COMPASSION: A TRUE MORAL INCENTIVE

It has been two weeks since my beloved dog of thirteen years, BoBo, had to be put to sleep. (click to read previous blog) When I open the front door, out of habit I still expect to see his wagging tail, the gleam in his eye and his escorting me to my car. I still hear his bark echoing in the caverns of my mind. The memory of his unconditional love and affection still lingers in the air like the fragrance of a freshly cut rose. Quotation-Arthur-Schopenhauer-As a matter of fact, as I am writing this blog I hear my wife talking on the phone sharing with someone about how much we miss BoBo. While he sleeps in death beneath clods of dirt at the edge of our yard, he is still alive in our hearts. King Solomon was right, “Many waters cannot quench love.”

The other day I was talking to someone about the loss of my dog and that I unashamedly wept at his passing. I was stunned when they remarked, “We shouldn’t act so foolish about losing just a dog.” Though irritated at their heartless remark, I asked the person if they had a dog. They replied no they did not, and callously added, “Even if I did I don’t think I would get so close to them I would cry when they died.” They smugly continued, “It is hard to believe someone would be that emotional over the loss of just an animal.”

I quickly dismissed myself from the presence of one so shallow in their thinking and obviously so shallow in their soul. I have always thought how one relates to animals says a lot about their inner character. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), who was one of the first philosophers to address the issue of the ethical and humane treatment of animals, in his book On the Basis of Morality (1840) insightfully wrote, “Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to living creatures cannot be a good man. Moreover, this compassion manifestly flows from the same source whence the virtues of justice and loving-kindness towards men arise.”**

While the animal kingdom was created by God for the benefit and pleasure of mankind, that is no excuse to ever misuse, abuse, or treat them inhumanely. One’s compassion in the thinking and treatment of animals reveals a lot about a person. A soul that can’t be touched with the unconditional love and affection of a dog, cat, etc. has closed their heart to experiencing and receiving of unconditional love of one of God’s creatures and the opportunity to return such love. Unconditional love is the kind of love God has for us and it is as we develop a relationship with Him that we seek to love others. We must admit it is much harder to practice such love in our relationships with others, because too often our love for one another is conditional. However, we find in God’s creation of the animal kingdom an example of unconditional love that reminds us such love does exist and can be received and given.

It sure wouldn’t hurt if a flowing river of compassion for both man and beast overflowed its banks. Schopenhauer argued that morality flows from selfless compassion to both man and God’s creatures and only actions that have sprung from such compassion have true moral value and virtue. He stated, “If an action has as its motive an egoistic aim it cannot have any moral worth,” compassion being “the sole non-egoistic motive” and  “the only genuinely moral one.” Compassion is the ultimate moral and non-egoistical virtue because we enter into the suffering of the person or animal. When one exhibits compassion one feels the suffering of the other, they feel it as their own, though it is in the other person or animal. Therein lies selfless virtue. Such compassion enhances one’s sensitivity to experience love that touches the gates of heaven.

I have seen it over and over, no matter how callous a person’s heart may appear, when they share the love God has invested in His creatures I have watched impenetrable walls of selfishness momentarily be torn down. While the cross of Christ is the demonstration of God’s eternal unconditional love for humanity, if we look around us God has placed the daily practicality of unconditional love in the animal kingdom.

When we fail in our duty and responsibility to love one another as we should, let us pause in reflection to have our sensibilities refreshed in the witnessing of  the compassion and unconditional love the Heavenly Father has invested in His creatures. To the person who said to me it is nonsense to get that close to “just” an animal, I rather suspect they are a person who has refused to be touched deeply in their soul with the love that is found in all of God’s creatures and His creation. It is only those who are able to open their soul to the sensitivity of compassion, in spite of the risk of pain and hurt, who will enter into the enriching blessings that are found in a loving relationship with God, their fellowman, and His creatures.

Schopenhauer wrote, “Compassion is the true moral incentive.” It was God’s love that was the incentive behind the sending of His Son to pay our sin debt (John 3:16). When such love is experienced it opens our hearts to entering into a love that transcends egotistical love, but a compassionate love for both man and His creatures that enriches our souls beyond measure.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

**I have always loved this quote from Schopenhauer (1788-1860), a German philosopher who was a big advocate for animal rights and the humane treatment of them. While I am by no means a proponent of  his  overall philosophy, his writings against the abuse and mistreatment of animals is to be commended and was ahead of his time. A man who never married, he lived with two poodles.

 

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