Sunday, May 18, 2008

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!

I had another confrontation with holy idiocy today. During this morning's sermon at the church where I work, the minister spoke about the humanitarian crises currently unfolding in China and Myanmar. She claimed not to know where these countries are exactly, and she didn't discuss either event in detail. She didn't announce a special donation that the church would be making to help alleviate the suffering of the survivors, nor did she admonish those present to make donations to Doctors Without Borders or the International Red Cross.

Instead, our pastor spent twenty minutes giving a rambling talk about compassion, somehow induced by the phrase "Our Father" in The Lord's Prayer. Then we closed our eyes and sent "love" through the ether to our brothers and sisters in China and Myanmar (wherever those places might be).

This is where the well-intentioned folk of faith and I part company. The notion that 100 or so people in a room with their eyes closed sending "love" vibrations might do any good for the millions of people affected by the recent events in Asia is simply ludicrous. The minister referenced so-called scientific research "proving" that our thoughts are able to influence inanimate objects such as water. The connection between this dubious science and our collective mental intention to send loving thoughts to people in Asia was lost on me. I have the feeling that the connection was rather tenuous to begin with, but I could be wrong.

Church folk are fond of quoting aphorisms. So here's one that I find appropriate for today's teaching:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Intentions are not enough. Sending loving thoughts is not enough. Talking about compassion and how we are all "one" is not enough! Right action is required. When New Thought people invoke Buddhism (or its modern teachers like the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh) they too often stop before reaching the most important element of compassion: action. You can encourage people to develop gentle, kind, and loving attitudes all you want. But if you don't inspire the behavior that is necessary to manifest compassion in the world, you have NOT done your job.

Today there was no mention of what we can DO to help alleviate suffering, which I believe is the actual definition of compassion. Thoughts and feelings are transitory; sending "love" to China and Myanmar might make some of us feel better for a few moments, but it accomplishes NOTHING real or of any importance.

Tonight I heard that the U.S. government is sending a puny $500,000 in aid to China. This is an "initial commitment", the spokesperson for the administration said. Considering the we are spending billions of dollars a month in Iraq this humanitarian gesture is tantamount to an insult. But wait - is there any strategic value in sending dollars to aid the victims of the earthquake in Szechuan Province? Is there any oil at stake? No? Then I guess it really isn't in our national interest to help the people there in any meaningful way.

This is why ordinary people like us don't need to be wasting our time worrying about our intentions or sending telepathic love overseas. Take action. Put your energy where your compassion is. Make a donation to an agency that is doing the work of helping to lessen the suffering of our human family in Asia.


Doctors Without Borders
Red Cross