Sunday, February 16, 2014

Feb. 16: Empathy- the ability to sense and to understand the feelings of others.

Well, anybody who has read my blogs this week will know that the idea of talking about empathy came from an admirable opinion column in the TandT by Alec Bruce. He made me think long and hard about empathy and what it means to our society.

He made me think. That's what an opinion column is supposed to do - but rarely does. If you read this and don't like it, you can blame Alec Bruce for making me think. That part is  his fault.

But don't blame him for what I think. I am the one to blame for that.
Oh - and a cautionary note for atheists, agnostics, Moslems, Jews, Confuscists, Taoists, Buddhists, etc.. This post is not an attempt to convert you to Christianity. It is an attempt to convert Christians to Christianity.
When I taught grade 7, one day I had to go to the principal's office to sign some papers. I told the class to find something quiet to do - and I'd be right back.

A hand shot up.

"Sir, sir, can I write the name of anybody who talks on the board while you're gone?'

Well, I saw his potential as an evangelical preacher right away. He wasn't doing it to help me. He wasn't doing to help the class. He was doing it to help himself. There's a good deal of that in Christianity, a good deal of following the Bible word for word - not for doing anything to help anybody, but with a noses in our own bellybuttons Christianity looking to be sure we get into heaven while all those others roast in hell. Forever.

A sense of empathy would be a big help. Empathy does not mean sympathy. Sympathy might develop from it - or it might not. But empathy is a pretty hard-nosed. It's pretty cold and intellectual - and it's what we need first of all to understand people.. What does it feel like to be one of them?

If we don't decide that first. then we can never deal with any of our society's problems. And if we can't deal with the problems, the society collapses. It's happened before. It's happening now.

Consider, for example, those devout Christians who say that the poor are poor because they're lazy. Sure. That's why we're having a recession. It's because most of the world suddenly got lazy.

At another extreme. we have those who want to build a publicly-funded events centre because a rich man says it's a good idea - and we all know you have be be smart to get rich. That's why we accept allowing business people to interfere in education.

But they often aren't smart. More often, it comes from being born to somebody rich.

We need to develop that sense of empathy, of knowing how the other person feels and, through understanding, knowing why the person feels that way/

But we avoid enpathy. And we avoid understanding.

Consider this. We live in a world of chaos, of murder, of poverty in which most of the world fears and distrusts us. And if you read the news, it's because they're all vicious and evil.

That's because we refuse to understand how they feel, and why they feel that way. Instead, we read history books and newspapers that lie - or we settle back in ignorance.

For over five centuries, the western power have been colonizing the rest of the world. And with empathy, can you guess how those colonized people feel? Try words like humiliated, brutalized,  impoverished, without control over their lives, deprived of those standards that held their society together (and often deprived by Christian missionaries who think there's no harm in replacing a faith with another one.)

Take our native peoples, for example. How do they feel? Almost all the social structures that they once lived in have been destroyed. They are, in effect, treated as a different and inferior race to us.

The result is centuries of confusion and hopelessness and poverty. That is one hell of a lot of damage for a society to suffer - and almost impossible to even guess how to deal with - no matter how much sympathy you may have.

And so it has happened all over the world because, despite all the puffery in our history books, all empires are degraded and destructive - and racist.

Are you surprised that so many people hate us? I'm surprise it's not more.

And what is happening now is that we are being colonialized by the wealthy And the wealthy are excusing the damage they are inflicting by seeing us as something that could be called racially inferior to them. It's the same pattern as the old western empires, except now the rich are being greedy enough, arrogant enough, and foolish enough to destroy their own society - and, in so doing, themselves.

The Bible speaks of the real world. It's obvious that many writers of The Bible had that wonderful capacity of emparhy - the ability to understand how others felt. That's why The Bile says we should love one another.

That we should love one another is not a command that stands all by itself. It's arises from the wonderful gift of empathy.

And it's not just goody-goody. It's the key to our survival.

But you won't see much (or any) of this on the faith page. Instead, we get little stories guaranteed not offend man or beast. We get reminders that Mary was a virgin (so what?), that Jesus did tricks like walking on water (so what?)  - and we get constant reminders that because we believe in trivia, we will go to heaven which others will not. This seems to be linked with the idea that the magical events are all proof that there is a God. Actually, anybody who believes these things are proof of anything has no faith in the first place.

This obssesion with beating other people into heaven is the equivalent of the kid who said, "Sir, sir, can I write on the board the name of anybody who talks?"

What I see on the Faith Page every Saturday is Christians whose only social or intellectual activity is eating pancakes, who are obsessed with themselves getting to heaven, and who never discuss, criticize or even mention that we live in a society that is corrupt, thieving, demeaning, murderous, exploitive, and greedy. And which has come to be dominated by a tiny minority of the very rich who live according to no principles I have never seen in any religion.

They have no trouble in getting a high class preacher for their chapel, though.

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