Musings on Empathy

This morning I am having some good talks with Dan and wanted to share a bit of it. We were discussing empathy and it’s role in Christianity. Empathy means understanding the feelings of another. One school of thought says that Christianity is the author of empathy. Dan and I call bullstuff on this idea. Empathy is the reason humans form societies, which makes it older than Christianity by a lot. If none of us had any regard for the feelings of others we would be solitary creatures and would not want to associate with others. It would be too hard putting up with another person if you didn’t care anything about them.

Christianity definitely places some emphasis on empathy. Jesus came and said things; many different things that are interpreted many ways, but a lot of his key points seem empathy driven. He said to give more to others than what’s necessary. He said the poor should be considered and not ignored. He helped heal the sick and he helped heal those suffering mentally from guilt and sadness. Empathy for those even unlike you- as I see it, this was his big takeaway point.

Of course another aspect that gets pulled in is that of consequences. Many Christians seem to believe we cannot be good without consequences for doing bad. I’ve been wondering if the Christian concept of hell, divine retributions, and punishments are necessary if we have empathy. I know atheists who are capable of being nice to others. That doesn’t come from them being worried about hell, so where else could it come from besides an empathy that is within them? I have heard the argument that there isn’t a need for god/the divine punishment concept because of humans being capable of figuring out on their own what is right. This is grounded in human beings having empathy. But not all people have a working version of empathy. Those without it are either called sociopaths or psychopaths. I’ve been wondering if the rigidity of rules vs. punishment sometimes seen in Christianity is a good thing for those who lack empathy. What other reason could they have for behaving well? Or would the same lack of concern for others translate to a lack of concern with God?

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