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Where is Empathy When Bad Things Happen?

Links to Dinesh D’Souza’s posts are to be found here:

Where Is Atheism When Bad Things Happen?

D’Souza’s entire blog

Following the April 16 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia a blogger, one Dinesh D’Souza, presented the question of where atheists are when bad things happen. Further claiming that atheists are nowhere to be found in the aftermath of consolidating religious gatherings. As appalled as I am by this, reading through Mr. D’Souza’s subsequent blogs, he seems to be taking rightful indignation as a further indication of the alleged lack of atheistic moral fibre. Very well Mr. D’Souza. I will attempt to “go beyond abuse and shrieking complaints” while still telling you, as respectfully as possible, just why you are a cretin, and a mistaken one at that.

Firstly, you disgust me. This is not meant as abuse. I am merely being honest. Did you ever stop to consider that maybe – just maybe – most atheists unlike a certain blogger think it inappropriate to leech on the grief of those afflicted by a horrible tragedy? How dare you claim a moral high ground here? You are asking where atheists are to be found? Most certainly not in front of a keyboard, while gleefully rubbing their hands together at an opportunity of getting one over their theological opponents. Most likely they are among the grievers, mourning as everyone else, offering genuine empathy and whichever words seem to offer the most comfort to the individual griever. What did you expect? That as soon as someone would take the podium and speak in religious terms to ease the sorrow of their fellow man you would instantly hear a united atheistic cry of “Ha! Ha! Where is your God now?!” No, indeed that would be stooping to your level.

Yes, I do realize that there have been responses to your initial blog, which resemble just that. But remember that these were responses to your transgression, which in opposition was a response to the tragedy itself. I also realize that you have retracted your initial question of where atheists are to be found to a more generic allegation of atheism in itself – and not the individual atheist – having nothing to offer people when there is serious bereavement or tragedy. Right on, Mr. D’Souza! Just as with the hypothesis of a your metaphysical entity the only defence when push comes to shove is to present us with a moving target. You even have the audacity to state that your point, which has changed from your first blog to your last, is unrefuted. Oh, really? When you changed it from being about atheists – as a group or as individuals – not being visible in the community after a particular tragedy to atheism as a philosophical outlook having nothing to offer people in terms of social interaction in general, you seem to have forgotten that you have ventured into extremely familiar territory of ad nauseam theistic rhetoric with no merit.

No, atheism has nothing to offer. It is a negation. It merely states that the adherent is without deities. Deriding it for having nothing to offer in terms of consolation, morality etc. is like deriding non-flying-carpetism of having nothing to offer in terms of transport regardless of the fact that non-flying-carpetists use everything from bicycles to aeroplanes as ends to their means, leaving only the question of what those who believe in flying carpets have to offer transportation and aeronautics, if anything but the illusion of travel. When it comes to that even Richard Dawkins seems to have more to say about the world than it being devoid of meaning and composed of molecules. I have certainly read a few passages by him that border on a sort of reverence for magnificence spirituality. But you, D’Souza, seem to lack the understanding that atheism is not a dogmatic belief-system with Richard Dawkins as source of revelation. Who cares what Dawkins would have to say about the massacre? He is a biologist, not an ethicist, psychologist or a grief consultant. If you want an atheist suited for speaking to the grieving invite the Dalai Lama, Ursula K. LeGuin or even Sigmund Freud. Even if you did make Richard Dawkins say something for the occasion, I am quite certain that it would be infinitely more life affirming than anything you could come up with.

Since you brought it up though, does atheism have more of a problem with evil and suffering than a supposedly benevolent and altruistic personal God? Logically: no. Why should a universe, that just is, care either way for its inhabitants? Ah, but that is not what was meant, I know. You were implying that it is impossible for an atheist to emotionally come to terms with a meaningless tragedy without a God, let alone help others to do the same, weren’t you? You re-waxed the old and scratched “no atheists in foxholes” record for an umpteenth spin, didn’t you? Well, sir, if you had been paying attention that ship has sailed a long time ago. And while you are wondering why your gramophone just became animated and flushed your record down the toilet, I have an mp3 suggesting that seemingly theists are exclusively to be found in proverbial foxholes, while atheists are all over the map. Is the following any sort of thing to be saying to a grieving mother? “Madam, you should feel much better because new gun control laws and mental health reforms are on their way.” Most certainly not. But while I sincerely doubt that there are many atheists out there who would actually say that, I would still prefer it to your alternative of: “Madam, you should feel better because God allowed your son to die, so that his death could draw worshippers in order to appease God’s need for ego-bolstering.” As seems to be the general gist of this following paragraph of yours:

But perhaps God’s purpose in the world (I am only thinking aloud here) is to draw his creatures to him. And you have to admit that tragedies like this one at Virginia Tech help to do that!

Let me try to fathom this. You are opposed to God intervening to stop mass-murder on account of God becoming “a cosmic errand boy, who is supposed to do our chores and clean up our messes and we then wish him a very good day and return to our everyday lives.” (The issue of what happens to free will aside). And this differs from normal praying to God for whatever – how? Let us hypothetically assume a fatally wounded survivor of any tragedy or disaster. This person is not dead yet, but will be within days. The doctors are doing everything in their power, but they will most probably not succeed. Do you also oppose praying for this person’s survival? I would rather pray for God pre-emptively stopping mass-murderers and, say, cancer any day, than for him to intervene after the damage has been done.

The world would then be a paradise free from such tragedies and maladies. And yes, we would go on with our lives without realizing God’s intervention. Unless, of course, God chose to stop his celestial peek-a-boo game and just flat out come clean. I would be happy to worship such a God and unlike now I would actually have a good reason to. What was that? I did not catch it? Oh, you are now saying that we should not put aside the matter of free will after all. I am glad you asked. And I see your logic. We must always give the transgressors free will to choose at the expense of those transgressed against, who do not need it. The murderer must have a free will to limit the free will of his victims, who do not deserve to exercise their free wills in regards to if they want to stay alive or die. The rapist must have the power to choose to rape at the expense of the victim’s power to choose not to get raped. That, apparently, is justice. That is our precious free will. Or so you apologists keep telling me but I fail to see the logic.

Is it absurd to blame God? Why is this imaginary friend of yours exempt from his responsibility for his creation? I might accept that a creator who did not know the consequences his creation would entail and for some reason left immediately after causing existence should be forgiven. But we are talking about a God who holds the power to intervene with everything here, who allegedly has intervened numerous times, but mysteriously chosen not to do so even more frequently. Therefore nothing, nothing, happens unless He wills it so. It is not a case of Him intervening or not. He is the cause of Everything, He alone has the power to do anything about Anything. It is a case of all happenstances being His intervention, because when you are omnipotent and omniscient even non-intervention is an intervention in itself.

Does God pick and choose? Does he think “Now I will make/let (it is the same when it comes to such a God) Cho murder those people, but now I will make that lady not miss her plane, because she prayed to me for it.” and other such things? Here is a prayer for consideration: “Dear God, please pre-emptively eradicate all diseases, illnesses, murder, rape, war, physical and mental abuse and so on and so forth from now and to infinity instead of arbitrarily intervening afterwards. If you should need a sacrifice to save humanity from yourself as was the case with your son, I will happily go to Hell for all eternity, if you in turn also either release those already there or simply whisk them from existence, as I am sure they would prefer that over eternal torment. Sincerely, Sketch Sepahi.” And I truly mean this too. Of course I would have plenty of time to regret my decision, but I would try to think of all the people who would not have to suffer anymore because of me being there. No matter what it would be worth it.

To all of you afflicted by that terrible tragedy, I am sorry if you read all of this, as it was not intended for any of you and most especially it was not intended to cause you further grief. If I have trespassed upon your faith in this dark time I apologize sincerely. I have great sympathy for all involved, since I too know what it is like to hurt. My issue is solely with those who would seek to profiteer of and trivialize your loss like vultures, and it is unfortunate if you were caught in the crossfire. I know that nothing I can say will ever be enough, but know that you are not alone. Even here in Denmark I reach out to you, as I am sure that countless others regardless of faith, opinions or other petty disagreements would the world over. Even though the day might seem so far away at the moment that it is lost beyond the horizon, I am sure that you will smile again. And when you do, think of that smile as a tribute to those lost; your very own life as a continual monument to those who helped shape it and mold it into what it is and has the potential to yet become.

If you have read this far, you know what my convictions are, and therefore you also know that I can give you no guarantees, as you in turn can give me none. But precisely because of this we are given to each other for caretaking as the only certainty in life. I cannot offer to reconcile you with your loved ones or to magically make your sorrow vanish. I cannot offer much. What I can offer is to carry a small bit of your burden by caring and therefore hurting with you. I can offer my attempt to inspire others to do the same and hopefully there will then be enough of us to make your burden manageable. I can offer to be here should you need me.

I can offer…hope, if you will accept it.

Heini Reinert

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