The Absence of Empathy Among Conservative Christians

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“Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” Captain Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg

Since coming back from Munich on Friday night I have been catching up on the news and I was nearly overwhelmed with the amount of vitriol, hatred and intolerance coming out of the Values Voters Summit. The summit is an annual gathering of right wing political hacks who specialize promoting fear in the hearts of conservative Christians by fostering a nearly pathological culture of victimhood and persecution, in which they are the victims because others are being granted the same rights and privileges that they have enjoyed since this country was founded. Prominent among all of the speakers was a lack of empathy for anyone who did not hold their views, and those views are reflected in the latest Pew Survey on Religion in America where only 55% of consistent conservatives believe empathy is a value to be taught to their children.

 

Being that I am a historian as well as a theologian know all too well. The consequences for the church when such leaders promote such intolerance under the veil of being the victims reminds me of what occurred in Weimar Germany less than a century ago. At that time, conservative German Christians, feeling their privileged status that they had enjoyed under the reign of the Kaiser and other local monarchs being threatened took refuge in various right-wing political parties and organizations, many of which entered alliances with Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party.

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The leaders of those groups preached how they were being persecuted by the now secular government which had many Socialists in it. Feeling threatened by the rights now afforded to others, including socialists and communists, but in particular those provided to Jews they used a similar strategy to smear anyone that did not hold their perverted views of church and state. They felt that they were the victims; the victims of a “stab in the back,” which caused Germany’s defeat and the collapse of the Empire.

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Realizing the danger of how Christians were giving their support to such parties and the implicit demands of some for a theocracy Bonhoeffer in the Bethel Confession wrote:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”

But this is the same nonsense being promoted by Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Matt Staver, Tony Perkins, Laura Ingraham, Bryan Fischer, Ted Cruz and a host of others. Sadly, this vision of theocracy is very much in vogue in many churches and among conservative Christians in general no-matter what their denomination. Thomas Jefferson would be appalled by this. He wrote of the effects of clergy in political power:

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”

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Much of the thought behind the movement is from Gary North who posits a version of Christianity much like that of Calvin’s Geneva, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony know as Christian Dominionism or Reconstructionism. All of these leaders proclaim their desire to protect religious liberty, but for them religious liberty is a one way street, it only applies to them and the state should ensure that it does not apply to others. North wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

North also 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.”

The scary thing for me is just how similar North’s words as well as those of others to the Nazi Aryan Laws against the Jews. Please know that I am not claiming these people are Nazis by any means. That being said, I think that their ignorance of history, the Constitution, American jurisprudence which is charged by fear-mongering and vitriolic hatred of those not like them opens the door to much evil. Note how similar North’s comments parallel the Aryan Paragraph:

“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.”

While much of their vitriol is directed against Moslems, who because of acts committed by Islamic terrorist extremists are all targets of allegedly “Christian rage” like that of Timothy Rollins of The American Partisan who wrote:

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….” 

Westminster Seminary graduate Doug Giles who writes for the Townhall.com website who wrote on one of his commentaries:

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Or who can forget that lovable darling of the Christian Right Sarah Palin who told the NRA convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

For me to read and listen to people who claim to be Christians show such little regard for other human beings is frightening. Personally, I am frightened because I know the history of Christians when they not only hold control of their churches but the government. The persecution, torture and murder of heretics and unbelievers, the place of privilege given to the elect and the second rate status of non-Christians in their countries; not to mention the wars of extermination blessed as “holy” by the Church, such as the 30 Years War, the Crusades not to mention the numerous other wars blessed by the church. St Bernard of Clairvaux who told those going off to fight the First Crusade:

“The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and succumb more confidently. When he strikes, he does service to Christ, and to himself when he succumbs. Nor does he bear the sword in vain. He is God’s minister in the punishment of evil doers and the praise of well doers. Surely, if he kills an evil doer, he is not a man-killer, but, if I may put it, an evil-killer. Clearly he is reckoned the avenger of Christ against evildoers, and the defender of Christians.”

But it is not just Moslems that feel the wrath of the Christian Holy Warriors, but Atheists, agnostics, the LGBT community, other non-Christian religions including the Jews, though most deny the latter due to their beliefs about the role of Israel in the end times. Christians can behave as badly as the those committed to the Islamic State or ISIL. Our history has nothing to commend us, for when we as Christians “hold the franchise” to quote Gary North, we are more than capable of committing some of the most heinous acts imaginable.

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Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote something that we should very much keep in mid when we read or hear about the antics of those speaking at the Values Voters Summit and others like them:

“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.”

Sadly, most if not all of the leaders of this movement of theocratic, liberty denying Christians are so immersed in themselves and narcissistic that they cannot comprehend this. Perpetually the victim they misapply scripture to justify their perceived victimhood. Such should not be the case, and Bonhoeffer reminds us of the mark of true Christian faith in a sermon where he said:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert who served as the Army Psychologist for the defendants ant the Nuremberg major War Crimes trials wrote of his experience with them in words that at least to me could apply to these supposedly Christian leaders:

“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.”

Sadly we have come to the point where many people who profess to be Christians have no empathy, or for that matter any real love for those different than them. History shows this time and time again. Christians who have political power and the “right to the franchise” have behaved little differently than the terrorist thugs of ISIL and I can say with certitude based on the words and legislative efforts of the people who dominated the Values Voters Summit, that they too would behave no differently. As I walked on the Odeonsplatz and went to the Feldherrnhalle in Munich where Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch came to an end I could not help but think of what might have happened had Christians during the Weimar Republic not gravitated and become politically captive to the right wing of German politics and for many the Nazi Party.

The right of religious liberty for all is far to important to be left to those that would claim it for themselves and deny it to others. As Jefferson wrote the Virginia Baptists in 1808:

“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

With that I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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1 Comment

Filed under civil rights, faith, History, laws and legislation, Political Commentary, Religion

One response to “The Absence of Empathy Among Conservative Christians

  1. Pingback: We can’t lack compassion – Freecoded

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