I’ve mentioned before that I’m an atheist, but I probably didn’t mention that I only became one when I was about seventeen. Until then, I was a Catholic.
I ‘came out’ as an atheist during my matriculation year at school. Back then, matric was year twelve, and your matriculation scores determined which university, and course, you would be offered. I matriculated at an all-girl, Catholic convent school.
The headmistress of the school was an amazing woman called Sister Philomena. She was not a cuddly nun. She was an academic in a wimple, and once she [and the local priest and representatives from the arch diocese] accepted that my claim was genuine, she did two amazing things. First, she allowed me to stay at school and finish my matric. Second, she allowed me to skip religion classes. This amounted to approximately half an hour of free time every day. I spent that time practising the piano in one of the music rooms. I’ve often wondered whether I would have passed matric piano without all that extra practice time.
The reason I’m boring you all with this ancient history is so you’ll understand that I’m still a committed atheist, but my ethics have their roots in the Catholic concepts of sacrifice, charity, compassion and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Those are the concepts I consciously retained after much questioning. I retained them because they gelled with who I was as a person. I still believe in them, especially the ‘do unto others’ bit.
In my not so humble opinion, compassion and empathy are the two greatest human traits. They are the only traits that make us worthwhile as a species. They are the only traits that balance out the greed and selfishness and outright hatred that always lead us to war.
Yet when I look at the world on this Good Friday, 2019, I see nothing but greed and selfishness and outright hatred in the West. The US, the UK, parts of Europe and Australia are all in the grip of a frenzy of ‘us against them’, and I can’t see a way out because each side is convinced they are right.
To be honest, I don’t see how I, personally, can compromise on the issues I believe in when the ‘other side’ is doing such awful things. I won’t name them, not today, but I will ask people on both the Left and the Right to stop for a moment and ask – is this how compassionate people behave? Is this how people who believe in a Christian god treat their fellow man?
I’ve never forgotten the parables I learned in school, and here is the one that I live by:
The Good Samaritan
‘”Love your neighbor as yourself” was part of the Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:18). But the Jewish teachers had often interpreted “neighbor” to include only people of their own nationality and religion. The expert in the law was looking to Jesus for justification for that interpretation, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told His famous Parable of the Good Samaritan.’
To the Jews, Samaritans were ‘the Other’. The lesson here was, and is, that we are all neighbours, and we all deserve to be helped. It is also a plea for compassion. Sadly compassion is in very short supply at this moment in time. Hypocrisy, however, is everywhere.
Part of the reason I became an atheist was because my youthful self rebelled against the hypocrisy I saw all around me. So called ‘good’ Catholics who went to church every Sunday, said their prayers and left a donation for the ‘poor’ and then went away convinced they had done their bit. Worse, they were convinced that they were so good, they were justified in lying and cheating all week.
Those people did not live their beliefs, they only paid lip service to them. They were also the first to speak out against any ‘other’ who was different. They did not do unto others as they would have wanted to be treated themselves.
Why? Because they were the righteous. They were the saved. They were entitled….
Now, fifty years on, I see the same sense of entitlement in many who consider themselves to be ‘good’ Christians.
This is not a post against religion. It is a post for the principles that religions are meant to be based on.
This Easter, we all need to ask ourselves if we are doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. If the answer is no, let’s do better.