Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lucia Redefining evil - it's just a lack of empathy

Today's Dom Post has published on Page A22 an article titled "Evil no more than absence of empathy, says professor". It's advertised on the front page of the newspaper as well, so I presume the editors think such a potentially controversial article will help them sell papers.  I do find it interesting that a picture of the devil is in the middle of the article.
Baron-Cohen, who is also director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge, has just written a book in which he calls for a kind of rebranding of evil to offer a more scientific explanation for why people kill and torture, or have such great difficulty understanding the feelings of others.

His proposal is that evil be understood as a lack of empathy -- a condition he argues can be measured and monitored and is susceptible to education and treatment.

Baron-Cohen defines empathy in two parts -- as the drive to identify another person's thoughts and feelings, and the drive to respond appropriately to those thoughts and feelings.
Redefining evil as lack of empathy may not be as controversial now as it used to be.  There are already many with strange beliefs as to why evil-doers commit crimes which has nothing to do with a free choice to commit an evil act.  Therefore the leap to believing that such a person acts in that way because they don't really understand how their victim feels maybe not be such a large one.   You could say that Baron-Cohen's theory is going to fall on fertile ground.

Contrast this with the Pope Benedict, who has said recently that many in the world today are insensitive to evil because we are primarily insensitive to God.   The Holy Father explains in the context of the night before Jesus suffered and died, when He went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, taking His disciples with Him.

Jesus said to his own: Stay here and watch; and this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for all times, because the somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is the problem of the whole of history.
The question is what this somnolence consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them: We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget.

And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead, we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God – this is our real somnolence: this insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God – it would bother us – and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort.
So those who are going to be attracted to the idea that evil is just lack of empathy, are probably those that will be the most insensitive to God.  An inability to even call evil what it is, something that we do freely because we want to, not because we don't know how the other person feels, is a huge lie that many will want to believe.  Just as they want to believe that God doesn't exist, or that they get reincarnated or absorbed into the oneness when they die, or even that they cease to be when they draw their last breath.  It's all a lie that leads to torment for eternity if people don't turn towards God.  Which is really the end that we were made for. God made us for Himself, to spend eternity in Heaven with Him.  He just wants us to want to be there. Redefining evil is just another way of thwarting that, and thwarting God.

Related links: Scientist seeks to banish evil, boost empathy ~ Yahoo News

The Pope's "Dies Irae." And the Mystery of Evil ~ Chiesa

2 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

Theodore Dalrymple disagrees with Baron-Cohen too.

Lucia Maria said...

Thanks for the link, HP!

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