One of my favorite writers is Dorothy Sayers. She has a little book called “Are Women Human?” It is a good book, as far as it goes. However, I reckon she would have great contempt for what “women’s rights” has become, as the answer to that question today–according to feminists themselves–is that women are NOT human.
That is to say, they cannot afford to buy their own condoms or birth control; they are too foolish not to control their bodies long enough to prevent getting pregnant, therefore they cannot be expected to pay for their own abortions; they are unable to get jobs on their own merits; they need the government to intercede for them; and so on. Why?
Ok, obviously the correct answer here is that this is what the Democrat party thinks of women, and their pandering tends to have good effect. Personally, I believe that women are perfectly competent to manage their lives and take responsibility for their own decisions, which is precisely why I prefer to treat them like… wait for it… humans.
But, if you have a chat with a feminist… or, as is often the case, an emasculated liberal male… their response to your response is basically, “You are not a woman, so shut the hell up. How could you possibly understand their plight?”
Instead, you are told you must ’empathize’ with the woman (read: the liberal progressive woman… any other woman can be dismissed as the gender equivalent of ‘uncle Tom’s’), which means, in practice, give them whatever they want for no other reason than that they have demanded it. They do not need to justify it, explain it, or show that it would have the effect they say it will have. Just DO It!
Countless times, over the years, I have thought about writing against this grossly immoral, evil, and wicked perspective, but for one reason or another, I’ve only touched on it here and there.
Well, recent events have prompted me to tackle it more directly, but, to be clear, not out of concern for persuading liberal progressives, ‘feminists’, or ‘race-agitators.’ No, its the Christians I have in view, because, of all people, they should be seeing through all this nonsense. Alas, they are not. Thus, this post.
Let me bottom line it: ’empathy’ is the last ‘moral’ virtue the non-believing world has left, after dispensing with pretty much all the other ones. Their entire worldview consists in rejecting objective truth–yes, even objective reality itself–and has devolved into feeling their way through the world, primarily with their genitalia. However, despite rejecting the proposition, it remains nonetheless the case that they are made in the image of God, and even they find this to be most unsatisfying. Lashing about for SOMETHING to use as a ‘ground’ for a moral code, they finally alight on ’empathy.’
It is the last refuge for the amoral individual seeking to have morality without God, desiring to have their moral assessments given weight in the public sphere (while, naturally, rejecting YOUR moral assessments.)
Why would Christians accept these terms of engagement?
I’m going to unpack this below but we must first take note that this is not a reasoned position. This is a felt position. And feelings are easily manipulated. Much effort has been made over the last century to study how to manipulate people, and much infrastructure has been built to actually do it.
‘Empathy’ is not bad, per se. Quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed, the whole of the book of Hebrews rests on the premise that God was empathetic–he became a person and suffered with us–ok, let me just give you a quote from Hebrews 2:
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
The problem is that any virtue, when exaggerated and bloated into disproportionate importance, and isolated from all the others, becomes a ‘god,’ nay, not a ‘god’, but a fallen angel, that is, demonic; a tyrant; a destroyer of worlds. [See Col. 3, especially vs 14, for the inverse.]
Thus, we applaud courage, and we correctly recognize that the 9-11 terrorists that flew planes into buildings, killing thousands, did, by all means, exhibit courage, nonetheless carried out a wicked act. God may commend them for their courage, as the final arbiter on all souls, but we may not. Shailza Diwedi was murdered by a man who loved her very much, but we do not think very highly of his devotion to her, although devotion is, generally speaking, something commendable.
So on, and so forth.
Likewise, ’empathy’ has its time and its place, and, like ALL OTHER virtues and values, must be infused into our whole being… and must be kept in perspective and proportion and proper relation to all the others. It must be balanced against other virtues, other principles, and other aspects of our daily life.
But what if one has a worldview which has decimated any basis for other virtues or principles or moral values? This is a problem for any virtue which has become a god in itself, but with empathy there are other problems: namely, it is not a virtue of ‘reason,’ but one of conjuring up a certain kind of ‘feeling’ in one’s being.
We have not gone far and yet we have already tipped into dangerous territory. It is all down hill from here.
First of all, this conception of ’empathy’, despite all the blather put out there suggesting the opposite, is NOT about the person who is suffering in some sense, but rather the FEELING IN ONE’S BEING. It is about FEELING like you’ve done something, contributed something, participated in something, when none of these things have happened. The person suffering remains exactly where they were. The only thing that changed is YOU changed your profile pic, have an additional tweet in your account, or, if you’re a big business, splashed a “we are in solidarity!” message on your header for a short time. The person suffering remains exactly where they were.
Let us compare and contrast with the empathy that Jesus engaged in:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Note that the empathy of Jesus was an action that he took, which allowed him a particular opportunity that was otherwise impossible to seize, to achieve an outcome that otherwise never would have happened.
Thus, as I said in a post a long time ago which touched on this,
Christianity proclaims that God did not remain above suffering, but entered into it. He became a man, like us, in order that he can eat and drink, get diarrhea, watch loved ones die, and get tortured and murdered. His answer to suffering was to suffer himself.
God himself did not offer a grand explanation for why He allows suffering. His answer was to go beyond even what he offered to Job to participate in humanity’s tragic history with the promise that in doing so, he was setting things right, not in temporary fashion, but with everlasting finality.
But in the new-fangled, secularist version of empathy, one cannot enter into someone else’s suffering. A person’s suffering is theirs alone and is totally and utterly incomprehensible to any other person. (For such a thing to be even possible, one of the two parties is not human at all.) THIS IS WHY, in the secularist mind, your ’empathy’ must be 100% internal, and, by logical extension, when confronted with the statements made by those who are suffering, must accept them wholesale, uncritically, and as authoritative as any sacred text. What else could you do? You aren’t able to comprehend their experience in ANY WAY so how could you possibly judge their statements?
Not too long ago I had an exchange on this blog based on something I said in another blog post, where I wrote:
“If you have not in some way experienced what somebody else has experienced, how can you possibly empathize?”
This person, a radical left-wing feminist, responded:
“Sometimes the jokes write themselves.”
Clearly, she believes that the very definition of empathy is based on the idea that you CAN’T have experienced, in ANY respect, what somebody else has experienced. But if that was really true, then you would have nothing to aid you in trying to feel someone else’s pain… I mean, the logical contradiction just jumps out at you… on this view you could NEVER feel someone else’s pain.
This definition does not affirm or deny the possibility that one might have had similar experiences before engaging in the ‘vicarious experience’ of others. It is neutral on that point.
Now, if someone had applied reasoning to the matter, it would quickly become evident that unless you’ve had SOME kind of similar experiences, you can’t POSSIBLY imagine how the other person felt going through their experiences. That is, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO EMPATHIZE AT ALL UNLESS YOU HAVE HAD SOME KIND OF SHARED EXPERIENCE.
Thus, all the people who have lifted up Empathy like a golden calf are not lifting up Empathy at all, but like the golden calf, a false god, an idol. It is no more than an object which they have chosen to worship rather than worship the Living God. Like all objects which win the worship of Man which are not the Living God, it results in chaos, disconnect… riots, tyranny, totalitarianism, etc.
The breadth, diversity, and quality of our own experiences provide us with the internal apparatus which makes empathy even possible. If you have not lived much, have interacted with few, and limited your experiences, whatever ’empathy’ you have will be a shallow thing indeed. And it does not matter how hard you try to conjure up feelings of care and concern for the person suffering.
That is not empathy. That is emotional self-pleasuring.
Of course, many of the secularists invoking empathy have lived varied and interesting lives, interacting with many, etc. But in their arrogance and their hubris and raw hatred which contradicts their own elevation of ’empathy,’ they assume that YOU lack the experiences necessary for having an internal apparatus that permits for a robust empathy.
This lays at the heart of the current claim that we must ’empathize’ with the rioters and looters (the George Floyd incident). In the first place, the idea is that nobody else has ever experienced discrimination, disadvantaged upbringings, generational poverty, etc, etc. And certainly no white people have! (The Irish, who the British tried to commit genocide on during the Potato Famines, alone disprove this silliness. Or what about the Slavs, from whom we get the name ‘Slaves’?). Thus, since we cannot possibly comprehend how they feel, we cannot possibly criticize what they do.
In other words, the whole premise of their claims entails the proposition that blacks are not human at all. They have experiences that are entirely unique from humans. Their situation is unknown elsewhere within human history. They are the complete outlier. Because of their oppression, they are not able to improve their own circumstances, make different choices, or lift themselves out of poverty. The only ones who can help them are white liberals, who alone, while not possibly being able to relate to the experiences of black people, are also the only people possible who can improve the experiences of black people. The black people themselves? Powerless. Incompetent. Weak. Frail. At the mercy of more powerful, better situated people.
A superior sub-species, even? To hear white liberals talk sometimes, that’s what it sounds like. Ironic, I know, since it is me who they accuse of being a ‘white nationalist,’ while they seem to have the actual attitude of one. But I call B.S. It is precisely because they are human like I am a human that in some ways I can relate to their plight. If they weren’t a human and I wasn’t a human, there could be no appeal to either of us, at all.
Identity politics is, at its heart, anti-human. It says that the thing that most defines someone is their skin color or their genitalia, not their humanity. Anti-human ideologies always result in the way you’d expect.
They say “you are not allowed to speak on this because you are not X.” I am not going to go into all the experiences I’ve had in my own life which, while not EXACTLY X, nonetheless helped establish an apparatus for having at least some sense of what that might feel like, but here was one that was simultaneously infuriating and wildly entertaining:
In a conversation with a radical left-winger, I was told that I cannot have an opinion… and I certainly can’t try to have my views implemented in the public sphere! (eg, legislation, etc) … regarding the abortion of children diagnosed in the womb with a birth defect. “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS LIKE TO FIND OUT THAT YOUR ‘FETUS’ HAS A BIRTH DEFECT. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT KIND OF HARDSHIPS THAT CHILD WILL HAVE. YOU DON’T KNOW HOW THAT FAMILY’S ECONOMIC AND EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING WILL SUFFER, HAVING TO COPE WITH THE LIFE-LONG DIFFICULTIES ARISING FROM LIVING WITH A BIRTH DEFECT.”
(I am summarizing. And yes, the tenor of the statement was in ‘all caps.’ Everything a leftist says is done in screeching.)
Um, except I know EXACTLY what that is like. My daughter was diagnosed in the womb with spina bifida. I remember acutely the devastation of that news as we pondered our future, and her future.
Do you know who did NOT know what that was like?
This liberal, that’s who. Like I said, they just assume that the rest of us (ie, anyone who disagrees with them) live two-dimensional lives which are very easy and uneventful.
Do you think that he changed his tune after being confronted with the facts of my own situation?
Of course not. He just moved the goal post. “OK BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS…” which, once again, assumed that I would not have had life experiences that would allow me to know what something is like.
Another example that I hear a lot are pro-choicers blurting out, “OH YEA IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE AGAINST ABORTION THEN I EXPECT YOU TO ADOPT EVERY UNWANTED CHILD!” Which again is arrogant wickedness illustrating their own lack of experience in the real world, as my experience within the pro-life community, and among Christians in particular, is filled with people adopting children. As many as they can. And many wish they could do more. But you see, the pro-choicer, in invoking ’empathy’, but actually living a far narrower life than they realized, simply does not know that. Therefore, they cannot empathize. They don’t know that what they insist should happen… largely does.
But Christian, listen. What I have described above is why we cannot simply accept the terms of the debate as the secularists present them. I know that it seems like through ’empathy’ we could have a ‘hook’ by which we could find common ground with them, but that is just not how it functions with them.
First of all, Empathy is their Idol. They worship it. You do not. Please re-read 2 Corinthians 6: 14ish.
Second of all, when they invoke Empathy, it is with only 2 purposes in mind: 1., to provide for themselves the emotional equivalent of a physical orgasm and 2., to cow you into obeying their god.
In other words, to them, Empathy is a weapon.
They mean to use that weapon to achieve political aims. Remember, to them, this world is all their is, so incrementally perfecting it is virtually a religious imperative. They will say, or do, anything, in the name of progress. The fate of individuals is of little consequence to them compared to “Saving the Planet” or “Preserving the Species.”
If you engage them on their own terms, you are not finding common ground. You are giving up ground, which they have no intention of ever sharing with you once you are displaced.
They don’t want your understanding. They want your obedience. Your acquiescence.
Appeals to “Empathy” is one of their many methods for trying to obtain it.
There is more at risk than having political winds move against you if you accept “Empathy” on their terms. Since it also serves the purpose of a ‘family idol’ in their lives, you tread close to idolatry yourself if you join them. I’m not saying it is idolatry. I’ll leave that for you to consider, between you and God.
But just a word of warning:
People don’t like having their idols called out as such. You may expect the results we’ve historically seen when that has happened.
Um, but isn’t calling out false gods part of what the Christian mission has been for 2,000 years?