Friday, July 24, 2009

Empathy for the Devil

The hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court were, by most accounts, a fairly dull affair with a noticeable lack of fireworks over hot-button issues.
I confess to a lack of strong feelings about it. Assuming, fairly safely it seems, that she is confirmed, I hope that Justice Sotomayor has a long and distinguished career on the court.
Indeed, I hope that she turns out a well as two previous ground breakers -- Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O'Connor. The odds are probably in her favor because those who break such ground are exceptions to existing expectations. Thus they are, by definition, exceptional and tend to have gifts that enable them to exceed the culture's expectations.
Witnessing that ought to have been interesting, but apparently not so much.
I don't have any legal expertise. Why I don't know about the law fills lots of law books. But I found the focus on empathy during the hearings to be interesting. Empathy seems to be in disrepute, at least for judges and justices. Noting again my complete lack of legal training, experience or understanding, I would not pretend to offer a legal theory that accounts for empathy or a lack thereof. Still, I found the dismissal of it fascinating.
Perhaps that is because Jesus seems so interested in it. In the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, where Jesus warns against judging others lest we be judged, he also says this: "be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate" (Luke 6:36, Jerusalem Bible).
Compassion -- from Latin roots meaning "suffer with" -- shares at the very least an etymological allusion to the Greek pathos or passion.
Thus as we are warned against judging we are commanded to be compassionate or empathetic. Perhaps the reverse would also be true: those who judge must not be empathetic.
If that is the case, then the widespread distrust of empathy among judges might be said to have some Biblical warrant, even if it means that our judging is left to those who can't or won't or shouldn't follow Jesus.
Hm ... is it God or the devil who is in the details?

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