Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why Care?

A reader writes, asking why we should care about others:

How would I go about determining whether to abandon the religious philosophies of my youth for 1) a greater personal freedom and happiness, such as you have found, or, 2) a violent, f--- the world and anybody who gets in my way philosophy?

I mean, I'm not sure why I should care about the propagation of the species or any kind of possibly "made-up reason" to love or be kind to others.

I know I don't believe in God like you used to but, it seems that if I am here by accident, why try to make up some ridiculous and temporary notion that life matters...... mine or anyone elses?

[A] few years ago I sent money to one of those starving children places, I quit after a few months because I needed the money myself. Now, I kinda feel like if people are sick or starving, why not let them die to the benefit of the rest of the evolving species. And, if the idea to care for them in the first place is a part of evolution anyway?????.... know what I mean?

Just wondered how you acheived your freedom and personal happiness with regard to this simple intellectual dilemma. I guess I'm saying it doesn't appear that I can learn from you either since it seems you are walking in faith with your own set of
inconsistencies that starve for intellectual integrity. Then again, what is integrity and why care anyway?

I would need to begin by asking this writer if he cares about his own happiness and personal well-being. I assume he does. For, if he did not care about his well-being, why does he eat? If he does not care about his happiness, why does he write and ask about happiness?

So if his personal happiness and sense of well-being are important to him, we must then ask how he can best get what he wants. The writer suggests that taking advantage of others might be one way to achieve his goals. But I think he is sadly mistaken. Humans are social creatures who depend on other people for their survival. It has always been the nature of humans--and many other animals--to form families and groups that support each other for the common good. Without this support, few people could survive long, and few would find happiness.

If the writer were to choose to get what he wants by selfishly taking from others, he will find little support from others. If he hurts others, hates them, and takes from them, they will be opposed to him. And he will not find happiness.

The writer suggests that evolution is all about competing with others. But evolution is not necessarily about defeating others. It is about promoting self-survival, yes, but that survival is often best accomplished by learning to build mutual cooperation and trust with others of the same species or even of other species. And so evolution encourages cooperation.

The writer asks that I offer him something more than a ridiculous and temporary notion that life matters. And I will not make up such vacuous reasons.

I cannot prove to anybody that life matters. We are the accidental product of natural forces. I cannot prove that we should care about life or that we should want our own well-being. But I do know this, that my happiness matters to me. And I suppose that the writer's happiness matters to him. If that is so, then let us both seek to find happiness. And I think that he, and I, and all other readers, will best find the happiness we desire if we set out to build mutually helpful relationships with others. We will best find happiness if we work together for the common good.

Some people help others because they believe that God will punish them if they don't. What a sad motivation that is! The result is a legalistic serving of others in an attempt to avoid punishment. Some who have this fear as their only motivation cannot imagine a world of love and cooperation if that fear of hell did not exist. But they are wrong. There is a natural need in all of us for each other. If we recognize our need of others, and recognize that caring for others is the best way to win the friendship of others, spontaneous outbreaks of good come from the human spirit.

3 comments:

SpeirM said...

I suspect your correspondent falls into one of these categories:

1) New deconvert who's still trying to get past years of programming that insists there's nothing to live for without God or

2) Christian posing as something else to try to make a point or

3) Somebody with real depression issues and needs professional help.

Merle Hertzler said...

Yes, I was also wondering if this was sarcasm, and if the writer didn't mean a word that he wrote. It's often hard to detect sarcasm from the written words, because we don't have the benefit of hearing the tone of voice or seeing the facial expressions. I took it that the writer was serious, but I wasn't quite sure.

SpeirM, you also have a good point that the writer may have depression. He probably should seek professional help.

Anonymous said...

Merle,

This guy is saying that we have to treat people inhumanely in order to ensure the evolution of our species.

This is an argument I have only ever heard from Christians trying to 'disprove' evolution. It makes me suspect the correspondent is really a Christian.

In any case, he is wrong. The evolution of humans depended on altruism. The most successful groups of hominds would have been those that cooperated and shared. Groups composed of selfish individuals would have quickly disintegarated. Selfish individuals in groups that cooperated would have been expelled. Fairness and kindness are what helped us succeed as a social species, and this genetic trait has been passed on.