A bit confused about the conservative attack on “empathy” as a desirable trait for justices? Why is empathy suddenly bad? George Lakoff, author and Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley, writes:
Empathy is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of others — not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one’s countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially those who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. Empathy is the capacity to care, to feel what others feel, to understand what others are facing and what their lives are like. Empathy extends well beyond feeling to understanding, and it extends beyond individuals to groups, communities, peoples, even species. Empathy is at the heart of real rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice.
Empathy is at the heart of Christian thinking, too. Is a conservative Republican challenge to empathy as a standard for Supreme Court judges misguided?
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14 -15). Through Jesus, then, God is revealed as one with both the capacity to enter into human experience and the power and commitment actively to do so. In sending Jesus, God turns out to be empathetic beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Indeed, God chose to send the Son so that God would have firsthand experience of mortal life, and in doing so to become more accessible to humanity.
Ann Jervis, Associate Professor of New Testament, Wycliffe College, Toronto.
Without empathy would Christ have allowed the law to prevail and the adulteress in John 8:1-11 to be stoned? While he did not condone her actions his simple request, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” demanded empathy from the crowd which, recognizing their own sins, dissipated quietly.