In my last post one of my readers. Ivan Hentschel, objected to my conflation of empathy and Christian love when I wrote:
The word empathy has the same problem as does “Christian love.” Both words have touchy feely quality that evoke images of a maiden clad in a diaphanous white gown skipping through La-La Land with a beatific smile on her face. In truth both require a decent into the deepest pit of Hell coupled with a willingness to love every low-life son-of-a-bitch one finds down there even though one’s knee-jerk reaction is to tear their freaking throats out. Both empathy and Christian love are mindsets, which is why people rarely understand their meaning, and that is what makes them problematic as rallying cries.
To which Ivan replied:
Empathy is a useful capacity of human beings. “Christian love” is not.
To which I responded:
Actually, they’re one in the same, which is why neither is rarely found in organized religion.
To which Ivan said:
I must disagree. To be in empathy (to “feel with”) demonstrates some human compassion and energy sharing. “Christian (or any other brand of religious) love” is self-serving [My God is better than your God] and gratuitous. And it usually requires monetary contributions, whereas empathy does not.
And “organized religion” is probably no longer religion, but probably a financial, real estate and political movement. Just like corporations and political organizations, they have no capacity for empathy.
In short, empathizers, unlike sympathizers, do not manipulate for personal gain. Or at least they shouldn’t. If they do, they are merely charlatans.
I found Ivan’s comments so interesting I decided to kick them out of the comments section and devote a separate post to them.
In his last comment, Ivan has sunk his teeth into a half-truth…well, maybe a five/eighths truth or more. Yes, it is true that Christianity, like too many other organized religions “is probably no longer a religion, but rather a “financial and political movement.” He forgot to mention that Christianity’s overemphasis on “personal salvation” contributes much to its loss of empathy because all too often this” personal salvation becomes something to be fearfully protected by shutting out the outside world less it corrupt the purity of one’s faith. This is where you find too many Christians who only read Christian newspapers or listen only to Christian radio stations. Though, in truth, the majority of Christians pop into church at most once-a –week and doze through the sermon before rushing out for a week’s worth of secular activities.
However, there are a handful of us--a slim majority, a splinter group—for whom the emphasis of our faith in on the Tao of Jesus. In other words, we could care less about Jesus’ divinity, or whether he really rose from the dead on the third day, or whether God sent him forth to be a sacrificial lamb to atone for Adam’s original sin, or any of the other theological claptrap that surrounds his being.
The message he gave us was to develop a love (a mindset, not an emotion) for all of God’s creation, regardless of how it relates to us. This, and this alone, must be the essence of our faith. Anything less than that reduces the faith to a “corporate and political organization.”
For those who want to return America to her Christian roots, I am tempted to say let us do so. As Kurt Vonnegut has suggested, instead of posting the Ten Commandments in our public buildings, let us post the Beatitudes form the Sermon on the Mount. In his teachings Jesus reduced the Ten Commandments to two: Love God and love you neighbor. Then he proceeded to expand the definition of neighbor to include our enemies and those who hate us. This included the injunction to turn the other cheek, though the Religious Right is convinced that passage was translated incorrectly and that it should read, “Turn the other’s cheek with a fistful of knuckles.”
Were we truly a Christian nation, the first thing we would do is sell the Pentagon to a private developer who would turn it into the world’s greatest indoor shopping mall. (It has everything—name recognition, parking…) Because for a Christian, all acts of violence against another are evil. True, there are times, in rare circumstances, when this evil becomes a necessity as in the case of self-defense. These are exceptions that should neither be glorified nor honored. There is no such thing as a just war or a good war. Both are oxymorons that serve as thin rationalizations to justify our occasional and collective need to slaughter large number of our fellow beings in an orgy of self destruction.
Admittedly, Christian love is a tricky and difficult proposition fraught with potential danger. In the wrong hands it can become downright toxic as in, “Such is my love for your soul that I am burning you at the stake so your soul may rise heavenward on a column of greasy smoke to be embraced by our Heavenly Father.”
Practicing Christian love is a lot like pissing into a hurricane. Most of our output ends up in our laps. But occasionally a drop hits ground, and that makes is all worthwhile.