questions.org:

Secular psychology is based on the ideas that man is basically good and that the answer to his problems lies within himself. The Bible paints a very different picture of man’s condition. Man is not “basically good”; he is “dead in trespasses and sins”(Ephesians 2:1), and the unregenerate heart is “deceitful and beyond all cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

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