The American crisis of selective empathy

Can you imagine the grief if a member of your family falls to COVID in this way? Can you imagine the realization that an imminent death was entirely, easily preventable? Can you imagine how that understanding would tear at your heart and soul?

Yet I’m seeing trends that are deeply unsettling. I see schadenfreude. I sometimes see obscene references to “thinning the herd.” Elizabeth Bruenig wrote powerfully in The Atlantic to decry what she rightly called “death shaming.” There is a profound lack of empathy for these terrible losses, an unwillingness to “weep with those who weep,” and a stubborn refusal to even try to place oneself in the shoes of the grieving. Why?

The answer is that America is experiencing an empathy crisis. But it’s not quite the crisis you might think. Our empathy can overflow for the people we love, for the people within our tribe—even when they make grave errors. But what about our empathy for “them,” the people we distrust? Then empathy is in short supply. Indeed, in some cases, the very concept of empathy is under fire.

You may not know this, but empathy is under fire even within the church itself.

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