Book excerpt: reason and compassion

It occurs to me that I’ve not given you guys an excerpt from the book in a while.  I cranked this out last night and thought it was halfway decent.

The sum of the battle between reason and faith can be reduced to this: both compassion and reason can be terrible without the other.

Reason without compassion gives us nuclear bombs instead of nuclear energy.

Compassion without reason produces loving parents who watch their children die of easily curable diseases, because the parents think prayer is a better tonic than medicine.

The conclusion is almost irreducibly simple: any person who undervalues compassion or reason is a danger to a healthy, happy society.

Now atheists, on the whole, have shown their ability to swiftly disown those who lack compassion and reason.  Look no further than our rejection of Joseph Stalin to confirm this.  We may not always be correct about who is being unreasonable, but that is a result of imperfections in the human brain, not because we do not give reason its due reverence.

However, while most Christians, like most atheists, are filled with compassion, I don’t think it can be argued that a group valuing faith as a reliable means to truth gives appropriate esteem to reason.

Therein lies the concern for the vocal atheist who values a healthy, happy society.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • brucemartin

    This is a good point, JT. As you indicate, the core of atheism is giving esteem to reason. And the key frame to talking about Stalin is to note that nobody thinks Stalin gave up on his Seminary career in order to embrace reason. In that sense, Stalin was no atheist, even though his only god was himself, and he effectively enforced a national religion of worship thereto. Thanks for the post.

    • JT Eberhard

      Stalin was an atheist. The problem is he was neither reasonable in many of his political views or compassionate, and so even atheists reject him as evil.

      • brucemartin


        I thought it was obvious that Stalin was a sociopath with no compassion, but you are right too that it still needs to be said explicitly.

    • Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

      If we were create two columns, and list murderious/destructive/bad goverments/societies, this could probably be clarified.

      If we separate them by atheist/theist, we’d have many in either column.

      If we were the separate them by totalitarian/non-totalitarian, then it’s incredibly lopsided towards totalitarian.

      There’s nothing totalitarian about someone saying “I don’t believe you”. There is, however, quite a bit of totalitarianism interwoven into Christian doctrine.

      I tried pointing out once to a Christian that Christianity isn’t democratic – you don’t get to vote on the rules. The only thing she was able to come back with, shortly before disappearing from the discussion, was that God gives us that wonderful choice of belief – therefore, he’s not a dictator.

  • B-Lar

    That is a GREAT thought for the day.

  • Rory

    In my opinion, you’ve said this better in other places. I’m thinking specifically of a post you did a while back, where you explained how developing a rational understanding of the world is a prerequisite for moral action.

    But, as this is a small excerpt, I would assume you’ll probably adapt some of that material for the book as well. I think that would provide a stronger context for this piece.

    Thanks for keeping us posted as your work progresses. I’m looking forward to the finished product.