The View from Hell

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Problems with Compassion

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Suppose you are a member of one of the Christian sects that believes that everyone who does not believe according to the teachings of that sect will suffer eternal punishment in Hell. What is compassionate behavior on your part? One view is that, “knowing” what you do, it is your duty to convert as many people as possible to your sect, to protect them from Hell – by argument, by harassment, even by force, if possible. No violation of others’ “rights” to live as they choose can compare to the eternal damnation they face in Hell. The only compassionate thing to do is to convert everyone by any means possible.

Another view of compassion is that even though you might choose to save yourself from Hell by believing as you do, and even though you might use persuasion to try to convert others, it is wrong to impose your beliefs on others.

The second view is that which I believe is most common in our culture – certainly among atheists, but even among believers, it would be seen as wrong to convert a person to a belief system using force or other improper means, even though the believer might feel that failure to do this will result in the unbeliever spending eternity in Hell.

People who feel that their own lives are meaningful and worthwhile often assume that living is necessarily a great thing for everyone, and if anyone seems to want to die, it isn’t really his wishes – or, even if it’s what he wishes now, he will eventually come around and see that life is great fun, meaningful, and worthwhile. Protecting him from his own liberty is in his interest in the long run. These folks subscribe to the view that forcing every person to live, even against his wishes, is the compassionate thing to do. I propose that this is like saying that the compassionate thing for a Christian believer to do is to convert all non-believers at sword-point.


Written by Sister Y

April 21, 2008 at 5:25 am

Posted in analogy, compassion, Hell

One Response

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  1. Oh, come on. This is ridiculous.

    Fascinating subject. It is impossible to address this issue in the abstract. There is no one-size-fits-all character to this subject. SY, you make no room for this idea.

    I would have to think carefully if the individual in question were nearing the boundary of any hope for a meaningful existence, as infirmity, old age, or disease were gaining the upper hand.

    Our society or its agents would have think even more carefully, when a choice for suicide, though seemingly rational and informed, is but a ploy for attention and manipulation, as displayed by many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD.) They rarely have a true desire to end their lives. If they are successful in completing a suicide, it is usually because things did not go as planned to avert the suicide.

    We don't have to debate the issue for too long, when the one seeking their own death is grief stricken after a great personal loss, and feels they cannot go on without a spouse or child who died. Inevitably, the passage of time can restore personal hope, a desire to live, and thankfulness that their personal death was not granted too soon.

    I do not have to think at all, nor should anyone else, if my teenage daughter is depressed, finds life – and assuming an adult role in our society – not worth the effort, and is commiserating with an equally disillusioned young friend about helping each other commit suicide.

    No one has to think too long if a desired suicide is the result of counseling by a cult leader for whatever fucking crazy reason is concocted. Who, in their right mind, would not seek an injunction, armed troops, and child protective services, to stop the Reverend James Jones from preaching mass suicide to his flock and executing his plan.

    Finally, consider that someone has thought long and hard about ending their life, and decided that 'death by cop' was their preferred method. It does not take a genius, or any more than five minutes, to realize that society or its agents must act to prevent such a move to end their own life.

    Norman Costa

    December 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm

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