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The Compassion Project, Only Compassion Defeats Dehumanization

Compassion doesn't have to be a "deep sorrow", just the willingness to be moved to ease the pain of another, the w...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Story of God: The evolution of compassion revealed through story



You can't see the entire mountain of truth from one point of view, particularly if it's the one that your feet are planted upon.


Fiction can illuminate fact to reveal truth, with a good story. A good story has compassion for the characters, plot, and audience, regardless of likeability. Suspending disbelief helps to open the mind.  

The culture, economic, hierarchy, and politics, that control a religion are the problem, not the core message of its foundation, its story. They can twist the growth and development of any movement, organization, system, ideology, or society.

The following is from BBC Radio 4:

The Reith Lectures


Is the essence of religion a belief in God… or something more?

Journalist, Sonia Sodha reflects on the first of Kwame Anthony Appiah's Reith Lectures.

Ask anyone what it means to be religious and you’re likely to get some sort of variation on “believing in God”. In fact, lots of the words we use to describe religion – such as “faith” and “creed” – relate to the idea of belief.
But in this year’s first Reith Lecture, the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that in thinking about religion, we have focused too much on what religious people believe and not enough on what religious people do.

According to Appiah, there are three dimensions to religion. Yes, one of those dimensions is a body of belief. But Appiah argues we over-emphasise the importance of belief at the expense of two other dimensions: the rituals and social norms that people carry out as part of religious practice, and the communities within which religious practice takes place.
To illustrate this, he uses the example of Judaism. Appiah argues that even if someone studied the Torah in great detail, and embraced all the beliefs and principles it contains, that person would not become Jewish. Taking on the beliefs of Judaism without adopting its practices or becoming part of a community of worship isn’t enough.
Indeed, Appiah says it would be impossible to adopt all the beliefs and practices set out in holy books such as the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an in abstract. All of these religious scriptures give ambiguous, and sometimes contradictory guidance.
Take the kosher dietary code set out in the Torah: it sets out a list of birds that Jews are forbidden from eating. But this list does not map out perfectly on to modern bird species, and religious authorities disagree on what exactly is on and off the list.

Here Appiah is pointing out that religious scriptures are not only open to interpretation, they have to be interpreted to make any sense at all. And the way that scriptures are interpreted – and religion is practised – depends very much on the cultural norms in the societies in which they are operating.

Appiah gives the example of his mother dressing for church. St Paul said in the Bible that women must cover their heads while in church. Given that this was the custom for respectable dress at the time this pronouncement was made, Appiah’s mother interpreted this as a call for women to dress respectably by local standards when they attend church, rather than a literal instruction that women should not go to church with their heads uncovered.

A line of Buddhas at the U Min Thonze cave in Sagaing near Mandalay, Burma
In other words, Appiah is arguing that it’s not a case of religions shaping cultures and societies, so much as cultures and societies shaping contemporary interpretations of religion. In the past, societies have interpreted the Bible as making proclamations against homosexuality or gender inequality, but these interpretations reflect the cultural norms of the time. It is possible to read the Bible and conclude something very different.
Appiah contrasts his view of religion with that of fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists argue no interpretation is needed to apply religious scriptures to day-to-day life: books such as the Bible and the Qur’an contain one version of the truth that all those practising Christianity and Islam must live by.

Is Appiah right?

One critique of Appiah’s lecture is that he is arguing something quite uncontroversial, something that only religious fundamentalists and the strongest opponents of religion would really disagree with. Most Christians, Muslims and Jews do not seek to try to apply a literal interpretation of the Bible, Qur’an and Torah to the way they live their lives. Many religious scholars have long stressed the importance of interpreting religious scriptures to ensure they make sense in the contemporary world.
Another critique might be that there are a number of important contemporary questions about the role of religion that Appiah’s analysis does not help us with very much. While he stresses the importance of interpretation to religion, he doesn’t say much about who is doing the interpreting – in other words, where the power lies in religious communities. Until relatively recently, men occupied the key positions of power in most world religions.

Appiah might argue that this simply reflects the structure of power in society at large. But religion has been used to move societies rapidly backwards in terms of gender inequality, for example in modern-day Afghanistan. Implicit in Appiah’s argument seems to be the idea of religion as neither a force for good nor bad; it simply reflects the societies we live in. But there are cases where religion doesn’t just reflect human behaviours and cultures, but seems to drive them – for better or worse.

Second, Appiah’s approach helps us characterise fundamentalism as the idea that religion is all about doctrine and literal application of religious scriptures, to the exclusion of everything else. But he offers little insight in how to challenge religious fundamentalism – one of the biggest questions facing world leaders with the rise of so-called Islamic State.

Third, Appiah does not address how religious identity relates to other forms of identity, and how we resolve differences when they clash. Take the burkini ban in France: should the French state be able to insist Muslim women wear less on the beach because the burkini is not thought to reflect French cultural values? Where do we draw the line when identities clash?
Having rejected Catholicism and Christianity at 13, I was in university in my early twenties, working on my book series and theories, when the message and story behind Christianity was clarified by the lens of The Gospel According To Peanuts by Robert L. Short, read to me by a good friend. My passions for quantum theory, cosmology, string theory, science-fiction, fantasy literature, and movie-making, along with an agnostic curiosity about religions and philosophies, allowed me to suspend disbelief enough for Snoopy. My favourite childhood Red Barron foe pointed to the possibility of a greater story told in part by all tales, including childhood, cultural, instructive, mythical, religious, philosophical, factual, fictional, personal, and scientific.

I am most familiar with major works of fantasy, science-fiction, philosophy, science, intellectual literature, and the story of the Christian Bible. I will focus on that tale, a fair choice I think because three major religions and their numerous sects sprang from its interpretation and additions.

I always had problems with the Roman Catholic interpretation and the orthodoxy it established for general Christianity. There were too many glaring plot holes, too many mysteries said the be impenetrable. Not meant to be known, so don't ask., just accept that God is weird. He's perfectly, good, informed, orderly, and unchanging, and completely unpredictable, occasionally cruel, but always loving. He can do anything, but is  too lazy  to stop horrible things and people. He's a he that isn't a he who is three but one, everywhere but nowhere, and  part of us all but absent. He  plays games of life and death for the apparent purpose of making us worthy to sit around singing his praises forever. All without a clear purpose. Hardly satisfying to my curiosity and imagination. It didn't make any sense. Blind faith is too easily misled.

A being that powerful, perfect,informed, and orderly, shouldn't appear so random and capricious. Science and its mathematical language continues to reveal that most apparent randomness is just due to the number of hidden and known factors yet to be discovered. There is a common rule, or set of rules, that links the unpredictable behaviour, buried under the details of the story or blended into an apparent different one. A detective needs to dig into obvious holes in the initial story to see where they lead, to examine and compare every other story in the area for things missed, dismissed, that contradict or agree, or that unlock more of the story. The detective must keep an open mind and be willing to accept all stories but believe none, suspending disbelief enough to take a look from the storyteller's point of view. Perspective can change everything.

My disbelief was suspended enough to see how the pieces fit when I saw them in what I may have otherwise dismissed as a different story. Pieces that I was trying to discover through reading, viewing, and questioning, and assemble through fictional and philosophical writing into a the tale of the evolution of consciousness, spirit, the divine, and existence itself. Drawing from Taoism, Buddhism, metaphysics, Biblical theology,  science, and the book Process and Reality by A.N. Whitehead, I formed my description of spiritual evolution. Thus, I was in a place where only the story and the messages mattered.

This allowed me to see the great similarity between the theology of  "Mormons" of the Church of Jesus Christs of Latter Day Saints and my own developing ideas when I encountered it shortly afterwards.  Their belief in education and asking questions in order to develop faith through testimony was greatly appealing and refreshing compared to my upbringing. They actually had a purpose for their rituals and even voted on whether to support leaders and such. No infallibility, just inspiration and direct prayers with simple but clear answers in response. No confessions to or absolution by anyone but the deity.  It allowed me to view the Book of Mormon as another part of the Christian Bible. Things fell into place, holes filled, and the story started making sense.

As a writer, my eyes opened the possible intended story of the Christian, and its central protagonist, Jesus.  Fact, fiction, or inspired blend, the Christian Bible is basically a series of case studies provided as practical examples from which to draw guidance and meaning. They attempt to show how decisions, laws, social experiments, ideas, and actions arise and turn out. The case studies are connected by their creator, guide, observer and student, like most experimental tests. The Christian Bible is the memoir of the individual who we call God as he tries to care for his siblings, all inheritors of the Earth. It describes what we’ve done to try to please or copy the character or power of our remote but loving father. The plot of the story is set up by its purpose and the challenges and dangers of mortality. A story, or a test, needs a beginning and an end. 

I see the Christian Bible as the coming-of-age story of the elected manager of the Earth, Jesus, known as Yahweh in his youth.  Like father and siblings, he was a child of the Elohim, the adults of the universe. Too busy working to supervise the children once old enough to learn on their own they let the children decode who to look after them and the star pupil was elected to lead the class.  His coming-of-age enables ours.

He shows the way but does not force you to follow. He lets nature and your choices take their course and have their consequences. That’s the knowledge of good (compassion) and evil (dehumanization) that can make a simple animal divine or a child responsible for their actions. A knowledge required by law in order to commit a crime. 

Shouting louder and beating harder convinces no one, it just hardens resistance. Force applied creates an equally opposed force. 

Time and space were long considered to be fixed absolutes, separate and limitless, but recently learned to be relative, combined, and finite. I believe this to be true of omnipotence and omniscience. Both are relative to perspective. A god is all-seeing and all-known compared to us, just as we are to the people of the Ice Age or Biblical times. Existence is reaching toward perfect but will never grasp it. Mormon theology describes a "god" are not as a static being but as an evolving individual entity linked to others by relationship and responsibility. The Trinity shares a role of responsible called the Godhead, not a single being.

No one is above the law, particularly the existential axiom of cause and effect. Something only exists if it is capable of causing an effect. Cause and effect are inseparable and eternal; the last effect is the first cause in an endless cyclical process called existence.  You can’t start, stop, or control it, only try to cause a positive effect with minimal unintended negative consequences as nature runs its course. Cause and effect are the first natural law defining and defined by existence. Everything is bound by it and must obey its necessity. Nothing is supernatural even a god.  Everything is united in cause and effect. Good and evil lie in choosing to cause an intended effect. That’s freewill. Its exercise can make us divine.

Divine responsibility and wisdom in the exercise of freewill is what defines a god and true wisdom requires humility. You don’t learn if your arrogance blocks admitting the weakness in your knowledge and recognize your ignorance in order to seek and accept improvement.  Humility requires compassion for imperfection.

Nothing’s perfect. Perfection is a process not a goal, like civilization.  

Most Mormons are unorthodox Christians, not Antichrists. Lucifer was the prime example of an Antichrist. He was the first and many have followed. History records a few.

Mormon theology and spiritual evolutionary theory interpret the story as saying that we are born larval spirits taking in sustenance before entering the cocoon of life from which we emerge to spread wings and begin preparing for the great mass migration and parenthood.  Mormon theology describes us as gods in foetal form, yet to be born and far from adulthood.  

If a human is a god and evil is dehumanization at its core, then evil is a negative act against god, a crime, an assault, a theft, a belittling of the divine, a sin. One human intentionally dehumanizing another dehumanizes both, creating an evil or mad god called devil or demon.  We are like the Olympians, demigod children of greater beings pretending to be them and fighting over our playground while our parents work on the universe. 

Mormon theology interprets the story as saying that Yahweh of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New are the same individual entity, just before and after embodiment. Yahweh was a young god, learning how to steward the world of his responsibility from his father’s example and lessons, with a license given by his siblings. He had love, but had yet to develop compassion. Thu she got jealous, offended, frustrated, and tough with the other children, scolding and punishing them and trying to get them to behave with rewards and rules, lots of rules. Then his punishment went too far and set everything back. But, he repeated and tried again to be more compassionate.  He continued to be same individual, but grew as a person, changing for the better. 

Embodiment gave him our experience and personal pain, informing his love with compassion enough to experience total empathy with us and sacrifice himself for the common good.  Compassion completed him and the crucifixion became his right of passage into adulthood, as well as ours. Compassion raised him so that he could truly judge us and forgive what we cannot.

Yahweh had imperfect experience and judgment with which he made mistakes. He was terrible for giving out too much information and playing favourites to start. He not only favored Abel over Cain, but he let it be known in a way sure to provoke. A little more subtly might have been better, but that may not have been his purpose. He expected them to behave because he said so. He did the same with Abraham’s kids creating the trouble between the Jews and Arabs that still goes on. He also marked the Jews as favourites and planned for great things, pumping them up with pride until they fell and drawing every bully on the planet to them still.  Teacher’s pet always gets pounded.  He is no more perfect than existence, and existence makes it up moment to moment.  If he is fallible, how much more so are we with our short vision and high minds? Then, he was embodied to full experience the consequences of choice, chance, and nature’s laws; to experience our pain, in person.  

Jesus was the first of us to repent. A true leader asks nothing that he wouldn’t do himself. 

Mormon theology interprets that story as saying that our father gave his children the choice of how the test of mortality would be run. It came to voting between Jesus and Lucifer to lead. Lucifer is our most handsome, charismatic, arrogant, selfish, and domineering, brother. He offered to force us all to obey the laws and be good, in order that all might appear to pass and all credit be given to him.  Pulling in less than a majority of votes, he declared it rigged and fighting ensued. Jesus’s side, our side, won, but Lucifer continues to work behind the scenes to oppose him and freewill. Everyone human every embodied voted and fought for things to be this way, but, some didn’t realize what they were voting for and others only did it to blend in, not so we all could win. Mortality is the test that reveals them while providing a chance to change their choices and the possibility of real growth. 

I like the idea that, statistically, it is not likely that our father was the Jesus of his generation.  It gives me hope that any slob can graduate and be successful.  Mormon theology interprets the story as saying that only men get the priesthood, because only they need it to have a chance of graduation. More women graduate to positions beyond raising the children than men, without remedial help and strict practice in the practical exercise of compassion.  Female divinities have more important things to do than serve in the Trinity. There may be many Mother Natures. 

Composed of two (three for Mormons) collections of testimony, the Christian Bible is only Volume One of a greater work. An apocalypse is a revelation not an ending. The Book of Revelation is a preview of the beginning of Volume Two, the rest of the story, our story, the Book of Life, mostly unwritten except for rough plot and growing list of characters with many revisions to come. Our roles have yet to be full chosen and determined.    

Fate is an irresistible, inevitable probability created by an accumulated combination of nature’s laws, chance, and choice. Anyone one of these can alter it. We can only possess personal control over one.

Destiny can be compassionate.

True divinity is free-willed compassion. It turns the madness of life into sanity.

Choice is the natural mechanism and compassion the driving force of the process of spiritual evolution.

This article and included CBC Ideas radio program explains it in a more scientific way.


According to my understanding of the collective story, the Creator (aka God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, Nature, Physics, Evolution, Art, Invention, etc.) organizes the universe to generate new associations for all. The names are different titles for the story of creation, driven by a singular force. The unknown Dark Energy of expansion. The Void is infinite and eternal in expanse. This might be expressed in math as: 0/0 = 1 or Infinity/Infinity = 1 or X/X = 1 or Unknown/Unknown = 1.

That's my interpretation. I'm not saying that I have the Answer, just a clue revealed by stories.

A seed for a compassionate spiritual evolution theory.

And, that's my story.


From CBC Radio's Tapestry:

Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images (Getty Images)
Listen 21:00
"If the world needs anything at the moment, it is compassion.
I'm not in this because I'm filled with love and peace and joy.
I'm in it because I'm filled with dread." 

- Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is an author, commentator and former nun who has written extensively on faith and finding commonality in the world's major religions. She was a featured speaker at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11, which was held in Montreal in September 2016.

Armstrong argues that religion is too often a scapegoat, masking the real reasons for violence, hatred, and war. She points out that territorial, political, cultural and - above all - economic motives are to blame.

Religion may be inherently political, Armstrong says, but every single one of the world's major religions call for the same soluton to violence: compassion.
Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong speaking at the 3rd Global Conference on World's Religions After September 11. The event was held in Montreal in September 2016. (Photo: Eva Blue)

Compassion is the essence of the Golden Rule: love thy neighbour.

"The Golden Rule requires that you look into your own heart, discover what has given you pain in the past, and then refuse under any circumstance whatsoever to inflict that pain on anybody else."
This sentiment has been echoed by all the great prophets, including Confucius, Mohammed, Jesus, the Buddha, and Hillel the Elder.

"These sages, they were living in societies like our own where violence had reached an unprecedented crescendo. And they all said that unless we learn to treat others as we would wish to be treated we'll simply destroy one another. And that has never been more true than it is today."
Armstrong says 'love thy neighbour' doesn't refer to a sort of "soggy affection". Instead, it means assisting people in practical terms: coming to their aid in times of trouble and supporting them even when it goes against our short term interests.
"Who is my neighbour in this globalized world? Everybody is our neighbour. We are now so deeply interconnected."
Armstrong urges us to follow the lead of the Buddha.

"The Buddha looked at the world… with compassion and saw the world in pain and spent the next 40 years of his life trying to help people to live with their pain. This is our message now. This is what every one of us can do: to increase awareness of the pain of the world, to let it disturb us. It's not easy... We should all be sweating with the effort of how to bring the message of compassion - that alone can save our world - to public awareness."



Everything is always in process
Only compassion defeats dehumanization.