We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (Emphasis added.)

The Declaration of Independence

Today is Patriots Day in Boston.

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Compassion is derived from the Latin words com and pati which, coupled together, produce this meaning: “to bear with” or “to suffer with.”  Compassion does not mean that you “feel someone’s pain” for that is superficial and can be easily faked.

No, compassion is more.  It is bearing another’s suffering, caring for that other who suffers, to, by presence or deed, act to relieve another’s suffering, at least by one’s actual presence to the one who suffers.

Compassion is best understood as having a place in theology, in faith and in the faith narrative – the narrative of God’s relationship with Israel and God’s gift of Jesus of Nazareth.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the experience of compassion in a culture that ignores, dismisses or exiles faith, distances itself from religion.  Simply stated, people are not, without faith, apt to turn themselves to another and join in their suffering, act to relieve it.

The secular state’s disinterest to the plight of persecuted Christians and others in the Middle East ought to be proof enough that a culture lacking faith does little to alleviate the suffering of others.

We seem to have drifted away from compassion.

Our courts handling of religious questions reflects our shift away from a disposition we once held firmly.

For some time now American courts have seemed to mangle an understanding of the role of faith and religion in American society.  Judges seem uniquely unfamiliar with the vital place of faith and religion in fostering a compassionate people and compassionate culture.  Illustratively, we have seen judges think of the phrase “under God” is equivalent to a pledge to Zeus.  Likewise we have had judges announce that the mention of “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is “innocuous” – leaving the notion of God as banal, having no significance.

When God is “innocuous,”or the equivalent to Zeus, can anyone imagine a population of a secular nation being compassionate?  I think the answer is “no.”

Oh, there are those who think, mistakenly so, that “volunteerism” is the equivalent of bearing another’s suffering? To them, I ask: Do volunteers routinely die for another?  Does volunteerism produce martyrs?  Was Christ but a well-meaning volunteer?  Is God as to Israel only a volunteer?

History shows us that a person has to believe in something, for the human person must have meaning to prosper and grow to their full humanity.  When God is exiled, humans are left with politics, power, pleasure, status, wealth and self as the source of meaning – none of which foster compassion or produce happiness, contentment and peace.

Compassion?  Unlikely without God, unlikely in cultures which diminish faith and religion.

Shalom.

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