Thunker’s Weblog

The Act of Indifference
November 22, 2016, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, LDS, Mormon, religion

Robert Wheadon-126x150


The idea of progress is an interesting one.  In a recent article in, “The Atlantic,” Joel Mokyr writes about the concept of progress through history.  The idea humanity could initiate progress is rather modern.  Rather than embrace the Western idea that we can improve our lot in life, anciently, “most people in the more-remote past believed that history moved in some kind of cycle or followed a path that was determined by higher powers.” [1]

Prior to the time of Christopher Columbus, human progress revolved largely around the belief that progress was divinely controlled by God, a pantheon of deities, or ancestors that had proceeded you in life.

Ancient texts containing ancient wisdom circumscribed much of humanity’s actions.  The Torah mandated life for Jews, the Koran for Islam, the writings of Confucius for China and Aristotle for Western Europe.  The writings of the ancients prescribed the social and moral behaviors of society.

However, with the Reformation and the Renaissance came changes in humanity’s perception of progress.  Instead of relying on ancient wisdom and the viewpoints of ancient deities, new science, math, philosophy and art promulgated the powerful notion of mankind’s ability to initiate it’s own destiny.  Scientific discovery began to prove the answers provided by Aristotle and his Greek peers to explain the laws of nature and the universe were incomplete and just plain wrong.

And the flood of innovation began.  From Da Vinci to Bill Gates, Michelangelo to NASA, the technological tide has exponentially risen and continues to rise.  The next generation will see innovations in self-driving automobiles and artificial intelligence.

And yet, what about humanity’s progress to become more enlightened and civilized?

It’s not a new question.  For example, in the heady days of the American Revolution and the creation of the new United States as a nation, Benjamin Franklin, penned the following in 1780:

“It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried in a 1000 Years the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity & give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour & double its Produce. All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a Way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity.“[2]

With the change in focus, the telescope of gazing on humanity’s scientific progress transforms itself into a microscope of self-examination on our own individual humanity.  Have we ceased “to be Wolves to one another?”  Have we progressed in our humanity to each other?  Depends on who you ask.  Some, when queried, might say we have evolved past religious-based beliefs held by the ancients, and based on our intelligence, have thrown off the shackles of organized religion.  That trend in Western society is on the rise, as shown quite clearly and eruditely by Charles Taylor, in his 2007 work, “A Secular Age.”  In this work, Professor Taylor lays out one of the definitions of secularity in our time as, “…the falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church.” [3]

As I see this movement, it represents a continuation of the scientific progressive movement that began in the 15th century and has grown to now include a personal rejection of God as a source of answers to humanity’s deeper questions.  Education and technology battle with deity, each offering competing ideologies.  More and more people choose to worship at the secular altar of progress.

Yet, this choice does not necessarily improve who we are as people.  Whether I have the latest Apple iPhone or latest model automobile really has no bearing on my behavior to and with my neighbors, friends, acquaintances and daily interactions.  In fact, with the recent rise in smart phone usage and social media integration, our social interactions diminish, becoming more insular and more digitized, rather than becoming more outward and self-giving.

The result of this flow towards secularization is not an increase of love or hate.  If that were true, then we would see measurable variations in the societal benchmarks we already measure, i.e. crime rates.

The result is indifference.  It is the grey area where we we neither care nor feel towards others and insulate ourselves from the needs of those around us.  The result, however, is not an improvement in society, but rather a distancing both physically and emotionally from those around us.

My oldest daughter brought to my attention a speech she had been assigned to read as part of her college work.  In 1999, Elie Wiesel, Noble prize winner and Holocaust survivor, gave a speech at the White House entitled, “The Perils of Indifference.” see here.  It’s a powerful bit of rhetoric.  Mr. Wiesel said,

“It is so much easier to look away from victims.  It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.  It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair.  Yet for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence.  And, therefore, their lives are meaningless.”

Indifference is subtle, easy, appealing and one of the most damning traits of our age.  The expression of love or hate is at the very least a response, an emotional recognition of other’s actions.  Indifference is neither.  It is, rather not only a refusal to recognize the human condition, but a punishment to those on the receiving end of emotional nothingness.

I take a very non-progressive view in what our response has to be.  In the arena of human progress, we truly need to make a very non-secular move.

I quote some lines of wisdom from antiquity.  Jesus of Nazareth said:

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another,” (John 13:34).

And from one of Jesus’ followers, in recognition of a higher power than our own intelligence:

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another,” (1 John 4:11).

And from ancient prophets from the American hemisphere we are counseled:

“And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another,” (Mosiah 18:21).

How should we remove the safe, non-threatening blanket of indifference?  How do I truly bring progress to the human condition?  My suggestion is simplistic and very non-modern. My belief is the path of progress on a human scale is found in the wisdom of those who have gone before us.  For all the centuries of scientific progress and invention, which I applaud for the economic, medical and knowledge benefits, the inventive leap of most worth is outlined in Matthew 25:35-40:

“35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”



[3] Taylor, Charles: “A Secular Age.”  2007, pg 2


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I really enjoyed this piece because it is so true in our world today. People who really care are usually in the news because it is so unusual. Another factor in these days is that there are so many calamities around the world that we become numb.

Comment by Sydney Wheadon

Glad you enjoyed the post. I totally agree with your comment. We become emotionally numb with all that occurs around us and around the world.

Comment by thunker

Nice post

Comment by MormonBloke

Thanks very much. I so enjoy your posts.

Comment by thunker

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