The confusion in our understanding of the difference between empathy and compassion leads those who don’t know the difference between “feeling the right way” and doing the “right thing”, to almost always do the wrong. Empathy is a psycho-social phenomena and a postmodern invention used to justify feelings coming from the era of psychoanalysis in the mid to late 19th century. The Latin word PATHOS –the root word for empathy, refers to feelings—not thought or action. We can sympathize with someone when we have experienced ourselves the situations that lead to the feelings of another. We empathize with them when we imagine what they are feeling. Empathy is NOT found in scripture. Compassion is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. In Romans we are taught “Rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep”. In Proverbs we are advised “Let not thy soul spare for his crying”. The predicate for compassion is love (charity), the predicate for empathy is “pathos”
Over the past three days I have listened to those in the media—mostly “info-babes” and newsreaders on CNN and MSNBC, but also some media types who identify as guys, cry on the air about the images they see coming from our boarder while watching boarder agents trying to contain the invasion of immigrants across the Rio Grande. Our own President called the Border Guard’s actions “outrageous”. He has been President for 10 months and has not gone to the boarder. Joe Scarborough—surely an “info babe” he, and Joey Behar on the view all feigned outrage and equated the actions of the border agents to the subjugation of slaves. They may be expressing feelings of empathy, but if they had ever taken the trouble of interviewing the families of those living on the boarder—especially the wives and mothers, and children who live in constant fear for their safety, they may have been able to have a more sympathetic perspective that would lead to a more compassionate analysis—they never place themselves in a position to act. Observers seldom place themselves in the position of an “effector”. Feeling and doing are different things.
C. S. Lewis said that what today we call empathy is really the “passion of pity.” It is a feeling without an action. C. S. Lewis further states that God judges our love by our actions. Feelings are a deceptive replacement for love. The passion of empathy—the passion of pity— “The action of compassion lives forever. The emotion of empathy does not.”
I was reminded of one of C. S. Lewis’ warnings while we debated the merits of The ACA (Affordable Care Act) —Obama Care, including Medicaid expansion and the Health Insurance Exchange. I was this year again reminded when AOC cried in front of a cage holding immigrants on the border. A lobbyist for the Idaho Hospital Association said that if one argued against Obama Care policies—I paraphrase, they weren’t empathetic or compassionate. AOC said the same thing about ISIS and those that supported law enforcement on the boarder and in our cities. “The passion of pity can be used as a form of blackmail.” Think of a child pouting and crying until a tired parent gives in to their demands. Emotional blackmail says that if I feel hurt “it must be someone else’s fault”. The blackmailers of love do not feel loved when their behavior is not accepted. I very much believe that many forms of behavior are wrong and sinful—homosexual, transsexual, adultery, drug abuse, gluttony. I am as guilty as the worst sinner—sin is qualitative not quantitative. God loves and forgives those who repent and promise to try to do better, but the “blackmailers of love” don’t feel loved when their behavior is not accepted. Instead of looking at how we are loved by God and trying to love others based on that example they judge actions and events based on empathy and feelings. Not feeling loved and not being loved are two different things. Jesus loved all people, but many did not like the way He loved them. Charity is love. Government programs are not.
Asking people to be accountable and responsible for themselves and their families is an act of love. Insisting that able bodied individuals not be placed in a position of dependency by having to rely on a government subsidy is an act of love. Insisting and then understanding that respecting the labor, property, and wealth of others is an act of love and compassion.
Giving away “free stuff’ and discouraging people from competing in education and in the workplace may be empathetic—it is certainly not compassionate or an act of love. Those on the left who claim to “feel your pain”—that is absolutely impossible because only Christ could “feel your pain”, only use the claim of empathy to control your life. They really in the end don’t respect you enough to believe that you are worthy of themselves or even of their love and or compassion.