Why Christianity Leads to Compassion and Hinduism Does Not
On a trip to India several years ago, we asked our tour guide—Who helps all the homeless people laying around on the streets? His answer was shocking. He said that it was not a good idea to help them because it was their own fault that they were in poverty. In other words, they needed to work out their own karma and “earn” their way out of their own mess. Such is the message of Hinduism; it does not breed compassion.
The reality is that eastern religions do not have a track record of compassion and mercy. The reason goes back to their worldviews of evolution, an impersonal universe, or the petty vindictiveness of the gods. It’s not that individual Hindus or Buddhists cannot be compassionate at times (they certainly can be!), but historically it is the Judeo-Christian tradition that spawns hospitals, orphanages, leper colonies and palliative care during pandemics. This is because of the Bible’s teaching that all human beings are created in God’s image and deserve to be loved, treated with care and respected. In short, theism leads to ministries of mercy. Monotheism leads to compassion. Secularism and pagan religions do not.
The Triumph of Christianity by historian Rodney Stark is about the significant contrast between Christian mercy and compassion in comparison to pagan religions. Stark is graphic in his description of the horrible conditions in the ancient world. Yet, in the midst of the poverty, misery, illness, and the anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.
Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate misery and suffering. Think of the words of Jesus, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me…Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:35-40). You will never read such words coming from the mouth of Buddha, Confucius, Zeno, Socrates or Lao Tzu. Why is this?
In AD 251 the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch in which he mentioned that the Roman congregation was supporting fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons. This was not unusual. In about the year 98 CE, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, advised Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, to be sure to provide special support for widows. As the distinguished historian Paul Johnson put it, “The Christians…ran a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services…” When calamities struck there were people who cared—in fact, there were people having the distinct responsibility to care! All congregations had deacons whose primary job was the support of the sick, infirm, poor, and disabled. This is the Christian way. This is the Jesus way.