By Scott Keith –
Who cares? If it is not hurting me, who cares if it is right or wrong? Empathy, who gives a crap about empathy anyway? “College students today show less empathy toward others compared with college students in decades before, a study from the University of Michigan says.” The above referenced study found that college students today show an amazing 40% less empathy verses students in the 1980s and 1990s. The gist, according to the study, is that millennials are unlikely to agree with statements like, “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.”
The reality of this study seems to leave us personally and societally in a very precarious and potentially dangerous situation. Here is the deal. If we tie these findings in with my earlier blogs regarding narcism, the reality of this situation totally makes sense. If a person’s world is all about them from top to bottom, then no one else will ever seem to matter. Cell phones in every pocket, instant access to disembodied “friends” all around the world, and a digital life which often seems more real than actual life will almost necessarily lead to a world view which lack a sense of care for others. Unless a problem concerns them, the problem virtually doesn’t exist.
This study confirms what I have noticed in class while teaching topics on ethics. Statements like “it is wrong to steal” inevitably are only affirmed if someone is stealing from me. The same is often true when it comes to sexual ethics, the responsibility of a bystander, and even domestic issues like neglect and abuse. It can be scary to hear a young student say that they feel no compunction to report a serious car accident unless it involves them. To be honest, I often leave these lectures depressed and scared for the future.
But in reality, I don’t think that I should be surprised. If we believe that all people are incurvatus in se, that is that we are turned in on ourselves, a lack of empathy seems to be the natural course of things. For this generation, even the theology that they have been taught has confirmed this and told them that faith and religion are all about them. The worship style of the church is dictated around what they will like. What the church teaches and preaches is crafted around what will make them feel good. Our mannerisms in the church are even molded to fit what will make them more comfortable to be around us. The end result is that even if they are “believers,” they are often believers of a very convenient sort. Christ is He that helps me be better than I already am; which is really awesome, by the way. So the solution to this might actually be the theme of our last couple blog entries, the theology of the cross. The theology of the cross is that which puts the person who is turned in on themselves to death and re-births them in He who is the good, Christ. This person who has been killed and made alive will naturally feel empathy for all those in need of the same remedy they required. Empathy can only come to sinners when the sinner is killed and brought to life in a savior. Those who feel they were simply made a little bit better will never feel empathy. This side of glory, only those who have been saved will feel the need to care for those who have not or who struggle on account of sin death and the devil. True empathy is not the solution, it is a result of the love that comes from being in Christ.