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In Theory: What is America's empathy quotient?

December 05, 2013

A New York Times columnist is wondering: Where is the love?

Nicholas D. Kristoff says there's a “profound lack of empathy” these days, after columns he wrote about food stamp recipients, prison inmates and those without health insurance drew scornful responses from readers.

After acknowledging that some people end up in jail or poverty because of their own bad decisions, he asks: “Do we really think that kids should go hungry if they have criminal parents? Should a little boy not get a curved spine treated properly because his dad is a deadbeat?”

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Kristoff refers to a study done at Princeton in which researchers discovered that many people, when faced with images of poverty, react as if what they're looking at are things, not people. “Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion,” he says.

Q: Do you agree? Is there a lack of empathy for those in poverty or other bad situations these days?

I’m not sure that we’re less empathetic now than previously, but a couple of initial observations come to mind. In difficult times, we sometimes excuse ourselves from helping others by thinking “Things are tough for me, too!” Also, when we’re confronted with others’ need it touches our conscience to do something for them. This pressure can be overwhelming and one way we improperly cope with it is to dehumanize others and their plight.

Lack of empathy is a sign of sinful sickness in the human heart. Jesus warned us that false religions, wars, famines, earthquakes and society’s hatred of godly people will propagate shortly before his return and the end of this age. Then he added: “And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

If we don’t love God and if his love doesn’t dwell within us we will not love others as we should. 1 John 4:20 puts it this way: “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” The answer to mankind’s lack of empathy is to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and to let his love richly live in us. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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