Time to introduce myself. I've been prowling around this site for a few months and have finally added a pic. He is Colonel Thomas Blood, a supposedly distant relative of mine and 1st class scoundrel. I use his name, as mine is sufficiently unusual to show up on a Google search. I am a nurse, and health care is rampant with xians. I am also an ordained clergy person and - well things are just a bit complicated right now. Folks who I don't want in the know, will not come snooping here on their own.

Enough intro: Here is the morsel for you to chew on. I have heard it expressed explicitly at least once, and implied by several of you that if one is an atheist, the is NO WAY that you could ever become sufficiently delusional to believe in a god. Well I was. Or did.

I grew up with a believing mother and an atheist father. We never went to church and my religious training was minimal (one year of a generic protestant Sunday school). I was atheist by age 15. I was always fascinated by xians however, especially the really confident kind. Long story short; over several years I developed and pursued the hypothesis that the only way I could be sure that there was no god was to diligently seek him. This led me on multiple pathways until I wound up in a fundamentalist country church one night where I was invited to "come to Jesus" Multiple threads in my life had brought me to the place where I was able to suspend my skepticism enough to accept the possibility of this being real. When I stood up, the world changed. The event and my theories about would take another blog.

The result of this "encounter " was that I became a fundamentalist xian .  My lack of religious upbringing actually worked against me as I had no framework for my new life, only that "reason" had failed as method for finding the TRUTH.  Over the course of decades my inquiring mind kept pushing me into ever more "liberal" understandings of God until I finally realized that my theology had become "Jesus as metaphor" and that I no longer needed the metaphor.

So here I am, full circle again. The experience has not been a complete waste of my life (Thank GOD!!!). I have a very full, hands on type of understanding of religious faith and have first hand knowledge of many of the different flavors of belief. I find many of you off-putting. You can be so bloody sanctimonious sometimes, as if all people of faith were idiots. I am sure I actually had more IQ points when I was religious than I do how. But I DO understand how you feel. I sometimes have to stop myself from thinking "How can anyone BELIEVE that crap?" when it was not so long ago that I did in fact believe it myself.

I've rattled on long enough. Have at it!

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Very good question, Strega, and the only one worth asking:  "what's in it for me?" 

Empathy can be used for good or ill, so it can be used to con people or be cruel. 

It is also a cornerstone of trust, cooperation and connectedness.  If we work together with other people, we can achieve much more than on our own.  It's also true that we thrive on having meaningful connections with others, and pine away from loneliness when we do not have them. 

When we 'work together', I find a number of dysfunctional behaviors that some times force groups to fold-up/disband, or break into more tightly bound affinity groups.

My experience with a local OCCUPY group seemed to indicate nieve sensibilities concerning political power, communications, and concensus building. Very few of us had any experience with political power and/or promotion of ideas outside of our very local network. The methods of idea promotion were based upon direct 'revolutionary' confrontations, which in the end influenced the present power base to appose OCCUPY violently. As many members of OCCUPY were arrested and social standing in the culture decayed, via negative public opinion, and consolidated opposition, the movement shattered into many subgroups. These subgroups are now more involved with more focused issues such as corporate personhood, environment, coal exports, Keystone pipeline, green party promotion, etc.

While the Atheist movement has a much longer history than OCCUPY, and till now has been mostly involved with focused single issues, the social standing is both main stream and deep into the social conscience. As I watched OCCUPY groups and listened to the 'conversation', it became clear that OCCUPY had similar issues/concerns to the Tea Party, and the early John Burch society.

      

From what I've read about mathematical simulations, cooperation works best where there are many smaller groups rather than fewer large groups. 

 

@Simon etc

Theres a lot here in this link - There are some articles aginst the use of empathy too.

http://cultureofempathy.com/References/Experts/Others/Paul-Bloom.htm

 

It seems we need to get our definitions straight or we'll all be at crossed purposes. 

There are some people whose experiences are so extreme - for example, war veterans - that very few people are able to empathize with them - most people just don't share their experiences.

To war veterans (among many of whom I live), add survivors of traumatic experiences of all kinds.

I will here limit my remarks to just one: empathy exists among us, as shown by words often heard here, No one envies the foot soldier.

I was going to stay out of this one but I need to reply to Stole's comments about school chaplaincy, empathy and hope=faith.

@Stole from Jesus

It must be different in Australia (where you say you are) because here in America the disadvantaged come from religious homes - there is no need for school chaplaincy. Religion is rife among the poor of America. It provides them an anesthetizing comfort so they do not agonize constantly (just most of the time) about their plight.

As for empathy - it is a natural condition of humans (offset by our natural selfishness) that should be reinforced in the home. Depending upon schools to do the reinforcing of empathy is to make the schools even more into surrogate parents. If you're going to go that far (intruding into the most basic aspects of family), why have the children remain with their parents at all?

While xianity is superficially empathetic, the others point out quite accurately that there are better choices if one wants to use religion to reinforce empathetic behavior. I found your response to that point weak.

As for hope supposedly equaling faith. As someone without faith but a little hope left I can state as fact that they are not the same thing. Yet another point you are wrong about.

 

@Thomas Blood

Would you see my comments above as sanctimonious? I do get outraged at times and vent at theists but is that sanctimony? or are you talking about something else?

 

Hi Ward

"It must be different in Australia (where you say you are) because here in America the disadvantaged come from religious homes"

No its not different in Australia and in Australian just like the rest of the world - the disadvantaged come from dysfunctional homes because of alcohol - mental illnes - drugs etc  But please dont try to tell me that a perfectly sane person will go mad and murder their own family just because of the bible. Thats very naive Ward - Im sorry.

If I go by what you say then I would believe that all non religious families are happy and stable. and we know thats not true.

"As for empathy - it is a natural condition of humans"

Can you give me a comparisson about what you mean by natural - Do you mean natural like laughing or blinking? Could I have an examle please?

While xianity is superficially empathetic,  

 (Ward there is no such word as empathetic - its empathic and when people who cant even say it try to then lecture me about it - well - I get upset)

 I think that most people are superficial - most people just wear a mask and go through the day on autopilot - pretending -  So how do you pick who has empathy and who's faking it?

I think faith and hope are very similar Ward and they are often used in a similar way. A non religious person might say - 'I hope I get a Job" - a religious person might say - "I have faith that i will get a job". they both serve the same purpose for the person saying it - it just takes bit of tension off us.

What I find with the discussion of empathy here in TA is that the views are not wrong but they are outdated - years old.  For example - nobody has brought up Polyvagal theory and how our emotions get turned off.  When you all get up to speed on the topic then I might find talking about it less of a battle.

But Ward - if I remember correctly - was it you who scored low on the empathy quotient test that was in a post here not so long ago?

AS<J  :  what's Polyvagal theory?  I've read that we are less empathic towards people who are not from our group, and we are less empathic towards people who behave badly.  Oxytocin promotes warmth towards people who are in our group and coldness towards outsiders.  This fits with our evolutionary history of living in small groups all competing with each other. 

I'm not sure we've gone over the basics yet.  These are very important too. 

- empathy is fundamental to social interactions and morality:  respect, understanding, compassion, fairness, reciprocity, trust, collaboration.  It "works" as a moral strategy. 

- the empathy circuit starts life as a healthy child-caregiver bond. 

- it can be used for good or ill. 

- true understanding requires shared experiences. 

- the next best thing to true understanding is "sympathy" - I feel bad that you feel bad. 

- the mere act of trying to empathize can break down walls and barriers between people. 

- the practice of empathy - perspective-taking, reading people - can be learned and improved upon. 

- it depends on having a healthy ego which can look beyond the self. 

- it's a very under-explored subject within popular culture.  

- ? 

- people who don't have it usually don't know they don't have it. 

- people who know themselves well tend to be better at it. 

- it can be personal - between two people actually communicating together - or public - about something we've heard in the news. 

- a person may be low on empathy because they have pressing needs and concerns of their own.

 

@Simon - Thats a good summary.

I wonder what a visual model of empathy would look like because up to now, I think that all we have are explanations and definitions of it.

 

 

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