In the “look on the bright side” column of the past two weeks, from my dad’s initial heart attack until now, there are many thing for which I am grateful.

➔  Of course, foremost is my dad’s successful surgery and his beginning rehabilitation, which includes my gratitude to the professional staff who is his medical team, whose praises I cannot laud enough.

➔  The amount of time I’ve gotten to spend with my mother and brother, which even though it was in waiting rooms, hospital rooms, and cars, were still precious quality moments with two of my fave people.

➔  My family were all off on their adventures and hearing from them was a highlight of my day, especially when things were difficult here, as I found I was hungry for a happy, normal voice.

➔  My dear clients in Murfreesboro who have been patient, tolerant, and understanding in my sudden 2 weeks of unavailability.

➔  The law school program I’ve chosen which has allowed me to attend lectures in the middle of the night, chat with my classmates instantly, and even take my 3-hour essay midterm at the local library.

➔  Time I’ve spent in the hometown of my youth which has allowed me to reconnect with a couple of old familiar faces.  It’s amazing how much everyone else has changed since high school.

➔  Because I’ve been done so much of my studying online instead of with my textbooks at home, I’ve had some extended cyber-conversations with several friends, most of whom are using the medium for asking how dad’s doing, and mom, and me.  One particular conversation went in a little different direction, and it is the body of that conversation I want to post about today.

My friend lives in Nashville, and recently the notorious Westboro Baptist Church bunch came rolling into town to protest yet another military funeral.  My friend’s group participated in a counter-protest, and it was an experience that had an impact on her.  She talked about seeing the group, about seeing that they had their children with them, about how they looked as normal as anyone else — the usual responses you read about during one of the WBC counter-protests.

Westboro Baptist Church "members"

Let me back up a bit and explain a little phenomenon that occurs almost without fail any time I have a conversation with a believer about my journey out of faith.  There are invariably 4 topics that arise, if not in that initial convo, then shortly thereafter:  1)  What about the afterlife?  2)  What if you are wrong?  3)  How can you be moral without God?  and 4) If evolution is true, why are there still apes?  [That one troubles me beyond words; we should not be asking this question in the US in the 21st century]  This post is about question #3.

This conversation with my friend is the third such conversation I have had about WBC.  Each of the friends with whom I’ve had this chat is a believer, each knows that I am not.  I am touched that each one of these people reached out to me to tell me about their experiences; I think that the underlying motivation is to share with me what they perceive as our common acceptance that there are religions that are not good and healthy and kind and compassionate.  Not all of my Christian friends are so willing to engage in a conversation about anything regarding faith, and I am grateful that these friends have chosen to do this.

Try to put aside for a moment what you know I am going to write about the First Amendment.  I think what WBC is repulsive, hateful, arrogant, and inflammatory.  Exactly the type of speech that the 1st Amendment protects.  Another post for another time.

Try to put aside for a moment what you know I am going to write about the basis for this church’s position.  If you have researched them at all, you know that they match a biblical mandate to every action they take.  Another post for another time.

The issue that is holding my attention here is the individual response my friends are describing to me.  I hear the passion in their voices when they tell me how they feel about their experience.  I hear them talk about the families and friends of the deceased (in the Nashville case it was a soldier), and their compassion and understanding of their pain, and their desire to keep that pain from being magnified by WBC’s malicious actions.

In other words, they are having a humanist response.

Their motivation to act is built on sympathy, compassion, and concern; none of my friends had any connection to the soldier’s family or friends.  They describe to me what it must feel like for that family and those friends to have received the news of their loved one’s death, the trauma and shock they must be experiencing, the grief and loss that is relentless in those first few days and weeks, and then to have to consider the possibility that this organization may publicly celebrate that very pain.  One friend even said that she couldn’t NOT participate in trying to protect this grieving group of people from more pain.

The Good Without God question is not only a valid one, it is incredibly important.  I have believing friends who can’t even begin to address whether or not the faith has any evidence or is rational or reasonable because this issue is so overriding.  There is such a default mentality that without supreme guidance, we could not govern our impulses – without external rules we have no restrictions against stealing or killing or destruction.  I would suggest that that is not the case.

This is a topic of discussion within the atheist community, and there are several great books out now on the subject:  The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, The God Virus by Darrel Ray, Godless by Dan Barker, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  These I have read; there are others, but I don’t want to recommend a book I haven’t read.  These folks address the issue from a sociological, anthropological, and psychological standpoint.  I wish I had read these books as a believer; I think they give insight on the subject of morality well worth exploring whatever your life’s philosophy.

Like every concerned parent of my generation, when I began to have children I read a few parenting books, from across the spectrum of opinion.  I was confident I didn’t want to use the Because I Said So approach and leave my children vulnerable when they weren’t around me.  It took me their lifetimes to determine that my goal was to guide them toward a self-discipline based on reason, compassion, and empathy.  They have learned that lesson in spite of me, and have become kind, loving, generous, moral people.  I’ve seen each of them give of themselves to others when even I thought they should conserve.  I’ve seen them reach out to someone in pain or need, and I’ve seen them share in another’s joy just for the sake of that person’s joy.

This post was not to have been one of Those Posts.  My kids are great, but my larger point is this:  an individual, internalized, intentional, reasonable, compassion-based, empathy-driven morality is not only possible, it transcends whatever external rules and laws are implemented by religion or government.

Have the conversation.  Think about it, read about it, talk about it.  Let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading (and thinking)!