The Death of Empathy
- Wednesday, April 24, 2013
All this development takes place inside the family. Children attach to the rest of the human race through their first relationships with their parents. They learn reciprocity, trust, and empathy from these primal relationships. Disrupting those foundational relations has a major negative impact on children as well as on the people around them. In particular, children of single parents — or completely absent parents — are more likely to commit crimes.
Such children develop attachment disorders and, as Morse writes, “An attachment-disordered child is the truly dangerous sociopath, the child who doesn’t care what anyone thinks, who does whatever he can get away with.”
The combination of single parents, absent parents, dual-income professional parents, daycare, after-care and easy, no-fault divorce have strained sometimes to the breaking point the relationship between parent and child, resulting in varying degrees of attachment disorder and thus children with insufficient discipline, compassion and empathy.
Someone will ask: Shouldn’t we just preach the Gospel to these youth? Yes, we should, but that’s not as simple a solution as it sounds. How do you just preach the Gospel to people who have no sense of good and evil and whose only known sin is the transgression of the dictum (originally spoken by a buffoon) “This above all: to thine own self be true”?
How do you communicate the compassion and empathy of Christ crucified to people who do not feel compassion and empathy? How do you explain the love of the Father to people who may never have experienced a father, let alone a father’s love?
In the May 2013 First Things, Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs contrasts two vastly different moral worlds, that of the TV show Girls and that of Jane Austen, and writes:
As someone who largely shares Austen’s moral orientation, though not all her particular judgments, I respond to this alternative moral world … how? I think the only viable answer is: I don’t, at least not directly. To someone who thinks [the actions of a character from Girls] are unproblematic, or even commendable, there is nothing for me to say. I confront a linguistically unbridgeable gap; I confront incommensurability. [Emphasis in original.]
Today in the West, we no longer share the same ontological and moral categories. We live in two distinct moral worlds with little of the common ground necessary to communicate the Gospel as we have in the past.
Having said that, goodness in a culture full of sinful people has always been a work of grace and we are called to cooperate with God’s grace in our moment in history by witnessing to a better way of life.
Alan Jacobs in the essay cited above quotes Paul Griffiths, who wrote concerning the redefinition of marriage, “What the pagans need on this matter is conversion, not argument; and what the Church ought do to encourage that is to burnish the practice of marriage [by Christians] until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.”
Christians living lives of empathetic, sacrificial love, enjoying beautiful marriages and nurturing, caring families (big, nurturing, caring families) are first priority.
Beyond that, Christian Smith found that not all teens and emerging adults are post-modern relativists. Approximately 15 percent are “committed traditionalists,” who “embrace a strong religious faith, whose beliefs they can reasonably well articulate and which they actively practice.” Developing outreach, discipleship, education programs and leadership training for this 15 percent should be our second priority.
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