Compassion vs religion

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

I was not at all surprised at the many reactions I received to my article last week entitled “God loves bakla.” The comments came via Facebook, Twitter and my blogs where I posted links to my column. Topics about gays, lesbians, sexuality in general are really hot items and everyone has his or her two cents about it. As a writer, I have noted other hot topics that elicit strong reactions from readers such as politics, God, religion, mid-lifing, the afterlife, love, parenting, the RH bill, to name a few.

I believe in the age-old observation that the two main issues in human history that have triggered the most deaths, wars and strife are religion and politics. From the Crusades and the Inquisition, to suicide bombers and attacks on people of different faiths, we have seen how religion, as much as it aims to save, can be a toxic brew. As for politics, talk about EDSA, the Marcoses, P-Noy, the millionaire generals, etc., and you will surely elicit strong opinions.

I used to avoid writing about religion for obvious reasons: the ultra-religious do not want to read anything that will challenge or bother their closely held dogmas. When they do read such things, they turn hostile, which, in turn, invites the more informal believers and the downright non-believers to also comment. Often, this results in long, drawn-out “conversations” — arguments, for the most part — in my blogs.

For the very same reasons I used to avoid the topic, I now wish to write about it. I like to see people discussing what I write and commenting on it, for or against. It does not matter which side you are on. My purpose is to stimulate my readers on this otherwise restful Sunday.

As I mentioned above, I got a lot of feedback on my last article. Many of them were from straight people who are sympathetic to gays. Some reactions were written by gays who thanked me for writing about their struggles.

There were some who said they felt pity for the plight of gays but felt that God disapproved of their lifestyle which made them “condemn the sin, but love the sinner,” a line of reasoning I have heard often from Christian fundamentalists, which seems to me to be a nuanced attempt to explain their abhorrence of the gay lifestyle.

This particular reaction stood out in my mind. I was fascinated and sought to explore it since, quite frankly, I find it to be disingenuous and somewhat intellectually dishonest.

There is very little to disagree with when you hear people say that we are all God’s children. We believe in the universality of God and his love for his children. When you accept this, you can’t help but deduce that God made us the way we are with all our characteristics, deficiencies and greatness. For example, God made me tall but not very talented in sports. My wife is beautiful, but she cannot sing. Stuff like this is easy to accept — until the question of gayness comes in. In the view of some, God did not make gays; gays chose to be gays.

Last week, while writing my article and pointing out how difficult life must have been for a lot of gays who grew up in my school, I could not imagine how anyone in his right mind would “wish” to be gay. In other words, why would anyone choose to be gay and invite trouble from his classmates, his family, his religion, and so much of the rest of the world? It just doesn’t make sense.

To some, this notion of the possibility of being born gay would be sacrilegious because God would never create such an “abomination.” Only the devil, with his evil schemes, must be the source of this. Of course, the devil is making ordinary people gay. In religion, there has to be a bogeyman to explain the “imperfections” within God’s creation. And yes, they must be saved. This “abomination” must be corrected.

After years of looking at some of the hard topics that make the world a horrible place to live in, like hunger, child mortality, wars, discrimination, grinding poverty, disease, etc., I have come to quietly accept many things. No, there isn’t a devil behind things that go wrong. Yes, there will always be poverty, injustice and intolerance in the world. And yes, we must continue to fight against them even if we accept that they will never completely go away.

I am coming from the idea that as much as the world can be a horrible place, we must accept it fully, not with the cynicism that things will not change, but with compassion, because only that will liberate us.

There are well-meaning religious people and even secular activists who get caught in a bind where they are forever angry, tense and stressed out because they are forever on a mission to save the world. I often catch myself in this mode and I know how much of an unsustainable burden it can be for the spirit.

The world will always be in a fix. Life will always be difficult. But accepting this is the first step in the direction of really doing something about it. And what this means is, when you begin to find compassion within yourself, it will awaken in you the beauty in everything.

Acceptance is a wonderful thing. When you don’t have to condemn one thing over another, things become easier to accept. When you can calmly live with the imperfect, the horrible, within or outside yourself and not be on frantic mode rushing to change anything, peace begins to seep in.

When you think about it, it is often the “idealists,” in their desire to change the world, who have actually destroyed the world. Extreme examples are Pol Pot, Hitler, ethnic cleansers, religious fanatics, etc. And the scary thing is, there is a little bit of them in many of us.

Religion should not stand in the way of compassion to understand, and accept people as they are. If we cannot see their full humanity through the prism of our religion, then I don’t believe that religion serves us properly. God is bigger than any religion. That is why religions keep updating themselves to attempt to catch up with the unfolding reality of God, which no one will ever succeed in fully defining.

Just listen to your heart. That is your true spirituality. Would you deprive anyone of what you feel you are entitled to simply because of a different sexual orientation? If you would, then perhaps your religion has too much pride and ego investment.

An insight from Joseph Campbell put it so well: “Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination.”

In the end, the understanding that will matter will not be the one that will eradicate parts of the world or life itself, in order to save it. In a strange way, the world is beautiful with all its little and monstrous contradictions. Without these, our lives would have less dimension and depth. We may even have to invent the devil to make our lives more interesting.

* * *

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10 years ago

..and in all cases, men tend to make their own religion (tailored-fit) but compassion is a universal, unchangeable virtue.

Love your article and your blog sir. 🙂

Bass Poet
Bass Poet
10 years ago

Hi Sir Jim,

Wow! This is one hot discussion. There is only one way to compassion and it is love which is characterized by acceptance. Self-righteousness is a dangerous path to walk through, it can usually lead to numbness of the senses, then eventually numbness of the spirit. I am still surprised with a lot of our fellow seekers and believers of faith stuck in “the law and order of life” and cannot move on and forward with the “Will and grace of life” Sometimes I think we fellow seekers get overwhelmed in enforcing the truth and towing a hard line approach that because it is “written in the law.” I love that you Provoke the usually taboo topic in us, and Proclaiming it as a norm. What we need now is the practice of “Radical Compassion”. I remember the words of Fr. Anthony De Mello, S.J. “I used to complain that I have no shoes, until I saw someone with out legs.” To express that in my own words, I used to know all, discard the false, embrace the truth tightly and separate myself from people who are different, until I found God and became kind, humble, accepting and silent and lett the love flow in my daily life and struggles. In subtlety and silence, in joy and in sorrow we can overcome our own spiritual prejudice, our spiritual obesity and righteousness in Praying, in acts of compassion, in doing good and continuing proclaiming and provoking the natural goodness in all of us in spite of all worldly labels we have created (gender, sexual orientation, status, wealth, power, prestige). We are intelligent enough to know what lasts in the world. And it is only LOVE and that We are all ONE. Blessings to all.

Bass Poet

milagros amer
milagros amer
9 years ago
Reply to  Bass Poet

Please check out Joseph Prince. His radical grace has changed my life and all my beliefs are now imbued with the grace of God, of our righteousness in Christ’s righteousness. We are righteous not because of our good behavior but because Jesus gave it to us when He died on the cross. I live by grace, not the law (10 commandments). For when you are truly saved, following the ten commandments becomes a natural way of life, not in fear of God and achieving heaven, but only in praise of the Lord. I do not believe in religion and all its man-made law. Only in the grace of God. In Jesus’s righteousness in which I share through Him. Thus, the case of gays, it is not for me to judge, but only to see the gays as righteous themselves through Jesus Christ. It is not for me to judge. What I don’t understand about them, what upsets me about them, I surrender to God. In Him, everything is perfect.

9 years ago

There is no doubt that God loves all of us — gays and mass murderers included — but the age-old Christian principle of hating the sun and loving the sinner holds true. It is Jim’s disparagement of it as being “disingenuous and somewhat intellectually dishonest” that is itself disingenious and intellectually dishonest.

A person is separate from his actions as indeed persons can change. A person is worthy of respect as a human being because of what he is, not because of what he does. Thus actions can — and should — be judged separately from judging a person (which is God’s prerogative, not ours).

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, the actual causes of homosexuality are not fully known. But while it is not likely that persons choose to “be gay,” they certainly choose their actions and can be held responsible for them.

It is most disingenious and intellectually dishonest to claim that God made someone gay and as such that both they and the actions related to their being gay must therefore be morally acceptable. If we follow this poor logic, then since God made us all sinners, we should find all sinners as well as all their sins — including the mass murders committed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the legalized murders of tens millions of unborn children through surgical abortion — as morally acceptable. This is absurd.

The real agenda here is that Jim seems to be justifying homosexual acts by appealing to compassion for the persons who commit them. I do not have a problem with the latter since we should indeed treat homosexuals with much compassion; but I do have a problem with the former, since the actions of persons can be immoral. Jim’s reasoning is flawed.

Perhaps Jim can come up with better arguments to justify homosexual acts; but even without making a judgement on that issue, his current argument fails.

Persons and their actions can be judged separately. it is precisely because of compassion that we hate the sin and love the sinner.

8 years ago

I agree with Manny. We do not judge the sinner but we condemn the sin. We care for the dog and we expect him to bark (as they ‘ought’ to) but we may bring him to the vet if he meow. He may have tonsillitis.

The same example Jesus showed us in John 8:10-11,

“When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”