Sparkle with self-forgetfulness

May 3, 2010 | Background, Daily Spirituality | 32 comments


A few weeks ago I found myself heading into the perfect storm of social awkwardness. I was going to a party hosted by a group of people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Last time I checked, none of them were religious, many were atheists, and a few harbored a serious dislike of traditional Christian beliefs. My husband was supposed to go with me but our babysitting fell through, so I was heading out alone.

That situation might not sound like a big deal to those of you who are not the #1 Google result for socially awkward person, but to me it felt absolutely daunting. They all knew that my husband and I converted to Catholicism, but I had no idea what they thought about it. What if they didn’t want me to be there? What if someone confronted me about politics or religion? What if they READ MY BLOG?!

Those were the thoughts bouncing around in my mind as I drove down the highway.

I felt a particular obligation to represent well for Christianity. I believe it’s important to show Christ to everyone at all times, of course, but this situation was like if I’d had the word CATHOLIC tattooed on my forehead. I eventually convinced myself that at least a couple people were going to stare at me the whole time I was there, thinking, “So this is what she’s like now that she’s into all that Christian stuff.”

Suddenly this whole “being Christ-like” thing seemed very complicated. What if someone said something negative about my faith? Should I make an argument for my beliefs or just let it go? Should I bring it up? Should I try to work in something about Jesus into the conversation? What if no one wants to talk to me at all?

It finally occurred to me to say a prayer, so I implored God to keep me from an epic social flame-out. Then I turned on the radio to take my mind off of it.

The radio was tuned to our local Relevant Radio station, and the show Spirit and Life was on, hosted by brother and sister team Father Albert Haase and Sister Bridget Haase. Just hearing their soothing New Orleans accents immediately made me feel more relaxed. They were talking about how the quest for holiness is like making red beans and rice the right way; after some good-natured jabs at other parts of the country where people might mistakenly think that you can make red beans and rice in only three hours, they hypnotized me with their delicious descriptions of Mondays in their childhoods in New Orleans, when mothers would let beans bubble in pots all day long while they did laundry.

My mind had drifted off to figuring out how I could get a good red beans and rice recipe when Sr. Bridget caught my attention by saying something that smacked me upside the head with the Holy Spirit:

She was talking about how to be Christ-like in everyday life, and she noted that, as Christians, we must “sparkle with self-forgetfulness” (though in her exquisite New Orleans accent that first word was pronounced “SPAH-kle.”)

That was it! That was my answered prayer, the wisdom I’d been searching for.

In my nervousness, I’d been thinking of showing Christ to others as a series of do’s and don’ts, as if the whole thing were like trying to follow every one of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette while simultaneously playing the role of master apologist. It felt complicated and burdensome.

But something about the words sparkle and self-forgetfulness snapped me out of my self-conscious cluelessness and make me remember that being Christ-like is about joy! And hope! And love! And it’s actually pretty simple: you just don’t worry about yourself. You walk into any given situation asking not what the other people will think of you or how you can convince them of some point, but how you can best love them. To show people Love, you just show people love. It’s that easy.

Thanks to that advice, the evening ended up turning out fine. My old friends were wonderfully welcoming, and it was tremendously freeing to focus only on the simple task of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to drench each conversation in love.

Even in social settings that aren’t that ripe for conflict, I always tend to feel a little nervous. Ever since that evening I’ve found great strength and comfort in the lesson I learned that night: before I walk in the door of any kind of get-together, I now take a moment to pause, say a prayer, and imagine the exuberant voice of Sr. Bridget reminding me to “SPAH-kle with self-forgetfulness.”

SOME RELATED STUFF

32 Comments

  1. Michael King

    I liked the post! I've felt the same way with my university friends when I became Catholic and I utterly FAILED at it haha. I kept going on about how, during Lent, for example I couldn't eat burgers "because it's Friday". I was probably the most anti-social person in our little study group.

    In the same lines of your 'sparkle with self-forgetfulness' I found the mantra 'let go and let God' to be a BIG help. I've found that it's about a different dynamic. It's not about what we can think of or say, but about who we are and what we do. As I read with a smile, you said it was about love. I've been learning the hard way that's what it's all about.

    Thank you for posting this. It's nice to know someone has been in the same situation!

    Michael King

  2. Loretta

    Wonderful post. I struggle with some of the same feelings sometimes, because I'm pretty sure that I'm next in line on the Google search for socially awkward. I'm going to work on the whole SPAH-kle with self-forgetfulness!

  3. Smoochagator

    Mmmmm, red beans and rice. Father Albert and Sister Bridget would be HORRIFIED, I'm sure, to know that I'm a big fan of Zatarain's. Yes, I know food-from-a-box is nothing more than a vehicle for transmitting MSG into my body, but I can't help it, I LOVE IT.

    I, too, often worry and worry and worry about how I'm going to come off to everyone else in any given social situation. If I manage to remind myself that no one's as worried about my social awkwardness as they are about their own, I can usually have a good time and be a blessing to others. Sometimes, though, I get so wrapped around my own tree that just doesn't happen!

  4. Elizabeth M

    I lead our First Communion program and we had First Communions at 3 of our parish Masses this weekend. Our pastor did a wonderful homily tying together the Eucharist (and the grace we receive) with the Gospel passage about loving one another.

    He said exactly that just as we know people by what they wear (using 2 First Communicants to identify "boy" and "girl", Sister by her habit, and himself by his vestments) — we need to remember that people will identify us as Catholics by how we treat others — by how we share Christ's love.

    It worked wonderfully because it was not a "kids" homily specifically (so it didn't exclude everyone else) but was accessible to all.

  5. Bonnie

    You really are the #1 Google result for "socially awkward person"!

    In my book this makes you even more endearing!!

  6. kathy

    Oh, good. I was wondering whether you had a recipe to suggest!

  7. Margaret in Minnesota

    Ha! I thought you were kidding about being the #1 Google search for "socially awkward person" but there you go.

    (That is to say, there I went and there you were.)

    So is this a case of life imitating the blog…or vice versa?

  8. Destry

    I enjoyed Fr. Albert's book, "Coming Home To Your True Self."

  9. Anonymous

    I only recently discovered your blog, and have enjoyed every entry I have read. Thank you for sharing your personal journeys! So many match my own personal struggles and I have gotten much growth out of your observations.

    Coming from the South once upon a time, I can SO hear Sister say, "SPAH-kle", lol! Perfect advice, too.

    For me, though, the most intriguing part of today's post was the (paraphrased) question near the end, "Do you have to be Christian to be good?" – since I've been thinking about it a lot recently. No, I don’t think anyone could claim this.

    However, I would make the claim that it is much, much harder to become – and remain – a “good” person as an atheist. (“Good” being defined as being selfless, kind, generous, non-judgmental: in short, the idealized person who loves his or her neighbor as themselves and which we as society laud as examples of “goodness”.)

    Why harder? Because to be a good person means in essence to be completely other-centered. When the Other is a God of love, when the ideal you measure yourself against is divine vs. fallible humanity, then you are called to a truly tremendous task, a truly tremendous goodness, a truly tremendous love.

    Where atheism fails here is that there is so often no “other”, only the god of “I”. When one tries to center on something bigger and better than oneself, the only options are measures and ideals that are human-centered. A shorter stick, and one that is fallible to boot.

    Going further, where many non-Christian beliefs fail here is that their vision of Creator(s) are not of a God of love and service. Too often it's a god of self-centeredness, of destruction, or of rationalization.

    Evidence? Humanity has done great evil both in God’s name and not. But where there is truly selfless work, selfless giving, selfless sacrifice – how many times is this by someone with a belief in a Creator that calls them to LOVE and serve others, and how many times by someone who believes in no Creator at all, or one that preaches no love for those different than yourself?

    In short, if belief in God (and I'd go so far as to say, most of the time, specifically a Christian-like God) is a crutch and a fable, then it seems to me to be one that humanity deeply requires in order to achieve our best. YMMV, of course, and I respect that, but I’d enjoy a discussion about why.

    Blessings,
    Denise

  10. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Oh yes. I love this. "Sparkle with self-forgetfulness." I want to start internalizing this now.

  11. Maria

    Wow! Great post as usual. And thanks for a great advice. I too am one of those socially awkward people. I have to remember what you said so I don't get so stressed!

  12. scmom (Barbara)

    My favorite quote about living life, and being Catholic is from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Just BE an authentic child of God and you will sparkle with self-forgetfulness.

  13. Cranberry Morning

    It's really all about Jesus, isn't it, rather than all about us. It's easy to forget that when anticipating tense social situations. It helps to remember that the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace is with us!

  14. Ray Ingles

    However, I would make the claim that it is much, much harder to become – and remain – a “good” person as an atheist. (“Good” being defined as being selfless, kind, generous, non-judgmental: in short, the idealized person who loves his or her neighbor as themselves and which we as society laud as examples of “goodness”.)

    I haven't seen anything that indicates that atheists tend to be less "kind, generous, [or] non-judgmental" than the religious.

    "Selfless", though… maybe. Of course, not everyone agrees that 'selfless' is an ideal to aspire to. One doesn't have to be 'selfish' to not be 'selfless'. Some quotes from a famous atheist writer, espousing a alternate philosophy:

    "Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

    (N.B. – "is essential to", not "is more important than", or "takes the place of".)

    "If tempted by something that feels 'altruistic,' examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it!"

    Do not confuse "duty" with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different…. This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don't do it because it is "expected" of you.

    "The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just."

    "There is solemn satisfaction in doing the best you can for eight billion people. Perhaps their lives have no cosmic significance, but they have feelings. They can hurt."

    The author was Robert Heinlein. See these quotes about Heinlein, and try to tell me he wasn't "kind, generous, non-judgmental". "Selfless", he was not. But "selfish" is not equivalent to "not selfless".

  15. Leila

    This is what makes being a Catholic so great. You can FAIL and it's all good.
    Sparkle away!

  16. Anonymous

    Hello, Ray,

    Thank you for providing good food for thought. I'm not sure we'll find much consensus because I think we might be operating from fundamentally different foundations, but I love getting a very different perspective, too. I'm well aware that I have my own biases that interfere with a purely logical thought process, and that is part of my reason for asking. What am I overlooking? And this blog in particular seems to attract good thinkers with many alternate/opposing views. (If Jennifer can forgive my jumping on this as a possible forum for discussion…)

    Most likely I wasn't particularly clear in my original question, unfortunately, as I was trying to be brief. (You will see from the rest of this post that being effectively brief is a major challenge of mine.) I'd been thinking about this for a while when a link at the bottom of Jennifer's original post took me to an older post, where in the comments a self-identified atheist asked, "Why should an atheist consider believing in God when they want to be a good person?" Basically, what's in it for me in my quest to become better than what am I?

    So no, as I put in my original post, I don't think that not believing in the Christian God automatically means you can't be "good". (Per the Catholic belief, I don't even think it necessarily keeps you out of heaven.) After all, as Jennifer pointed out in her link to her past post, most of us are trying to do good by the people we love, and feel some compulsion to make the world a better place. But, I'm also not talking about being a Pretty Good Person and being satisfied with that.

    Of course, not everyone agrees that 'selfless' is an ideal to aspire to.

    This is why I think we are on different pages. What I'm talking about are those people who have identified an internal drive to become more selfless. "I want to continue becoming a better person – what does Christianity have to offer that atheism does not?"

    Selfless and selfish are opposing states of being, at least according to my dictionaries and thesauruses. There is a continuum stretched between them that all of us exist on. I'm actively trying to progress from "selfish" to "selfless", not just because it's good for the world, at least my little corners of it where I have influence, but – I believe – for myself and my personal happiness. If you don’t care where you are on that continuum, then no, I'll say right up front that Christianity has no benefit for you, at least in that regard. But that is the basis from which I'm initiating discussion.

    …to be continued… Denise

  17. Anonymous

    Sorry for the need to break…

    So while your example Robert Heinlein (who, incidentally, I read extensively in my younger days) certainly had instances of kindness and generosity in his life, I will say that his quotes exemplify exactly what I tried to talk about originally as standards by which to structure your life: they are "nice thoughts", but are also chock full of subjectivity and opportunities for rife rationalization: I'll help if it suits me. I'll love if that person is important to me. I will love if that person deserves it.

    The ideal set up by the Christian God (and yes, that's my bias that impels me to capitalize it, but please overlook as an expression of my belief) does not contain subjectivity or rationalization: You love no matter who or what. You don't help only when it suits you – you always help. Every person has equal dignity and a right to live, not just those you choose to care about.

    We are all victims, if you will, of our biases and inherent selfishness/self-absorption/self-centeredness. (Anyone who has lived with toddlers knows that it is an inborn condition!) And if the standards which we choose to structure our life by are subjective, open to interpretation and rationalization, my contention is that you will by nature self-limit your ability to progress along the continuum from selfish to selfless.

    When your standards are NOT subjective, etc., then you are pushed to come out of your biases and desire for self-protection, etc., into greater growth along that continuum.

    That's my attempt at a logical approach to the question, "What does Christianity have for my desire to better myself that atheism does not." Higher, unchanging, non-subjective standards mean an easier and faster road to improvement.

    The empirical evidence for my assertion is sketchier, but I think it is there. My personal example of a non-Christian hero to aspire to is more along the lines of Mahatma Ghandi. Balanced against him is not only the roster of Christian saints but civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, etc., who mostly seem to be… Christian.

    If I read about people who are working in the U.S. or overseas not to preach but to work in teaching, feeding, providing medical care, etc., they are almost always… Christian. Or at the least, they believe in a loving Creator who wants loving sacrifice and service to others. I'm not the only one: Nicholas Kristof talks about it more than once.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/opinion/02kristof.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/03/opinion/03kristof.html?_r=1&em&ex=1202274000&en=1886d30c178f2ba3&ei=5087

    (Note that I don’t agree with his overall assessment of the Catholic Church hierarchy or theology – he's guilty of blatantly throwing the baby out with the bathwater and he's also (IMHO – lol) more than a bit grudging in his admissions. But he also has no biased reason to declare Christians social justice heroes.)

    So that's where I'm coming from… Denise

  18. MarytheKay

    I am here from Sorta Crunchy…and I have to say I am VERY glad to have found your words tonight. Beautiful post! Hearing the word "sparkle" now will have new meaning…"spah-kle"–love it! Also, the simple way you explain the way to show Love, is to show love.

    Very good words, encouraging words to me tonight. Thank you.

  19. Colleen

    I knew I really liked you. And now I know why. You like New Orleans accents and want to learn to cook red beans and rice! E-mail me and I will send you a red beans and rice tutorial!

  20. Ray Ingles

    The ideal set up by the Christian God… does not contain subjectivity or rationalization: You love no matter who or what.

    And it's always objective and obvious what you need to do to express that love, right? No room for "subjectivity or rationalization" there, huh? :->

    I'm just pointing out that I don't see a lot of evidence in real life that Christians have a real objective standard on that score. How many Christian sects are there again?

    Selfless and selfish are opposing states of being, at least according to my dictionaries and thesauruses.

    But it's only one axis, one dimension. In space, there's left and right… but there's also forward and back, up and down. What if one is at the balance point, neither selfish (pursuing one's own short-sighted self-interest to the exclusion of all other considerations) nor selfless (taking no care for oneself, ignoring all of one's own desires to help others)? Just rationally self-interested? Are there orthogonal directions to move from there?

    I mean, if I love someone, it's in my self-interest to work for their well-being, no? (And heck, even if I hate someone, rational self-interest doesn't require automatic fights to the death, either. Quite the opposite, if they can be avoided. Another Heinlein quote: "Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend.")

    Oh, and there's a philosophical problem with being 'selfless'… particularly since Christianity insists that it's in one's best interest to be selfless. You don't go to hell for being selfless. (Wouldn't that be the test of who's really selfless? :-> )

  21. Anonymous

    And it's always objective and obvious what you need to do to express that love, right? No room for "subjectivity or rationalization" there, huh? 🙂

    I'm just pointing out that I don't see a lot of evidence in real life that Christians have a real objective standard on that score. How many Christian sects are there again?

    Could you give me some specific examples? I know or have known individuals and groups from all the major protestant religions and lots of evangelicals, and, well… We've all been in agreement about what kind of behavior is the ultimate goal for becoming truly selfless. Divisions based on ancient leadership and theological issues somehow haven't changed what Matthew 25:35-40 has to say about actions towards the less fortunate, for example.

    I'm not sure if this is what you mean, but: 1.) No, not everyone will be pursuing the same path and 2.) not everyone will be doing the same things to show selfless love. We are all individuals, and noone can do all things. But if you are a mom actively giving up your own desires in order to guide your children more effectively or Mother Teresa assisting the poor and unwanted or a civil rights leader standing up in the face of murder threats, you are still walking the path to being a more selfless person to best of your ability and through the particular circumstances in your life.

    The other misunderstanding that the secular world has about Christians is that if they are imperfect and not reaching their ideals then their theology must be crap. An illogical conclusion! My observation is that the non-religious also have their beloved philosophies that they follow imperfectly. The relative worth and unchanging nature of these philosophies is what I was fishing around for discussion about.

    Just rationally self-interested? Are there orthogonal directions to move from there?

    The thing about selflessness – at least in my opinion – is that it encapsulates all the other aspects of being "a good person": being selfless leads to being helpful, kind, generous, etc. I suppose that you could do it all without love, either love of God or love of neighbor, but it seems like that would leave doing it for love of yourself, which as I mentioned is more prone to selfishness – moving in the opposite of the desired direction. Or again, I could not quite be seeing the point you are trying to make.

    Selflessness actually being selfishness? Lol! Every single example of great selflessness that I've ever read about – ancient saints, modern-day heroes, you name it – were NOT motivated by a fear of hell. They were/are all without exception motivated by love: love of God and/or love of neighbor. You might start out via fear of hell, I suppose, but it would be like a baby attempting to stand because he wants to get to the top of the coffee table: it's only a beginning, and if you ever want to make real progress (e.g. run) you have to grow beyond that.

    Maybe we should work from a slightly different perspective: Why would an atheist want to be a better person after the likes of Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King? As I thought I'd indicated, the people who have made life better for thousands or even millions are the ones I'm trying to emulate in my own small way; it's also what I thought the guy was getting at in the original post that sparked my thoughts on the matter. With all due respect to Robert Heinlein's writing talent, he isn't even in the ballpark.

    Denise

  22. MR

    As a fellow socially awkward person, I really identified with your post. I loved the quote from Sr. Bridget. 'Sparkle with self-forgetfulness' will be a good way to remind myself to continue to work on the virtue of humility.

    Thanks for posting this. I plan to try the red beans and rice recipe too.

  23. Anonymous

    Jennifer,

    This post reminds me of one of your former posts about "Who fills you up?" I think of this question often before entering a situation like the one you describe. It is so simple, but just reflecting on who I want to fill me up (God), seems to diminish the negative power I always seem to ascribe to hostile folks. Thanks for coming up with "who fills you up", and reminding me to "sparkle".

    I have several family members,acquaintances and friends (many many being here in the Northeast) who are avid atheists, and who Christian bash every chance they get. I have great anxiety about socializing with them, but your thoughts help me every time.

    Mary

  24. Ray Ingles

    Could you give me some specific examples?

    Sure. For example, many different Christian sects have very different ideas about how to express love for those inclined to homosexuality. The lunatics want them stoned to death, many insist that therapy is the loving option, others encourage celibacy, still others are willing to solemnize same-sex marriages.

    Humans are very good at rationalization. I really haven't seen much sign that Christianity (or Catholicism specifically) is dramatically better than any other system at overcoming or resisting that.

    The other misunderstanding that the secular world has about Christians is that if they are imperfect and not reaching their ideals then their theology must be crap.

    Not what I said! I was referring to explicit difference in declared doctrine, in the ideals. Not the success record of people meeting those ideals.

    Every single example of great selflessness that I've ever read about – ancient saints, modern-day heroes, you name it – were NOT motivated by a fear of hell. They were/are all without exception motivated by love: love of God and/or love of neighbor.

    Right… as I said, "I mean, if I love someone, it's in my self-interest to work for their well-being, no?" They did it because they wanted to help others.

    To make my point about hell explicit: What if living others and doing your best for them landed you in hell? Only the really selfless people would do good then.

    Religions in general emphasize that doing good is in one's ultimate self-interest. Take a look at David Sloan Wilson's "Darwin's Cathedral", or "Evolution For Everyone" – good books.

    Why would an atheist want to be a better person after the likes of Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King?

    Why would an atheist be incapable of being "motivated by love… of neighbor"?

    I'd put George Washington and Thomas Jefferson up there with the people you list. How about Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine and declined to patent it? All of them were Deist but in day-to-day life there's not much practical difference between that and atheism.

    Also, for most of history it's been a lot harder – socially and intellectually – to be an atheist. It's still harder socially. So the sample pool is smaller.

    If you're drawing from two pools with equal averages and spread – one bigger and one smaller – then most of the 'outliers' on both ends will be from the larger pool. (For example, most chess champions are men – but a recent study showed that appears to stem entirely from fewer women getting into chess, not some inherent average difference in chess ability between the sexes.)

  25. Miłość

    "A few weeks ago I found myself heading into the perfect storm of social awkwardness." This sentence literally made me laugh out loud, because I relate to it so much 🙂

    Great post, and very insightful!

  26. Anonymous

    For example, many different Christian sects have very different ideas about how to express love for those inclined to homosexuality.

    I think this is addressing something different than unchanging ideals. If you are looking for mixed messages about what is considered moral by Christians, then to homosexuality you can also add contraception, divorce and (to a more limited extent) abortion. I do not want to minimize how deeply people can be wounded by nasty responses to these issues. But I have problems fitting them into our discussion because I see the disconnect among religions as being over what actions are moral vs. what is considered selfless behavior.

    You can disagree strongly with the position someone holds or – using the religious definition – the sin they choose to commit, but selflessness per the Christian God demands that you help them when they are sick, poor, in prison, etc. simply by virtue of their innate humanity. For example, an entire organization can be firmly against gay marriage rights (the Catholic Church), and yet finance and operate groups that aid adults dying of AIDS (again, the Catholic Church).

    No, not all those who call themselves Christian live up to the demands of Christian ideals, but that is not the fault of the ideals, nor have they changed. E.g. “Those who are without sin should cast the first stone.” (Followed almost immediately by the oft-overlooked, “Go, and sin no more.”)

    Right… as I said, "I mean, if I love someone, it's in my self-interest to work for their well-being, no?" They did it because they wanted to help others.

    How is it always in your self-interest to work for someone’s well-being? Why should it matter to you what happens to children in refugee camps on the other side of the world? Why should you care if people in a large city far away from you are rocked by a grave natural disaster? Why should (re: example above) nuns and priests help people dying of AIDS when those same people often support organizations that would love to destroy the Catholic Church?

    How does giving money, time or your entire life to situations like that offer concrete and significant benefits you? Why should we want help others who will never be able to help us in return? And yet, people do.

    Yes, “they did it because they wanted to help others”. But my point is that more people are doing these things who follow the Christian ideals. And my contention is that if you want to grow to that kind of selfless love (whether you are Christian or not), the Christian ideals are better able to get you there than those not based on the standards of a loving, divine Otherness.

    Denise

  27. Ray Ingles

    Denise – Thanks for the polite discussion, I really appreciate it. Hope I've reciprocated.

    No, Christians are not incapable of rationalization. We just have higher and more inflexible ideals and more of a support system to call us out on it… If you have only your own, personal measure it is more prone to rationalization and change when it becomes inconvenient to hold to it.

    My point is that in practice there's still plenty of room for rationalization. People behave wildly differently and still seem to genuinely believe themselves to be comporting as best they can with those "higher ideals". I guess I just haven't seen a practical difference.

    You also ask, "How is it always in your self-interest to work for someone’s well-being?"

    When you love them, of course. As I quoted before, "Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Atheists are, as you note, entirely capable of loving their neighbors, or people they don't know on the other side of the Earth.

    Now, the question about whether it's harder for them is a little complicated. For one, different understandings of what it means to help others can have an effect. (Consider the Christian differences I mentioned above.) People honestly can draw the line between 'enabling handouts' and 'charity' in different places.

    For another, there's a very large drumbeat equating "atheist" with "immoral" or, at best, "amoral". (See below.) That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy when religious people 'fall away from faith'. They've been told – over and over – that there's no other imaginable reason for doing good for others except because God wants them to, so…

    I see your point for historical figures. But that is not true now, and has not been for decades.

    Look up "least trusted minority" on Google. 🙁

    Polls and studies have indicated that self-identified Christians give significantly more to charity in both money and time than self-identified atheists/non-religious on an individual basis. Having it on an individual basis negates the smaller vs. larger pools argument.

    Gotta be careful about correlation vs. causation! I've pointed out two separate confounding factors above.

  28. Dawn Farias

    And it's actually pretty simple: you just don't worry about yourself. You walk into any given situation asking not what the other people will think of you or how you can convince them of some point, but how you can best love them.

    Yes! Thank you. Perfectly put. I've only caught glimpses of this and never really been able to hold on to it.

  29. Anonymous

    Hi again, Ray,

    Thanks for the polite discussion, I really appreciate it. Hope I've reciprocated.

    You’re welcome! Yes, you certainly have reciprocated. Thank you for all your comments; it’s been a very enjoyable discussion. I’m sorry that my own responses are so sporadic…

    My point is that in practice there's still plenty of room for rationalization. People behave wildly differently and still seem to genuinely believe themselves to be comporting as best they can with those "higher ideals". I guess I just haven't seen a practical difference.

    Hmm. It’s not that I don’t see your point, certainly – sometimes I think the human mind is capable of doing nothing so well as rationalization! And I’ve seen my own fair share within myself and within very selfless, giving individuals.

    The deal is… in contrast to yourself, I have seen a practical difference. On a personal level, my ideals in my mostly non-practicing days were pretty much on par with those friends who didn’t really hold any religious beliefs, or who also didn’t practice them. When I started paying attention and really looking at what I believed and why, the professed ideals of my faith had a much higher bar, much less variability and much greater “prompting” and self-correction built into them.

    I’ve also seen a difference in the lives of others I know: in the peace of their lives, in their ability to evince selfless behavior and selfless love, in their willingness to make themselves deeply uncomfortable in order to help others. And not just once in a while, when convenient, but to shape their lives around this type of behavior.

    But in discussing this with you and doing some more reading/thinking, I can see the number of variables and complexities makes my original “blanket statement” proposal very difficult if not impossible to definitively prove one way or the other. I admit, intellectually it still appeals: With people in general, when the bar is set higher (and they are encouraged to go for it), they will tend to rise to the higher bar. But among other issues, there can be a disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a “higher bar” anyway. Not enough data or definition, really, and maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree altogether.

    When you love them, of course. As I quoted before, "Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own." Atheists are, as you note, entirely capable of loving their neighbors, or people they don't know on the other side of the Earth.

    Yes, we’re not really in disagreement here about the cause. My point was to try to bring out that it is a selfless love, which you address further:

  30. Anonymous

    Now, the question about whether it's harder for them is a little complicated. For one, different understandings of what it means to help others can have an effect. (Consider the Christian differences I mentioned above.) People honestly can draw the line between 'enabling handouts' and 'charity' in different places.

    True enough. But there are so many things that are considered charity. I can give to both National Right to Life and Planned Parenthood (to bring up one pair of extremes!) and they are both considered charitable donations, right? So even though you might consider the local homeless foot-washing days to be a waste of money, aren’t there bound to be other places where you think your donations would be a well-spent benefit to society? And the impulse to love being equal, you’d want to therefore donate money or time?

    For another, there's a very large drumbeat equating "atheist" with "immoral" or, at best, "amoral". (See below.) That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy when religious people 'fall away from faith'. They've been told – over and over – that there's no other imaginable reason for doing good for others except because God wants them to, so…

    Hmm. Possible. It hasn’t necessarily been my experience – but then those I’ve known who’ve fallen away have not been those who were really practicing their religion or donating time, etc. to begin with. But I do see the potential there.

    Look up "least trusted minority" on Google. 🙁

    I’m sorry, Ray. I haven’t ever seen that particular label before. Nor do I believe it myself, for whatever small consolation that is. One atheist (or perhaps loosely agnostic) friend is probably one of the most ethical people I have ever known.

    I can also see that a generally negative perception like that can have a correspondingly negative psychological effect on someone who has always been atheist, too. Why help if society doesn’t expect much of you in that regard? Especially if there are not good examples among your family or friends, or you don’t have the opportunity to experience the good feelings that come out of being helpful to others. Interesting thoughts.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the reverse negative perspective, of course: That anyone who could believe in something so absurd as God must be an irrational, crutch-seeking moron? Such happy stereotypes for both sides… 🙁

    Gotta be careful about correlation vs. causation! I've pointed out two separate confounding factors above.

    True enough; I’m sorry I rather muddled that. Yes, your example of the bigger vs. smaller pools available for sampling is true regarding the number of “outliers”, so historically and (though to a slightly lesser extent) today, you would indeed expect to see a greater number of “most selfless” examples come out of the religious group.

    What I should have said is that the averages of both groups appeared to be different due to the existing data (such as it is) regarding donations on an individual basis.

    Best,
    Denise

  31. Anonymous

    I totally get this, I get the sparkle, and I'm so thankful that someone wrote it to confirm my earlier concerns to just 'be myself' and not worry about the 'potential conflicts'. But, prudence has also kept me away from *some* situations… what about, in reconnecting with the past, you discover that people you once knew were practicing witchcraft, or recently demonstrated their hatred for the Catholic church (different people, but actually happened). I'm all about forgiveness, I know we're called to love our enemies, and really, a lot of witches I know are *perfectly well rounded and lovely people*. I'm a revert, and of course I do want to love all people, but that's not to say we should throw ourselves into dangerous situations, right….. thoughts?

  32. Monica

    Jen, I find it so interesting that you talk about yourself as socially awkward. I have lots of issues of with social anxiety and awkwardness, and it’s yet another lesson to read your words and find myself thinking (about someone I have never met): “Wow, she sure seems like she’s perfectly confident and sure of herself! And she’s clearly intelligent and thoughtful and prayerful…!”

    So thank you for writing candidly about that, because it helps me deal with my own awkwardness.

    Also, for years, my constant prayer has been for self-forgetfulness. It will be my baseline prayer my entire life, I think…and I was delighted to here Sr. Hasse’s invitation to Spah-kle. I will keep this in my mind and heart.

    Thank you!

    Monica

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