Yesterday I listened to one of my favorite podcasts—“Hidden Brain.” This episode was about empathy, and it is definitely worth a listen, even though it is a little long. It is especially important in the current context to think critically about empathy, since the data shows that, in general, in the United States, empathy has decreased in the last 40 or so years. There is lots of speculation about why, but no clear answers. [Listen to the episode here: Empathy]
Anyway, here is what I thought was so interesting. The author talked about an experiment that was done with Manchester City football club fans. Without going into all the details, the point was that when their identity as Man City fans was emphasized, their empathy was more tribal and did not extend to an injured Liverpool fan (an actor). [If you follow the Premier League, you get it—if not, sorry]. However, when their general identity as football fans was emphasized, their empathy was more expansive, and included people from other football clubs as well, even including Liverpool. The point, of course, is that as we develop the capacity to see ourselves as part of a larger “tribe,” we also develop larger and more robust capacities for empathy as well.
This, to me, is one way religion actually can bring us together, rather than divide us. As a Christian, I identify my primary identity as a beloved child of God. But by doing so, and taking what that means seriously, this also invites me to see every single other human on the planet—siblings, all—the same way. So, without erasing or minimizing our differences, I am still able to see others as part of my “family,” and have empathy for them. And this is true regardless of what religion they belong to—or not. God is the creator of the human family, and there is no creedal entrance requirement.
I know not every Christian—let alone every religion person—sees things this way, and I know how divisive religions can be. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My great love for God fosters greater love for all people, too. And it can work that way for others, too. We need more love, more empathy, and less judgment, less suspicion and most certainly less hatred. Christianity can actually help with that.