Sunday, June 5, 2011

Compassion, Apathy, and This Catholic

Words like "compassion" and "apathy" took a beating in the America I grew up in. Not literally, of course. As far as I know, nobody took a baseball bat and clobbered a dictionary. The abuse, in my opinion, was in the way they were used.

'Apathy' and Getting a Grip

I spent my teens in the '60s. My nonconformity was more about pocket protectors and white socks than the usual long hair and jeans. On the other hand, I was one of 'those crazy kids' in the sense that I thought that the culture I lived in wasn't perfect. And could be improved. I still do.

Since I didn't conform to the conventional nonconformity of the day, though: I was "apathetic:"
"...Apathy, of course, was anathema to the anguished campus activists of the sixties and seventies. The cultural pressure to care - deeply, passionately, hysterically - led to the slogan 'Apathy is Rampant, But Who Cares?' I still treasure the sight of those words, emblazoned on a bumper sticker. Or maybe it was in a magazine...."
("About the Lemming," Apathetic Lemming of the North)

Screwball Compassion

I think post-WWII America had issues that were long-overdue for attention. As I've said before, I don't want to go back to the 'good old days.'

Two sorts of "compassion" simply didn't make sense to me as a teen, and still don't.

Forced Charity

One sort of warped compassion is a sort of wasteful, arguably destructive, charity. Which apparently made a lot more sense to America's 'serious thinkers' than it did to me.

I've been on both sides of almsgiving, and I have no reason to think that the Catholic Church has the wrong idea. (May 28, 2011, March 30, 2011) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434-1439, 1969, 2447)

Helping folks who are in need of material things is a good thing to do. Setting up a system that rewards indolence - not so much, in my opinion. Which isn't the same as thinking that everybody on welfare is a lazy bum and should be kicked down the street.1 (February 18, 2011)

Strange Justice

Then there was the sort of "compassion" that felt sorry for kids who stole a car: and angry at the heartless motorist who 'made' them steal it, by leaving keys in the ignition.

Those are over-simplified examples, but not by all that much.

A Heartless Bleeding-Heart Conservative Liberal??

By some standards, my 'apathy' and lack of 'compassion' brand me as a conservative. And a heartless, hidebound one at that. Which is odd, since by slightly different standards, I'm a liberal of the bleeding-heart variety.

I'm not "moderate," either. I've been over this before:

Apathy, Compassion, and Reality

Let's see what a dictionary says "apathy" and "compassion" mean:
  • Apathy
    • An absence of emotion or enthusiasm
    • The trait of lacking enthusiasm for or interest in things generally
    (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Compassion
    • A deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering
    • The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it
    (Princeton's WordNet)
One of the synonyms for apathy listed by WordNet is "indifference." I'll get back to that.

Emotions, by the way, aren't good or bad by themselves. I've discussed feelings before.(March 17, 2011, August 5, 2010, February 19, 2009) Much more to the point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses emotions. (Catechism, 1676, 1767, 1768, 1776-1794, 2708)

(Real) Apathy? Not a Good Idea

I haven't found the word "apathy" in the Catechism, but indifference isn't a good idea - it's in a list of things we should avoid:
"One can sin against God's love in various ways:
  • "indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.
  • "ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.
  • "lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.
  • "acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.
"hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2094)
("prevenient?!" that means "in anticipation." (Princeton's WordNet))

Granted, that's indifference toward God's love.

We're expected to do what we can to help folks who need help. (Catechism, 2402-2406, for starters)

I'm not covered in shame and remorse about naming that other blog of mine Apathetic Lemming of the North. I've explained the sort of daft "apathy" I had in mind when I named it - and I don't see a problem with not getting swept up by every fashionable crisis that comes along.

(Real) Compassion: Required

Compassion - real compassion, not forcing somebody else to foot the bill for your pet projects - isn't optional for me. I'm Catholic, and there are rules about it. (Catechism, 2843, for one)

As for what justice, Catholic style, involves, here's a place to start reading:
"Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the 'virtue of religion.' Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. 'You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.'68 'Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.'69"
(Catechism, 1807)
That reference to slavery may be shocking. it's from Collossians 4:1: and tells people how to act in a culture that existed about two thousand years ago.

Slavery is a bad idea, by the way, and we shouldn't do it. (Catechism, 2424)2 And that's another topic.

Related posts:

1 I think I understand the appeal of
  • Forcing someone else to give money to
    • Bureaucrats, who in turn pay
      • Administrators to run
        • Programs that provide
          • Services
          • A marginal income
        • For a select class of folks
          • Based on their
            • Ancestry
            • Economic status
That doesn't mean that I approve.

2 Why didn't Jesus start a Spartacus-style revolution and keep going until blood of the oppressors ran in the street? Questions of morality aside, I think there are practical reasons.

Life isn't the movies. (May 3, 2011) The real Spartacus didn't end well, with the status quo pretty much intact and thousands of his followers dead.

Slavery didn't fall out of favor until almost two millennia later - and is still practiced, sadly.

Today, the Church isn't trying to impose 39th-century ethical and economic systems on the world. We're doing what we've been doing for the last two thousand years - teaching folks to love God and love neighbors. (Matthew 22:36-40)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.