What do you care about? Are there issues and situations that trouble you and serve as emotional triggers? Do you care about things that are beyond your control? Does this make you feel powerless and frustrated? It is more than possible that you care too much. More than that, it is possible that caring itself is distorted in our culture. To the point, “caring” can easily be sinful if it is rightly understood. The Christian life is not defined by caring.
The Broadway musical, Hair, had a song about “caring” that captures the plaintive feelings and ironies of modern culture. Three Dog Night turned it into a hit:
How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.
How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud.
Easy to say no.
Especially people who care about strangers,
Who care about evil and social injustice,
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needy friend?…
A recent television news conversation included a reporter (sic) haranguing a guest for not caring about a particular problem. The guest kept bringing the conversation back to the question of “what would you actually suggest we do” (the problem was an intractable issue that did not admit of a solution). But the reporter was deeply exercised that the guest somehow “didn’t care.”
Caring is the popular word for “sentiment.” Sentiment is simply a set of feelings we might have about any particular thing. Like anger, sentiment is only useful if it is geared towards action. Anger is a proper emotion, quite short-lived when it is healthy, that triggers our adrenal glands, jarring the body into action. As a long-term emotion, anger is deeply destructive. Sentiment, in its popular form, is almost useless. It carries just about as much real information as preferences in fashion and the like. But it is often used to substitute for actual moral goodness. This is destructive in a manner similar to long-term anger.
Sentiment became a “thing” somewhere in the early 19th century. It is a modern phenomenon. The 18th century had been a time in which reason was exalted over all things, including feelings. Emotional displays were discouraged. In the Protestant religious world of Europe, Church became a dry exercise in moral instruction. The 19th century saw a reactionary swing in the other direction in which feelings came to predominate. The great revival movements through the first half of that century were utterly centered in feelings. Art as well came to be thought of as something that should provoke feelings. The dry precision of Bach’s classical compositions can seem almost mechanical when compared to the extremes of Beethoven’s romanticism. In the world of popular culture, Beethoven won the argument long ago. We are no longer a culture of intellect, but a society of sentiments.
For the believer, this becomes a very important question. We are nowhere commanded to “feel” anything. The love for neighbor that Christ demands is not measured by how intensely we think or feel. It is a matter of what we do. It is not that emotion has no place in our life, but it was never meant to occupy a central position. In strong measure, it is almost always delusional.
When someone tells me that they “feel strongly” about something, I understand what they mean. On the one hand, it means that their mind has become captive to a set of sentiments. On the other hand, it might very well mean that they actually do nothing with regard to what they “care” about. Modern culture is filled with people who “care” about all kinds of things. Some of the things they “care” about are even worthy of care. But “caring” is only a measure of an internal, subjective experience. It is in no way an indicator of what you might do in your life.
I have noticed over the years that almost everybody has an opinion (a set of “feelings”) about money, particularly what other people do with their money. Only the briefest excursion onto social media will reveal all kinds of “feelings” about money (and everything else). It is very easy to find people who believe that there are those with too much money who should give it to the poor. But this in no way indicates that the person involved actually does anything about the poor themselves. They may even have a sense of identity tied up with caring for the poor. But that will again not be an indicator of their level of action.
Many will describe such a situation as “hypocrisy” – claiming to care about something but doing nothing. Perhaps it is. But this is not a helpful analysis of what is taking place. The issue isn’t simply that we care and do nothing – it’s that we place such value in the notion of caring itself. What does “caring” mean?
Emotions are good things. Happiness, sadness, empathy, etc. are all extremely important in the human life. However, there is a place within our experience that is the primary location of caring: the passions. The passions are habits of our soul and body that are largely experienced in a passive manner. We do not choose them – we experience them. Experience is perhaps not a strong enough word. We not only experience them, we often cannot help but experience them. In their most destructive forms, we can be enslaved to our passions. Many (if not most) of our desires are passion-driven. We not only want to eat, we want to eat too much and we want to eat the wrong things. And the wanting can be overwhelming. These are not experiences rooted in decisions. Indeed, we discover that try as we might, our choices often have little power over our passions.
Our sentiments work very much in this manner. Many of the things that we feel about most deeply, lie somewhere outside the realm of our choices. Indeed, many times we are unable to remember how we came to feel so strongly about something. We often experience such sentiments in a shared manner – having a sense of identity and belonging attached to how we feel. We like people who feel the same way as we do. We may even think (or feel) that people who do not feel as we do are somehow lacking or corrupt. Our sentiments are extremely vulnerable to manipulation. And this is their deep value in our culture.
We are not living as batteries in the Matrix films: batteries are useful and produce electricity. We are living as consumers and users. It’s not always clear for whose sake it is that we live as consumers, though I suggest that one should follow the money. We should understand that it really doesn’t matter what we consume, so long as we consume. And just as the tracking algorithms that currently follow our behavior (and therefore send us more of what it is we like), so our affinities and sentiments are tracked as well. And our sentiments are used, as is our consumption.
Our sentiments can be used because we experience them, not as a matter of freedom, but as a matter of the passions. Once I engage something on the level of sentiment, I can only free myself from its movements with real effort. Various “loyalties” in our lives: sports, politics, brand names, causes, etc., become the fulcrums from which our consumption is leveraged. But, just as the lyric from Hair complains, our sentiments generally result in nothing more than a set of feelings and a set of buying habits. They are little more than the emotional noise of a consumer culture.
The Christian life is not supposed to be lived without feeling. But having the right emotions, in the right manner and for the right reason is a very difficult thing. And this spiritual life of the emotions is made all the more difficult by cultural assumptions that tell us that our “feelings” (sentiments) are important, and that they just happen, and that they are actually the result of freedom and decisions.
So, we begin by admitting that our “feelings” (sentiments) are really of very little value. We begin to deconstruct them and see where they have come from. If you are passionate about an issue, ask yourself why. And don’t just answer, “Because it’s important!” Such an answer only means that your passion is really strong.
Ask yourself, “What would happen if I wasn’t here to care about this?” (Because you won’t be).
The modern project has declared its purpose to form, shape and control the world and produce better outcomes. It has made itself responsible for all things (a delusion). And we have come to believe that we are responsible for all things and that it is our task to control them. We have also come to believe and accept that unless we feel strongly about some things, then they will be neglected or ignored and the important outcomes that we desire (or feel so strongly about) will not happen.
This, of course, is a formula for anxiety: I should care greatly about things over which I am powerless. It is little wonder that modern people are anxious and angry. And those who would have power over us need do nothing more than make us feel that we are heard and that they are doing something important. We’ll send them our money, or buy what they are selling, etc.
This is a sham existence. We are not measured by how we feel about things. What judgment we find from God is only about what we have done or not done. It doesn’t matter if you “care about” the poor and are “deeply committed to just wages,” etc. It does matter what you do with your neighbor. Share what you have, be kind and forgive everyone for everything.
By God’s grace, our emotions can be healed over time and not be subject to every emotional fashion and cause that blows our way. God give us grace!
What an insightful post! Too bad it couldn’t be on a “required reading” college freshman syllabus. I’m certain that what you wrote is why Jesus didn’t say,”Like your neighbor as yourself”…seeing that “like” is a sentiment. Christ calls us to show love by our actions, and not our emotions.
Judgment. You are talking about Judgment. That is what the reporter demanded. In todays world, we are called to judge everything. People are dumped into our living rooms by countless news shows demanding we judge this person or that, rightfully condemning them for their badness. 60 minutes, 20/20/, fox news, msnbc, cnn, american idol……….
The first act of a broken humanity was to judge. The result of course was shame and separation from God. Let me modify that just a bit, the first act of a broken humanity was to supplant the judgment of God with their own.
And we drive ourselves mad. With every judgment there is the obligation to feel something about that thing we just judged. I own a motorcycle and a garden. Every summer I can screw myself into the ground just checking the weather. The rain or not has to be good or bad…….
Then there is the people we judge. Not the judgments society tells us are bad but the ones society says are ok. That guy is a priest. I’m not. That guy is a sports nut. Not me again. A million little seemingly benign judgments. The problem is that with every judgment we identify how that person is different from us. We’ve drawn a little line in our heads between us and them. What started as a lazy way to keep the world and people around us sorted out and easy to deal with has suddenly become a very small circle with only us within that circle.
So now we are very alone in a very ugly world………
It’s true that “caring” does not necessarily result in action and that caring as an end in itself is nothing.
But to what degree would you say that “caring” – a focus of mind that recognizes something as good and right, worthy of attention and effort (and how words are defined matters greatly) – does precede action?
Very often, one learns to “care” about something (or is compelled to care in some way that is beyond conscious understanding) prior to any action. A person sees something new, gains new insight, forms a new relationship.
Dismissing “caring” because one is “powerless” or might be the victim of some kind of emotional manipulation at the hands of a nameless and faceless “them” would seem to lead to plenty of anxiety.
I thought that this is a most insightful article that essentially shows what spiritual watchfulness is concerned with. It’s an acknowledgement of what we cannot control and that which we can do: to remove the layers upon layers of delusion (starting with ‘caring’ and ‘feeling’) that blurs our vision. One has to (paradoxically) release themselves from their own views and feelings and cares and opinions to get to see (and ‘feel’ and care) the way God does in order to be healed from this delusion. So a renouncement comes before delusion-free love.
Mike, it is not that “caring” that leads to action is “bad”, but that too many within our society live as if simply caring about something is both good and validates them as good. Father is arguing that the sentiment, without action, is useless.
The problem is that with every judgment we identify how that person is different from us. We’ve drawn a little line in our heads between us and them.
Wonderful observations, Red. My immediate reaction to this is to begin with the fact that both the other person (people) and I are created in the image of God. The foundation of our being is the same. However, it is terribly easy to go from there to considering how the other person (people) sin and fall short. A great deal of prayer and mercy is necessary, I think. Lord have mercy!
As referenced in the article, feeling the right emotion in the right way to the right measure is a proper Christian model. Our emotions are often extremely disordered. For example, we “care” about some things because others “care” about them, and the caring gives us a sense of belonging. It becomes an identifier. That is actually “about” avoiding shame, not about rightly caring.
And this emotional caring comes as the result of ascesis and the grace of God. St. Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin.” We could say the same of the other emotions as well. The question for me (and us) is “What does right emotion look like in a given situation?”
As I was taught in Greek, the word for “love” as in “love your neighbor” is not an emotion or a feeling, but a chosen action favoring the “Other” over the “Self.” Your blog post, Father, seems right in line with this definition. I believe these are some of the works that James refers to in his Epistle. I will be interested to see how the conversation plays out.
In the words of St. Isaac of Syria, “I knock at the door of Thy compassion, Lord: send aid to my scattered impulses which are drunk with the multitude of the passions and the power of darkness.” I have been praying with this prayer for some time.
Thank you, Father.
All good points. Just too broad a brush for me as a whole though. If I thought the post was about being aware of and “caring” about a bigger reality than my own small circle of influence but not at the expense of my circle of influence, then I wouldn’t have commented. But that is not the way that it reads.
Acknowledging that something is beyond my control is not the same thing as eliminating the language of “caring”. A different word is needed then.
No, love is not a feeling (most everyone recognizes that it’s more than feelings). Love isn’t an imaginary world created in the mind, but it involves the mind and engages the mind with the world, and that includes big things that are beyond my tiny world.
The never ending politicking (in the US) seems to be a good example of banding together around “cares” – particularly making sure that distinctions in what people “care” about is more important than any common ground. But.
Modern man is faced with incredible complexity and massive amounts of information – it’s a struggle to know what to do with it. Thru technology the world is smaller, not just in perception but in reality. “Issues” aren’t just far away “issues” – they feel close and often truly are close. We encounter life and circumstances and have to try to figure out what to do with it. Sticking my head in the sand is not an option. So no, the vast majority of things will continue on whether I “care” about them or not. I don’t know what to do about most things even when I do care. I don’t know if my “opinions” will ever matter. There aren’t enough hours in the day to “do something” about a great many things that are worthy of attention. But “caring too much”?
I mean the following two questions sincerely:
Lest the ideas in this post in and of themselves become cares or “opinions” that reinforce a sense of belonging, providing unity around being against “caring” or “making the world a better place”, or “having opinions” what is the action that goes with the particular sentiments posted here?
Should one “care” at all about things that one has no possible hope of directly affecting?
Blessings to all of you.
I’m sharing this (in parts) with persons I care about. Thank you, Fr. Stephen.
Your comment about Beethoven reminded me that in his time, there was an argument about whether it was possible for Man to create; essentially, all the products of the human mind bear the stigmata of its model. You addressed this in “God by the Numbers” when you spoke of “discoveries” in math, finishing with the observation that “we receive what cannot be invented: beauty, truth, goodness.”
Beethoven thought of himself as a creator, not a discoverer.
There’s a connection between these two posts but it requires someone with more talent than me to make it clear.
What is broken is the very mechanism of our sentiments. I know plenty of people who care about Orthodoxy and doctrine, for example, but in the manner of sentiments and it actually harms them (though they don’t know it). Our news industry creates an illusion for us. Of course we “care” about the sufferings of the world. But these sentiments become the illusory world of our conversation, concern, etc. And mostly we are inhabiting our internet or television. This, in turn, is not true caring. It’s the manufacturing of passionate sentiment in order to manipulate and use us in a consumer culture.
It’s like putting half-naked women in automobile ads. What does sex have to do with a car? Nothing – but in the world of the passions, it sells cars. It’s delusional.
Care about prayer. Care about repentance. Care about others to the point of generosity and kindness. Turn off the TV. Read as little news as necessary. Breathe, eat, pray, love what is at hand. Learn to become small. The soul of most people is not nearly ready to pray for the world.
If this post is of use, it is in raising the question or idea that perhaps all of my caring and sentiments are not necessarily a good thing. If that leads to proper action, then it’s good. Opinions are less than useless.
To “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness”,(Matthew 6:33) is far from “sticking my head in the sand”, in fact, that “vast majority of things which will continue on whether I “care” about them or not.” (those things beyond our power to affect) will only ever be ‘affected’ if we do this undistracted seeking according to the next phrase, “and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Mike and Dino,
Dino is right. “Sticking my head in the sand” is simply the rhetoric of the modern project. It insists on this passionate “caring” disease and tells us that the world will somehow be worse if we don’t care.
Here’s a simple test: Ask yourself: “What difference has my caring made about anything in the last year?”
I would be interested if anything beyond 50 miles is involved and if the real list extends beyond family and immediate circle. But most of our “caring” is about something else. Why?
It is as I’ve written.
Great points Father.
Here’s something that I think about often and I believe it goes together with your larger point. I feel guilty over the fact that in all truth, I really don’t “care” about the Christian refugees in Syria and the Middle East. Now, in terms of the way America (modernity) uses the word “care”, then I care a ton. I feel badly for my Christian brethren there, and I think about them often.
But, as you asked Father, what difference has this “caring” of mine made? None whatsoever. As you also pointed out, since this “caring” of mine has lead to no action at all, then it’s useless and proves that in fact, I don’t “care.”
I’m grateful that when Christ “cared” for humanity, that lead to His action of taking on human flesh and going to the cross.
Father, following up on Alan’s mention of our brothers and sisters in Syria, is praying for them and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict a way of putting this concern in God’s hands? As opposed to us caring and expecting our care to make a difference?
I’m thinking of our prayers as a way of humbling ourselves and admitting that we cannot (really) do much to change that situation, so we profess our inadequacy before God and leave it in His hands (although doing what little we can–as an example, via monetary donations through various groups to aid the refugees). Is this a correct manner of approaching this situation?
Well. In my own example. I’ve written letters, made phone calls and visited a Congressman’s office in an effort to get a single refugee out of Syria (a family member of one of my parish families). I pray. I’ve also written to representatives urging proper actions in the matter. And then I pray some more.
If you do not care enough to pray fervently about something, then you really don’t actually care about it. Pray. Do something. Then have a cup of tea.
Dino and Father Freeman,
I wondered if “seek the kingdom first” would somehow be inserted into the conversation. I fail to see why this is at odds with “caring” as the word is being used here. Such seeking involves both widening my gaze AND narrowing my gaze. It’s not either/or. True that the kingdom is not far off but in our very midst, but neither is the scope and meaning of the kingdom determined by own sphere of influence or sense of helplessness.
Part of “caring” is the recognition that something that may seem distant and irrelevant to my small sphere of influence may change me and/or may manifest itself in some indirect way in completely different circumstances – regardless of whether or not I “change” that situation or have some direct way to act upon the original object of my “care”.
Getting away from “caring” because it’s the “rhetoric of the modern project” is IMO just as likely to provide a sort of theological platform that one can get behind to find belonging (look at all those fools and their “opinions”) and just as likely to lead to inaction.
Anyway, your post did get me thinking about identity and the perception in an increasingly polarized society that belonging is determined by one’s firmly established “positions” on any number of topics. I was able to come up with a nice long list of such things – both social and theological. For that I’m grateful. I simply disagree on the language of “caring”.
Final post for me. As we discuss our opinions about whether we should even have opinions and “cares”, I realize that I’m engaged in no action whatsoever. Blessings to you!
Fr. Stephan, the following quote by St. Isaac the Syrian seems to be an example of sentiment or is it action?
“The Compassionate Heart” by St. Isaac the Syrian
An elder was once asked, “What is a compassionate heart?” He replied:
“It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person’s eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look upon any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even for those who harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure – after the likeness of God – in his heart.”
This is utterly beyond what the term “caring” or “sentiment” means. This is a true union with creation in which its suffering is your suffering. It’s on a different scale from caring or sentiment. No matter how deeply you “care,” you would never have such compassion. Such compassion is the gift of God.
“…the dry precision of Bach’s classical compositions can seem almost mechanical when compared to the extremes of Beethoven’s romanticism…. ”
Our local symphony orchestra opened with a “world premier” at the last performance. These modern pieces remind me of the background (or often foreground) music in movies, or the music that plays while you are on that Soarin’ ride at Disney World. They make the Romantic era (of western art music) look positively serious. This piece went on for 20 minutes, which was about 15 too long as syrup should be eaten in small doses…
” ….I fail to see why this is at odds with “caring” as the word is being used here. Such seeking involves both widening my gaze AND narrowing my gaze. It’s not either/or….”
Yet, when Martha asked the Lord about his “care” for the many things that led to her being “alone”, He did point to “one thing” which Mary “choose” over and against other things…apparently it is a this, and not that – an “either/or”
“your post did get me thinking about identity and the perception in an increasingly polarized society that belonging is determined by one’s firmly established “positions” on any number of topics.”
Also, this judgement or perception of an “increasingly polarized society” is really just part of the narrative – the manipulation of your sentiments. This story is used for folks who have begun ask the question “hey, why can’t north and south get along?”. You can hear them in the boardrooms now: “uh-oh, he is beginning to see what we are doing – let’s get him to focus on the “problem” of the divisions for a bit”.
Step back from “our society” just a little bit and you see it is in fact amazingly hegemonic in a fundamental way that before the invention of the mass brainwashing machines (radio, and then television) would have been impossible to pull off…
I wish there was a “like” button for those last two comments of yours. I think it’s the rhetoric that is polarized, not the society–not where it really counts–and the rhetoric is one colossal distraction to keep us from noticing that hegemony. For just one layer and example of how this is true, have you seen the documentary, Ethos narrated by Woody Harrelson? Of course, then one has to avoid the temptation to try to figure out information from disinformation by attempting to cross examine everything with everything else in light of what can be perceived of the various sources. No, what is needed is the one thing. Focus on that, and all that is needed (including knowing what action I need to take when–there is no true dichotomy between the contemplative and active Christian life) will be added.
“Yet, when Martha asked the Lord about his “care” for the many things that led to her being “alone”, He did point to “one thing” which Mary “choose” over and against other things…apparently it is a this, and not that – an “either/or””
A very Evangelicalish “scripture grenade”. 😄
Whatever the either/or is in your example, I see no connection between that either/or and caring/not caring. Either care or don’t care? Is that the dichotomy being presented here?
There is a time for everything. Sometimes you sit and listen. Sometimes you get up and move. Different moments call for different things.
I think you’re sort of pushing the contrariness. I used the word “caring” because that’s the popular word for what people do with their passions. If you understand the point, fine. If not, so be it. But it’s the nature of things that drawing fine points makes it impossible to say anything. Obviously, we do not “not care.” But, if you read and understand, most of what we do that we call “caring” is not really anything of the sort.
Instead, there are proper directions for the spiritual life. We are spiritually sick. Our true heart is darkened. And the cure for it is not “caring more.” That direction only increases the sickness. You could learn what this means by asking appropriate questions rather than re-writing things to your own point-of-view.
Fair enough Father.
It was not my intent to “rewrite things to my own point of view”. I’m sorry if I’ve done that.
I’m simply trying to understand the definitions and limits of words like “caring” and “making the world a better place.”
Perhaps my question is, what does it look like for modern man, and for me specifically, to “sit at the feet of the Lord”?
The answer, to, me isn’t self-evident. To me it doesn’t preclude “caring”, which I see as a willingness to engage with the world outside of my immediate bubble. I don’t want to ignore the world in front of my face, my actual neighbor, but I also don’t what to ignore the world at large because I feel helpless, or fills me with cognitive dissonance or anxiety.
I will take a stab at trying to explain the difference between “caring” as Father is using it and having compassion in a Christ like manner, which we are called to do. I will try to explain using the example of the Pro-Life/Pro Choice debate. There are many, many people who express that they “care” about this issue on both sides of the fence. Beyond expressing their opinions on Face Book and in demonstrations, they have no personal involvement. They talk the talk but do not walk the walk.
What is at stake is not merely the unborn babies. The mothers that come to the clinics are also people in need. They find themselves in a no win situation in their eyes, not always because of their own choices. They will most likely suffer emotional, psychological and spiritual trauma as a consequence of the choice they make to abort. People who have compassion are not only those that greet them as they go in to the clinic and try to dissuade them from taking this step, but are also there for them, without judgment, when they emerge and begin to experience the after effects.
The people, who I think are showing the compassion that Father is saying we should have, are the ones who help the women afterwards whether they choose life or they choose the way of the abortion. The truth is that abortion clinics are there for the money. They finish the procedure and hustle the women out the door. They have nothing to offer past that. The role model I see is the Pro Life sidewalk counselor who stands with the woman as she waits for the ride that is very late and holds an umbrella over her as it is raining (this is a real incident I describe). That counselor shared a pamphlet with the contact information for the local CPC who would help the woman deal with the aftermath of her choice…for free. This counselor also shared her personal phone number with this woman and told her to call when ever she needed to.
Did this counselor “care?” She did more than care, she did. She showed the love of Christ in a very real and tangible way, never condemning nor judging, but assisting the woman. People who “care” about this issue seem to exude hatred, those who have compassion are the odor of Christ. I hope this helps to explain the differences between what Father means and you are hearing.
For what reason do you not want to ignore the world at large?
At the heart of this is the question of what kind of person do you want to be? Do you want to be a modern man defined by his passions? The only knowledge we get of the world at large, mostly, is from those who are selling the knowledge, and even that is deeply distorted for their own purposes. What I actually hear you saying is that you have in your mind the kind of person you want to be. I’m not sure how you are making that decision.
Are you an Orthodox Christian? The matter of “sitting at the feet of the Lord” has a specific context for me. The question would perhaps best be stated: What kind of man does God want me to be? And the tradition of the faith has an answer to that. And the “caring” man of the 21st century is not it. Modernity is not an answer, it’s a problem. It teaches us to live in a manner that is not truly human. Christ alone makes it known what it means to be truly human. Sitting at His feet means to follow faithfully in the path He has set for us. That path is not that of the modern caring man. It requires the slow transformation by grace through the life of His commandments and the sacramental life of the Church. That path teaches us along the way, how to rightly care, rightly love, rightly understand.
Nicholas, I understand the difference between “caring” about an issue as equivalent to taking a “position” or having an “opinion” and doing something about an “issue” as an act of compassion in the name of Christ. But what I’m hearing about “caring” is different than that.
Yes. I don’t think I’m trying to make the distinction that Nicholas suggested. I am, however, talking about the mechanism of “caring” as we generally experience it.
There can be a right caring, but it is mostly not what we experience. Right caring would always result in something – it would have a proper end. Just “caring” about something for the sake of feeling about it is part of a distortion of the passions and does not do us any good, nor anyone else any good. Christ has not come to make us “caring” people in that sense.
The sentiment (thought or feeling) is not the thing. It is not the purpose or proper orientation of our lives. Worse than that, there is a whole cultural nexus of marketed feelings and thoughts that create a false orientation of our lives.
The politics of sentiment convince us that “caring” is part of “making a difference,” etc. This is generally not true, and certainly not true in a world in which information is marketed based on factors other than information.
We need the work of serious repentance in which we renounce these false feelings and cares and begin by attending to what is actually given to us by God. That begins immediately at hand. It might, in time, extend, as God wills.
But the truth is, we’re not anywhere near the kind of people who can actually sustain “caring” for the world without it being destructive in our lives. It’s delusional and not real. We have to first learn how to live and attend to God, and be taught by God to attend to the world.
Part of the problem is that the modern world consciously disconnects us from being able to act on any thing “important”. We have to save the world or or actions just don’t matter. Feeling the correct way is enough and if you don’t have the correct feelings you are damned.
For me, this is one of the problems with browsing Facebook–which is such an easy, interesting, and compelling way to pass the time! I come to realize that I cannot possibly care about everything that’s being discussed, from Common Core math to the attack in Paris to the outrage that Beirut doesn’t get enough attention to gay marriage to Syrian refugees, and on and on it goes… But I can close the computer, say a prayer, and then go visit a friend to listen to her problems and offer help if I can, sympathy and encouragement if nothing else. We should be simpler, I think.
I don’t know if you have come across the story of St Silouan and the monk who read newspapers claiming that ‘finding out about the troubles of the world helped him pray for the world with greater grief’. St Silouan, (the intercessor for the world par excellence), authoritatively answered that one mustn’t be looking to be informed in that way thinking that it can ‘help’ in prayer or any other genuine compassion…
In other words: my prayer for anything is still ego-driven, interest-driven, self-motivated etc. It is only God’s, the Holy Spirit’s prayer for the world that will happen inside of me if I am willing to renounce everything for the sake of God alone, that –and only that- will make me a delusion-free intercessor for the world.
If I may interject a thought here: I think that the main problem with the modern “caring industry” is precisely that it parodies sainthood- the taking of the Cross for the whole world.
Like every counterfeit and simulacrum it parrots the original to the point where the two seem indistinguishable from the outside.
And this is precisely it: all those posters, tags, “viral” videos/pictures shared ad nauseam via social media are just a masquarade of compassion. Just look at how ridiculous it all is: you have “compassionate” videos and blog posts inserted between “funny clips” and news regarding some trivial stuff about a celebrity or I-don’t-know-what-pop-singer. Something bad happens around the globe and the whole social media goes “viral” with compassion and caring…after 2-3 days it goes back to Justin Bieber.
I think this is the fortunate side of a lie (if I may express it so)- the simulacrum always betrays itself with some grotesque display and the parody ends up parodying itself.
Just a though…
I think you captured it precisely!
To my mind, the obverse of this post is the venerable bumper sticker: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Apparently rage is the mark of the truly compassionate.
I’ve only seen this stickers fighting for space on cars with other very politically-left-leaning ones, but a quick internet search reveals that there are right-leaning ones, too. Truly, this is a sickness that spans all political positions and is, as Father Stephen says, one more way for us to be manipulated into exactly nothing of eternal value.
Dino isn’t the urge to “find out” just a version of eating of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Tim it would seem that the outrage is a consequence if the same.
Is that not why stillness is necessary.
Yes, I think that the urge to ‘find out about the troubles of the world’ through newspapers etc, although commonplace in our current state, is confirmation of our falleness, especially for a consecrated monk who has renounced the world and all that is therein.
In the world a degree of this is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we should be drenched in current affairs knowledge – that would be a complete tragedy. It would be like going out ‘in the rainstorm with no protection’. We cannot ‘stay indoors’ -like a monastic can- but we must ‘take an umbrella and a dry pair of socks’ for when we arrive at our destination. It’s not like we won’t ‘get wet’ anyway… (we’ll still end up knowing all the same stuff without pursuing that inane “knowledge” of it that the world bombards us with) Great care is needed here.
“Christ, the lover of mankind. ” Ο Φιλάνθρωπος Θεός. The one who truly loves us. We hear this in the liturgy every Sunday.
That is what I think of when I read this article.