The Absence of Empathy

hqdefault-2Colm Feore as Rudolf Höss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hJqNuRH1A

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” ~Rush Limbaugh 25 September 2009

One thing that I find amazing in our world, particularly among many pundits who profess themselves to abide by supposed “Christian Principles” who like Rush Limbaugh make comments that defy any sense of Christian morality. If Limbaugh was a lone person making such comments we could blow him off. However there are many like him, professional pundits and politicians but even more concerning are the preachers who make similar statements.

Some of these men and women are quite influential. Their ideas penetrate to many parts of our society, and not just religious people. They include pastors of some of the most politically influential churches and ministries in the country. Whether the comments are directed against Native Americans as was this particular quote from Limbaugh or African Americans, Mexican Americans, Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, Jews (especially liberals) or political liberals they demonstrate a profound and troubling lack of empathy.

In comments about the genocidal extermination of Native Americans by whites David Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …”

If that was not enough he justified those comments and continued his diatribe in much the same manner as the Nazis did the Jews.

“People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains.  Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo.  That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.”

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who is one of the primary preachers of hate against a wide range of groups said about the Native Americans: “Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native [sic] Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

It is the defense that the end justifies the means, a defense that was excoriated at the various Nuremberg trials. Barton’s defense of the extermination of the Native Americans is akin to what some of the Nuremberg defendants said in their own defense.

But it is not just the extermination of Native Americans that is a concern. Preachers of hate claiming to be speaking for God often show no compassion, empathy or feeling for victims of natural disasters, disease or mass murder. The examples are too numerous to quote from all of them and in the interest of brevity I will just mention a few.

Bryan Fischer who seems to have something to say about everything said after the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut last year:

“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.” 

Likewise he said about the Moslem extremists who carried out the attacks of 9-11-2001: “The jihadist on 9/11 were the agents of God’s wrath in order to get our attention as a people.” I could go through speech after speech, column after column, diatribe after diatribe of men like Limbaugh, Fischer and so many others demonstrate any sense of empathy for those that they condemn. Some of the worst are from ministers like Fischer.  John Hagee who pastors Cornerstone Church, a mega-church in San Antonio with over 20,000 active members said last week on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on America.” In fact any time a natural disaster hits, especially areas with high percentages of poor people and minorities such as New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina these preachers almost line up gleefully to ascribe them to God’s judgment. Franklin Graham said at the time: “This is one wicked city, OK?  It’s known for Mardi Gras, for Satan worship.  It’s known for sex perversion.  It’s known for every type of drugs and alcohol and the orgies and all of these things that go on down there in New Orleans…There’s been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years….” Later on CNN when confronted about the comments by Larry King Graham backtracked saying:  “I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place.”

There is no empathy among these people, no real care or concern, and that is of itself evil.

The comments have become all too pervasive and poisonous. The sad thing is that those make these kind of comments really do have no compassion or empathy for people that they have labeled “enemies of God” or “enemies of America.” They honestly believe that they are doing right. Philosopher Eric Hoffer noted:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert an Army Psychologist at Nuremberg wondered about how people could commit the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

I think he is right the more that I read and listen to men like Limbaugh, Hagee, Fischer and their fellow travelers. That lack of empathy was demonstrated in the words of Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz. In an interview with Army Psychiatrist Major Leon Goldensohn at Nuremberg Höss said in regard to his crimes and how he had no feeling or empathy for his victims:

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” said Höss. “I was obeying orders, and now, of course, I see that it was unnecessary and wrong. But I don’t know what you mean by being upset about these things because I didn’t personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program at Auschwitz. It was Hitler who ordered it through Himmler and it was Eichmann who gave me the orders regarding transports.”

The fact is that these pundits, preachers and politicians lay the groundwork by which people justify the persecution of others by demonizing and dehumanizing those that they detest. While the men doing the preaching today may never actually commit atrocities their words are laying the groundwork that others will use to justify their actions. The crimes committed by the Nazis had their genus in decades of fierce anti-Semitic campaigns conducted often by the same Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Preachers and Politicians.

In Nazi Germany one of the Chief media propagandists was Julius Streicher, publisher of the daily “Der Sturmer.” At Nuremberg the prosecution summed up its case against Streicher:

“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”

I have seen what the dehumanization of people does in Iraq. When I was there both Sunni and Shia military officers refused to have Imam’s in their units because they saw how Imams and Mullahs from both factions in the country fanned the flames of hatred against the other and led the country into civil war and threaten to again. The troubling thing is that I am seeing the same thing here from the religious propagandists of the American political right.

However this is not something that some of these “Christian Leaders” understand. Ideas do have consequences and the preachers of hate are responsible for the evil that they incite, they are accessories to any crimes committed by those who embrace their ideology.

One of the philosophical leaders of the Dominionist movement Gary North who is closely connected to the power structure of the Tea Party wrote: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

It is little different than the philosophy which drove the Nazi persecution of the Jews. It is interesting to compare North’s writings with the Nuremberg Laws: The Law on German Citizenship stated:  “A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

That poisonous message is something that allowed people like Höss do what they did and feel nothing for their victims. They were and are truly men without empathy.

Well, I am tired, so I will say goodnight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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1 Comment

Filed under ethics, History, Political Commentary, Religion

One response to “The Absence of Empathy

  1. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padre Steve's World…Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World
    I have been thinking about some of the reactions that I have heard from some of the politicians, pundits and preachers regarding the latest Ebola outbreak, which for the first time has come to the United States. What amazes me in all of this is how little regard and empathy most of these commentators, especially those representing supposedly conservative or Christian organizations for the actual victims of the disease. It seems that they are using this human tragedy to promote their own ideological beliefs, which many times have more than a tinge of xenophobic racism throw into the mix. The conspiracy theories that some spout, the virulent hatred shown by others and the drumbeat of people saying that this is God’s judgment is simply beyond the pale and I am saddened to see these responses. The fact is that as a nation, as people of different political parties, religious or non-religious views or secular ideologies we have a responsibility to do the right thing, not the expedient thing. We have to be prudent, rational as well as compassionate. But I don’t see much of that going on.
    Since I noted the absence of empathy in so many of these people, especially professional muckrakers such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and a host of others I figured that I would reach back into the archives and re-post this article, “The Absence of Empathy.” It is quite chilling when you see some of the commonalities in what Nazi war criminals said of the Jews and what some say today. I am tired, not planning on doing much tonight, so I wish you a nice night.
    Peace
    Padre Steve+

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