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the difference between sympathy and empathy was the difference between objective truth and subjective felt “truth.”

Empathy as the Headwaters of Cruelty, Pastor Douglas Wilson

In an article this week addressing the pro-Hamas and pro-Gaza riots, Pastor Doug takes a moment for a sermon against untethered empathy. While I could high five his points on the riots and the conflict at hand, I find the human core more important.

Doug references a video that he did with Joe Rigney about empathy. I watched that video a couple months ago and it made a major impact on me and my understanding of current events. More coming on that some other time.

When you see someone drowning in the river, the virtue of sympathy requires that you help him. In the metaphor, you help by keeping one foot on the bank and you extend a hand, or throw a rope.

So what is the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is a Christian value. God shows us sympathy, standing on the rock and reaching a hand out to us to pull us from the muck and mire. In a class that I was in earlier this week, the instructor accidently said that God was empathetic. Obviously many believe these words to be synonyms. They are not. I kindly corrected the instructor and pointed out that for God to show empathy, God would have to negate His other divine attributes.

[T]he empathetic one needs to take a header into the river, identifying completely and entirely with the drowning person. The empathetic one offers no judgments, no assessments, no evaluations. The empathy is by definition untethered. Unless you sink to the bottom with him, it is obvious to everyone that you don’t really care.

Agree with me on everything, disagree on nothing. Do not tell me that I am wrong. Do not tell me that I have sinned. Do not tell me that I walked all the way out here and am now drowning despite Your pleas that I stop, Your clear warnings of what would happen if I didn’t, Your clear signs along the bank with graphic iconography. I am drowning because I was born this way. I am drowning because You made me this way.

Now join me in the water and agree with me. Anything less is abject hatred.

This sounds familiar to literally anyone paying attention to the world. It also should sound familiar to any parent, as this is how children act. And your job as a parent is to stand on the riverbank and pull them out, dry them off, and teach them a lesson. That is what God does for us.

Unfortunately, the modern world isn’t taking that lesson well and is throwing a tantrum to make their parents look bad.

It follows that if such a person is your client, then they are in the in group, and they are in that in group all the way. Anyone who is playing the role of their adversary—or perhaps we should say persecutor—has to be treated with relentless savagery. This is because that adversary is challenging the victim’s sacrosanct right to be affirmed in absolutely everything. To criticize the victim is to throw a dead cat at the high altar. To be the recipient of empathy in this system is to be utterly and completely beyond criticism. And because we live in a world where trade-offs necessarily happen, this means that anyone who gets in the way of what that recipient of empathy demands is dead meat.

One of many reasons why I don’t like therapy. Watch the video with Joe Rigney and you’ll understand a bit better, but the gist is that the relationship doesn’t encourage the therapist to criticize the client or in any way understand and take the side of their persecutor.

Suppose the empathy-claimant is a twelve-year-old girl who was raped by her stepfather. As long as she is affirmed absolutely by an empathetic counselor, she can do whatever she wants to anyone else, including the baby. […] And an empathetic judge can send the stepfather to the penitentiary for twenty-five years, which turns out to have been unfortunate, because he actually didn’t rape anybody. Empathy toward one is necessary cruelty toward another. But empathy, like Gallio, cares for none of these things (Acts 18:17).

Liars can use this system to get empathy for the supposed actions of others and therapists don’t ask enough clarifying questions to understand those that supposedly persecute their clients. Further, they show empathy by joining their lying clients in the muck and mire, they join the rage against their abusive persecutors.

They fuel it and reward it.

This is a system that has allowed narcissists to get fed energy from people by lying about others. This reward creates a cycle where the lies have to get worse and worse. They are a victim, they are being persecuted, they are being attacked, their family is abusive, etc. And you cannot get in the way of their lies, you cannot question their lies, because it is their “truth” and questioning it is victim blaming, or some other made up sin.

Further, all their actions against their persecutor is justified as they are a victim. Don’t ask them if what they are saying is true, don’t stay silent, you must affirm, cheer them on, and celebrate their actions.

This is the complete opposite of a Christian ethic. When my daughter claims that a boy hit her, my natural instinct is to destroy him. That is my natural instinct. But sanctification has brought me to the point that I have to ask her to explain. Turns out, it wasn’t a malicious hit, it was an accident and he felt super bad, apologized, and I don’t need to hang him by his boxers on the flag pole as an example of what not to do to my daughter. Vikings gotta viking, but righteous men of Christ have to live by mercy, grace, and love.

That stepfather in prison is there because empathy absolutely refused to let anyone raise the question of his possible innocence. There is no way to raise the question of his innocence without simultaneously raising the prospect that the stepdaughter was lying, and how would that make her feel? So even to raise the question of possible innocence was to be guilty of the crime yourself.

This is the conundrum that empathy has made for you. If you choose to show empathy for someone that claims abuse, you cannot raise the question that their abuser is potentially innocent. By raising that question, you are— by the nature of the question— raising the question of whether the accuser is lying. That will abuse the abused, thus making you an abuser too.

There is an alternative.

You can have sympathy for the person that is claiming abuse, you can reach a hand out and help them out of the water, talk with them and understand their perspective. Instead of fueling the rage, instead they need to get better. They are in fact getting bitter if they stay in the water, staying in the rage. Empathy will never make them better, only bitter. And for the narcissist, it encourages this behavior and they very well may be the abuser.

Empathy and sympathy are not the same thing. One could rightly argue that empathy is sinful as it can require you to lie or have untethered anger against someone in an ungodly way. Yet, in the modern age, we are told our only option is empathy and “this means that anyone who gets in the way of what that recipient of empathy demands is dead meat.”

So to finish with one last quote:

In short, we cannot say that we haven’t been warned.

Empathy as the Headwaters of Cruelty, Pastor Douglas Wilson

Both the question of sexual identity and the politics that surround it are not primarily concerned with sexual behavior. They are actually about what it means to be a human being. For Christians, far more is therefore at stake in this debate than the question of which sexual acts are moral and which are immoral. Once sex becomes recreation and once it is detached from the body’s own sexual script, what it means to be human has fundamentally changed. Sexual complementarity, the telos of marriage, and the analogy between Christ and the church all lose their significance. In a society like ours, therefore, how we think about what it means to be human has undergone a significant change. The anthropology of modern Western society is fundamentally incompatible with a Christian doctrine of man. Failure to see this and then try to argue that codes of sexual morality are negotiable and can be subordinated to pastoral strategies of love and affirmation is to contradict central tenets of the Christian faith.

When Being Affirming Isn’t Loving by Carl R. Trueman

If you haven’t read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self or Strange New World by Carl R. Trueman, you need to. Carl has done a great job at connecting the dots between philosophical movements over the centuries to today.

In addressing Andy Stanley here, he is spot on. There are reasons that certain biblical understandings are important. Sexuality and marriage are fundamental and foundational to our understanding of what it means to be human. The modern warped view on it separates us from God, confuses more than it clarifies, and sets us up for a life of misery.

While Isaiah and his colleagues saw their task as calling the people away from the anthropology of the wider world and back to that of the covenant God, today’s prophets seem to see their task as being religious mouthpieces for the priorities of the wider culture, calling the church away from a Christian anthropology and toward that of the world around.

Go read the whole article and his books as well. Christian, the world’s view has shifted far from that of Christianity. And you need to understand it because you’ll be facing it sooner or later.

On Dragons and Darkness

Note: I wrote the following in June of last year in my journal. Many words were written in that journal that will not be published. Some were too personal, some too dark. But the following I believe should see the light of day.


Overwhelmed. It is a word that has consumed my life as of late. And I have been struggling to grasp it all. The darkness of the world caught up to me.

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12 (RSV)

Our world. Seems like a whirlwind over the past couple decades. I started to see the slope when I entered college. And the world has slid. And slid. And slid. And those of us that go the opposite direction of the cliff are called crazy. But I am quick to point out to those baffled by the illogic of it all that we are arguing with the Dead. How can we expect them to reason?

Our battle? It is with the rulers of the darkness.

And that darkness. Until Christ returns that darkness is here to stay. And while light pushes back darkness, while the Church spreads the Light, at times it can feel that we are outnumbered. That we are outmatched.

But so was Gideon. And that was the point.

For we are not alone in the darkness. We are not to rely on ourselves in the darkness. We are with Christ and He with us.

In this present darkness, I have been thinking about monsters. Dragons, titans, fearsome beasts out to do nothing but destroy. It is hard to not look out into the night and wonder what is looking back. Knowing that our war is against the rulers of the darkness, I look out and know they look back. I shudder and hold to my torch.

Neil Gaiman wrote what he thought was a quote from GK Chesterton in saying:

Fairy tales are more than true;
not because they tell us that dragons exist,
but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

This was a bit of an oversummarization of GK1, but it gets to his point. As children we know that our world is scary. We do not have to be taught this. We know, just beyond the edge of the veil of darkness, monsters creep, waiting to devour us. We know the importance of light and staying by it, maybe if for no other reason but to be able to see what comes. Fairy tales teach us that we have a Savior fearless and ready to grab his sword, ready to ride into the darkness and return with the head of a dragon.

Yes, there are dragons just beyond sight, lurking, ready to ambush you. Flaming tongues ready to burn you alive. But behind you stands a Slayer of Dragons. His Sword sharp, His wit sharper. While our mortal frames are frail, we are given strength to battle monsters of an unseen realm.

So here I am. Overwhelmed by the darkness. The coals of my fire casting low flickers of light against the trees. Though my encampment is surrounded by the enemy, though the dragons lurk, I am safe in Christ. He sits by, sword at the ready. And in Him, I can persevere.

Footnotes

  1. G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles
    “The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it—because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

Written by K. A. Applegate and her husband Michael Grant, the Animorphs books first hit shelves two decades ago. The beloved 1990s series told the story of five human kids — Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Marco, and Tobias — who stumble upon a dying alien prince and are recruited into saving the Earth from the Yeerks, a parasitic alien species taking over peoples’ brains.

Entertainment Weekly

These books were a critical part of my childhood. I have every book on my bookshelves at my parent’s home. If you want to know my secret origin as a web developer, it is in these books.

I first encountered the Internet at a friend’s house in the mid-90’s. The first thing I did was search for Animorphs. I remember the crappy website that was so cool. When we eventually got access at our house, I got active in the online community around Animorphs. I drew characters and uploaded them to fan art sites, I even launched my own site for a while. Then, as the series ended in 2001 on a cliffhanger, I started writing my own continuation series.

After Animorphs, having been part of the online community for years, K. A. Applegate launched the short-lived Remnants book series. I built my first fully PHP-driven community with forum, fan art, fan fiction, and more.

It’s hard to believe that it has been twenty years since the first Animorphs book. If you have memories about these books, drop them in the comments below.

For many, “it’s crazy at work” has become their normal. But why so crazy?

At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing work days into a series of fleeting work moments.

Tie that together with a trend of over-collaboration, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.

It’s no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore.

Signal v. Noise

I love 37signals, now Basecamp, and still reference Rework frequently. Now they are back to address the insanity that has become the American workplace in The Calm Company.

Let’s close our eyes and make believe,
In all the ways we used to see,
A magic world of fantasy,
When we were kids on Christmas morning,

Sometimes it feels like growing up,
Kills all the mystery of being young,
And who I am now loses touch,
With that kid on Christmas morning,

House of Heroes

As our daughter was about to celebrate her first Christmas a couple years ago, I wrote:

We all remember when we grew too old for fairy tales. When we started to recognize the line between truth and fiction. For some it came naturally, for others it came as a stab that wounded us for some time. As children, our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. A gift that needs to be nurtured and taught.

C.S. Lewis believed that there was an in between period. Between recognizing that line and embracing that line. But, as he wrote in his dedication for Chronicles of Narnia, “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

I Heard the Bells

As I grow up, I grow to understand that we are meant to have children while we are young, as our imaginations mature, to reel us back in and prevent the childlike faith inside us from dying.

Sometimes it feels like growing up kills all the mystery of being young, but with a daughter, I see the twinkle in her eye as she creates complex stories for her dolls and stuffed toys. “Thank you!” says the elephant to Donald Duck. “You’re welcome,” says Donald.

But when I hold you close I know,
The truth in every story told,
And anything is possible,
I believe just like a kid on Christmas morning.

I had heard this song before, but this year it struck a chord I hadn’t heard before. Hadn’t truly heard, that is. Charlotte is busy with her imagination, and tears come when I stop her to go to bed, or to leave the house. Certain toys must come with us.

Tonight, as Christmas Eve comes to a close, I pray:

And as I lay me down to sleep,
And pray the Lord my soul to keep,
When I wake it’s you I see,
And I feel just like a kid on Christmas morning.

Always love this channel’s content, but this one and the first part are absolutely awesome and full of nerdery. What’s awesome about this one, to me, is how clear the One Ring and Sauron are an image of Satan. The Ring tells it’s bearer lies, trying to convince them that they can overthrow Sauron and be a great hero. A temptation that almost no one can resist, though the Hobbits, in their humility, are as close being able to resist it as possible.

Cool concept. A children’s book that comes to life when you look at it through your phone’s camera. $20 gets you one.