Monday, July 16, 2012

Sentimentalism vs. Compassion

One danger America seems prone to fall for is the danger of sentimentalism, which is the tendency to replace the reason and will with what "feels" right ("feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.  Having or arousing such feelings in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way.")  Americans prefer stories of the underdog triumphing over the powerful – especially if it is a bureaucracy, institution or government agency. 

The problem is, the underdog is not always right just because he or she is the underdog.  Nor is the person portrayed as the underdog always the underdog to begin with.  Sometimes it is the group portrayed as the evil institution that is in the right.

So today we see "women" (actually a sub faction of women who have a shared ideological view) struggling for freedom against the institution of the "heartless Church" because the Church refuses to change her teachings on sexual morality.  We also see homosexuals portrayed as the underdogs against the "fanatical religious right."

What we don't see is the fact that these so-called "underdogs" have the support of the Executive Branch of the US Government, the mainstream media, Hollywood, College faculty, rich millionaires et5c.  What we don't see is that those being coerced are not the women and the homosexuals, but those who disagree with the HHS mandate or those who do not recognize "gay marriage."


Sentimentalism is essentially a logical fallacy – the appeal to emotion (usually sympathy and fear).  What we get in this propaganda is someone who is weak who must act in a certain way and will suffer terribly unless the "evil institution" changes their policy.  This is where we see the Church attacked on its opposition to contraception ("those poor women married to men infected by AIDS!") or abortion ("those poor women who were raped!") or "gay marriage" ("those poor people forbidden to marry when they love each other!").  It's propaganda used to elicit an emotion favorable to the policy the propagandist wants passed.

What's not considered is whether the emotion sought is properly applied to the case at hand.  For example, if the fetus is a human person, then there is no justifiable case to kill that person.  If marriage is only possible between a man and a woman, no appeal to "how cruel to be denied the right to marry" can justify "gay marriage."

When people use propaganda of the back alley abortion and the coat hanger, this does not answer the primary questions:

  1. Is the fetus a person or not?  and…
  2. On what do you base your view?

Considering True Compassion

True compassion differs from sentimentalism in a meaningful way.  Humanity, being flawed and sinful will find people who have been afflicted in some way, either through a bad choice of their own, or being the victim of another.  Such individuals do need some sort of assistance regardless of whether they are in the right and victimized by another or are in the situation through their own fault.  However, compassion requires a solution which is in keeping with the truth and not merely treating symptoms.  True compassion does not treat one person as a means to help another.

Ultimately compassion must be in accord with what really is, seeking to change the situation, not alleviate the symptoms.  We don't show compassion by providing drug addicts with clean needles.  We show compassion by helping them break free of addiction and stay free.  We don't provide compassion by permitting abortion and destroying human life.  We provide compassion by providing support (especially if the woman is a victim).  We don't provide compassion by permitting condoms to be used.  We provide compassion by teaching the men that they don't play Russian Roulette with their wives. 

(Really, if these advocacy groups cared about these women, they'd direct their outrage at the AIDS infected men forcing sex on their wives, not at the Catholic Church whom these men were already ignoring by placing their wives in jeopardy).

In all of these cases, the popular solutions fall into sentimentalism.  The poor drug user who reuses needles should be given clean needles (which does nothing to get them free from drugs).  The poor woman who is pregnant and single is not helped by having her abortions and contraception paid for.  She is helped by helping her to use self control and be responsible, recognizing that pregnancy comes from sexual relations.  The poor African woman who is forced to have sexual relations with her infected spouse, but by providing opportunities to escape from such a desperate situation.


Today's sentimentalism doesn't help people.  It merely provides a (usually futile) attempt to reduce the impact of the symptoms of self-destructive behavior while permitting that self-destructive behavior to continue.  True compassion does not settle for the treating the symptoms but tries to find a lasting solution.

If we don't try to find permanent solutions, which includes modification of behavior, we'll find we've made a whole lot of commotion with no results.

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