The headline is a thought I keep having in light of the ongoing empathy wars. Currently, many theologically minded social media denizens are debating whether or not empathy toward others is a sin. If you have missed it, catch up here, here, and here.
I am triggered to write again about empathy by this Gospel Coalition article by Kevin DeYoung and a video conversation involving two Columbia International University professors. Let me briefly describe each influence.
Weep But Within Limits
For his part, DeYoung acknowledges that Christians should “comfort the sad” but he wants to make sure we don’t take it too far. He says, “But our sympathy is not untethered to all other considerations.” DeYoung is very worried that weeping with those who weep could be a license to weep about some naughtiness.
I think I understand what DeYoung is worried about, but I can’t help but ask: Do Christians have a reputation for caring too much about people we disagree with? If anything, the stereotype of Christians is loud angry judgment. Do we need articles pulling us back from the edge of loving and caring too much or do we need something else? I mean we are debating whether or not the very human trait of empathy is a sin. Why are Christians finding it so hard to just be human?
Empathy is Human
And empathy is human, after all, as professors Steve Johnson and Seth Scott of Columbia International University remind us in this video. They tell us that empathy is based in our neurology (via mirror neurons) and a very human response to the plight of others. When normal humans see suffering in others, their brains activate similar feelings. We can share another person’s perspective, but that doesn’t mean that we lose our objectivity or ability to reason.
Having said that, Johnson and Scott correctly note that it is possible to lose perspective. Within counseling and psychology, this is termed codependence or enmeshment, not empathy. These words are more descriptive of what actually happens.
Humans without empathy are at great risk for narcissism and a limited emotional life. Johnson points out that psychopaths are deficient in their ability to feel what others feel. Below is the video which I recommend.
Empathy is built in to most of us and leads to lots of good in the world. So go ahead, weep with those who weep. You don’t have to evaluate everything first. Maybe you don’t agree with the one you are weeping with, and you can tell them that in due time; but first they will know you are a redeemed human who cares. That could make all the difference.
5 thoughts on “Why Do Christians Find It So Hard To Be Human?”
To me it is clear that the white-washed septic tanks who write this demonic stuff labeling empathy as sin is coming from people whom we already know have all of the narcissistic traits. Narcissists see empathy as a weakness because how can you exploit your fellow human beings when you keep getting tripped up by feelings that just keep getting in the way? They think like Satan. How can you enjoy exploiting people with a conscience that works? And these people think that God and other people either are or should think just like them. These celebrities are just a brood of vipers justifying their own evil hearts. Hell is full of people like this.
….caring too much about people we disagree with? I certainly hope so. I’ve been criticized for that often enough. Apparently, if I disagree with someone, I should hate them, insult them, and definitely not perform any kind of charitable act for them, even if that’s just giving someone a shoulder to cry on.
“Do Christians have a reputation for caring too much about people we disagree with? If anything, the stereotype of Christians is loud angry judgment. Do we need articles pulling us back from the edge of loving and caring too much or do we need something else?”
Reminds me of the section in *Screwtape Letters* where Screwtape says one of their best weapons is to get Christians wound up against the thing they most need to emulate, and double down on the thing they are most in need of correcting. “The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there’s a flood; and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gone under.”
“Do Christians have a reputation for caring too much about people we disagree with?”
I literally busted out laughing when I read this 🙂 🙂
Debates like this are what happens theology is shaped by personalities. Does anyone think it’s a coincidence that documented slavery apologist Doug Wilson came down on the side of empathy being a sin? Or that the whole “empathy is a sin” argument is being promoted by Calvinists?
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