The Empathy of History and the Sympathy of Suffering

As I am reading and preparing for my “Paul and philosophy” class at Mount Olive College, I have been struck with the notion of historicism as an “empathy with the victor.” This simply means that those who write history tend to be empathetic with the ones who are most successful and have come out on top of whatever endeavors they are or have been a part of.

Now for our purposes, political thought and the assertions found in most high school history books follow right along with this notion of empathy, whereas a close reading of the Bible – a book that is no doubt concerned with social order – says the complete opposite. The Bible (usually) sides with the loser: the one who has been walked upon and crucified. In this light, Paul’s “weakness in suffering” (Romans 9) and his “scum of the earth” (1 Corinth. 4) dialogues are much more focused on the victims rather than the victors.

Why is there this disconnect between biblical historicism and the modern type we find in our public education text books? America was founded on religious principles right? That is, if Social Darwinism comes from the words of Jesus (I think not).

My reading and interpretation of the cause of this separation between how the church and state deal with history hinges upon one idea: suffering. The interesting thing about suffering is that it does not breed empathy, but the much more personal emotion of sympathy. Whereas history tends to empathize with the victors because it provides a way of moving forward for more victory, the biblical sense of history sympathizes with those who suffer because the biblical historians have suffered themselves. Biblical history is not concerned (or at least it should not be) with moving forward to dominate. Instead, it is focused on telling the story as we stand and sympathize with those who suffer.

In this light, the corporate structure, American history, and the way we write our own futures are under a complete reassessment. The question is whether or not we are brave enough to reassess ourselves.

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