Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Perceiving God Through Empathy

"Both insofar as the mind has clear and distinct, and insofar as it has confused ideas, it strives, for an indefinite duration, to persevere in its being and it is conscious of this striving it has."
                                                                             -Ethics, Spinoza, pp. 76

While not entirely linear, this idea pushes the importance of knowledge to bring about empathy. Spinoza explains that to the extent we understand the world the better we are, or become. Or, the more you understand the more you'll act from your own essence -- act, rather that be acted upon. 

Acting according to our knowledge in ways that enhance one's perfection (II/191) brings, or encourages empathy. This knowledge is that of understanding one's situations. This can be shown through relating to what others may be going through at any given time. For instance, watching behavior of drivers, one's first reaction to another drivers mistake is annoyance. However, knowledge of one's own experience --  in relation to others -- you can show empathy to how they may react. or their own mistakes, in relation to your own mistakes. You are able to recognize that their may be other reasons for their behavior, such as having undergone a traumatic experience, or they are distracted because of circumstances outside of their control, etc. Through one's own knowledge you gain empathy and you act outwardly, again, rather than being acted upon, which leads you to (as Spinoza says) a lesser perfection. 

"God's existence and his essence are one and the same" (Spinoza 16). 

Spinoza further incorporates his ideas of empathy through how he treats the character of God. He first argues that to be God is to be eternal and to exist (Premise 28) and that God must be all things, or rather, all things are God (P17). This idea, and in relation to his incorporation to empathy focuses on the idea of equality through empathy and a recognition of those things in our relationship with others. This idea is very similar to the greeting Namaste, meaning "that which is of God within me greets that which is of God within you." This form of empathy comes about when we understand life and comprehend God through our relationships with others and ourselves. Seeking inwardness that will connect with others inwardness.  

Michael Austin, in his book Rereading Job wrote, "Jesus argued that we cannot separate our relationship with other people from our relationship with God. Human beings matter, even if they are women taken in adultery, or prodigal sons, or members of foreign tribes." Our relationship with others indicates our relationship with God, or amplifies it. More than anything, this pushes the notion that to know and understand God we must have, and must utilize empathy. This would also indicate that our relationship with others must rely on something more meaningful than acquaintance. There must be a dual acceptance of the other and a relation of similarity (or perhaps a recognition of similarity). 

Finally, I would like to touch on Matt. 22:36-39 (NIV), "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied 'love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, love thy neighbor as yourself.' 

Who is my neighbor
No legal definitions
Only everyone
    -Steve Waters

Through his first commandment, it would seem that he is showing us how to view the second commandment. It is through loving God, or incorporating God within us, that inwardness -- Nameste -- that we are able to fulfill the second commandment, to love our neighbor. We are told to love God, but how? Does God require our love? Is he a jealous God who envies our love? Why is the greatest commandment to love him? It does not seem that it is rather the law that brings all others into place. By loving God we must love others. We love God through an understanding and utilization of empathy. We love God through acceptance, love, tolerance, and the outward expression of these things. Jesus preferences the second law with the first to help emphasize what we are actually doingn. We are loving God by loving others. 


dpeck said...

I think this is a must read for everyone. How much better we would feel if we could truly feel and show empathy for others.

Cap said...

It's a difficult task, to be sure. I used the car example because I get so frustrated while driving. But I really think this is a key part of not only religious behavior, but in just living and being a good person.