Description: Alastair Roberts hosted a recorded discussion with Hannah Anderson and Joe Rigney about the Sin of Empathy.

This is an article overview by Alastair Roberts about the discussion.

Article: The ‘Sin’ of Empathy? (with Hannah Anderson and Joe Rigney)

MARCH 18, 2021

VIDEO: The 'Sin' of Empathy? (with Hannah Anderson and Joe Rigney)

These are notes on this discussion by Edwin Rutsch

Mar 18, 2021
1 hr, 17min.

"The moral character of empathy has recently been a subject of contentious online debate among Christians. Joe Rigney and Hannah Anderson, who have both engaged in these disputes with their different concerns, join me for an extended discussion of the question, hoping to clear up some misunderstandings on both sides and to break some differences down to size."


    • Alastair Roberts - Moderator alastairadversariavideo@gmail.com

    • Hannah Anderson

    • Joe Rigney

Joe Rigney

  • started thinking about empathy after reading Paul Bloom and Edwin Friedman

  • Wrote some articles on empathy 2019

  • how do we help the hurting

  • there are semantic and substantive issues. hard to untangle

    1. how do we define empathy, sympathy, compassion.?

    2. different audiences hear it differently

    3. issue of using click bait title and inflammatory, provocation

  • (we'd be in serious trouble if the surgery had the same definitional problems as the humanities.)

Hannah Anderson

  • most bothered by the sinful provocative

  • aware of Browns work

  • her interest in empathy has been around neurodiversity

  • confusion about the terms has been di

  • maybe empathy is being used too widely

Alastair Roberts

  • talks about the different definitions or places empathy is defined

  • How do we have conversations with out confusions

Joe Rigney

  • definitional issues

  • the definitions have changed over it's short history

  • people assume we know what we mean by empathy.

  • the definitions are contested. you have to choose the people you talk with.

  • (I am open to talking with everyone, I'm not picking about choosing a dialogue partner. That is how we grow and expand our understanding.)

  • there are contested definitions, so you have to define your term and what do you want to do with it.

Hannah Anderson

  • definitions is a challenge.

  • there are phenomena that already have terms for them.. don't need to use the term empathy for them..

    • loss of boundaries

    • loss of self

    • collapsing personhood, enmeshment

  • (the issue is empathy is part of those other processes, and they are also blocks to empathy as I define it)

Joe Rigney

  • I don't want to wrangle about word. the substantive issue is what I'm concerned about (phenomena)

  • you have to acknowledge that the terms can be used in different ways.

  • (we want to come up with some agreed upon definitions so that we can effectively talk about the topics. that is why you have a dialogue and work out some definitions.)

  • You can't force a definition. we have to be patent and slow with the definitions.

  • The provocative approach gets a harsh reaction, this proves that there is a problem.

  • empathy sets off the mob mentality. People try to protect the victumn and create a mob.

  • Provoking the reaction. provoke thought. reaction provoking. (so if you can provoke people to be upset by what you say, it proves some point)

  • this is a legitimate

  • From what I see, the anti-empathy approach is also anti-dialogue & anti-acknowledgment. it throws bombs and closes the door. That is ok, I am patient and long suffering in calling for dialogue and mutual empathy.

Hannah Anderson

  • part of the argument totally depends on the words you use,

  • it is confusing on one hand to say words really, really matter, but they don't when we want to talk about the substance.

Joe Rigney

  • the dicotimzing happened by the other people, ie Brene Brown.

  • it was already in play

  • Brene Brown. says sympathy breads disconnection, divides people.. so she started it.. saying it is bad. there was no outrage about saying bad things about sympathy.? nobody rose up in defence of sympathy.

  • he is upset about bringing judgement into the conversation. ie.. that sympathy is seen as bad.

  • disagrees that withhold judgement is good. christians should reject that.

  • (Empathy Circle Response: This is where the empathy circle comes in.. you first empathize with the person, and then once they are heard, you bring in your voice, judgement, etc, and they empathize with you)

  • 27:19 - concerned that peoples feelings and pain are unquestionable. you can't even ask questions about if this an appropriate feeling, thoughts, etc. want people you to come into their suffering.

  • (Empathy Circle Response: empathy is not getting lost in their suffering, but being present with it and acknowledging it, and seeing where it goes)

Hannah Anderson

  • Forced loyalty and side taking. Agreement.

  • Distinctions between empathy and sympathy. the discussion is all about the distinctions, so doesn't make sense that Joe doesn't care about words.

  • Why can't we clarity and give better definitions.

Alastair Roberts

  • people have been hurt by the church.. have been judged.

  • what people hear in this argument is the lack of pastoral sensitivity

  • pastors haven't tried to understand people.

  • the empathy discussion is reinforcing the negative feelings people have about the church

Joe Rigney

  • Freeman said 20 years ago that what leaders need most is empathy, but I don't think it is going to do what you think?

  • Concerned that empathy becomes an unassailable virtue.. he wants care,

  • Peoples feelings are elevated to be god,

Hannah Anderson

  • who is the conversation directed to?

Joe Rigney

  • reformed evangelicals

  • mens concerns

  • (I hope you will be willing to patiently clarify your position with me and our community.)

Hannah Anderson

  • it is not men that have had too much empathy

  • it is woman who tended to lose themselves.

  • (Empathy Circle Response:the empathy circle give everyone a voice, and keeps you from losing yourself.)

Joe Rigney

  • Empathy can become a mask for anxiety, for leaders in the church.

  • people say they are hurting, and blame it on the pastor.

  • if you try to hear both sides, you are heartless, criticize, you are retraumatizing the person.

  • can't lose self other differentiation

  • Empathy Circle Response: like Kavinough hearing, both sides needed to be heard, and for them to have a mutually empathic dialogue to comet to some understanding.

Hannah Anderson

  • empathy is a bad basis for moral decisions, should not be for moral reasoning or moral decision making.???? Why??

  • her understanding of empathy, "the ability to form communion. union, attachment, bonding.

  • this is the way we bond with people.

  • didn't like the comment the woman cause men to lose themselves in their

Alastair Roberts

  • ... how do you create boundaries

  • you need the empathy to understand people

Joe Rigney

  • listen to people and wants to be able to tell people what is good for them

Hannah Anderson

  • don't understand why this conversation about empathy takes this shape - (or sin?)

  • try to understand the other.

  • Empathy Circle Response: having space for the parties to listen to each other and hear each other accurately creates the space to work out the issues, given enough time.. and empathy

Joe Rigney

  • the wife's feelings are not more important truth

Alastair Roberts

  • issues of victumn hood

  • society says you can't empathize with certain people

    • shooters or

    • people of certain classes

    • because there is no judgement in empathy, you have to select who you are going to empathize with.

  • wants to bring the best of empathy to the christians.

  • he wants a description of how christians should deal with empathy. they need to create a better understanding of empathy and take the best of it.

Hannah Anderson

  • looking at a way forward.

  • thinks of empathy not affirmation or agreement.

  • it is about to recognizing and interpreting, others and your own emotions.

  • it is the skill, to know why they are doing what they are doing

  • we need that ability to understand, empathy is the capacity to understand. I'm not saying it is ok,

  • there are groups you can not give empathy too because it comes with affirmation, it comes with the acceptance of the emotions and feelings and the thought process.

  • we need to understand why people are doing what they are doing.

  • Empathy, " It is primarily about your ability to recognize and interpret another person's emotions and to recognize and interpret your own emotions. So it is not about judging, you know, it's not about accepting them. It's not about affirming them. It is simply the skill, because it gets because it's lacking it gets taken down to bare bones. It is simply the skill to know, to know why that person is doing what they're doing.

  • What they're potentially thinking is it's a theory of mind to be able to imagine the mind of another person. And when I see it explained that way, I think this is absolutely what we need. We need the ability to understand without having to affirm to to be able to not just be beside but like I now know, rationally what you are thinking and why this has happened, or what your actions are doing. "

  • "So -- I wonder if the way forward is to be able to say to the groups that you're not allowed to give empathy to. It's because as I was said, it comes with affirmation. It comes with acceptance of the emotions, the acceptance of the thought process. And I think what we really need for connection and union within this moment is the ability to know and understand and recognize what another person is doing and why they're doing it."

  • Empathy Circle Response: how does this look in an empathy circle. it can be modeled.

Joe Rigney 1.06

      • he agrees, likes the word understand.

      • Empathy Circle Response: there is something about the empathy circle that it is about mutual empathy. By being present, listening deeply to each other, it creates mutual understanding.

      • "highly empathetic people also tend to be highly polarized and tribal" I do not buy that, Bring everyone into the empathy circle.

      • "empathy is that empathy is highly selective, " "it's one person at a time.." not accurate, You can empathize with the feeling in the empathy circle. you can feel the feelings of the whole group. the room, the community, Imaginate empathy can empathize with the full group, community, etc.

Hannah Anderson

  • people reference their own internal understandings (projection) to try and understand a situation. like a killing, instead of finding out from the people who were involved in a situation. the killer and others involved.

Alastair Roberts

  • need to get out of our normal affiliation.

  • empathy can often drive arguments, for instance, for for killing unborn unborn Down's children in the womb, because you feel something that's alienating about their experience in the world.

Joe Rigney

Hannah Anderson

  • there is a lot of alienation. empathy, . "It is the need of this moment, because of the way we have been fragmented and isolated from each other."

Alastair Roberts

problem with defining terms is it is an ongoing and ongoing process.

need to educated each person again.