One of the side effects of the Russian War against Ukraine people is a resurgence of empathy. Empathy has been in shortchange recently. The bombing of civilians and the heroic nature of the people has made people in the United States on all spectrums of the political divide unite in their desires to help another country. We have moved from isolationism and shithole countries to being concerned for a country that many in the US could not find on a map until recently. This could be the salvation of our own country as we celebrate and empathize with another people.
I have observed through the years that there are four levels of empathy. We as a nation have recently been void of even the most rudimentary level of care for others. The first level of empathy is the one that society once demanded of us. It is when we see or hear of some tragedy occurring, we feel a need to be concerned and sad for those who this tragedy has fallen on. So almost routinely upon hearing of the tragedy we repeat the words or phrases How horrible, how sad, that’s not fair, or they were too young. Along with this verbal identification we may even feel a little twinge of pain for those experiencing the disaster. Sociopaths and psychopaths are devoid of these feelings and thus have trouble saying they feel sorry unless they feel cornered or want to impress or win favor with someone else. They are devoid of pathos, thus the names psychopath and sociopath.
It is by no means an accident that our culture and mores demand this basic act and feeling of empathy. Empathy stands as one of the cornerstones of Christianity. To amplify my point, I will preach (I would say briefly but my preacherly self says that may be a farce) a teaching of Christianity. Incarnational theology is the ultimate empathy. Placing oneself inside another’s world and making yourself vulnerable to it. Even unto the point of death both intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8.) Whether you believe in the incarnation or not the theology of incarnation is at the heart of Christian teaching. Christians have forsaken the incarnational theology for atonement theology or the wealth gospel but if Jesus is not the incarnation of God or the embodiment of God’s way there is no gospel to proclaim or live. The human Jesus sacrificed his spirituality. ‘My god my god why have you forsaken me’ words spoken on the cross before his death. This shows he is unable to place his experience in any corner of his spirituality.
Yet without forsaking his own spirituality he could never achieve the resurrection. According to Christian thinking this is the path we are to follow. To try to live to understand others and to live sacrificially for them. “7Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.… I john 2:7 -8. Because of this teaching our culture had ask us to feel for others and their needs. We are to have empathy. But as we move into a post Christian society mainly because American Christianity has lost its way and has become obsessed with power, class. Nationalism, and success this once normative behavior is disappearing.
We live in a society that no longer has or expects even the first level of empathy. We in fact celebrate the vulgar and profane used against those who we disagree. ‘My heroes are soldiers who do not get captured’ said Donald Trump of the late war hero John McCain. This was accepted even though the speaker was essentially a draft dodger. But this type of rhetoric has become all the rage recently. Asians, Gays, Middle Easterners, Jews, and Latinx have all become verbal and physical targets. Political Correctness has been turned on its head and is now thought to be wrong. We should be able to say what we think about minorities and others no matter how crude and meanspirited. In the recent past we had to be considerate of other groups in our public speech at least. This is not necessarily true anymore. The disrespectful are revered as truthtellers and bold. We have lost the ability to empathize or even feel a duty to empathize. Christianity is throwing its own teachings out the door. Sadly, maybe the Ukrainian war is one of the things that might bring it back.
Of course, here I have only spoken about the most rudimentary level of empathy but in the next few blogs I will look at deeper levels of empathy. Until then try to care for others a little more.